Georgetown, Guyana – (November 4, 2016) Commissioner and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Guyana Lands and Surveys Commission (GL&SC), Mr. Trevor Benn, today, said that the Commission has undertaken a number of initiatives aimed at generating revenue to make its services more efficient and stakeholder-friendly. Mr. Benn made this announcement at a press briefing held at his D’urban Backlands office.

One of these major projects is a Lease/Rent Portfolio, through which the Commission aims to determine how many leases have been granted and how much income can be expected annually to aid in efficient programme planning. Based on the work done to date, Mr. Benn said, indications are that if the GL&SC were to receive all of the money it is owed, in January, for example, it would not be able to function for more than three months of the year.

Another option is to increase the rates for land rent, he said. “We have not had rent increases… for the last 15 years to be exact, since [2001], when the Commission came into being. So people are still paying very menial rates… For example, our maps, which are in use at the moment were done back in the 1960s/1970s.

To update those maps, per region, it’s roughly US$1 million so at the current rates that we are charging, which for example, for an agriculture lot is $100.00 per acre, in some areas, $200.00 per acre, we cannot service the Commission. We cannot bring the Commission to the 21st Century organisation that we really would like it to be,” the Commissioner said.

The GL&SC is the only agency authorised to approve and oversee surveys in the country and this is another way in which it is generating income. Mr. Benn also said that though the Commission still does most of its work manually, it is in the process of digitising its records, a process that is expected to be completed by the end of 2017, though it is undertaking same with a dearth of resources. The GL&SC is currently working on a project funded through the Guyana REDD+ Investment Fund (GRIF) that will help to provide the resources to speed-up its computerisation process, he said.

Meanwhile, the Commission is urging the public to desist from building structures on Government reserves areas. “It is illegal to occupy Government or State property without [the] permission of the State agency responsible, in this case the [GL&SC]… For some reason, however, there has been a lapse and people were allowed, wittingly or unwittingly, to occupy Government reserves. What we have found though is that it has become a real hindrance to the developmental works that the Government would like to pursue…. Therefore, the call that was made recently, one, is to remind people that it is illegal to do that and secondly, to tell people that going forward, it will not be encouraged,” the Commissioner said.

While some persons living on the reserves have been served notices to desist, the GL&SC is hampered from taking further action as some of them have been granted licence to occupy some portions of land.

“We’re saying to them that we’re not prepared to perpetually grant license to them to be on the reserve. In fact the licence is very clear that whenever government is ready for use of the reserve that they will have to vacate. So it is very clear to anyone, who may have had a licence in the past… some people have begun to believe that this is a right and so without even getting approval from Lands and Surveys, they go on to the parapets, they go on to the reserves and so we’re trying to discontinue that practice.,” Mr. Benn said.

Licenses were issued on the Soesdyke-Linden Highway, for example, for persons to occupy sections of the buffer zone – the road reserve, and in several locations in regions Two, Three and Six as well as on the East Coast and East Bank of Demerara, he said. The Commissioner also made it clear that while the Town Councils and City Council may have granted license for persons to occupy certain reserves that practice is illegal. “As far as I am aware there is no relationship with those NDCs or the Town Councils that undertake such action and as far as the State Land Act is concerned, that is illegal,” he said.

Mr. Benn also noted that the recently published advertisement in the press warning persons against occupying the reserves is not intended to excite the public, “as at the moment we are not thinking about removing anyone. If you’re there, the Government, I’m sure, will have an arrangement to deal with the present squatters at some future point because at some point they will have to move, but that’s not our focus at the moment”.

Mr. Benn recently returned from a meeting for Government signatories to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), held in Nairobi, Kenya where he reported on Guyana’s efforts to meet its obligations to the Convention. The GL&SC is the national focal point for Guyana. At that meeting, Guyana was asked to host the 2018 meeting, which will see representatives from at least 190 countries travelling here. These representatives will include technical experts from the environmental field, the sustainable land management field, and other areas. The 2017 meeting will be held in China. Guyana has also been asked to Chair the Regional body that supports the work of the UNCCD in the Region, Mr. Benn said. Minister of State, Mr. Joseph Harmon is the political focal point for the UNCCD.

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