A group of rice farmers from Seafield, West Coast Berbice has secured a High Court ruling which can potentially see them repossessing farm lands that were reclaimed by the Mahaica-Mahaicony-Abary Agricultural Development Authority (MMA/ADA).
The three farmers Phillip Johnson, Rawle Miller and Rupert Blackman had moved to the courts last October through Attorney Anil Nandlall after the MMA/ADA cancelled their leases for several acres of plantation lands.
Johnson had particularly described the scenario, which he said deprived them of their livelihood.
During a visit to Kaieteur News, Johnson had provided this publication with a copy of a lease agreement, issued under the hand of former President Donald Ramotar, which was finalized in November, 2014.
The MMA/ADA, he said, had subsequently published a notice in the dailies which stated that as a result of a court action last October, all the leases are cancelled with immediate effect. The farmer told this newspaper that he made contact with the MMA/ADA General Manager, Aubrey Charles, who informed him of the court action and said nothing further could be done.
The land, he said, had already been cultivated at a substantial cost. To compound the situation, he said the rice farmers were asked to pay the MMA/ADA to reap the rice cultivated on the land.
The affected rice farmers held out that the issue stems more from collusion between members of the MMA/ADA and a selected few farmers who control the majority of lands in the West Berbice District.
Johnson said that just about six families were in control of some 500 acres of rice lands in the area.
The legal challenge brought against the Authority, later described the decision as discriminatory, arbitrary, capricious, influenced by irrelevant consideration, unconstitutional, unlawful and should be rendered null and void.
In the affidavit to support their claims, the farmers had noted that the MMA/ADA had issued them leases to the State lands in 2014 after the relevant documents were filled out and the fees were paid.
The farmers lamented over the fact that they had spent monies to develop the lands and they had stayed within the boundaries of the agreement stipulated by the Agricultural body. Meanwhile, Attorney for the farmers, Anil Nandlall, had argued that the lands were leased in accordance to Sections 3(b) of the State Lands Act Chapter 62:01 and in accordance MMA/ADA Act No. 27 of 1977.
The document stated that in the September 26, 2015 edition of the Kaieteur News, a notice was published by the MMA /ADA outlining that the Authority has issues with the leases for State Lands situated in the rear of Seafield Village, West Coast Berbice. The MMA/ADA said the leases issued were contrary to an Order of the Court and in the circumstances, were cancelled.
On Friday, Outgoing Chief Justice (Ag) Ian Chang handed down a ruling which essentially quashed MMA/ADA‘s decision.
The Chief Justice (CJ) noted that the Agricultural organisation had no authority to cancel a lease granted by the President on the ground that it was granted unlawfully.
“If the MMA/ADA was aggrieved by the Presidential grant, the MMA/ADA or any aggrieved person could have taken proceedings in court, not against the President but against the Attorney General challenging the legality of the grant made by him,” Chang said in the ruling.
He noted that such a challenge should have never been brought to Court since it is not open for
MMA/ADA or any other person to make such a determination on a Presidential Grant.
In granting judgment against the Authority, the CJ awarded the applicants cost in the sum of $40,000.
Last year, the Full Court of the High Court had granted the farmers injunctions which restrained the MMA/ADA from further interference of the farmer’s peaceful occupation of the lands.
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