Minister Sukhai… Land is life for Amerindians –Land-titling project will provide tenured security  

Amerindian Affairs Minister, Ms Pauline Sukhai (centre); Adviser to the Ministry, Ms Yvonne Pearson (left); and Manager, Land Titling Programme, Ms Anna Correia, being interviewed by Mr Neaz Subhan, Director of the Government Information Agency (GINA)

AMERINDIAN Affairs, Minister Pauline Sukhai has described land as “life” for Amerindians. She explained that it’s a strong asset base which Amerindians would be able to manage and protect by themselves, and so improve their chances of expanding their economic activities.This point was made during an interview on the National Communications Network’s “Political Scope” programme on January 8, at which Minister Sukhai was joined by Adviser Yvonne Pearson and General Manager of the Amerindian Land Titling Project, Anna Correia.

This description of the land was reinforced by Pearson, who said: “You cannot take the Amerindians from the land; we depend on the land…our whole livelihood depends on the land…. Spiritually, we are also connected to the land”.

The fact that there are cadastral plans to prove the geographical location of lands also adds to the sense of ownership, according to Correia, who explained that four communities are currently undergoing the process, with 20 more due to start soon. Another 20 communities are due to have their lands demarcated and titled in 2016.

Addressing the issue of land titling, Minister Sukhai said this process, which began three years ago, should be completed by the end of 2016.
The Land Titling programme, the minister noted, would give Amerindians “tenured security” as it replaces the “ad hoc” arrangement which existed previously. She opined that there is no other country which has achieved the milestones made annually by Government in regard to Amerindian and hinterland development.

It was pointed out that Guyana’s economic performance and Government’s political will have helped in the provision of more financial resources, to ensure that all the policy directions are adopted to improve the lot of Amerindians.

On the international front, Guyana is seen as doing “very well” in regard to indigenous matters, she added. Locally, there have been several critics, the minister acknowledged as she explained: “Land is being addressed; economic interventions are being addressed; social improvement (and) cultural aspects are being taken into consideration; and actions and projects are being attached to each one of these major concerns, particularly the international mechanism the UN (United Nations) raises with respect to countries where Indigenous populations reside.”

Minister Sukhai said it was important to note that the Amerindian Act has a “cut off” point for Amerindians to claim ownership of lands, since they too, like many others, are wont to speculate on ownership.

The minister explained that history and its various interventions have proven that Guyana is a “land of six peoples,” and the rights of all must be considered and taken into consideration.
The granting of mining and forestry concessions was also addressed by the panellists. These concerns are being sorted by a joint board comprising the Guyana Forestry Commission (GFC), Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC), Guyana Land and Surveys Commission (GL&SC), Amerindian and Ministry officials.

There were several cases, such as Rivers View, which had forestry concession in the proposed area of demarcation, Minister Sukhai revealed. This was resolved when representatives and stakeholders met at the community level. The meeting included officials from the GFC and the ministry. The end of the discussions saw the concessionaires agreeing with the GFC not to have the leased lands fall within the village’s boundaries, and the villagers agreeing to shift their prior claim to another area — a move which also freed up more areas for potential concessionaires.

For resolution of issues, there must be “reasonable” discussions, the minister stressed, along with respect for all titles.

With respect to small and large scale mining, the Natural Resources and Environment Minister ultimately makes a decision, especially if any exploitation of minerals is deemed to be in the national interest, in accordance with the Amerindian Act, the minister said.

Minister Sukhai advised that naysayers look at what has been achieved, the transparency of the titling exercises, and the resolution of issues and challenges thus far. Some US$10 million have been set aside for this programme through the Guyana REDD+ Investment Fund (GRIF), a multi-contributor trust fund for the financing of activities identified under the Government of Guyana’s Low Carbon Development Strategy (LCDS).

The GRIF was established in October 2010, with the World Bank as Trustee, following an agreement signed between Guyana and Norway in November 2009, in which Norway agreed to provide Guyana by 2015 with up to US$250 million in performance-based payments for avoided deforestation in support of Guyana’s LCDS.

Funding from GRIF, totalling some US$8.1M, has been allocated towards the Amerindian Development Fund (ADF), which is being used to finance various projects in 187 hinterland communities. Minister Sukhai described these projects as being in areas such as tourism, farming, mining or forestry.

Twenty-five of 27 communities selected randomly in regard to sectors and regions have already benefitted from this programme, and 161 others are due to have their projects come on stream over the next two years.

The ADF offers $5 million to each community which shortlists up to five projects, and the villagers determine which of the projects they would like to execute. The funds are administered via the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to ensure transparency and accountability.

Villagers are happy to participate in this project, particularly as it is to their community’s economic benefit, the Minister has said. One example given was that of Barabina, which has successfully set up a chicken rearing operation and has started selling. The community previously imported chicken to meet its needs.

Santa Aratack has also opened a guest house, which is also bringing in money to the community.

The move by the joint political Opposition earlier this year to cut funding for the Amerindians was described as “a big mistake” by Minister Sukhai. Amerindians were previously marginalised, and now they receive positive attention in terms of opportunities, it was noted, as the present PPP/C Government has always sought to enhance their development.

The delay was unfortunate, but Government’s commitment is not going to be daunted; and Government will persevere as it continues to make major headway in the quest for Amerindian development, she said. (GINA)