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Trade Unions

THE first trade union in the Colony was begun in 1921 and there are now twenty-seven unions. Many are unstable financially and there have been many cases of unions having been formed by politicians as a means towards the wielding of power. Rival unions may be formed to undermine those that are established and doing good work. Thus the Guiana Industrial Workers Union has been trying, since 1948 when it was formed, to gain control of the sugarworkers from the Man Power Citizens' Association which has been going since 1939 and is the recognized union in the sugar industry. Mr. George Woodcock, Assistant General Secretary of the T.U.C., when a Member of the Robertson Commission, recommended Guianese unions to be mistrustful of politically ambitious leaders and to pursue their industrial objectives by industrial rather than by political means. He suggested that a British trade union figure should spend some months in the Colony to explain British trade union methods and ideals to the Guianese, and during 1955 Mr. Andrew Dalgleish travelled extensively in the Colony answering questions and offering practical help and advice about organization and methods. Mr. Dalgleish was invited to visit the Colony by the British T.U.C., who financed his two long visits.


Land Utilization and Tenure

No more than 0-5 per cent of the total area of the Colony is under cultivation, or about 280,000 acres, largely confined to the coastal area. The Department of Lands and Mines is by statute in charge of all Crown and Colony lands. The issue of title for Crown lands is subject to the provision of the Crown Lands Ordinance of 1919. Crown lands comprise go per cent of the Colony. Areas totalling 5,640 square miles of Crown land have been declared Amerindian Reservations. Freehold land owned by non-Amerindians is in two categories: land alienated by the Dutch before 1803 and land alienated by the Crown after 1831. The total freehold land is 1,178 square miles. 6,916 acres are held under lease by the United States Government.

The whole question of land utilization and tenure is of extreme importance to the successful development of the Colony, and most thinking people in British Guiana agree that some drastic form of land reform is required to sweep away the anomalies. Land reform was one of the aims of the P.P.P., but once in power they discovered the difficulties and the great complication of the subject. One of these basic difficulties is the fact that when the Dutch capitulated to the British in 1803 they stipulated that 'the laws and usages of the Colony should remain in force and be respected'. Thus the present system of land tenure owes its existence to Dutch law and custom rather than British. Under Roman-Dutch Law it is not sufficient for an owner of land to pass the ownership by a mere grant or alienatory agreement. The change of ownership is only effective if a 'deed of transport' is made before a public official, and the transport registered by the Registrar of Deeds. The purpose of this was to avoid an elaborate investigation of title. Although the Colony adopted English Common Law in 1917 the system of transports was retained. Another method of acquiring ownership of land under Roman-Dutch Law was by undisturbed possession of land for a third of a century. This recognition of squatters' rights permitted an owner to secure a title to the land. In 1952 this method of 'prescription' was modified in that the period was reduced to twelve years, except in the case of Crown or Colony land. RomanDutch Law permitted joint-ownership of land, and this has been the cause of much dispute between the interested parties. To avoid

this, provision was made for the legal division of such disputed land into specific portions. There has always been great difficulty in determining claims to land and even to defining the areas of land claimed; boundaries are obscure; early ‘Dutch' charters have been lost. In 1854 and 1889 efforts were made to clarify the land tenure position, but little resulted from the investigations. After 1831 the Crown began to make absolute grants of land, but this system was modified in the early years of this century, when purchase grants became conditional on beneficial occupation of the land. If the conditions were carried out the land became the purchaser's absolute property, except for mineral rights. In 1931 agricultural and grazing lands were granted by the Crown on leases of twenty-one years, with a right of renewal; recently the amount of the land to be beneficially occupied under the conditions of the lease has been increased from a quarter to a half. There has been much abandonment of leased Crown lands, and there are two main causes for this; lack of drainage and irrigation and the feeling among owners that they should be allowed absolute ownership, and not renewable leases of twenty-one years.

Systems of Land Tenure are (a) Crown land held under one of the various forms of title, other than absolute grant. (b) Land held under absolute grant. (c) Land which the occupier has purchased, but of which for some reason he can show only a receipt for the purchase price. (d) Land known as 'children's property', occupied by persons who claim that they are descendants of former owners. (e) Land which can be said to have been squatted on.

Fragmentation. Undoubtedly one of the chief causes of inefficiency in the utilization of land is fragmentation. Land is, down the years, willed to various sons or daughters by the owner, and the result is a large number of small pieces of land which cannot be beneficially occupied. This also produces an obstacle to adequate drainage and irrigation. It has been recommended that the uneconomic fragmentation of land should be forbidden by law. A report produced in August, 1955, says, "The Committee holds the view that the land tenure problems of this Colony will never be solved, and the general development of the Colony will continue to be seriously retarded, unless and until all agricultural lands capable of beneficial occupation are so occupied. We understand that in some countries a tax is imposed on agricultural land not beneficially occupied.' The Report summarized its recommendations as follows:

1. That there should be created a Land Tribunal and that Land Magistrates should be appointed.

2. That the Land Tribunal should consist of three persons with prescribed qualifications.

3. That the Land Tribunal would issue final certificates of title. 4. That there should be three Land Magistrates, one for each of the counties of Berbice, Demerara and Essequibo.

5. That the Land Magistrates would investigate the claims to land and issue provisional certificates of title.

6. That the applicants for title should file with the clerk to the Land Magistrate particulars of their claims and should be given every assistance and advice in the preparation of such claims.

7. That an immediate increase be made in the staffs of the Deeds Registry and the Survey Section of the Lands and Mines Department to enable experienced officers from those Departments to be released for service with the Land Magistrates and the Land Tribunal.

8. That amendments be made to the District Lands Partition and Re-allotment Ordinance.

9. That uneconomic fragmentation of agricultural land be forbidden by law.

10. That agricultural land capable of beneficial occupation but lying abandoned or vacant for over five years should vest in the Colony and thereafter be made available in the same manner as Crown land.

11. That agricultural land capable of beneficial occupation and held by persons who fail or neglect to obtain title thereto should vest in the Colony and thereafter be made available in the same manner as Crown land.

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All figures are in B.W.I. dollars. One dollar =4s. 2d.



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