Some residents of Orealla village on the Corentyne River are calling for the removal of the current Toshao alleging that he has been mismanaging the village’s assets and not properly accounting for its finances.
The residents, who want an interim management committee installed because five members of the council have resigned, are also accusing the Toshao, Floyd Edwards, of not convening regular general meetings with residents as is required under the Amerindian Act.
However, Edwards while not denying that some of the village assets are non-functional said that these are things that he met when he became Toshao, and he accused the villagers – some of whom he named – of trying to “topple” the council. He told the Sunday Stabroek that some of those who are calling for him to be removed had contested the last elections and had lost, and now they are like the “opposition” and instead of “fighting for a reason they are fighting for a position.”
Edwards admitted that no general meeting has been held for some time, but said the reason was because the said villagers are in the habit of disrupting meetings.
“This group is trying to stop the development in the village; they disrupt the meetings and really the council does not see the sense in keeping the meetings because nothing is achieved. By the time you reach the minutes there is loud arguments and the meeting bruk up,” Edwards said.
There is a lot of “disruption, division and hatred” among the villagers, he continued, but pledged that a general meeting would be held shortly.
But according to villagers Carl and Lloyd Peneux and Angila Devair the reason why Edwards, who is also the Toshao of the satellite village Siparuta, does not want to convene a meeting is because the financial records are not up to date and he does not want this to be exposed.
They also alleged Edwards was elected be-cause of political interference, and they are calling for new elections, something for which they have been fighting for some time now. They indicated that five councillors have since resigned and as such there is no quorum.
But Edwards insisted there are 16 councillors between the two villages and while five have resigned from Orealla there is still a combined total of 11 councillors which means that there is a quorum and the council is legal. He said at the next general meeting there are plans to replace the councillors who resigned through the will of villagers.
The residents who ap-pealed to the Amerindian Ministry to investigate what was happening in the village but got no satisfaction, are now appealing to the Nat-ional Toshaos Council to intervene.
While admitting that some of the problems now being experienced predated the current council they pointed out that Edwards had been deputy Toshao and when the previous Toshao McLean Devair died he acted in that position for a while before he was elected. They said the problems have multiplied since Edwards assumed the reins of the council and at present the situation has “become unbearable and may soon develop into anarchy.”
According Carl Peneux the council has not held a properly constituted meeting in both villages for over a year and a half and this has led to the Toshao and certain councillors making decisions.
‘In short, whatever the Toshao dictates, directs or decides becomes a decision of the council, as if to say that the entire reservation of Orealla is his private property,” Peneux said.
One of the persons who resigned was the treasurer and Edwards is now acting in that position. Villagers have objected to this, but he responded that he had no choice as someone had to take up the mantle.
The villagers and the Toshao differ on why the former treasurer resigned as while they say the person was being frustrated and was unable to complete the financial records owing to interference, Edwards says that the treasurer withheld records from the council and refused to complete the records.
Peneux pointed out that because no general meetings are being held there are no financial reports on income and expenditure in relation to the village funds, and even though the council has an account no bank
statements have been made available.
He said that Orealla through a levying system on logs and sand would have received large sums, but no one knows how these have been spent.
The village boat, the MV Epira, was grounded in 2012 and while hundreds of thousands had been spent on repairs it remains non-functional. The village canteen is also bankrupt and has been forced to close its doors, and there is no financial report on what happened even though villagers had contributed to it becoming a reality. A village tractor is also in a state of disrepair.
And according to Peneux even though a grant of $5M was given to the council by the government to enhance the potable water system no one knows how the money was spent, and Orealla continues to struggle with an unreliable potable water system.
“Mr, Chairman, there is much more to say including the virtual shut-down of the village office, the very inadequate functioning of the village water-pump, no garbage collection and disposal system, and no attention being placed on youths, sports and culture,” a letter to NTC Chairman Derek John signed by 16 villagers said.
Lloyd Peneux said that the village office has not been open for three months and its compound is in an overgrown state, while it is difficult to make contact with any of the councillors.
“It is like the village doesn’t have any leaders; the captain is always out and so if anybody have official business you don’t know who to go to. You have two councillors who will be around but even if you go to them they would say they have to meet with the captain,” Angila Devair said.
Lloyd Peneux also said that electricity is a problem and although residents are asked to pay $150 per kilowatt many times they are not provided with the service as the generator is usually out of fuel. He also said that the village stelling is in such a bad condition that it poses a risk to life and limb.
“It is about unaccountability and the village council is not keeping council meetings, and as a result of that five councillors have resigned and it is just four remaining councillors with the Toshao,” the man told the Sunday Stabroek.
“We want what’s happening there to be publicized because normally what happens the reports are that things are going okay there, but things are not okay. We are challenging anybody to go to the village and you would see things are definitely not right,” Carl Peneux said.
Edwards in response to the allegations said the problems are not new ones and he refuses to take the blame, in addition to which the Ministry of Amerindian Affairs had investigated most of the claims. The ministry, he said, had sent in auditors to look at the books and that a letter was sent to one of the past treasurers to hand over all records, but that person refused. Even the police, he said, were asked to intervene at one point.
The Toshao said that he is not responsible for the boat, tractor and a sawmill becoming non-functional as he encountered these issues when he took control. Under the past council he said that the boat, tractor, sawmill and even a generator were overseen by committees, and that these are the persons who should be questioned.
“Other people did these things and I would not accept responsibility,” he said.
Edwards said when he became Toshao the council did spend a large sum of money in an effort to repair the boat but it is beyond repair.
He told this newspaper that the stelling is in the process of being repaired and this should be completed in another three weeks. And while the village council compound is indeed overgrown at the moment, Edwards said that it would be cleaned in due course and it is not a case of it being neglected, but that “we have a number of important places to clean like the health centre and school compounds.”
And it is not a case of the building being abandoned, according to Edwards, since a clerk is there on a daily basis, but he said the councillors are not paid and they have to work for their livelihoods, and as a result it is not always feasible for them to be accessible. As captain Edwards said that he has to be out of the village regularly on official business. He said that the present generator was bought with the help of a $3M grant from the government and the council had to contribute a further $1M while $375,000 has had to be found to purchase fuel and pay staff for the first month.
The village benab was in a state of disrepair but Edwards said that repairs are almost completed to the tune of $1.5M – a sum paid entirely by the council.
“We are actually spending the money on the people…” Edwards said.
He called on the villagers to strive for betterment and unity instead of “fighting and pulling down” while commenting that those same villagers who are protesting refuse to be involved in self-help projects in the village.
But he said “even with opposition” the council under his management has been able to achieve the establishment of a furniture factory, the repair of the benab, securing an engine and boat for Siparuta, building a revetment to stop erosion in the satellite village and the upgrading of its playground. A block-building machine has also been acquired to help build homes in Siparuta and eventually they will make blocks to sell as a way of raising revenue for the council. The health centre in Siparuta was also repaired and it won first prize at the last Region 6 health centre award ceremony. Edwards said they are also at the moment attempting to get a boat and engine for Orealla which he said is very important in cases of emergencies, as well as helping the council to generate much needed revenue.
“This council is ready to work for the people,” the Toshao declared.