An ongoing legal dispute between a Parika, East Bank Essequibo family and a popular service station owner came to the fore yesterday as the Commission of Inquiry, (COI) into African Ancestral and other land matters continued.
Joan Levi -Straughn testified on behalf her relatives detailing an alleged injustice meted out to her family under the previous administration.
Levi -Straughn told the commission that businessman, Shiraz Alli, under the purview of the Bharrat Jagdeo Government obtained a lease to a portion of land which belonged to her relatives.
The witness explained that the land is adjacent to the sea defence reserve which Alli also claimed after the Sea Defence Board essentially authorised him to use it.
According to the woman, the Levi family has utilised every method possible to reclaim possession to the valuable piece of family merchandise.
Levi-Straughn said that the land purchased generations before had been a part of the family legacy for several decades. She noted that the dispute between the Levi s’ and Alli has been ongoing for two decades.
“The Levi s have spent enormous amount of monies fighting to reclaim the property while Shiraz Alli continues to occupy the land.”
She said that in 2001, her family filed an injunction against Alli and the Court granted an order restraining, the businessman from occupying the land but Alli defied the Court Order.
“Shiraz Alli continues to defy the order the Court Order. He also placed a fence and dragline and cylindrical drum on the land to prevent the Levi’s access to the land.”
“Such acts are wrong, unjust and discriminatory,” she added
The woman is hoping that the Commission will make recommendations to right the injustice meted out to her family.
She asked that the portion which represents their property be permanently removed from Alli’s lease and for a reimbursement of monies expended to correct the situation.
Similarly, secretary of the Vergenoegen Agri- Producers Cooperative Society limited, Norman Dalrymple related accounts of the business possession and occupation of lands leased to society.
Dalrymple said that Alli used his wealth and political connection to obtain a 99-year lease to what was ancestral lands.
Dalrymple said that the some 250 acres of land was used for cash crop farming and other economic uses.
He noted that as a result of Alli obtaining the land, members of the society suffered economically. Dalrymple’s testimony was followed by a presentation by columnist, Frederick Kissoon.
Kissoon made recommendations to the Commission on matters related to the distribution of State lands.
Kissoon told the Commission that he believes Chapter Three of the book “Sugar without Slaves” by Alan Adamson can be useful in helping them to understand what happened to lands given to emancipated African people and how ancestral lands were taken away and given to other people after the emancipation period.
Kissoon made a four-point presentation in which he called for redress in a number land issues.
He noted a covenant was made between the Government and business community under the Desmond Hoyte administration.
Kissoon noted that extreme land concessions were given to entrepreneurs; the social activist pointed specifically to a large plot of land located on Mandela Avenue, opposite to the Botanical Gardens. He said that the lands were given to continental agencies in the 1980s.
“That large acreage was given out since the 1980s, and since, nothing has been constructed on that land. I think it’s unfair for that land which by now carries an enormous piece of real estate, to remain that way.
“I am not a lawyer but I think there was some violation of a contractual agreement somewhere along the line. It is my view that if the commission should find a violation that the Commission makes a recommendation for those lands to be reclaimed by the State.”
The Columnist also raised concerns for squatters located in the vicinity of the railway embankment on the East Coast Demerara. Kissoon recalled that the Ramotar administration had implemented legalisation which prohibited people from applying for prescriptive rights on State in 2014.
“My contention is that it is unfair for that law to be retroactive. Kissoon therefore held that the law should only apply to persons applying for prescriptive rights to State Lands, post 2014.”
He noted that some of the people have been occupying the area for in excess of 30 years and should be given the right to apply to prescriptive titles.
Kissoon, a former lecturer of the University of Guyana, also lobbied for persons who served the State in various capacities to be given lands as part of their benefits package.
“It was always my view that if my country has anything to offer people who served in the public service, especially those who risked their lives for the sovereignty of Guyana, like soldiers, policemen, it should be lands.”
He recommended that the State does research on people who served the Country in public capacity for more than two decades, and if it is found that those are not financially equipped to purchase, they should be given lands at an extremely concessionary price.
“My recommendation is that if we cannot pay a big pension; we have the land to give the people.”
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