Toshaos conference declared open

Amerindian Affairs Minister Carolyn Rodrigues yesterday lamented that the Indigenous People’s Commission is still to be put in place and floods, roads, unemployment and land extensions are among concerns to be raised by village leaders at the National Toshaos Conference.

The five-day meeting being held under the theme “Building Capacity for Good Governance” opened with 144 toshaos and senior councillors representing various Amerindian villages and Prime Minister Samuel Hinds, performing the functions of President, government ministers and members of the diplomatic corps in attendance.

Welcoming the gathering at the Guyana International Conference Centre, Minister of Amerindian Affairs, Rodrigues noted that it was the first conference held under the new Amerindian Act and stated that it was the intention to have the activity at least once every three years to coincide with the election of the toshaos. She recalled that the last one was held in 2004 under circumstances that saw debates on the land rights, among others. The minister declared that the atmosphere was now different saying that “we have been able to move forward”. She said that since then 19 communities have been granted land titles with six granted extensions. “Addressing land claims is now run-of-the-mill activity”, the minister asserted adding that land demarcation is up to date and the toshaos are meeting under a “more progressive manner”. She however lamented that a goal not achieved was the establishment of the Indigenous People’s Com-mission (IPC) even though at the 2004 conference, nominees for the commission were selected. She said that parliament lapsed on the issue noting that a two thirds vote is needed for the establishment of not only that body but others as well. She stated that all the political parties have to be on board and urged the parties to find common ground on the issue.

Meanwhile, on the governance of communities the minister stated that while some positives were seen, some “bad management” was also noted. “We will have to take drastic measures if we find that the community is being short-changed”, she warned.

Hinds in his address, too, lamented that the IPC had not yet been established. “What has been disappointing is that parliament has not yet been able to complete this task”, he said. He stated that progress brings new situations; some bad, some positive and noted the concerns expressed by hinterland residents at the loss of educated youths from their areas. He said that it was a problem on the coastland too and in the interior “most of those who stay in place seem to be disappointed and seem to be unemployed”. He noted concerns expressed by villagers and urged the toshaos to discuss these when they meet with ministers during the course of the conference.

Hinds also alluded to the “difficult question” of sub-surface rights stating that while these are retained by the government, Amerindians are given veto rights in small and medium-scale mining activities. Stating that the desires of people including hinterland residents are to have access to electricity and telecommunication services, Hinds said that some progress had been made in the hinterland in this area. He cited the now non-operational Moco-Moco Hydroelectricity project as an example of this and also said that a pilot wind system at Orealla and some solar home systems for identified villages were being examined.

On the issue of unemployment, Hinds encouraged persons to “think where employment comes from” stating that people had needs to be satisfied such as food, clothing and shelter.

Stabroek News spoke with a few toshaos who stated that they were hoping to raise some issues of concern to them at the forum. Arnold Stephens from Karaudarnau Village in Region Nine stated that floods affect farmers in his community resulting in shortage of cassava, a staple in his people’s diet. He said as a result there was sometimes a shortage of farine in the community. Arnold Jonas from Tiperu, also in Region Nine, said that the problem of roads was a concern that he hoped to raise and he hoped that some action would result. Averl Winter from Awarewaunau said that he hoped to bring up the subject of extension of lands for his community while Ruben Gonsalves of Red Hill in Region One said that he had issues of security. Another toshao told Stabroek News that he hoped to raise the matter of unemployment noting that in his village of Kwatamang that was the topic of concern.

Part of yesterday’s activities included the toshaos being sworn in as Justices of the Peace and Rural Constables.

During the course of the conference they will also participate in training sessions and be involved in the formulation of draft village regulations. The nomination of the Toshaos’ representative to the Indigenous People’s Commis-sion is also slated to be done as well as the election of executives to the National Toshaos Council. The conference concludes on Friday.

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