… as Party throws support behind Toshaos CouncilThe People’s Progressive Party (PPP) has thrown its support behind the National Toshaos Council, which remains opposed to Government establishing a Commission of Inquiry (CoI) into matters related to land and titling.President David Granger addressing the Commissioners of the Land CoIAccording to the Party, the President’s “unilateral” decision was taken without consultations with the NTC. It noted that the NTC is the sole legitimate representative of the Amerindian people and communities of Guyana and is recognised in the Constitution.“The President’s statement that the decision was announced at the NTC Conference last year exposes the Government’s lack of understanding or their total disregard for Free Prior and Informed Consent,” the Party said.According to the Party, the fact that the Terms of Reference of the CoI were only published in the Official Gazette on March 11, 2017, the day after six of the seven members of the Commission of Inquiry were sworn in is instructive.With this in mind, the Party stated that the Government surreptitiously denied the NTC, Amerindian communities and Amerindian non-governmental organisations, “of the right to be informed and consulted as to the objectives of this Commission of Inquiry.”“The PPP also supports the NTC’s statement calling on the President to repeal his decision to hold such an inquiry. The NTC statement followed a similar statement by the four Amerindian non-governmental organisations which were published on March 11th, 2017.”Pointing to this, the Party stated that the major bodies that represent the Amerindian people and communities of Guyana “categorically and jointly made their opposition to the Commission of Inquiry known.”“Just as noteworthy is that the President and the Government denied every other Guyanese of being so informed as to the sweeping scope of this Commission which includes “any other matters relative to land titling in Guyana”.According to the PPP, such an expansive mandate is dangerous and will undermine the legitimacy of Amerindian land rights. The Party said that it would lead to the dispossession of Amerindian land titles and future land titling.The Party noted that the membership of the Commission of Inquiry is also questionable; According to the Party, “it is devoid of the legitimate representation of the NTC and devoid of expertise to address such complex, profound and controversial constitutional, legal, historical and cartographical matters.”The PPP made it clear that it supported the NTC’s position that if the Government wants to “address individual, joint or communal ownership of lands acquired by freed Africans” this should be addressed separately from Amerindian land titling.“The latter has been adequately addressed in the Amerindian Act of 2006 which provides a robust framework and clearly defined process for Amerindian land titling which is supported by the Constitution and international law.”“The fact that under this statute, almost 100 Amerindian communities have been able to acquire communal titles absolute and forever, representing over 14 per cent of Guyana’s land mass, speaks to the success of this legal framework,” the Party said.Minister of State Joseph Harmon had announced that the CoI would seek to resolve all the issues and uncertainties surrounding the individual, joint or communal ownership of lands acquired by free Africans and Amerindian land titling claims.But the NTC on March 28 argued that the two issues are unique and need to be addressed separately.“While we support reparations and repatriation of African Lands and addressing that issue with a great degree of urgency, the Indigenous Lands issue cannot and should not be viewed in the same light, nor can it be addressed under the same framework,” the body emphasised.The NTC had called for the establishment of two separate entities to deal with the two different issues as it voiced its refusal to cooperative with the current lands CoI.The NTC also complained of “severe” lack of consultations on the matter – an assertion which President David Granger has denied.The Head of State told reporters that the statement was “inaccurate”, stating that “the proposal to establish a body was announced by me in August last year at the National Toshaos Council meeting.”President Granger also alluded to the fact that Attorney David James, a former Legal Adviser to the Amerindian People’s Association (APA) is a Commissioner, to support his claims of consultation.But even the APA has come out criticising Government’s land CoI.Other organisations including the Guyanese Organisation of Indigenous Peoples, The Amerindian Action Movement, South Central Peoples Development Association, and the National Amerindian Development Foundation, have all protested the merging of the two issues under one blanket.
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