Govt committed to resolving ‘Chinese Landing’ land issues

─ “Govt is against anybody disregarding people’s rights” – Min. Hastings-Williams

─ State Minister meets with Toshao Fernandes, members of the Chinese Landing Village Council, and Governance and Rights Coordinator at the Amerindian Peoples’ Association

DPI, Guyana, Friday, May 10, 2019

The government is committed to resolving the long-standing Chinese Landing/Tassawini, land issue. Minister of State, Dawn Hastings-Williams gave this assurance during an engagement with Toshao Orin Fernandes and members of the Chinese Landing Village Council and Governance and Rights Coordinator at the Amerindian Peoples’ Association (APA), Laura George.

The issue began in 1995 when permission was given by the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC) to the businessman, Wayne Vieira to mine within the boundaries of the village’s titled land without the consent of the village council. The community of Chinese Landing had received title to its lands since 1976. In 2010, the GGMC had issued a Cease Work Order (CWO) to Vieira on the basis that he was violating the Amerindian Act. He, in turn, challenged GGMC Commissioner Newell Dennison in the High Court, where he had won, and subsequently in the Court of Appeal where he lost his appeal. Vieira then took the matter to the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), which ruled in his favour in December 2017.

The residents believed that this was a grave injustice to them since they were not a part of any discussion to grant permission to Vieira to excavate the area. They said that it occurred under the former Prime Minister Samuel Hinds, who oversaw mining at that time.

Subsequently, in 2018, discussions between the GGMC and representatives of the Chinese Landing took place when it was pointed out that the ruling of the CCJ affirmed Vieira’s rights to the mining concession and copies of the Order of Court were shared. According to Toshao Fernandes, the village land title was not used as evidence in the court, nor was the village informed about a court case, and so, the issue remains unresolved.

According to Minister Hastings-Williams, the team presented her with a copy of their certificate of title and the absolute grant. She noted that is it evident that the business is encroaching on the village lands.

“They came to inform me what is happening on the ground… He [Viera] has returned, he was not in there since 2010, and now he has returned. They claimed that he went in the area without consulting the village council, the council had no knowledge that he had returned… So, they reported to me that the villagers themselves cannot have access to that portion which is a part of their titled land… What I said to them is that I cannot do it alone, I have to collaborate with my colleagues Minister of Natural Resources and Minister of Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs,” Minister Hastings-Williams explained.

She stressed that the APNU+AFC Government is against anyone disregarding the rights of citizens.

“I am against anybody violating any human rights, whether you be Indigenous or any other ethnicity… The government is totally against anybody disregarding people’s rights.” 

On May 1, 2019, a team of three officers from the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC) headed by Senior Mining Engineer, Michael Howard, along with three members of the Ministry of Natural Resources’ Corps of Wardens and four members of the Guyana Police Force (GPF), began an enforcement operation in the area. The objective is to remove all mining operations from Wayne Vieira’s mineral properties located within the Tassawini Amerindian Reserve, Barama River.

Synieka Thorne.

Images: Tejpaul Bridgemohan.

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