October 21, 2016

A Youth Policy cannot be coined by a Government of old men

Anna Correia

A National Youth Policy was presented during the forty-third sitting of Parliament last week, and its scrutiny by the Opposition unveiled quite a few flaws.
Statistical incoherence dominated, revealing that a scant 3000 individuals were surveyed, despite that the Youth Policy Document is intended for a population of 510,000 persons ranging from 18 to 35 years of age. How many Amerindians participated in the survey was not indicated. While 52 organisations were said to have been part of a consultation process, no mention of how many indigenous interest groups was made. As a matter of fact, no mention was made of whether the policy-making process respected the principle of Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) of indigenous peoples.
Unsurprisingly, this translates the modus operandi of the coalition regime which has little regard for FPIC and the inclusive participation of Guyana’s First Peoples in the national decision-making process.
The National Youth Policy also presented gaps whereby cultural sensitivity and respect for human diversities were omitted. This includes religious groups, the LGBT community, and indigenous cultural particularities. What stood out in the document was the lack of recognition for our country’s human diversities which were drowned in a composition of vague terms and definitions, in a “one-size-fits-all” hypothesis purporting to address the needs of all young people.
It was another perfect demonstration of the coalition’s incapacity to respond to the specificities of our country’s population, and to formulate policies tailored to suit the needs of each segment, in the interest of true nation building.
The paper does not outline for instance, the measures which would be implemented to ensure that Amerindian youth are guaranteed access and securities on the national job market. It is not substantiated by sustainable mechanisms which would impact local village economies in the Hinterland while providing young people with jobs. It does not speak to the need for cultural preservation of young people, who leave the hinterland in search of employment or education elsewhere in Guyana.
As a matter of fact, it even ignores the creation of special programmes which would increase accessibility to higher education for indigenous youth, and by extent increase the country’s capital in a skilled and trained work force.
In short, the document in its myopia of what a youth policy should be lacks a holistic approach to addressing the needs of young people across social, religious, cultural and gender specificities. It is therefore in the best interest of the younger Amerindian generations, that all stakeholders to indigenous rights unanimously demand the revision of the policy document and the integration of clauses which respect the specificities of indigenous peoples, and which situate their needs in the wider national context of development.
Perhaps People’s Progressive Party Member of Parliament Nigel Dharamlall was right, when he insisted that the Government’s policy proposal was a piece of paper which treated young people as a “manifesto check-box” rather than a resource. Judging from its deficiencies, one can easily deduct that time was the only prerequisite against which the coalition worked to produce a policy paper which falters in so many regards.
The fact that the Advisor to the Government on Youth Policy is a senior citizen, and that none but one member of Government is below the age of 35, also proves that from inception, the coalition was never intent on actually respecting its promise of inclusive governance for youth. It can also explain why the paper takes on a condescending, quasi-religious tone which reflects the preference for Christian values by this Government, and which it often invokes in its parliamentary deliberations, demarcating it from the previous administration.
It is therefore expected that if the young leaders across Guyana are excluded from the national decision-making process, a relevant youth policy cannot be coined by a Government of old men.

The “mother of crimes” is poverty, Sir

Anna Correia

Last week, someone asked me if I thought that “Ramjattan has any idea what he’s about”. The truth is, I think that Ramjattan was neither given a fair chance to act in his full capacity as Public Security Minister, nor cared to assume full responsibility for the Government’s inefficiency to tackle crime. When it comes to criticizing Ramjattan these days, one has to bear in mind that he is without full control over the public security policies produced by the coalition, and that he’s being overshadowed by the Ministry of the Presidency. It appears as though the President himself is micro-managing and dictating the direction policy-making must take in addressing crime.
In a recent headline, President Granger expounded that narcotics is “the mother of crimes”, laying the basis for how crime will be tackled in Guyana as of now. This is perhaps the most inaccurate statement the President has made to the public so far.
Crime has woven itself into the social fabric of this country, not because those at the bottom prefer to sell drugs instead of making an honest earning, but rather because those at the bottom have for so long been unable to make that honest living which would immunize them from the grips of drug dealers. Notorious narco-traffickers, such as Pablo Escobar, drew their power from the poverty stricken societies in which they thrived. In Guyana, poverty is also what dictates more than any other factor, the high crime rates which for so long defined our society. Therefore, the government has to tackle the problem at its source, proposing healthy alternatives for those most vulnerable to the drug trade.
Fighting crime requires durable transformational policies designed to enhance the quality of our human capital, therefore attacking poverty at its core. It requires a Government committed to the socioeconomic well-being of its people in a society built on equalitarian principles, geared at successful policy making. Yet, the coalition has repeatedly taken the opposite direction. Social policies aimed at supporting parents and pensioners were removed, taxes across social and professional categories were increased by hundreds of percentages, State guarantees were ripped from the agriculture sector and factories were closed. As if that weren’t enough, 1972 Amerindian CSOs and an undisclosed number of public servants of Indian descent were fired due to political and ethnic discrimination in the Public Service.
If the President was really committed to fighting crime, then he would focus more on materialising those promises he made to Guyanese during his presidential campaign, rather than reneging on them, while suggesting that Guyanese become criminals because of their love for the narco-trade. He would ensure his government worked toward building avenues for a reliable job market, creating employment and training skilled labour. He would provide guarantees to young professionals instead of killing the economy and forcing them to flee to Brazil, North America and anywhere else that offered better opportunities.
He would also constrain the Indigenous Affairs Ministry to re-hire as promised, the 1972 Amerindians who were fired under the YEAP. Instead, the HEYS programme which was intended to replace the YEAP, forfeited its responsibility to provide jobs for these individuals. Additionally, months of stipends are outstanding for participants who in the end are not guaranteed employment at the issue of the programme. As a result, HEYS is another failed investment unfit to combat poverty in Amerindian communities.
Au finale the President’s charade wouldn’t get us far in fighting crime perpetrated mostly by those at the lower levels of society. Pardoning hundreds of criminals without implementing solid rehabilitating structures to prevent recidivism, raiding night spots to confiscate a few grammes of marijuana, apprehending prostitutes before releasing them back into business, have so far proven to be farcical.
In addition to sustainable policy-making, the President must put aside his penchant for self-righteous, radical, military-style leadership and intervention, and advocate for the rule of law in every layer of society, including in Government, where corruption currently reigns.
If President Granger refuses to muzzle the corruption of his own members of Government and continues to protect the political tyrants of his party, especially those in Region 9, then he is unqualified to sermon this nation on the rule of law.
Guyanese people do need change from the unnerving sense of insecurity which hovers over every child, woman and man daily. They need change from the whimsical and capricious policies devised by an untrustworthy Government. It is time.

Trotman must apologise for misleading Amerindians and the nation

Raphael Trotman’s recent declarations on the validity of land titles delivered to “many” Amerindian villages, translate his malign intentions to deceive Amerindians, as well as his recurrent dishonesty to the Guyanese public.
One would recall that earlier this year, this trait of character manifested itself in Parliament when he denied having knowledge of another Minister mining on Tasserene proposed title land. Strangely, he had been called upon by civil actors since January 2016, to rectify this anomaly.
It appears that Trotman is not only defending the mining interests of certain business magnates, but is also seeking to satisfy the claims of voters who settled in recent years on traditional Amerindian lands, subsequently stirring ethnic tensions in Amerindian communities.
Signs of Trotman’s peculiar position taken against Amerindian land titling first surfaced when he promised to have the claims of persons opposed to the Four Miles Absolute Grant, “resolved”. Unfortunately, either Trotman was trying to appease coalition supporters or he was completely ignorant, even in his capacity as a lawyer, of the fact that Absolute Grants convey irrevocable and inalienable ownership rights to Amerindian villages.
At the last NTC Conference however, he set a dangerous precedence in the war between miners and Amerindians, when he declared that “just before elections a set of documents (…) purporting to be titles were handed out”. More than just questioning the credibility of these titles, the Natural Resources Minister went one step further and deposited the documents for investigation by the Attorney General’s office. Perhaps “somebody should be charged for fooling the people…because it’s mischief…it is cruelty to come and lie to you and fool (you), to try to get the vote, I’m not sure,” the Minister said.
This even beats former Minister Robert Persaud’s reluctance to cooperate under the Amerindian Land Titling project and his disapproval for the titling of villages located in prime mining areas, such as Tasserene and Kangaruma.
What Trotman has done, is given carte blanche to people like the former GGDMA President Patrick Harding, and ACDA President Eric Phillips, to question the legitimacy of indigenous peoples’ land rights.
Patrick Harding in his recent address at the GGDMA’s annual general meeting, went so far as to dismiss indigenous land rights, stating that Amerindians “don’t want lands for culture or whatever”, and charging that the titles delivered to these “many” villages Trotman referred to were not valid. This is the commencement of a deluge of insults which will continue to stigmatise Amerindians under the full approbation of Trotman and this coalition.

The truth?
The titles Trotman referred to are those delivered to Tuseneng, Karisparu, Kambaru-Omanaik, Four Miles, Kariako and Batavia. Of these six villages, five have been under investigation since 2013 and after battling with the Natural Resources Ministry, were cleared of mining encumbrances. Four Miles has been the object of full consultative investigation involving all stakeholders and under UN observation, to ensure the respect for FPIC. After intensive field work and mapping, the GFC, GLSC and GGMC certified that encumbrances were cleared.
The six titles were issued with official seal and signature of the Head of the Permanent Secretariat, on behalf of the President of Guyana, as was done for villages prior to 2014. They were issued by the GLSC which has a responsibility for placing a copy of each document in its vault.
Consequently, it is the GLSC and not so much the Attorney General that is apt for determining the validity of these titles. Therefore, the Minister is deliberately misleading Guyanese, and the Indigenous Peoples Affaires Ministry must step up and hold him accountable for his irresponsible pronouncements.
Further, his scheme is a waste of time and resources as he provides false hopes to those who covet Amerindian lands.
The titles were issued by the GLSC as early as November 2015 for Tuseneng and not right before the 2015 elections as the Minister claimed. These dates are inscribed on the Grants themselves.
Trotman’s utterances depict the nature of Government policies aimed at reducing the importance of indigenous peoples to this country, while dismissing their constitutional rights which are actually embedded in Guyana’s fight for independence, for the benefit other interest groups, including those defending African land reparation and miners.
He owes Amerindians an apology and must be brought to respect his ministerial obligations to protect their rights, instead of insulting them and adding to the strain of a stagnating economy instigated by his Government.

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.