PPP will work with elected leaders of Amerindian communities
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.