Land COI Sincere-Gov’t MPs reaffirm, as they defended and shut down Opposition Motion to halt the Presidential COI

DPI/GINA, GUYANA, Friday, June 16, 2017

Debate on the Motion for the Revocation of Commission of Inquiry (COI) surrounding the claims of Amerindian Land Titling, the individual, joint or communal ownership of lands acquired by freed African and any other land titling in Guyana resumed today, only to be shut down by the Government-side of the House.

Debate on the legislation was put on hold for one month after a Parliamentary break on May 8. When the House went into recess, just two of the proposed thirteen speakers had spoken on the merits and demerits of the Bill. The two persons were the mover of the motion, former Minister of Amerindian Affairs, Pauline Sukhai, and the current, Minister of Indigenous Peoples’ Affair Sydney Allicock.

During tonight’s debate, the opposition Members of Parliament (MPs), remained resolved in their position laid out a month ago by Sukhai, of the need for “the National Assembly to call on the Government to invite His Excellency the President to consider and revoke the COI.” The MPs argued that this was in the best interest of national unity, since, the COI violated long standing commitments including to indigenous people in Guyana and their land rights.

The COI’s lack of consultations, particularly with the National Toshao Council (NTC,) the elected representative body for the Indigenous people in Guyana was also criticised by the opposition MPs.

Minister Harmon however deemed “the angst that was being created by the opposition in and outside the House” with regards to the COI as unnecessary.

Rising against the motion, the Minister of State noted that if the motion was to succeed it would negate the issues and the concerns of those groups of persons that the land COI seeks to address, and whose input was critical to the President moving in the direction of establishing the COI.

He also noted the President’s move to address some of the indigenous group concerns over the land COI. Harmon reminded the House that the President has put on hold the aspect of the indigenous land inquiry as of June 15 and has proposed a five-point intervention to ensure that the land COI meet and address the needs and concerns of all stakeholders. He therefore posited that given the steps taken by the President, the National Assembly has no business continuing with the motion.

Also opposing the motion was Minister of Social Cohesion George Norton, who immediately sought to highlight the redress that the land COI would bring to the Africans. He recalled that years ago a motion was brought to address the ancestral land issue of freed Africans in 2007, and was dismissed. He queried, if the opposition was seeking to deny Africans justice, once again.

Minister Norton also advised his “Indigenous brothers and sisters” not forget their past or be misled by “political wolves in sheep’s clothing,” with regard the true intent of the land COI.

Lending support also to his Ministerial colleague, was Minister of Natural Resources Raphael Trotman. He recalled the genesis of the matter, explaining that for 23 plus years, the government then political opposition, had consulted with Indigenous peoples across the country. It was the fulfillment of a campaign promise given by the Head of State, the Minister stated, “The matters pertaining to land are the matters of public welfare.” He reiterated that no African was coming to take lands from Amerindians as peddled in some quarters. The intention is that the issues of African lands and Amerindian lands be dealt with separately, he added.

Norton further explained that it was his personal view that a COI was a quasi-judicial body and as such, its work should not be debated in the House, but he was happy it was, to clear up misconceptions. “If we are going to address the issues of lands there are two, the Amerindians land titling issue and that of African ancestral lands…This Government respects the rights of Amerindian peoples and we will work in hand with the opposition as we are all patriots,” he said,

In closing, Opposition MP Pauline Sukhai posited that the issue was with the terms of reference such as those that dealt with Amerindian land issues and titling matters. She reiterated the COI lack of input from the key stakeholders. She said that consulting with only one organisation was not good enough, and stated that as the leading Amerindian body the NTC should have been consulted first and foremost.

The motion was put to a vote and defeated by the Government’s side of the House.

By: Paul McAdam

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