Allow me the opportunity to share my thoughts with my Amerindian brothers and sisters of Region No 9, Upper Takutu, Upper Essequibo, Rupununi, elsewhere, and indeed all Guyanese.
It was a sad Easter weekend for us here at Lethem. The Rupununi Rodeo was dominated by the boring political speech by the Head of State. He had nothing to say about the rodeo, nothing to tell us about the real old rodeo and honouring those who started the Rodeo in the Rupununi. It was only left for him to paint the cattle, horses, cowboys, girls and audience with red and mark them with PPP/C. You went for a holiday, went to see Rodeo, not to Parliament. Parliament is in Georgetown.
Saddest of all was the loss of life of two young Amerindians. I wish to take this opportunity to offer my condolences to the bereaved families of the deceased.
As sad as it is, we cannot escape the reality of life. Now that the dust is partly settled and the 2014 Budget is still fresh in the minds of many, let’s journey back a little and examine the happenings on the 14th,15th and 16th April. The Amerindian Development Fund (ADF) was not supported by the combined parliamentary opposition based on the dissatisfaction of the representatives of Regions 1, 7, 8 and 9 on how precious taxpayers’ money is being used to divide our communities and disrespect the Village Councils. The item of the ADF under contention was and still is the Youth Entrepreneur Apprenticeship Programme (YEAP).
Let`s examine the facts: The ADF means Amerindian Development Fund and is supported by taxpayers’ money, whether it comes from Guyana or abroad, as I understand it.
ADF says nothing about a PPP/C Youth Programme. The ADF consists of several components: one is presidential grants, another is the Youth Entrepreneur Apprenticeship Programme, and a third is economic ventures. Others are communications, schoolchildren, and so on. The Guyana REDD+ Investment Fund (GRIF) is a component only in those years when there are funds allotted to the ADF.
I call on the executive and legislative branches of government to sit down with Amerindian leaders and deal with the following general issues:
1. Taking land titling back under Amerindian village control, including carrying out the surveys themselves, not having the budgets under the control of the Ministry of Amerindian Affairs
2. Ensuring that community development plans actually correspond with the consensus in each village or community rather than being dictated by the Ministry of Amerindian Affairs; bearing in mind that only 26 villages are benefiting to the amount of $5 million apiece as from mid-2012 from GRIF. No other GRIF ADF money is currently assigned for direct spending in Amerindian areas – that is, until the full project document is written, there can be no more spending of GRIF money through the ADF. Two-thirds of the GRIF funding for ADF in the first tranche is assigned for spending by government agencies, including the Office of the President.
3. The weakness of education is notorious. The reasons are well known in general terms but need to be disaggregated village by village. Amerindians need to be more insistent about the quality of teaching and teachers and this is linked to the need for the communities to contribute to the provision of adequate teachers’ housing.
4. As climate change impacts more and more on the hinterland of Guyana, each community needs to take more responsibility for providing itself with water in possibly prolonged dry seasons. This requires not only capital expenditure but also training in water management and maintenance of pumps and pipes. Mr Julio Perreiras’ water establishment at Manari is a good example for villages to store water for livestock and fishes and other wildlife in the dry season and restocking in the wet season.
5. Health: As with education, the health of Amerindians is below the average for Guyana. This is related to the shortage of medical staff within communities or within close range. As in other parts of the country, Amerindians need better preventative health education, including nutrition and ante- and post-natal care.
6. Energy: Beginning with the Unserved Areas Hinterland Development Project, funded by the IDB, the government should be given credit for considering how best to provide electrical energy to isolated communities and isolated households within communities. The government also deserves credit for
initiating the installation of solar panels, but the only independent review shows widespread failures in panels or switchgear or wiring. Amerindian communities and villages call for top priority to be given to providing the schools and health centres with adequate and reliable power. This calls for a substantial increase in both capital and recurrent budgets, plus training.
7. Caiman House Field Station in Yupukari provides a model of how to provide education in a facility run on renewable energy. The Bina Hill School for learning is available and does leadership, agriculture, cultural, forestry, IT, business and tourism training. There should be a hundred Caiman Houses and BHIs in Amerindian areas, indeed in all villages in Guyana. Local initiatives like these should be adequately supported financially by the ADF.
As APNU and AFC point out, CSOs should be trained in all these key areas and then assigned to distinct sectors at village level, under the supervision of each Village Council, not under the Ministry of Amerindian Affairs.
I could expand on this list but these are among the key issues. It is clear that toshaos and senior councillors are not being encouraged or allowed to articulate their key issues to the line ministries and agencies. It should be the job of all Amerindian MPs to work in a non-partisan manner in the development of appropriate spending and verification of delivery. It is not just the matter of the presidential grants and the Amerindian Development Fund, because the bulk of government spending in Amerindian communities is via the budgets of the line ministries and agencies other than the Ministry of Amerindian Affairs. All MPs need help to analyse and to contribute to the formulation of the government budget estimates. That could be secured on a non-partisan basis through the USAID LEAD project; this could be a good example of how to use this LEAD project.