Amerindian contractors when applying for their first project in hinterland areas need not have Guyana Revenue Autho-rity (GRA) and National Insurance Scheme (NIS) compliances but thereafter this is necessary, Ethnic Relations Commission (ERC) Chairman Juan Edghill told toshaos on Tuesday.
Edghill made this point at the National Toshaos Conference at the International Conference Centre, Liliendaal, East Coast Demerara after he noted concerns that local contractors in the hinterland were hindered from applying for contracts because of the difficulty of getting the necessary documents.
He urged the toshaos to make it known in their communities that “for the first instance they can apply for contracts without NIS and GRA compliance.”
That issue was discussed as the ERC met with toshaos, some of whom raised concerns about difficulties in getting contracts to execute works in their area.
Morakobai toshao Colin Andrews on this issue said that it had always been a problem in Region Five and the people were never given opportunities to show their skills. He said that local workers could have undertaken contracts and done it better at less cost. Amerindian Affairs Minister Carolyn Rodrigues noted that some toshaos are aware that their councils are given contracts.
Meanwhile, the issue of Amerindian women marrying “coastlanders” was another hot topic and some toshaos related concerns as well as particular circumstances their village encountered when that occurred. One cited the issue of a village being stigmatized because a local resident’s spouse was allegedly someone of ‘bad’ character while another related that at times when the village undertook communal work, the spouse who was not from the area would not participate, not being an Amerindian.
Prime Minister Samuel Hinds, who was present, referring to the topic of communal work recalled that once when visiting Orealla the issue was brought up. “People should insist that once you stay in the village you should partake in the activities,” he said.
Edghill informed the toshaos that “you cannot sanction any person from your village because they have married someone from another race by using land as a sanction.” He said that the ERC had received reports that in some villages when the women marry “coastlanders”, they are not allowed to live in the village. He declared that that was discrimination. He said that “while the right of indigenous peoples must be protected the ideal is integration.”
In response to the toshao of Riverview in Region Ten, Dr. George Norton asked why there wasn’t an Amerindian representative on the ERC and Edghill said that a member of the Indigenous Peoples Commission (IPC) – whenever it is composed – would be a non-voting member of the ERC. He noted that the ERC is not made up of representatives from ethnic groups or political parties but rather from seven constituents and apart from these, the body has four other representatives from other commissions, the IPC being one.
Edghill advocated “sharing space”, stating that all were Guyanese and must share space.
Meanwhile, Yvonne Pearson, toshao of Mainstay/Whyaka in Region Two raised the issue of land, stating that in Lima Sands in Essequibo, the Amerindians were gradually being pushed off the land. “They are trying to complain but their voices are so little, nobody hears them,” she asserted.
Meantime, toshao of Isseneru in Region Seven, Brando Joseph charged that miners were encroaching on the community’s land and they had no respect for the village authority. He asked whether there was a mechanism in place to facilitate meeting with them so that an arrangement could be worked out.
Edghill responded that the commission is prepared to facilitate a meeting so that they could agree on how to move forward on the issue. He noted that it might be useful for the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC) to help some miners to understand that there is an Amerindian Act.
On this point, Rodrigues stated that concessions had been granted to miners so that they could continue working on the titled land for the life of the permit. She noted that in the case of Isseneru, when that community was granted title to their land, some miners said that they did not know there was an Amerindian Act. She declared that some miners cannot come to grips with the fact that the community is now managing its own affairs.
A representative from Santa Rosa asked whether the ERC could “nudge” the responsible entities with regard to access of public funds for sports in hinterland communities. He noted that there seems to be a disparity between the allocation of funds between coastal and hinterland communities.
Meanwhile, Edghill noted that there is need to look at the distinction between “coastlander” and someone from the hinterland. He said that some of the best support in the commission’s activities such as the poster and essay competition came from Amerindian communities. Regarding the various reports done by the ERC he noted that not all Amerindians have access to banking facilities and it was a matter that the commission would look at.
He noted the positive development, however, particularly mentioning IPED using household articles as collateral. He said further that Amerindians own over 13% of Guyana’s land. He noted too that since the granting of titles to land there seems to be disagreement and confrontation between those occupying the land and Amerindians. He said that toshaos placed some restrictions and the ERC’s position is that people have to “share space”.
Present at the discussions on Tuesday were ERC members Shahabudin McDoom and Cheryl Sampson. The conference was scheduled to end yesterday.