Aug 29, 2017 News
Further details of an ongoing dispute between Abary Cattle Ranch Company Limited (ACRCL) and the Mahaica-Mahaicony Abary/Agricultural Development Authority (MMA/ADA) came to the fore yesterday as General Manager of the MMA/ADA, Aubrey Charles testified at the ongoing Commission of Inquiry, (COI) into the issue.
Charles was called to the stand in the Commission of Inquiry, (COI) into the Ancestral and other land matters. The COI has been in session at the Lands and Surveys Headquarters, D’Urban Backlands, Georgetown, for the past week.
The exercise is being spearheaded by Chairman Rev. George Chuck-A-Sang, accompanied by Commissioners Berlinda Persaud, Professor Rudolph James, David James, Paulette Henry, Lennox Caleb, and Carol Khan-James.
Charles, in sworn testimony, provided the Commission with information on the formation of the MMA/ADA, the role of the Agricultural Authority in relation to State Lands in Region Five and the ongoing dispute between the organisation and farmers in West Berbice.
According to Charles, when the MMA/ADA, was enacted in 1977, it assumed the role of guardian of all state lands in Region five. He explained that under Section 15 of the MMA/ADA Act, the MMA/ADA was equipped to conduct all drainage, irrigation and maintenance work on the properties.
The witness told the Commission that before the 1970s, a substantial portion of state land was held by the Abary cattle ranchers, but the lands were later absorbed as part of the MMA/ADA conservancy.
Charles said that the cattle ranchers still had access to some 7,784 acres of land via a process of renewed titles/leases from the MMA/ADA.
The General Manager told the commission that the ACRCL had been paying fees to the Agricultural Authority to have leases renewed. However, in 2014, the cattle ranchers stopped paying their dues but demanded the renewal of titles. Charles said that naturally, the MMA/ADA refused to renew the leases.
Charles said that sometime later, Asha Roberts – the daughter of Hemraj Kissoon, the Managing-Director and Chair of the ACRCL – and her husband, approached the MMA/ADA and cleared the charges of MMA /ADA from 2000–2014, amounting to $33 million.
The General Manager said that subsequently there was a discussion with the board and Chairman of MMA/ADA to proceed with having the ACRCL regain the title/leases to the state lands.
Questioned further about the dispute between the MMA/ADA and cattle ranchers in West Berbice, Charles told the Commission that the dispute resulted in a several court proceedings. However, he pointed out that the cattle ranchers had been in the habit of owing the MMA /ADA millions of dollars.
“The farmers owe the authority in excess of $700 million and we don’t get subventions from the Government to carry out maintenance and other drainage and irrigation works on these lands, “Charles told the Commission.
Last week, ACRCL head Hemraj Kissoon accused the MMA/ADA of unjustly taking away over 2000 acres of land from them, without reason.
He told the Commission that the group was established for the sole purpose of fattening cattle, which had been moved to Berbice from the Rupununi for some 108 years. The dispute was started after the MMA/ADA moved to take over properties that were occupied by cattle ranchers.
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