The Amerindian Land Titling (ALT) project has resumed according to the indigenous affairs Minister Sydney Allicock, who took little pain to assure the House on the matter during his 2016 budget presentation. Nevertheless, it is what we have all been patiently waiting to hear.
The Indigenous Peoples Affairs Ministry (MoIPA) for some obscure reason limits the quantity of information it delivers to the public on the status of ALT and its project unit, in particular to Amerindian beneficiaries. Incidentally, ALT is of prime importance to Amerindian development. What can be confirmed presently however, is that the new unit only comprises of a Project Manager, former Guyana Lands & Surveys Commission (GLSC) employee, Enrique Monize, and a land surveyor also formerly employed by the GLSC. There is no Project Associate, as the functions apparently will be absorbed by staff of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), presumably still the project’s designated Partner Entity.
What we also know is that the ALT project lags incredibly far behind its initial three-year schedule and that in the space of nine months, absolutely no progress was made to address the land titling, extension and demarcation needs of Amerindian communities and villages. This can be linked to the lack of will from an administration which had other priorities such as expending efforts to get rid of the original ALT team even though staff were still on contract, in a move to facilitate “jobs for the boys”. After nine months of reported internal discord within and between the APNU and AFC camps in the Ministry, it was obvious that a team had to be sourced from the outside, and that this probably had to be done in keeping with UN safeguards and standards.
This voluntary delay adds to the already formidable task of the new team, which is yet to deliver titles for six communities, 32 villages and Certificates of Title for 64 villages. However, land titling investigation was completed for the remaining 6 communities and 15 villages for which it is now only a matter of political will from the Allicock administration and Cabinet, who must examine and approve the requests.
The coalition regime however, appears to be oblivious to the requests for extension to titled lands in particular. Gross indifference to proposed extensions of villages neighbouring Lethem, such as Moco Moco, Nappi and Yupukari, has resulted in the outlines of a Lethem township which overlaps with requested extension boundaries. In the case of Nappi, the overlap swallows at least two thirds of the proposed extension. This also reflects the Government’s disinterest for the principle of Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC), as well as for provisions in the Norway Guyana LCD Agreement to include indigenous peoples in the national decision-making process to build a green economy.
With no evidence to substantiate for any worthy investments in Amerindian land titling during such a long lapse of time since the ALT project was disintegrated in June 2015, it is time that Amerindian leaders demand accountability from the MoIPA as well as the UNDP and other Government stakeholders.
It must be reminded that ALT was designed to expedite the Government of Guyana response to applications, some of which were pending for years primarily due to insufficient financial resources. The LCDS revenues which fund the project through GRIF are not taken from tax payers but instead, are part of a bilateral agreement aimed at crafting sustainable development projects inclusive of indigenous peoples’ participation.
Subsequently, there is no space for unnecessary delays. The excuse of the Allicock administration for interrupting the project in June was that it needed to accommodate the “transition” of new management. Well, nine months was ample time to facilitate transition insofar as the ministerial seats would have taken the shape of their new leaders, and it is now time to get on with the people’s business.
The Government continues to bulldoze its way through the democratic achievements Amerindians have made over the years as though there is no Ministry to defend the people. However, the LCDS sees indigenous peoples as being an integral component in developing a sustainable economy and it is on this very basis that the creation of townships breaches the Agreement as well as violates indigenous rights.
If the Amerindian affairs Ministers continue to remain complacent and lax, then civil actors and international observers must be called upon to intervene. So should Norway.