General Secretary of A Partnership for National Unity (APNU), Joseph Harmon, is convinced that the recently signed lease agreement between Bai Shan Lin and the Ministry of Amerindian Affairs is improper and does not reflect that sufficient consultations were done on the matter.
As such, the politician said that once the coalition, A Partnership for National Unity – Alliance For Change (APNU-AFC) assumes office, the deal would be rescinded and properly reviewed to ensure that all the requirements were met.
Minister of Amerindian Affairs Pauline Sukhai on Wednesday, signed a “communist” lease agreement with Bai Shan Lin, and the Amerindian village of Hururu. It is believed that the agreement was not fully negotiated between the company and the village, as media operatives observed that discussions on the contract were still taking place. This was even as cameras were being set up for the occasion.
Harmon told Kaieteur News that certain regulations which control the operations of the communities should have included in it, “free, prior and informed consent.” He explained that this means that the indigenous people of the Hururu community would be able to be a part of the decision-making process.
But based on what he observed with the arrangements thus far, Harmon insisted that this requirement was overlooked during negotiations. He said that he is not surprised by the manner in which the Amerindian Minister was dealing with the negotiations.
The APNU General Secretary opined that this “peculiar lease agreement” ignored that requirement, and that it is the classic way the PPP/C deals with the indigenous people, “as though they are children to be dictated to.”
While he predicts this to be one of many incidents in the lead-up to election campaigns, Harmon asserted that one can only imagine what happens behind closed doors with these sorts of agreements.
He then reminded that before signing, Bai Shan Lin wanted the agreement to state that upon signing, it would be able to use the existing wharf in the Village. But apparently, Sukhai did not agree. She reportedly suggested that the Hururu Village Council could write to the company, giving permission for the use of the existing facilities.
The Bai Shan Lin representatives, however, found it a bit strange that something as simple as including that request in the agreement could not be done. After several minutes of discourse on the matter between the Chinese agents, an impatient Sukhai interrupted by saying, “Hello, are we signing?”
Sukhai made it clear that the lease agreement had nothing to do with use of facilities, but noted that the village had no reservations with the use of the facilities. At her wits’ end it seemed, she then took the initiative to make the commitment for the village, even after she confessed that formal permission is needed after consultation with the community’s Bridge Committee and the Village Council.
Harmon said that Sukhai’s impatience raises a lot of suspicion and questions, and the agreement is a clear representation of an election gimmick.
“This agreement is tainted and is in my view, not an expression of the community’s consent. It is an improper agreement and the APNU-AFC partnership will, once it assumes office, revoke and review this programme,” he added.
In speaking with the Amerindian Minister yesterday, she sought first to comment that the Kaieteur News carried a “juicy article” on the matter, but she wanted to make it clear that the agreement was not being finalized as was reported.
She emphasized that the negotiations on the land were four months in the making between Bai Shan Lin, the Village Council and the community.
Sukhai said that the Bai Shan Lin officials had asked on Wednesday to use some of the existing facilities and she indicated to them that it would have to be dealt with as a separate request. She said that the Amerindian Act allows her to speak on land issues and give guidance in that regard, among other matters. She stressed that the Act allows the Village Council to operate as an autonomous body, and therefore such decisions would have to be determined by that body. She added that the affairs of the communities are also decided by that body.
Sukhai disclosed that she noted that the Company Director did not turn up to the event. Instead the General Manager did and because of that, the title for their signature on the document had to be changed.
The Minister said that she was given the assurance that the Village Council did consult with the community on the project, notwithstanding the fact that even if the community disagrees, it is the prerogative of the Council to still go forward with whatever decision it deems fit.
She said that at the end of the day, the Council is the custodian of the village. She noted too that this is not the first time that the Hururu village got into such an arrangement. She said that they had similar arrangements before with another company.
Sukhai was also asked if she was concerned with signing of the agreement, considering the allegations of abuse against the indigenous people by this very company. The Amerindian Minister said that she is not aware of any such abuses by the company on her people, and if that is the case, there are the relevant authorities at her Ministry who would be willing to take up the case or give a hearing. She emphasized that there has been no formal complaint in that regard.
The agreement sees Bai Shan Lin leasing 27.4 acres of land from Hururu at $5,000 an acre. The company will be allowed to construct a wharf and log pond, along with two buildings, and a parking lot for their equipment and other vehicles. The lease will run for 25 years.
Bai Shan Lin has also promised to upgrade 2.5 miles of road, which it will be using, and also to build a sporting facility for youths of the area. Road works are said to commence within two weeks.
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