…says lack of policy creating numerous challengesWork is ongoing at the Guyana Lands and Surveys Commission (GL&SC) for the agency to develop a database of available land as well as a National Land Policy, all of which will make information on land more accessible to the public.The Guyana Lands and Surveys CommissionThis was announced by GL&SC Chief Executive Officer Trevor Benn during the agency’s end-of-year press conference. According to Benn, the database is being developed for Regions 2, 3, 4 and part of Region 7.“This work involves geo-referencing of the cadastral plans in order to show which areas have been surveyed and consequently which areas have not been and are vacant. A public vetting of the data for the Kuru Kururu residential area was conducted recently in order to verify the data in the Land Management System at the Commission”.“A well-functioning land information system would enable the Government to generate land-related statistics, make data-driven development decisions, and generally increase the efficiency in land management,” Benn also noted.When it comes to a National Land Policy and the legislative framework to support it, Benn noted that work is ongoing in this regard. According to him, the Commission’s Land Information and Mapping Division has held several rounds of consultations.Benn explained that from these consultations, the Commission received input from experts concerning the finalisation of the draft national policy. Once in place, he said, the policy will allow users to access the national database to research.“Currently, consultations with key stakeholders are taking place. Regional and national consultations will also be undertaken before the process wraps up. The policy will emerge out of an inclusive and highly-consultative process”.Benn explained that the lack of a national land policy has created challenges in tenure security and efficiency for many Guyanese. He noted that this situation has caused confusion about the responsibilities in land administration and management, and overlapping mandates.“The land policy will describe the national vision for the land sector, define Government and citizens’ rights and responsibilities and set priorities, as well as set out the legal basis for agencies of the land sector”.Previously, the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GCCI) had called for the implementation of a land use policy, in the wake of the controversial allocation of land in Wales to two companies.Earlier this year, GL&SC was involved in a scandal after Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo called on President David Granger to answer to a massive distribution of prime State lands to certain employees of the Ministry of the Presidency, as well as to cronies in the PNC-led A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) fraction of the coalition government and officials of the State Assets Recovery Agency (SARA), which were supposed to recover State assets.Only recently, Extra Virgin Coconut Products (EVCP) and Amazonia Expert Services Incorporated (AESI) were the two companies who recently received 680 acres of land in Wales. The land, part of the now-closed Wales Sugar Estate, was leased to the partners for them to enter the coconut industry. According to Principal at AESI, Dr Arlington Chesney, the company wants the land to process coconut water, as well as dried and grated coconut for the Dominican market. However, one of the companies was only recently formed.Back in 2017, Government had announced plans to close the Enmore and Rose Hall Sugar Estates, sell the Skeldon Sugar Factory, reduce the annual production of sugar, and take on the responsibility of managing the drainage and irrigation services offered by GuySuCo.Subsequently, in November of that year, GuySuCo announced plans to retrench 2500 workers by the end of that year. Amid much criticism, over 7000 were retrenched, with some having to fight for the severance they were legally entitled to.Government then established the Special Purpose Unit (SPU) under the National Industrial and Commercial Investment Limited (NICIL) to take over the divestment of GuySuCo’s assets that were earmarked for sale.The SPU then recruited PricewaterhouseCoopers to conduct a valuation of the assets to be privatised and divested. It is understood, however, that with the Government in a caretaker status after losing a No-Confidence Motion last year, that process has been suspended.With Wales’ estate also being closed, and some workers being given the option of transferring to Uitvlugt, there has been much interest in the land left behind, particularly for farmers. In fact, earlier this year, land from the Wales Sugar Estate was snapped up by local and overseas farmers and over a thousand acres of that land was put under rice cultivation.