I wish to call on the PPP/C government and its supporters to stop insulting the intelligence of our indigenous peoples. The PPP/C has sent its agents into indigenous communities in various regions to tell our peoples that because of the budget cuts by the opposition parliamentarians, their communities will be severely affected – no more titling and demarcation of their lands, no more solar panels, no more presidential grants, etc, and that these cuts were also voted by their own indigenous parliamentarians in the opposition groups. These agents have even walked with flyers carrying photos of indigenous parliamentarians, among others, showing them as the bad guys. How dangerous but pitiful.
Persons representing the government have been shouting their heads off that progress of Amerindian development, which started since 1992 will now be severely stymied. While we must acknowledge that some form of infrastructure among other amenities was introduced, it must be made clear that in the last twenty years of ‘Amerindian development’ which the PPP/C harks on about so much, our peoples are at the stage outlined below, and other Guyanese need to know about it:
1. Within the last twenty years, the PPP/C government has found it difficult to give to our peoples the full 23,000 sq miles that the Amerindian Lands Commission recommended to the government at that time. They keep talking of numbers – 96 titled communities, 13.9 % land ownership of the whole of Guyana and 13 more awaiting titling – but what they don’t tell us is that 13.9% is only 11,537 sq miles, and still outstanding to the ‘first peoples’ is another 11,000+ sq miles. Now if this government cares so much and is different from the PNC, why have they taken so long to give our peoples their lands, even as they have been calling for areas to be legally designated as theirs? Choosing to ignore the recommendations of the Amerindian Lands Commission has resulted in numerous conflicts.
2. Within the last twenty years, this administration has seen it fit to build one live-in secondary school in each administrative sub-region, where dormitories and classrooms now struggle to accommodate triple times or more the number they were first built to cater for. Children travel long distances to attain secondary education – and I mean, children in North Pakaraimas, Region 8, walk for hours and days up mountains and down valleys, whether in the scorching sun or pouring rain, even though in the comfort of their parents’ presence. If they are fortunate, someone passing on an All Terrain Vehicle (ATV) might offer them a lift if they have space. Communities have made requests, recommendations and pleas to have another secondary school built and staffed with trained teachers in their sub-region, but to no avail. One of the reasons that some students from these secondary schools have performed well is because of the dedication of the teachers who go the extra mile to ensure that they excel. Can the PPP/C truly say that they have provided ‘equal access to education’ for indigenous peoples?
3. In a situation of remoteness, public servants in Region 8 are paid by cheque… yes, by cheque! In the North Pakaraimas there is no banking facility and these workers find themselves at the mercy of businessmen to have their cheques encashed, and are accommodated only on the condition that they take goods from the shop amounting to half of their monies. This situation is ridiculous and unacceptable.
4. Some communities in Region 8 have expressed their concern with regard to the building of the Amaila Falls Hydro Project, which will flood their hunting and fishing grounds. Non-indigenous peoples might say that this is a far distance from the communities, but our peoples have indicated that this is their last reserve.
5. Public servants (indigenous peoples) are told that if they are ill and stay away from work, they must submit a medical report from a doctor and not the community health workers assigned to their respective health centres, as they are not authorised/competent to do this, but are nevertheless considered competent to deliver health care. The government doesn’t care how far one has to travel to see a doctor to get a paper.
6. Retiring public servants spend lots of hard-earned dollars travelling to the city over and over in the bid to process their gratuity application.
Indigenous peoples and their leaders have been taken for the ride and have been made to feel that if they do not have solar panels in their homes, they are not developed. Our peoples have not been asked if they wish to have these amounts of monies spent on solar panels as opposed to another option which might be of more benefit to them. Our peoples have also not been adequately informed on the implications of LCDS and REDD+ related projects. Participation in the design of REDD+ and capacity building on the application of safeguards that should be demanded by us, the indigenous peoples, and upheld by the government has not taken place, and yet the government is using our peoples as leverage to push for payment for environmental services.
Now that the Chairman of the Indigenous Peoples Commission (IPC) and the National Toshaos Council have stated their positions, (Guyana Times, May 6, 2012), it has become clearer that the likelihood of our peoples receiving truthful information, including the reason for the cuts in the budget is very remote. In addition to the functions of the IPC as listed in an article in the Guyana Times, I would also like to remind the Chair that other functions as listed in the constitution state:
Article 212S (1) – “The Indigenous People’s Commission shall establish mechanisms to enhance the status of indigenous peoples and to respond to their legitimate demands and needs”; and Article 212T (f) – “Promote consultation and cooperation with indigenous peoples especially with regard to their participation in national decision-making and other decisions that affect their lives…”
I appeal to indigenous peoples who have been singing the same song as the PPP/C to take a breather and not get carried away, but to focus on the real issue and represent this for our indigenous peoples with dignity, and not create further divisions among our peoples. Our peoples deserve respect.
Two recommendations: AFC and APNU need to visit and make clear to indigenous communities why these cuts were made; if the cuts will stymie the building of the hydro project, we should take that same money instead and divert it to another low-carbon electricity source for the city – solar panels for households and businesses!
I also appeal to my indigenous peoples to keep an open mind and demand the truth only and ask one question: If Norway had never pledged money, would our peoples have never received all that the government, together with IPC and NTC currently say we will lose?