PPP will work with elected lead­ers of Amerindian com­mu­ni­ties

Weekend Mirror - - EDITORIAL -

The

PPP last week wel­comed par­tic­i­pants of the Na­tional Toshaos Con­fer­ence held in Ge­orge­town and stated that it will con­tinue to work with elected Amerindian rep­re­sen­ta­tives for the de­vel­op­ment of Guyana.

I a state­ment, the party lashed out at the at­tacks by the present gov­ern­ment on Amerindian rights and ex­pressed the hope that the sev­eral out­stand­ing is­sues, will be ad­dressed by Con­fer­ence. The state­ment reads: The Peo­ples Pro­gres­sive Party Civic ( PPP/ C) wel­comes all the Toshaos, Coun­cil­lors and other rep­re­sen­ta­tives who have trav­elled from the coastal and hin­ter­land re­gions, to at­tend and par­tic­i­pate in the 2017 Con­fer­ence of the Na­tional Toshaos Coun­cil (NTC). We wish them all suc­cess and hope that the many de­vel­op­ment ini­tia­tives that they have brought on be­half of their com­mu­ni­ties will be given se­ri­ous con­sid­er­a­tion by the gov­ern­ment.

The Na­tional Toshaos Coun­cil, is the le­git­i­mate col­lec­tive voice of the Amerindian peo­ple of Guyana, hav­ing evolved un­der suc­ces­sive PPP C ad­min­is­tra­tions as an im­por­tant con­sul­ta­tive body rep­re­sent­ing all Amerindian peo­ple, their lead­ers and com­mu­ni­ties. Thus the agenda and dis­cus­sions of this NTC must be taken seriously by all par­tic­i­pants in­clud­ing the gov­ern­ment.

We, in the PPP, are proud of our track record of in­clu­sion and en­hance­ment of Amerindian rights and the process through which Amerindian rights were en­shrined in the Guyana Con­sti­tu­tion, in law and in gov­ern­ment poli­cies and pro­grammes. One of the unique fea­tures of the NTC con­fer­ences was the for­mal di­a­logue be­tween the Toshaos and Coun­cilors, as na­tional stake­hold­ers, with the Pres­i­dent and his en­tire Cabi­net. This be­came an im­por­tant and highly an­tic­i­pated event by both the NTC and the gov­ern­ment to ad­dress con­cerns, rem­edy weak­nesses, make pro­pos­als and make de­ci­sions on the spot. This prac­tice re­flected the PPP/C Gov­ern­ment’s and the NTC’s de­ter­mined ef­forts to en­gage with each other on is­sues of Amerindian rights and com­mu­nity de­vel­op­ment as well as mat­ters of na­tional im­por­tance.

Re­cent de­vel­op­ments, how­ever, are cause for great worry. Emerging trends in the body poli­tik un­der the APNU+AFC Coali­tion gov­ern­ment threaten Amerindian rights.

The first con­cern re­lates to con­sis­tent state­ments made by top gov­ern­ment lead­ers to have the 2006 Amerindian Act 2006 re­vised. This ob­jec­tive has been fur­ther re-en­forced by the Pres­i­dent in a GINA state­ment in June 14, 2017 with re­gards to the Com­mis­sion of In­quiry on Lands. How­ever, there has been no in­di­ca­tion of what sec­tions need to be amended.

The PPP wishes to in­form the NTC par­tic­i­pants that it will sup­port any amend­ments which will en­hance Amerindian rights, how­ever, it will strongly op­pose any amend­ments that will di­lute the rights of our indige­nous Amerindian peo­ples. We are wor­ried about the pur­pose of this push by the gov­ern­ment to re­vise the 2006 Amerindian Act in the ab­sence of any wide-spread call by the Amerindian peo­ples and com­mu­ni­ties to re­vise this Act. Fur­ther­more, any re­vi­sions must be sub­ject to con­sul­ta­tions with all the Amerindian com­mu­ni­ties un­der the prin­ci­ple of “free prior and in­formed con­sent” as was done dur­ing the process to cre­ate and draft the Amerindian Bill. This lat­ter process took two years in or­der to en­sure that the Amerindian lead­ers and com­mu­ni­ties were sat­is­fied that the Bill re­flected their de­sires and rights.

We hope that the NTC will en­sure that there is clar­ity and com­mit­ment by the gov­ern­ment that any amend­ments the 2006 Amerindian Act does no harm to Amerindian rights and en­sures that there is the widest pos­si­ble con­sul­ta­tion in the com­mu­ni­ties across the coun­try.

We have a sim­i­lar worry with re­gard to the gov­ern­ment’s sloth in the im­ple­men­ta­tion of the opt-in mech­a­nism for the Low Carbon De­vel­op­ment Strat­egy (LCDS). This is crit­i­cal to main­tain the prin­ci­ple of “free prior and in­formed con­sent” with Amerindian com­mu­ni­ties. This fun­da­men­tal issue re­quires that the gov­ern­ment com­mits at this Con­fer­ence to ex­pe­dite the opt-in mech­a­nism.

The par­tic­i­pants of the NTC are well aware that the LCDS was one of the most in­no­va­tive ini­tia­tives by the PPP/C ad­min­is­tra­tion which also re­ceived in­ter­na­tional recog­ni­tion. We ini­ti­ated the largest pioneer carbon trad­ing scheme for for­est car­bons which earned $250M USD rev­enue and con­trib­uted in a sig­nif­i­cant way to the fur­ther de­vel­op­ment of our coun­try.

Un­for­tu­nately, the pres- ent gov­ern­ment’s re­pu­di­a­tion of the Low Carbon De­vel­op­ment Strat­egy, and, the ini­tia­tives de­signed to en­hance na­tional, and in par­tic­u­lar, Amerindian de­vel­op­ment, has de­stroyed long years of work at all lev­els to find a mod­ern in­clu­sive na­tional de­vel­op­men­tal strat­egy for the fu­ture. The gov­ern­ment’s often mooted al­ter­na­tive of a Green Growth Strat­egy re­mains a mys­tery with no spe­cific ini­tia­tives to ad­dress de­vel­op­ment.

After 26 months, the gov­ern­ment, by its re­fusal to im­ple­ment the LCDS and by its in­abil­ity to cre­ate a vi­able al­ter­na­tive has, in fact, cre­ated an enor­mous vac­uum. As a con­se­quence, the gov­ern­ment has given scant at­ten­tion to the LCDS’s iden­ti­fied pro­grammes which in­clude multi-year projects, the Amerindian Ti­tling Project and the Amerindian De­vel­op­ment Fund, which are fully funded un­der the REDD+/ GRIF and the Gov­ern­ment of Guyana/ Nor­way Part­ner­ship. These have yielded no re­sults since the change of gov­ern­ment. The end re­sult is that ap­pli­ca­tions for ti­tles and ex­ten­sion of lands to Amerindian peo­ples and the de­mar­ca­tion of ti­tled lands are now vir­tu­ally at a stand­still. Whilst the ADF seems to have be­come sus­cep­ti­ble to “cherry –pick­ing” by the gov­ern­ment as to which vil­lages will re­ceive their project funds. The slow­ing down of all the ini­tia­tives of the LCDS, and, in par­tic­u­lar the ALT and ADF projects, is a ma­jor cause of con­cern and should be ad­dressed at this con­fer­ence. It is crit­i­cal that the gov­ern­ment pro­vide clar­ity to the NTC on the fu­ture of these projects and how soon they will be ad­dressed.

Re­gret­tably, in the face of no “Free Prior and In­formed Con­sent” with re­gard to the far reach­ing de­ci­sion by the gov­ern­ment to es­tab­lish the Com­mis­sion of In­quiry (COI) into Lands, and, the over­whelm­ing re­jec­tion of the Com­mis­sion’s usurpa­tion of the 2006 Amerindian Act and Amerindian land rights by the NTC, civil so­ci­ety, NGOs and the PPP/C, the Com­mis­sion is mov­ing apace.

Whilst it is un­der­stood through me­dia re­ports that the COI work has put on hold the ex­am­i­na­tion of is­sues re­lat­ing to Amerindian lands, the NTC should note that there has been no amend­ment of the gazetted terms of ref­er­ence of this COI. There­fore, the gov­ern­ment has not moved from its orig­i­nal ob­jec­tive to ex­am­ine and scru­ti­nise all Amerindian communal lands ti­tling. We en­cour­age the NTC con­fer­ence to en­sure that the gov­ern­ment is called on to com­mit to ex­clude Amerindian land ti­tling from the COI’s man­date and to re­vise its TORS ac­cord­ingly.

Dur­ing the de­bate of the PPP/ C mo­tion call­ing on the Pres­i­dent to re­voke this COI as a recipe for di­vi­sion in a multi-eth­nic na­tion and a threat to Amerindian land ti­tling, the Min­is­ter of Labour’s speech is in­struc­tive of the gov­ern­ment’s pos­ture on Amerindian land rights. In re­sponse to ex­pres­sions of Amerindian com­mu­ni­ties’ fears of be­ing dis­pos­sessed of their lands, Min­is­ter Scott said they ” have man­i­fested an at­ti­tude of avarice which should not be con­doned.” He con­tin­ued to assert that if Amerindi­ans were to be granted sub-sur­face rights, then only the coast-lan­ders will be en­ti­tled to ben­e­fit from the oil and gas in­dus­try. Worse yet, the Min­is­ter im­plied that those com­mu­ni­ties liv­ing near the bor­ders with Venezuela and Brazil could be dis­loyal. These state­ments have not been cor­rected by the gov­ern­ment, and, there­fore, one as­sumes that these re­flect the gov­ern­ment’s of­fi­cial pol­icy to­wards Amerindian land rights.

This wor­ri­some de­vel­op­ment is fur­ther com­pounded by the rushed de­ci­sion in Oc­to­ber 2015 to es­tab­lish new town­ships and Neigh­bour­hood De­vel­op­ment Coun­cils in Re­gions 1, 7, and 9 prior to the March 2016 lo­cal gov­ern­ment elec­tions. Com­mu­ni­ties were caught off guard and were not even in­formed that the bound­aries of these new lo­cal author­ity bod­ies may/would im­pinge on their own com­mu­ni­ties’ bound­aries. In some cases, a num­ber of com­mu­ni­ties /set­tle­ments have been in­cluded within the bound­aries of the new town­ships. Ex­am­ples of these in­clude the com­mu­ni­ties of Red Hill, Kobe­r­imo, Bara­bina, and Smith Creek among oth­ers in the Mabaruma town­ship and the Port Kai­tuma NDC, and, Dougg Point and Agatash in the Bar­tica town­ship. The ar­eas of ex­ten­sion ap­plied for by Moco- Moco for ex­am­ple now fall within the ex­tended bound­aries of the new Lethem mu­nic­i­pal­ity. The re­cent an­nounce­ment that Mah­dia will be de­clared a town­ship should be mon­i­tored as it is ex­pected that it may in­clude the Camp­bell­town com­mu­nity.

The PPP notes that there is a grow­ing con­cern by a num­ber of com­mu­ni­ties which are al­ready in pos­ses­sion of communal ti­tled land that these could come un­der threat with re­gard to the gov­ern­ment’s an­nounce­ment to es­tab­lish new NDCs ad­ja­cent to, en­cir­cling and or within ti­tled com­mu­ni­ties in in­te­rior re­gions.

In ad­di­tion to these fears with re­gard to land rights, there is grow­ing con­cerns of eth­nic and po­lit­i­cal dis­crim­i­na­tion. The first such act was the dis­missal of 1,972 young Amerindian Com­mu­nity Ser­vice Of­fi­cers by the Min­istry of Indige­nous Af­fairs in July 2015. This was the sin­gle largest eth­nic group to have been dis­missed from the pub­lic ser­vice by the new gov­ern­ment. The loss to Amerindian com­mu­ni­ties across the coun­try by the ter­mi­na­tion of this large num­ber of young peo­ple is enor­mous; it is es­ti­mated that $800 M has been with­drawn from the vil­lage economies, and, 10,000 peo­ple di­rectly de­pen­dent on these per­sons for their liveli­hood have been im­pov­er­ished. After vig­or­ous protests in the me­dia, in the Na­tional As­sem­bly and with the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity by the PPP, the Min­is­ter of Indige­nous Af­fairs promised in Au­gust 2015 that the gov­ern­ment would re­place the PPP’s CSO Pro­gramme with another such em­ploy­ment pro­gramme.This is yet to be de­liv­ered..

Fur­ther­more, there have been more ca­su­al­ties along the way- the de­liv­ery of health ser­vices in the hin­ter­land re­gions has been plagued with con­stant shortages of crit­i­cal and ba­sic med­i­cal drugs and sup­plies, poor man­age­ment, and bad de­ci­sions made at the cen­tral Min­istry af­fect­ing ac­cess to these ser­vices; and, the main­te­nance of crit­i­cal coast to in­te­rior and in­ter­nal road net­works has been sadly ne­glected.

How­ever, there are still more wor­ry­ing in­di­ca­tors of gov­ern­ment ne­glect. Whilst we ac­knowl­edge and the thank the CDC for their re­sponse, the gov­ern­ment’s poor and de­layed re­sponse dur­ing the re­cent floods that af­fected Re­gions 7, 8, and 9 most seriously in the hin­ter­land, and, their fail­ure to ad­dress the con­se­quences for peo­ple, homes, farms and phys­i­cal in­fra­struc­ture that were washed away or dam­aged in the af­fected com­mu­ni­ties is an in­dict­ment of an un­car­ing gov­ern­ment. In re­sponse to a ques­tion put to the Min­is­ter of Com­mu­ni­ties in the Na­tional As­sem­bly in July 2017 by the Par- lia­men­tary Op­po­si­tion, the Min­is­ter replied that Cen­tral gov­ern­ment had no re­spon­si­bil­ity to com­pen­sate af­fected res­i­dents who lost homes, or farm­ers who lost crops, cat­tle, etc. in the wake of the floods. Fur­ther­more, the Min­is­ter was re­luc­tant to an­swer when would pub­lic fa­cil­i­ties such as health cen­tres,schools and roads be re­paired. The Min­is­ter’s re­sponse shocked us as we had ex­pected that the gov­ern­ment would have brought a re­quest for sup­ple­men­tary bud­getary sup­port to ad­dress these af­fected com­mu­ni­ties. We would have sup­ported such a re­quest.How­ever, it has not done so. The NTC may wish to call on the gov­ern­ment to pro­vide sup­ple­men­tary fi­nan­cial sup­port in 2017 to as­sist these flood-af­fected vic­tims, com­mu­ni­ties and re­gions.

We an­tic­i­pate that many of these is­sues, in­clud­ing many other con­cerns, will be de­lib­er­ated on by and among the NTC par­tic­i­pants as well as in the pres­ence of the gov­ern­ment. As the week of dis­cus­sions un­fold it is crit­i­cal for the Toshaos, Coun­cil­lors and other rep­re­sen­ta­tives to recog­nise that you have two pow­er­ful in­stru­ments at your dis­posal- the Guyana Con­sti­tu­tion and the 2006 Amerindian Act.

At the con­clu­sion of the 2017 Na­tional Toshaos Con­fer­ence, we en­cour­age you to en­sure that you have clear and un­equiv­o­cal com­mit­ments from the gov­ern­ment that your land rights will be pro­tected, that the prin­ci­ple of “free prior and in­formed con­sent” be fol­lowed in every case in their in­ter­ac­tion with the Amerindian com­mu­ni­ties, , that agreed-on projects for the de­vel­op­ment of your com­mu­ni­ties will be ac­cel­er­ated and de­liv­ered in a timely manner, and, that re­sources are al­lo­cated in 2017 to as­sist the flood af­fected com­mu­ni­ties in Re­gions 7, 8 and 9. This is one of the ways by which the gains that have been made over the years for Amerindian rights and de­vel­op­ment can be pro­tected.

On the part of the PPP/C, we com­mit to con­tinue to sup­port Amerindian par­tic­i­pa­tion and de­vel­op­ment by rais­ing all mat­ters of con­cern in all avail­able fora, in­clud­ing the Na­tional As­sem­bly and in­ter­na­tional bod­ies. We com­mit to con­tinue to work with our Amerindian peo­ple, their elected lead­ers and all who would gen­uinely work with us, to pro­tect the demo­cratic gains that we have made and to fur­ther im­prove the qual­ity of the lives of our Amerindian peo­ple, and, all Guyanese.

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