September 26, 2016

Guyanese are people with resolve and conviction

Thomas Jefferson once said “When the people fear the government, there is tyranny”. He couldn’t be more right, and Guyanese, like the many South Americans who were victims of oppressive regimes, are exemplary in standing against exactions committed by the Government.
Under Burnham’s Police State, public demonstrations became the vector through which dissatisfaction of the people was voiced. Masses gathered against their oppressor and were met with open handed violence in the streets. For almost 28 years, the People’s National Congress (PNC) under Burnham and Hotye suppressed democratic and civil rights, controlling right down to who ate what and who had educational privileges. It took the US almost three decades before it shamefully admitted the monstrosity it had engendered when Kennedy opened the door of power to Burnham in 1966.
But Guyanese are people with conviction, and despite the psychological and physical violence perpetrated against people of all ethnic, social and religious backgrounds who dared to oppose Burnham and later Hoyte, in 1992 their resolve transformed into the fall of the PNC. Guyana’s first free and fair election proved Jefferson’s words right. Even today, the PNC cowers in the shadow without of its past failures, without the votes of a coalition.
Now that it finally heads a coalition Government, cutting the grass under Alliance For Change (AFC) leaders who were nothing more than vote catchers, the PNC has an opportunity to make amends for the wrongs committed against the people, such as consecutive rigging of elections and ethnic discrimination.
However, in just one year of government, inexperience of new leaders cobbled with the incompetence of former servants of the Burnhamite era such as Carl Greenidge, has engulfed the population in a morose atmosphere of stagnation. Unfortunately, the first to suffer from the economic decline and harsh social and agricultural policy reforms are the small woman and man. The farmer is no exception and when a farmer suffers, the entire country eventually does.
The Guyanese farmer was perhaps the first to feel the cruelty of the coalition’s backwardness but before long, the harshness of this regime caught up with the working poor. An Amerindian resident of Kuru Kururu spoke out against this social injustice last week, when she pointed out that as a 68-year-old pensioner who cares for a grown disabled son, she can barely survive in the community.
The Arawak woman who spoke on behalf of a congregation living in the community located along the Linden/Soesdyke Highway, vented that her electricity and water subsidies were slashed to zero and that she receives no assistance for her son. She has no other source of income except a meagre pension and in order to make ends meet she was forced to find alternative sources of electricity. She spoke for her 11 grandchildren attending primary school, who no longer benefit from the $10,000 school vouchers which were removed by the Granger regime shortly after it grabbed the reins of power. She complained of the deplorable conditions of her environment which encourages banditry, and lashed out against the ethnic and political discrimination against Amerindians allegedly perpetrated by a PNC favoured CDC. She spoke with conviction and resolve – a resolve she would transform into action come 2020.
Inspirational and moving narratives like hers can be easily heard throughout Guyana as I pen this column. But perhaps Amerindians who do not live on the traditional communal lands feel the Government’s prejudicial hand more than the others.
Guyanese people are a people of conviction and resolve, but more importantly, we are endearing and driven by hope. The year 2020 is our new focus and we will again prevail over the tyrants of social injustice.
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President Granger’s speech devoid of vision

Last week the National Toshaos Council (NTC) conference was graced with the presence of His Excellency President David Granger, who delivered a speech which left many perplexed. Perplexed, because it was unsubstantiated by the absence of visionary and strategic planning for Amerindians. More importantly, it confirmed his troubling penchant for Commissions of Inquiry, military men and bureaucracy in Government, none of which have proven their worth to the people and the advancement of this country, and all of which are exorbitances on the backs of taxpayers.
President Granger proposed that an authority comprised of five individuals, be established to report and act on policies designed for indigenous peoples, as well as to support the NTC. The President’s ambition is a clear insinuation that both the Indigenous Affairs Ministry and the NTC are incompetent in the assumption of their functions. This is despite the coalition equipping itself with two Indigenous Affairs Ministers, and a technical team of at least three ministerial advisors (instead of one), a Deputy Permanent Secretary (DPS) and an Acting DPS. It is therefore natural that the people question the logic behind the President’s new prerogative. It also invites corruption, interference in autonomous institutions and political machinations.
Unsurprisingly, Granger minutely avoided the underlying issues affecting Amerindian development, most of which can be acted upon immediately by his Government. The most important remains indigenous land rights for which the Amerindian Land Titling (ALT) Project was specifically designed, in response to the indigenous rights provisions of Jagdeo’s Low Carbon Development Strategy (LCDS). The President failed to provide answers as to why this administration fired the staff of the ALT which delivered six Absolute Grants in the space of six months of consultative investigation while being unable after thirteen months in office, to produce a single land title.
The President also denied the NTC an explanation as to why the Natural Resources Minister, who is a prime stakeholder to the Amerindian Land Titling Project, is still allowed to mine on Tasserene’s proposed title land, despite the breach of contractual obligations of both the ALT project document and the LCDS Agreement. The said Minister, who was found boisterously applauding the President’s shallow discourse, holds three medium-scale blocks in Tasserene, encumbering on the community’s land titling process. Ironically, the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC) held an interactive session with the NTC on mining issues during the conference.
The Rupununi petition was also cautiously avoided by the President although he was personally solicited by twelve hundred Amerindians who accused the Region 9 REO, Carl Parker, of fourteen accounts of rights violation including political, sexual and ethic discrimination. Four months later, the people of the Rupununi remain without an answer. This is exceedingly shameful considering that the Indigenous Affairs Minister himself is a Rupununian.
President Granger didn’t even enlighten the audience on a sustainable development plan for Amerindian communities, or on the commitments of his Government to guarantee cultural preservation. Yet, the fragile village economies of Amerindian communities remain dependent on the country’s wider economic context, which is currently in terrible shape as the working and poorer classes suffer the blow of mediocre policy making across sectors.
This Government’s avarice for resources to fortify State institutions via additions of layers of bureaucracy dictated by military style leadership, while enriching partisans of the PNC-dominated APNU who are strategically placed to govern these new outlets, do not compensate for the attacks on the socioeconomic and human rights of Guyanese. Amerindians have seen 6000 solar panels procured under the former administration for their homes, appropriated by the Harmon administration for the refurbishing of the Ministry of the Presidency and the President’s residence.
Shortly after, they witnessed the Walter Roth Museum of Anthropology – a centre for archaeological findings, indigenous history and cultural preservation – become the victim of this Administration’s insatiable gluttony and selfishness. All of this without the free, prior and informed consent of Amerindians, to support the comfort of the Ministry of the Presidency, in a Government which to date has demonstrated its immeasurable incompetency in managing the affairs of this country.
If President Granger has nothing to offer but his disturbing obsession with bureaucracy, then one must conclude that he is no visionary, and is therefore the prime reason behind the inaptitude of the Cabinet he heads. The unpardonable practices and corruption of this coalition merely reflect the President’s tolerance for mediocrity in governance, detrimental to the development of Guyana and its First Peoples.

Guyana needs neither puppets nor miscreants

When Public Health Minister, Dr George Norton implicated himself in one of the biggest scandals of corruption in recent months, many were left with gaping mouths. The truth is, while he may have fallen under criticism for inexperience and irresponsibility, no one thought he would make his record worse by signing corrupt deals with coalition supporters.
Norton’s reputation was put at stake when a massive drug shortage paralysed health facilities last year, leaving a stressful situation for medical workers, which endures today. To add to the difficulties faced by health workers, new supplies now have short shelf lives, placing a continuous risk of multimillion-dollar losses on the Government. A few months after his swearing in, the Health Minister also saw hospitals slapped with lawsuits for several cases of severe medical negligence which disabled babies and even cost lives of adults. In just a few months, Norton became the symbol of inaptitude of a Government that has no experience in running a country, where the few Ministers who operated prior to 1992 belonged to a regime which made Guyana the second poorest country in the hemisphere for decades.
When Norton was selected to serve among the few Amerindian leaders who are the pride of the coalition, he was chosen not just because of his ethnicity to demonstrate representation of the Indigenous peoples of this country, but also because of his medical training and background.
But the Minister’s medical expertise has proven to be inconsequential if not a complete failure in managing the public health sector, and Amerindians are among the first beneficiaries to suffer the effects of deficient primary and regional health care.
For years, Amerindian villages, though equipped with primary healthcare facilities, have had to put up with limited human resources and irregularities in supplying drugs on a timely schedule. However, under Norton’s mandate, the situation morphed into one where drugs and medical supplies became so scarce that Amerindian patients who visited hinterland facilities were transferred to Georgetown for the simplest of ailments. But there came a time when even ointments for rash were no longer available at the Georgetown Public Hospital.
Private suppliers of pharmaceuticals were perhaps the sole beneficiaries of this situation, but Amerindians cannot always disburse large sums for drugs. The number of complaints soared.
In terms of health reforms for Amerindians, nothing new to ameliorate the plight of those living in the deep interior was done. Broken equipment still affects the Lethem Hospital for instance, where based on recent reports, it is now impossible to have X-rays taken. The absence of health workers at community health posts is still a challenge for distant communities and financial assistance is not available for drugs or other medical expenses.
George Norton now has the opportunity to bring real change for Amerindians, for his people, but instead, he adds to the complications which are being imposed by the Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs Ministry under Sydney Allicock, where travel expenses for medical care are now hardly ever covered, and where reimbursements for fuel to transport patients in Region Nine have been removed.
One has to question the veritable intentions of the Public Health Minister, and whether he promoting positive change to match the growing needs of Guyanese figures anywhere on his agenda for the near future. It might also be interesting to examine his penchant for corrupt practices so early in office, in light of the Sussex Street drug bond fiasco, which many believe has been orchestrated by men with greater influence and power who simply used Norton as a scapegoat.
The true danger, however, lies in Norton’s determination to stand in Parliament, lie to the country about the corrupt deal and try to convince us that $12 million for 10,000 ft² of uncertified storage space per month is cheaper than $16 million for a 70,000 ft², internationally certified bond. This simply conveys the message that the Health Minister is either a puppet or a corrupt element bad at his own game.
Unfortunately, Guyana needs neither. (Send comments to sundayarrow@gmail.com)

Soup drinkers, party ideals and corruption

 

There seems to be hardly any space for ideals in political circles. This explains why business and politics almost always go hand in hand, and why at the end of the day Government and opposing polities still seal deals behind closed doors, unbeknownst to the public.

It also explains why business magnates such as Brian Tiwarie jumped from being ardent supporters of the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) in 2011, to coalition partisans in 2015. If Tiwarie was not a businessman, perhaps we might have been a bit more surprised at his decision to switch sides. Similarly, prominent businessmen on the Essequibo Coast who built their fortunes for years on the open market policies of the PPP/C, went ahead and cut deals with the coalition, based on promises bred notably by the Alliance For Change in 2015. False hopes of securing up to $9000 per bag of paddy as promised by men such as Ramayya, Naithram, Doerga, Abel Seetaram and the now Prime Minister Nagamootoo, proved vain. Unfortunately, while for some, switching sides paid off, for others it might just have been an irreversible mistake.

But unlike these popular and established businessmen who came out to publicly voice their support for the coalition with nothing business interests at heart, there are others such as politicians who abnegate from their responsibility to uphold party ideals and values as they proverbially “hang their mouths where the soup flows”.

One of the things that all polities in this country have fought against incessantly is nepotism, despite that they are all equally guilty of indulging in the said. A current case which captured my attention is concealed within the Indigenous Affairs Ministry, under the LCDS-funded Amerindian Development Fund (ADF project).

It was discovered that following the review of the LCDS/GRIF projects which was completed late last year, the consultant who was hired by the Allicock administration to conduct capacity building sessions for the ADF project, is no other than Minister Allicock’s son-in-law. Interestingly, the individual in question is also a longstanding member of the PPP who was actively engaged in public campaigns.

While there is potentially nothing wrong with working for the development of Guyana regardless of the party in power,(and depending on how strongly one feels about her/his ideals), what is questionable is the ease with which certain politicians succumb to ills which oppose party values, and which feed the corrupt practices of the current Government.

Surprisingly, the partnering United Nations Development Project (UNDP) has either failed to conduct a background check on the individual, or has turned a blind eye to suit the whims and fancies of the powers that be at the Ministry. In either case, this represents a slackening in the recruitment standards of the UNDP which is tasked with ensuring internationally upheld principles of transparency and public accountability.

This also calls for examination of the level of adherence to the party values and stance by members of all polities herewith, and whether the violation of any of these is met with sanctions aimed at preserving the integrity and ideals of each polity. It would be difficult for the supporters of all sides combined, to have faith in parties which are failing to promote the standards which they defend without relent during their electoral campaigns.

Au finale, the cost of corruption is borne by taxpayers who comprise mainly of the working class and working poor. For this reason more than any, the Government of Guyana, notwithstanding Minister Allicock, must be held accountable and must answer to the multiple charges of nepotism which continue to pervade this administration is barely one year of office, falling against the very APNU/AFC 2015 slogan for a corruption-free Guyana.

Likewise, the Opposition PPP must hold its members and leaders to the highest standards if it is to present itself as a credible alternative for the advancement of all Guyanese, including Amerindians. One cannot be part of the problem s/he pretends to solve.

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President Granger is answerable to the people of the Rupununi

This government is come to be known as one that sports, eats and travels, while it dissimulates the country’s business from the people it ought to be serving. It is the government which has endeavoured to massively increase taxes in every possible way imaginable while maiming the economy in less than a year of governance.
One would have thought that a coalesced government would have the advantage of richer, wider experience and perspectives. Instead, in less than a month of being installed, the coalition began demonstrating a disturbing penchant for unabashed corruption cobbled with a certain level of impunity from public accountability and transparency. The arrogance meted out to the people of this country seems to have killed the spirit of the hardworking women and men – people who now only wait for this term to pass.
The Amerindians who petitioned the President to have Regional Executive Officer (REO) Carl Parker removed, also seem to have lost faith in the system. More than three months after the petition was submitted, no action has been taken by the President, and Carl Parker continues to violate indigenous rights in Region 9. Yesterday, during his 71st birthday festivities, President Granger was quoted as saying that he feels “a sense of confidence that people are with [him], that people understand where [he wants] to go” and “the type of country [he wants] our children and grandchildren to inherit”. What about the Amerindians of the Rupununi then? What are they to inherit other than a Rupununi which in time would become tarnished by political and racial divisiveness caused by one man, who the President by his inaction and silence, protects? Are they to inherit “shoes that grow” while the President’s residence and Ministry is decorated with 6000 solar panels initially intended for Amerindian homes?
Interestingly, the President was solicited in person by the petitioners but has relegated the responsibility to act, to the Communities Minister, Ronald Bulkan, who in a pompous display of arrogance proceeded to question the legitimacy of the signatures. The question is, if the Amerindian minority cannot have faith in the President, then how are they to contribute to the forging of a better country for their “children and grandchildren”?
What about the people of Tasserene in the Upper Mazaruni who to date have not seen the deliverance of an Absolute Grant, while a Natural Resources Minister continues to own mining blocks on their lands? This is a flagrant violation of the Amerindian Land Titling project document which is legally binding for stakeholders, as well as the provisions made to guarantee indigenous rights under the Norway/Guyana Agreement. Although the matter has been brought before the attention of the President and subject Ministers since February of this year, no response has been issued to stakeholders and beneficiaries.
Perhaps the tactic of this Granger government is to sap the energy from the people as they wait in vain for the resolution of problems which have daily consequences on their lives. However, the President and his government’s disregard for indigenous rights, is being archived by Amerindians, blunder after blunder. So is the indifference from international stakeholders such as the United Nations Development Programme under the leadership of Khadija Musa and the Norwegian delegation jointly responsible for the forest programme in Guyana, both of which were directly informed of these indigenous rights violations.
Unsurprisingly, President Granger benefits from a current of thought which would like us to believe that he has no prior knowledge of, or has no control over the exactions committed by the members of his government – an argument which is unquestionably flawed and inapplicable to these two instances where his intervention was directly requested. Consequently, President Granger remains accountable to the people of the Rupununi and Tasserene, without which he will be reminded incessantly of his inefficiency to guarantee the rights of the people he was installed to serve.

“A people without culture is like a zebra without stripes”

The Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs Ministry recently delivered a cheque of $2 million to an Amerindian Village Council in an attempt to preserve the Warrou culture and revive the language. The decision to distribute money instead of investing in a long-term, sustainable cultural preservation initiative triggered scepticism regarding the depth of the Government’s commitment to preserving and promoting Amerindian culture.
Amerindian culture and way of life has suffered erosion due not only to the necessity of adapting to the evolving cultural landscape initiated by their successive encounters with the different peoples who came to this land, but also, to the policies which sought over time either to assimilate them under colonial and dictatorial regimes (People’s National Congress (PNC)-led) defined predominantly by Christian values.
From the Catholic missionaries who converted the “savages” and “children of the forest” they encountered upon arriving in Guyana, to the forced migration of thousands of Amerindians who fled the harsh policies of the colonial empires, to Burnham’s national agenda to forge a Guyanese culture at the detriment of the multicultural particularities which characterise the population, Amerindians saw their culture and way of life unravel so quickly that there was hardly any time to transmit valuable knowledge to younger generations.
The stigmatisation of Amerindians, traces of which endure today, should have ended with the Independence of Guyana. Instead it continued under a PNC regime which sidelined not only Amerindian cultures, but East Indians as well, through national policies which disregarded the particularities of our cultural diversities. Perhaps the most significant undertaking of the Burnham regime was the debut of Amerindian Land Titling, an accomplishment resulting from the efforts of Steven Campbell and The United Force (TUF).
Amerindians had to wait until Guyana obtained its first free and fair elections in 1992, before tangible investments commenced to valorise the role of indigenous peoples in Guyana’s development and subsequently the importance of preserving and promoting indigenous cultures and way of life.
Under the successive mandates of the former Administration, efforts geared toward Amerindian cultural preservation and sensitisation of the wider Guyanese population on the importance of this national heritage and patrimony, resulted in several notable initiatives which have had a lasting impact on the restoration of Amerindian culture. Among these were as the establishment of Amerindian Heritage Month in September, the publication of seven dictionaries covering seven of the nine existing Amerindian languages in Guyana, annual archaeological fieldtrips for school children organised in partnership with the Walter Roth Museum of Anthropology and the Boisie State University, research on social anthropology and the Berbice mounds dating back to 6000 BC, and the implantation of the Arawak Language Revival Programme.
In 2014, a draft was being prepared to implement an Amerindian song festival. However, the Granger Administration upon assuming office proceeded to scrap the initiative. In its 23 years of governance, while the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) Government could have invested more meaningfully in Amerindian cultural preservation, particularly in language, it has succeeded at diminishing the stigma with which Amerindians have had to live for decades, that is being looked upon as the “Other” within our own national boundaries and the lands on which their ancestors hunted and dwelled for centuries.
This revalorisation of Amerindian culture however, is far from complete but instead must remain a continuous process adapted to the current context of socioeconomic development in which villages now find themselves. Often, the Government prioritises economic development over cultural preservation, without realising that Amerindians are perhaps the most vulnerable segment of our population, prone to rapid cultural erosion.
It is for this reason that the coalition Government falls under fire for investing next to nothing in cultural preservation, and for displaying a genuine lack of concern for sustainable investments in initiatives guaranteeing the cultural security of Amerindians.
In one year, the Allicock administration has done nothing but squandered resources which have and will produce little impact and results in the domain of indigenous cultures. This adds to the list of concerns which have risen since the PNC-led coalition Government was installed, regarding the indifference for indigenous rights and the principle of FPIC in the national decision-making process.
However, as an African proverb rightfully reminds us, “A people without culture is like a zebra without stripes”. The Government must be reminded that indigenous heritage is wealth belonging not just to Amerindians, but to all Guyanese, and subsequently a matter of national interest and investment.

Theft of Amerindian solar panels and a Minister who knows nothing

 

My belief that indigenous peoples are currently the most neglected among Guyanese under this regime is still intact. During the 39th Sitting of Parliament last Thursday, this belief was again vindicated by disregard for Amerindian development, displayed by the Government of Guyana.

The responsibility to seek approval for a contingency sum of over $48 million for the Ministry of the Presidency and State House fell on the shoulders of the subject Minister, Joseph Harmon. Harmon defended that the massive sum covered installation of furniture and equipment for both State House and the Ministry, and included 6000 solar systems. Interestingly, these 6000 solar systems were part of a plan under the former PPP/C Government, to increase accessibility to electricity to Amerindians residing in the Hinterland.

Further scrutiny by the Opposition PPP/C revealed that the solar systems have already been acquired by the coalition Government and according to Harmon, installation has already begun. As if to reassure himself of the legitimacy of such an extravagance, the Minister added that the initiative is intended to render “State House totally green”. When a breakdown of the $48 million was requested by the Opposition, Minister Harmon indicated that he could not provide the information but that “the bulk of the money had to do with the purchase of these solar systems”. Minister Harmon knows nothing of the details of this luxury – a burden borne by a Guyanese population taxed to the marrow.

When asked by the Opposition if he was aware that the 6000 panels were part of a programme under the PPP/C Government since 2013, to develop the Hinterland and Amerindian homes, Harmon indicated he knew nothing of it. Instead, he audaciously and shamelessly defended that “this wasn’t the case as of May 2016”. Yet, he was a big wig of the PNC Opposition barely over a year ago, and witnessed his party gut the Amerindian budget of 2013 and 2014, deliberately stymieing Hinterland development.

Then, the Minister was asked to provide specifics on the type of solar systems which were procured by his Government, in an attempt to determine whether they were the same which were scheduled for procurement under the former administration. Harmon indicated that he knew nothing of such details.

When asked what was so urgent and unforeseen about these panels that they necessitated a contingency plan, especially since the subject Ministry and State House are equipped with fossil fuel back-up generators, Harmon, visibly harassed by the plethora of questions aimed at rendering the Government accountable to the Amerindian peoples of this country, finally had an answer.

He retorted that the acquisition of 6000 solar systems just for the President’s residence and the Ministry of the Presidency “had to do with the quality of the building, the quality of the facilities which we [the coalition] found in those places”. This was his way of saying that unlike the Presidents before him, President Granger cannot live in a humble abode, even if that humble abode was State House. Evidently, his answer fell short of a reasonable explanation which suggested that again, the Minister knows nothing of contingency plans.

Harmon was then asked to clarify whether or not there was a plan to convert all Guyanese homes to solar electricity and if so, when would the implementation phase commence. He responded with a generality, claiming that “It’s not just about putting a solar panel on every house. It involves more than [a] solar panel, it is an entire solar system that we’re talking about here.” However, he adamantly refused any further explanations as to when Guyanese can look forward to the benefits of renewable energies, presumably because he knows that there is no such policy or he knows nothing.

This scenario can be described as nothing less than theft from the Amerindian peoples of this country, where tax dollars are being used to sustain the gluttony and avarice of a Government which has done nothing but trampled on the rights of farmers, Amerindians and the working poor while killing the economy. It is theft when tax dollars fund the continuous beautification of Georgetown, multimillion sporting and massive increases in Government salaries and travel expenses while there is no proportionate redistribution of wealth.

But perhaps the true abomination of this theft lies in the silence of the Minister of Indigenous Affairs, powerless at the detriment of his people.

 

The EU FLEGT VPA in violation of FPIC?

Last week, I raised the issue of dissent within the NTC Executive body and the possibility that the IDB might be implicated in fuelling this fissure between Toshaos who are promoting an APA agenda and the others. If this is found to be true, then it can be interpreted as the Inter-American Development Bank’s (IDB) defence in light of its failure to efficiently disburse funds under the Forest and Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF), to Amerindian communities.

However, the IDB is not the only international organisation which has failed time and again to adapt to the needs of and challenges faced by indigenous communities. The United Nations offices in Guyana, in the different projects they have undertaken, have also demonstrated varying degrees of inflexibility and negligence for on-the-ground realities which collide with their international guidelines and practices.

While it is understood that international organisations function on the basis of mandatory financial and operational standards, one sometimes feel that these principles do not leave space for the specificities of the contexts in which partnerships with subject stakeholders are executed.

Such might again be the case of the European Union Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (EU FLEGT) Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA). The VPA is a bilateral agreement between the EU and the engaging country, in this case, Guyana, which comprises an export market for timber.

Most naturally, if stakeholder demands are not examined and negotiated into an agreement, there can be no partnership between the Government of Guyana and the EU. Well at least not legally.

Amerindians, being inhabitants of and depending directly on our rainforest for their livelihood, survival and cultural preservation, are stakeholders of this partnership, being represented through the Indigenous Peoples Affairs Ministry, the NTC and civil organisations. Since 2012, conditions for implementing the VPA in keeping with indigenous rights were being discussed among stakeholders.

Yet, the draft VPA appears to omit most of these conditions, and subsequently presents significant inconsistencies with the Laws of Guyana. The NTC highlighted these concerns, reminding that despite having committed to observing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) and FAO (Food and Agriculture Organisation of the UN) guidelines on indigenous livelihood, the draft VPA has fallen short of these frameworks.

Among these anomalies, is the possibility of lumber being removed from indigenous communities without their Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC). FPIC continues to be at the heart of rights violations regardless of the actor involved, and for the simple reason that information by itself is power.

Another objection cited was the short time frame allotted to the finalisation of the VPA, which is believed to be a deliberate move to limit stakeholder participation and input. If this is the case, then not only will the EU be disregarding international frameworks on indigenous rights, but so will the Government of Guyana.

The role of the Government is crucial in ensuring that the Constitutional and specific indigenous rights of Amerindians are respected by international organisations and all other stakeholders to Guyana’s development.

Failure to comply with procedural and qualitative requirements of legal and internationally frameworks on indigenous rights by international organisations, is conducive to deficiencies and other legal gaps in the establishment of partnerships, putting the minority indigenous population at risk. Here, both the Government and EU will be culpable of violating indigenous rights, especially if FPIC is not being adhered to in the VPA process.

In this particular case, where it is the sustainable economic development of Guyana that is at stake, several conventions protect indigenous peoples’ rights, including the International Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), both of which were ratified by Guyana and consequently legally binding. Therefore, instead of rushing through the VPA process at the expense of Amerindians, it is recommended that the principle of FPIC guide the discussions among stakeholders.

Amidst the dissatisfaction expressed by Amerindians in light of the turn the VPA discussions have taken, as well as irregularities in the implementation of other projects under bilateral partnerships, we must question the level of commitment from international organisations to respect national legal structures, as well as the international frameworks which guarantee our rights, particularly indigenous rights, in Guyana. But au finale, the Government is to be held fully accountable for any rights violation committed by international organisations, as it is responsible for the security and well-being of its people.

 

Source of dissent in the NTC should be investigated

 

The National Toshaos Council (NTC) ought to be the most powerful, democratically organised representation of indigenous peoples in Guyana. Comprised of the elected Toshaos of each Amerindian community and village, it is mandated by the Amerindian Act 6-2006 to oversee and contribute to the strategic development of Amerindian peoples.

An elected Executive body of twenty Toshaos presided by a Chairman, are responsible for the direction of the NTC. Ideally, this Executive body should work harmoniously toward optimal results, reflected in annual reports presented at each NTC annual conference.

Since its re-election in 2015 however, the NTC Executive is reportedly no longer a united body. Dissent and fight for power are distracting the attention of the Executive from its duties.

It appears that the number of NTC Executives who are members or close associates of the Amerindian Peoples Association (APA), has increased after the Council’s last election. As a result, there seems to be a significant lack of consensus among the leadership, cobbled with a certain level of disregard for the authority if the NTC Chair.

A recent letter – controversial in the position it defended – published by Executive member and APA friendly, Toshao Lennox Schuman, purported to represent the views of the NTC on the irregularities surrounding the disbursement of funds by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) under a Forest and Carbon Partnership Facilitation (FCPF) project.

Interestingly, Shuman claimed that the views defended in the letter represented the position of the NTC, despite the troubling number of inconsistencies with which it is riddled. For instance, Shuman’s position on the delays in the disbursement of the funds, was radically different less than two months ago, when he participated at a stakeholder meeting hosted by the Norwegian delegation responsible for the Low Carbon Development Strategy (LCDS).

But the questions which have summoned interrogation, is whether Shuman was authorised to defend the position of the IDB on behalf of the NTC in the public sphere. Shouldn’t the letter have been signed by NTC Chair Joel Fredericks or its Secretary Eyon Boyal?

Reports circulating also suggest that Lennox Shuman is the instigator of the idea that a no-confidence motion should be pressed against the NTC Chair. If this is true then support might be gathered from the Toshaos who are close to the APA, however sterile the entire initiative might reveal itself to be. What has eventually become public knowledge is the certitude that Shuman is running a parallel agenda aimed at undermining the NTC and its Chair; an agenda which lobbies on behalf of the APA.

This increasingly dangerous situation is bordering on a crisis, and begs the question as to the possibility of sanctions against Executives who deliberately obstruct the work of the NTC and by extent the development of Amerindians.

It is also to be determined, in light of the nature of Shuman’s letter, whether or not the IDB has a hand in contributing to the destabilisation of the NTC and the manipulation of public opinion, in a desperate attempt to cover up its presumed negligence regarding the FCPF project in question. Interference in matters of strictly national interest is not alien to international organisations present in Guyana.

More importantly however, is to examine the implication of the APA in encouraging the dissent which now reigns among the NTC Executives, and to publicise the extent of the damage and the responsibility that the APA and acolytes have in stymieing Amerindian development. Amerindians must know what transpires within the NTC.

The NTC through the Indigenous Affairs Ministry should also launch an investigation into the conflict of interest, as well as the parties involved in disrupting its work and misrepresenting its position. This includes centring attention on the IDB and the possibility of it scheming against the interest of the NTC and Amerindians.

If the NTC cannot yield the power with which it was bestowed by Law, then it would fail miserably in representing Amerindians both nationally and in the international arena.

The NTC is an excellent means of self-representation for Amerindians, and consequently should not crumble at the hands of selfish elements blinded by self-pursuit, opportunism and bias.

 

The South Indigenous Group and FPIC

 

By Anna Correia

The amendment of the Amerindian Act 6–2006 has been on the agenda of the Amerindian Peoples Association (APA) for years, initially supported by Minister Allicock and acolytes in their former positions. And it is a worthy cause insofar as the Act does reveal itself to be incomplete in some aspects, (for instance where mining encumbrances on Amerindian lands are concerned) and that legislation in general, must always be subject to adaptations synchronised to the rhythm of progress in a society.

However, the true motive behind the urge to reform the Act can be object to scepticism, as it stems principally from the notion of ancestral lands. In a recent Guyana Times article, the Minister avoided discussing the titling of ancestral lands, perhaps because he already knows that his Government will not make such commitments. Instead, he emphasised the importance of having the Act reinforce Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC), a concept which he stated to be “enshrined in the Act” but “ignored over the years”. Interestingly, the Minister seemed unaware that the term FPIC does not figure at all in the Act, and is therefore not an “enshrined” principle. Instead, one may deduce that processes set out by the Act are responsive to the concept of FPIC, such as the land titling process directed by Part VI of the document. While reinforcing FPIC makes for valid revision, it is just a mask for other motives.

Incidentally, the Minister in his deliverance, spoke of the necessity to include stakeholders in the process of amendment of the Act, and highlighted the importance of the “South Indigenous Group”, presumably the South Central Peoples Development Association (SCEPDA). If it is that he is indeed referring to SCEPDA, then it comes as a surprise to those who are informed of the group’s agenda, as well as of the fact that is an extension of the APA.

The group is headed by Nicholas Fredericks, son-in-law of the APA’s very own Tony James. It purports to defend the land rights of the Amerindians of South Central Rupununi. Yet, the majority of villages in the Rupununi are titled and many have already applied for extension under the Amerindian Land Titling Project. So the question is, what land rights exactly is this group fighting for, so that it should suddenly be considered such an important element to the revision of the Act?

Evidently, Minister Allicock for the sake of tempering public reaction, omitted that the group is actually fighting for some 17 villages in the Rupununi to merge their lands, so that the Wapishana people (mainly) would become owners of the entire portion of Guyana extending from Central Rupununi downwards. In order to achieve this, the group relies directly on the support of the APA which through its lawyer – a non-Guyanese who has had a hand in most of the land cases supported by the organisation – is lobbying Toshaos. Toshaos are reportedly being bought without the Free, Prior and Informed Consent of their people, in violation of the UNDRIP. This by itself should warrant an investigation from Minister Allicock who is so dearly concerned about FPIC.

Reports also indicate that the group so far, is unable to obtain the consent of all the Toshaos required to support this malign initiative, for different reasons which range from their objection to the idea, to the fact that they do not wish to be part of SCEPDA. Such is the case of Toshaos in the Deep South, who have already indicated that their lands are not geographically located in South Central Rupununi, and therefore cannot be represented by SCEPDA. Some of these Toshaos have reported the immense pressure to which they are being subjected by the said group and the supporting APA.

There have been documented instances in the recent past where Toshaos of South Central made decisions in support of SCEPDA’s agenda, without the knowledge of their Village Councillors. If SCEPDA and the APA are encouraging this, then clearly, they are more prone to disregarding the Amerindian Act than reforming it in the best interest of all Guyanese. Article 25 of the Act speaks against decision-making of Village Councillors without the informed consent of the entirety of the Council.

It is dangerous for the Ministry to engage stakeholders who do not represent the interests of all Amerindians combined, more so if these stakeholders disregard the fact that the Act is not just a matter of indigenous rights, but of national interest to which all Guyanese are stakeholders.