Sep 10, 2017  Features / ColumnistsFreddie Kissoon

A very interesting piece of information came out of the Lands Commission Inquiry by Mr. Aubrey Charles, General Manager of the MMA scheme. It was not commented on by anyone in the society but it is important for an understanding of the class structure of this country.
Mr. Hemraj Kissoon, patriarch of the AH&L Kissoon family (no relation to me and a family I don’t know at all except that I know it is a rich, well established Guyanese business), testified that when the MMA scheme was engineered by the Guyana Government in the seventies, his company lost 2000 acres of leased land to the east of the MMA and he wants the Lands Commission to return such to the Kissoon family.
He said that the family owned the land for more than a hundred years. He went on to state in that in the vicinity of the MMA, at the present time, the family possesses 8000 acres leased by the colonial governor
Two opposing emotions struck you when you read what Mr. Kissoon said. One is why after so long, he wants the 2000 acres back or why shouldn’t his family get back the acres after all. Kissoon told the commissioners the government of the day never told his family why it needed 2000 acres of his land. But Kissoon’s picture was not the complete portrait. The entire canvas was revealed when the General-Manager of the MMA took the stand. What he had to say was quite revealing about the nature of class society in Guyana. Mr. Kissoon wants his 2000 acres back but Charles’s testimony dissolves any sympathy you may have had for the Kissoon family.
First, Charles testified that there is no documentation to show that the Kissoon family requested compensation at the time. Secondly, lands to the east of the MMA that the Kissoon family possessed as leased land that included the 2000 acres taken by the State were not occupied for 30 years prior to the establishment of the MMA. Try to understand the scenario that Charles described if you are going to make a decision as to whether the State should return 2000 acres to the Kissoon family.
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Here is that scenario. The Government is establishing a colossal agricultural scheme whose square miles are longer than some of our Caricom neighbours. The scheme would revolutionize agriculture in Guyana. It found out that it needs to take in 2000 acres of leased land that is in private hand. But it is not land that was being used but land that was never touched for over 30 years.
Surely, there isn’t a government in the world that would hold up a similar scheme like the MMA because it cannot get 2000 acres that the colonial government leased to a family that at the time was one of the richest in the country.
Thirdly, four reasons were offered by the Guyana Government why the State needed 2000 of leased land in order to engineer the scheme (remember it is important to distinguish leased land from land bought through payment) and they included absence of payment of rent by the Kissoon family for the leased asset.
There were some startling revelations by Mr. Charles one of which included the policy of the MMA not to renew leases if rent was not paid. In his own words he told the commissioners that the Kissoon family was in the habit of not paying rent for state resources that it rented
Charles announced at the hearing that in 1999, the Kissoon family had owed the State in excess of $20 million. Here is the part that involves class privileges in this country. Charles stated that the MMA Board took the decision to waive the sum. It is for this reason I am doing this column on the land issue. Would the State have waived money owed by policemen, civil servants and army personnel who borrowed it from their respective places of employment within the State to buy a home or a car?
There should be no question in the mind of any citizen that the government is not going to waive monies owed by UG students that they borrowed from the State.
Space would prevent further discussion on the rebuttal testimony of the MMA manager to what the Kissoon patriarch presented but his testimony is so intriguing that editors, commentators, political activists and concerned citizens ought to read his rebuttal. I will be testifying at the commission when it resumes hearing on October 2. I intend to press a case for lands for the poorer classes of this country