In­dige­nous democ­racy

Stabroek News Sunday - - REGIONAL NEWS -

That peo­ple don’t learn any lessons from the ex­pe­ri­ence of oth­ers is per­haps un­der­stand­able, but why they shouldn’t learn from their own ex­pe­ri­ence – good as well as bad ‒ is more dif­fi­cult to ex­plain. But so it is with politi­cians in par­tic­u­lar, who are so ob­sessed with the past, no mat­ter what its out­come, that they can­not seem to re­ori­ent them­selves on a dif­fer­ent tra­jec­tory so that a gen­uinely new fu­ture is limned out.

This is not to say that a few ba­sic facts can­not be grasped. But our politi­cians are ex­perts at grasp­ing the facts, and then op­er­at­ing on the ba­sis of some un­rea­son­able con­clu­sions. Since pol­i­tics in this coun­try is all about win­ning power, and nei­ther of the two ethno-po­lit­i­cal par­ties is in a po­si­tion nu­mer­i­cally speak­ing to ac­com­plish that on its own ac­count, the In­dige­nous peo­ple have re­cently emerged as a kind of third po­lit­i­cal force in this land; no one can win an elec­tion with­out the help of their bal­lots. Since the nine na­tions con­cerned do not vote as a uni­fied po­lit­i­cal bloc, the two big par­ties are con­strained to seek ways to per­suade them to join their tra­di­tional con­stituents in the vot­ing booth, in quest of a ma­jor­ity.

Of course nei­ther of the large par­ties is con­cerned about In­dige­nous demo­cratic rights, etc, although there is al­ways enough vague talk about these weighty sub­jects prior to an elec­tion; in the end, how­ever, it is al­ways only about win­ning. And it is this ob­ses­sion which has now brought the Min­istry of In­dige­nous Peo­ples’ Af­fairs into di­rect con­flict with the Na­tional Toshaos Coun­cil’s (NTC) ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee, as well as with its Vice Chair­man Lenox Shu­man in re­la­tion to an in­ter­view un­der­taken with Stabroek News.

At the back of this dis­pute is the de­sire on the part of the gov­ern­ment to con­trol the In­dige­nous el­e­ment in the pop­u­la­tion, so they can be re­lied upon to cast their votes when the time comes, in a way which would give the rul­ing coali­tion re­lief from anx­i­ety. The same, it must be said, is also true of the PPPC gov­ern­ment be­fore them, and the meth­ods em­ployed are es­sen­tially iden­ti­cal. As we re­ported in our Thurs­day edi­tion, Mr Shu­man had told this news­pa­per that the gov­ern­ment had not made progress on land ti­tling, and ac­cused the Min­istry of in­ter­fer­ing in the busi­ness of the Na­tional Toshaos Coun­cil. Cru­cially, he said that the be­hav­iour of the cur­rent gov­ern­ment was sim­i­lar to that of the pre­vi­ous one.

Like its pre­de­ces­sor, he told our re­porter, this gov­ern­ment ex­pected the In­dige­nous Peo­ple would “be happy and eter­nally grate­ful” with the lit­tle hand­outs they get. In ad­di­tion, when “we speak out on be­half of the peo­ple on their [gov­ern­ment] in­ac­tion, they look on it as be­ing tainted with op­po­si­tion.” Well that at least, the In­dige­nous Peo­ple have in com­mon with all other crit­ics; no one chal­lenges the party nabobs on ei­ther side, how­ever rea­son­ably, how­ever ra­tio­nally, how­ever well-in­ten­tioned, with­out be­ing seen as an op­po­si­tion sup­porter or even an en­emy.

Up un­til now, the gov­ern­ment had done some­thing right, namely not in­ter­fered with the Na­tional Toshaos’ Con­fer­ence. This was in con­trast with the pre­vi­ous ad­min­is­tra­tion, which ex­er­cised tight con­trol over it, and for which it earned it­self a great deal of crit­i­cism. But now it looks as if this ad­min­is­tra­tion too is fol­low­ing suit, adopt­ing an ap­proach which did not work for the PPPC and sim­i­larly will not work for them, in con­trast to their ear­lier hands-off at­ti­tude. When, for ex­am­ple, the NTC is­sued press re­leases on what they were do­ing, the Min­istry in its over­bear­ing way, in­ter­vened, and they also have done so in re­la­tion to the Con­fer­ence.

And now the Min­istry has de­cided to sub­sti­tute bully tac­tics for ne­go­ti­a­tion, with some un­nec­es­sar­ily in­tem­per­ate com­mu­ni­ca­tions. Among other things, it noted that the NTC had writ­ten Pres­i­dent David Granger. “Much of these writ­ings are con­fronta­tions, de­mand­ing and dis­re­spect­ful to the Of­fice of Pres­i­dent of Guyana,” the state­ment read, while it went on to ac­cuse Mr Shu­man of is­su­ing a call for mass pub­lic protest against the gov­ern­ment. This was de­nied by Chair­man of the NTC Joel Fred­er­icks, who gave the back­ground to how the mis­in­ter­pre­ta­tion arose. There were other al­le­ga­tions from both sides about ac­count­ing and money, mat­ters which one would nor­mally ex­pect could be eas­ily es­tab­lished.

Land-ti­tling is­sues go back a long way, and af­ter three years in of­fice, the gov­ern­ment should re­ally have a grip on them, although the lands com­mis­sion of in­quiry in its orig­i­nal for­mat did noth­ing to ex­pe­dite let alone clar­ify mat­ters. The point is, how­ever, that the NTC should be free to ex­press their views on any mat­ter which af­fects them; af­ter all, their con­sti­tu­tional rights are the same as those of ev­ery­one else. As for the gov­ern­ment, while it might be im­per­vi­ous to ar­gu­ments about In­dige­nous demo­cratic rights, at a prac­ti­cal level, at­tempt­ing to ex­ert con­trol over ev­ery as­pect of Amerindian life and de­ci­sion-mak­ing in the way that its pre­de­ces­sor did can only end in fail­ure, and cer­tainly will not earn them the elec­toral sup­port they were hop­ing for.

Sim­i­larly, the NTC has ev­ery right to talk to the me­dia, and so does Mr Shu­man; it is called free­dom of ex­pres­sion.

The dom­i­nant party in the coali­tion has great ex­pe­ri­ence of the de­nial of free­doms, and paid the price for that. It should give the In­dige­nous peo­ple po­lit­i­cal space in which to func­tion, so they all be­come fa­mil­iar with their con­sti­tu­tional rights, and en­gage in the ex­changes and dis­cus­sions which are nec­es­sary in any demo­cratic polity. As said above, the gov­ern­ment has noth­ing to gain by sup­press­ing free speech. That is sim­ply a route back­wards.

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