Land woes boil over at Haslington

Attorney-General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Basil Williams and Minister within the Ministry of Public Health, Dr Karen Cummings at Sunday’s meeting with members of the North Haslington Co-operative Society

…AG promises to help resolve issues
…as Co-op executives, members clash

FOLLOWING several complaints received from members of the North Haslington Co-operative Society, the Attorney General (AG) and Minister of Legal Affairs, Basil Williams, and Minister within the Ministry of Health, Karen Cummings, met with the members of the society, in an effort to resolve differences.

The meeting, which was held in the village on Sunday, saw the attendance of several members who voiced their issues to the ministers. Most of them were accusing the former Chairman and former Secretary Treasurer of the co-op society, Eldon Anderson and Mary Luke-Mingo, respectively, of seizing their lands, and either selling it to other persons, or giving them to their relatives.

Eldon Anderson and Mary Luke-Mingo, Former Chairman and Secretary/Treasurer respectively of the North Haslington Co-operative Society

Some members had structures and/or houses on their lots, all of which they alleged, Anderson and Luke dismantled and sold the lots to other people. There were claims that persons had been issued transports for lands that had been owned, or inherited, by individuals for decades.

In response to these claims, Anderson told the ministers that the dispossession of lots started when he and Luke-Mingo discovered several cases where one person owned more than one lot. He said that an individual was only entitled to one, and there were instances where one person confessed to owning seven, and another 14. “What we seized, were the excess lots and that was what stirred up this whole thing. Within the society there are going to be people who are dissatisfied with the management. In any organisation you will find that,” Anderson voiced.

Luke-Mingo said that they received multiple court actions in relation to dispossession, all of which they won. The members however, argued otherwise. After listening to all their concerns, the AG urged the members to have their issues resolved peaceably, and not resort to acrimony. “Your grievances are very serious. Most of them are in the realm of legal issues. There is a legal framework, since the society comes under chapter 88:01 of the Co-op Society’s Act. My task will be to examine each case, the peculiar facts, to see how they fit within the legal framework,” AG said.

He noted that whether or not transports existed, the houses should not have been dismantled unless there was a court order. AG said that the transport, on the face of it, would give the person a stronger claim to the right to occupy the land. However, he assured the people that he would examine whether the transports were properly issued or whether they were irregularly or fraudulently obtained, and considerations may have to be made to find other lots for the people. Prior to the engagement with the ministers, the members would have expressed similar concerns to the Chief Cooperative Development Officer (CCDO) and Junior Minister of Social Protection Keith Scott, who later sought the assistance of an Interim Management Committee (IMC).

The AG pointed out that the IMC’s terms of reference included assistance in the establishment of a list of bona fide members; a determination of the number of members who were owners of house lots, and ascertaining the number of vacant lots within the boundary.

In addition, the IMC was required to determine the number of members who were issued with titles and transports; to assist in preparation of the Annual General Meeting, and to assist in any way regarding the management of the society. AG told the members that he would work along with the IMC, CCDO and Minister Scott, to regularise the situation.
Issue of fraud

Some members of the North Haslington Co-operative Society at the engagement with the ministers on Sunday

In an invited comment, Chairman of the IMC, Kevin Morgan, told the Guyana Chronicle that when they were appointed in September 2018, Minister Scott would have ordered Anderson and Luke-Mingo to hand over all the records of the Society to pave the way for an investigation aimed at resolving the issues. Morgan informed the ministers that the two executive members did not hand over any records.

According to Morgan, the two would have been appointed nearly 19 years ago to sit on the executive body. However, due to the claims and petition presented against them in September last year, they were removed from office by the CCDO. “Elections were supposed to be held every year, and it has been years since the last election. Additionally, under the rules of the co-op, there must be five members to form the executive committee. They only have three, so by virtue of that, the society became defunct,” Morgan said and added that “we are preparing to move to the court to have an injunction filed against them. The society will be preparing for elections within the coming months, so that the members can take back the society.”