MINISTER of Amerindian Affairs, Pauline Sukhai pointed out Wednesday that the Amerindian Act 2006 currently offers a clause that allows for miners to seek an agreement with the Village Council. “It is up to the village to decide to choose whether they would invoke that clause and engage the miner in a discussion following this ruling, so they can come to a level of agreement. It is an option offered by the Amerindian Act, or they can choose to go by way of an appeal,” the minister said.
Minister Sukhai was commenting on the recent court ruling which went against the Amerindian Village of Isseneru, Middle Mazaruni, Region 7. The ruling has since prompted calls for the amendment of the Amerindian Act of Guyana 2006, amidst criticisms that the act does not offer enough protection to the people.
The Isseneru Village Council had contended that Joan Chang’s mining company was operating on titled lands without its permission as set out in the Amerindian Act, and had sought the intervention of the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC) which subsequently issued two cease work orders on the miners.
Chang then moved to the courts, and High Court Justice Diana Insanally, on January 17, ruled that Chang had been granted a mining licence before the Act came into force, and therefore, neither the Council nor the GGMC had the authority to stop Chang’s operation.
The Amerindian Affairs Minister reiterated government’s commitment to continued support of the development of Amerindians. “We are on their side; it is not a war between us and them. But of course we have to empower ourselves, we have to build capacity to manage situations that come before us; and in a democratic society, you would see that the Amerindians have recourse to the court. I believe the village is considering appealing this ruling and government will do the best we can offer in this situation in support of the village,” she stated.
Highlighting the fact that the executive could not interfere with the judicial system, she emphasised, “We have a duty to ensure that the people are provided with support, and that is something commendable that came out of the meetings with the villagers of the community.”
Government has made it very clear that it is going to work with the community in the direction that they choose to go.
She explained that the ministry has been encouraging village councils to ensure that they use the Act which is a strong one. “No Act has total perfection and it is when we utilise it that we can identify if there are gaps,” she said.
Application of the Act, Minister Sukhai further stated, can also identify if it does not serve in a very strong way the target group for which it is approved. If it does not, “then obviously government will have to consider examining where those gaps exist,” she noted.
Observing that laws are not formulated and approved to last a lifetime, the minister said “there will be changes and the need for revision as situations demand and change.”
However, she is of the opinion that there is much more need for village leaders to acquaint themselves fully with what the Act offers, “because many of them may not be the ones involved in crafting during the consultative period of the formulation of the Act, and therefore it is an ongoing process for all leaders to ensure that they understand what the Act offers them. It is a very useful tool,” she emphasised.
Reflecting on one particular aspect of the judge’s ruling as reported in the press, Minister Sukhai observed that according to her interpretation, the ruling is saying in one respect that the village has the option existing within the clause which speaks directly to negotiations and agreements when mining takes place in the village.
In deference to the village, the Amerindian Affairs Minister said, “the need is much more important for them to abide by the law and for all other stakeholders to similarly respect the law.” (GINA)