A proper land distribution policy is necessary
Stabroek News
December 17, 2001

Dear Editor,

International investors and returning Guyanese will not invest in Guyana when they read of the plight of Mr. Maxie Fox as reported in Stabroek News on Sunday December 9 where land leased to him was later leased to someone else. The excuse of the incompleteness of the records of the Lands and Survey Commission, recently created with IDB finance, cannot be accepted as adequate. This is the age of the computer which facilitates recording of land inventories and land allocation.

In the West Coast of Berbice where farmers traditionally planted rice and reared cattle and rotated the two activities between the first and second depths, intruders have been allowed to occupy the second depth and to reduce the scope for crop and animal rotation. Applicants who have sought lands in Region 4 have been told that there is no Land Selection Committee, but later discover that leases are being issued in the very Region 4 where there is allegedly no land distribution machinery. In Limlair, on the Corentyne, villagers, already severely hurt in the past by the Black Bush Polder water realignment, paid a considerable amount of money two years ago for surveying the lands in the second depth of the village as part of a process to apply for leases individually. After expending considerable amounts of money, the applicants have not heard a word about their applications.

These activities,some co ordinated and others unco ordinated but nonetheless allowed, are part of a process to empower supporters. It is apparently recognised that giving evidence of this bias in the allocation of land is short sighted. An investor who visited Guyana recently to survey the prospects of investing in an agricultural project was turned off by a lack of a clear policy and by arbitrariness and took his money to Tobago.

This situation can be corrected by sitting down with the opposition parties and hammering out a land distribution policy. The formulation of a policy will be an ongoing process that will benefit from an inventorisation of the land and of the ownerships that can best be done by the regions and the villages if they are properly constituted and adequately staffed to do such inventorisation.Spreading the skills for data base compilation is an excellent way to empower local authorites and reduce poverty. The skills for this devolution process are either available in Guyana or can be acquired from among Guyanese overseas.

This approach to the development of a fair , open and transparent land distribution system runs into two difficulties. The first is the obsession with centralised control. Inevitably centralised control prevents the development of efficient management systems and leads to inefficiencies as have arisen in the Maxie Fox situation.Mr.Fox is issued receipts by one agency while Mr. Panday gets his lease from GO INVEST ,an agency that was established to smoothen out the investment process and certainly not to allocate land holdings.

The second difficulty is perhaps even more fundamental and derives from the gradual reintroduction of the imposition of party paramountcy.The Government is deaf to those pleas that are made to it to modernise public and development administration in such a way that the administration will be open and transparent. One suggestion to use donor resources to acquire skills (such as can be deployed to assist in formulating a land development policy and in administering it) runs into the objection that such resources must come under centralised control,obviously because of distrust of possible selectees who are not party loyalists.But a modern,open development administration system will necessarily include officials who are not loyal to any political party but are loyal to the state and to the Constitution. In a modern ,open system, officials should be made to respect the General Orders, appropriately revised, or some updated Operations Manuals. If that is not done, the cowboy approach to land distribution will continue. And the economy will continue to decline as frustrated investors either leave or are turned off by arbitrariness.

Yours faithfully,

Clarence F. Ellis