Over four years after the Amerindian Act 2006 was passed by Parliament, a Bill to bring it into force was yesterday laid in the National Assembly by government after it said the previous instrument utilized could not be located.
The Bill seeks to retroactively cover all activity sanctioned so far under the legislation. Recently, during Amerindian Heritage month in September, chartered accountant and attorney Christopher Ram, in a letter to Stabroek News had noted that years after the Act’s passage, it had not been brought into force though the administration had, numerous times, highlighted the Act as evidence of its respect for the rights of our indigenous peoples. There had been no response by the government to Ram’s contention until yesterday.
Minister of Amerindian Affairs, Pauline Sukhai tabled the Amerindian Act 2006 (Commencement) Bill in the National Assembly yesterday. According to the Explanatory Memorandum, the Bill seeks to validate the commencement of the Amerindian Act 2006 with effect from March 14th, 2006. “It validates all acts and things done between 14th March, 2006 and the enactment of this Act which would have been lawful if the Amerindian Act 2006 had been brought into force by Order. All persons are freed, acquitted, discharged and indemnified from all liability and legal proceedings of any kind in respect of acts and things done between the 14th March, 2006 and the enactment of this Act”, it says.
It says that no person shall be held guilty of a criminal offence on account of any act or omission and no person shall be made or shall become liable to any penalty in respect of any act of commission or omission under the Amerindian Act 2006 between 14th March and the enactment of the Bill.
According to the Explanatory Memorandum, an order was made bringing the Amerindian Act 2006 into force in April 2006. “This order was signed by the Minister but a Gazette copy cannot be found. Hence it is necessary to proceed by way of an amendment Act to bring the Amerindian Act into force and to effect the necessary validation”, it says.
In his letter, Ram had recalled that a Government Information Agency (GINA) release in early March 2008, reported that the Amerindian Act 2006 was passed on February 16, 2006 and assented to by the President on March 14, 2006 and had “paved the way for Amerindians to empower themselves socially, economically and politically.”
Further, and as a measure of its pride in the Act, the Ministry of Amerindian Affairs, under Carolyn Rodrigues, expended considerable sums on the publication of user-friendly booklets for distribution to Amerindian communities, Ram noted. He said that as recently as August 19 last, PPP/C parlimentarian Norman Whittaker boasted that the PPP/C government had consistently followed the provisions of the 2006 Amerindian Act. “When all things are considered, maybe Mr Whittaker was being more careful than anyone at that time thought”, Ram had said.
According to him, the reason is that there is one small – to some significant – problem: Four years after its assent, the act is yet to be brought into force. Effectively then, the 1951 Amerindian Act Cap: 29:01 described by Rodrigues in 2005 as “outdated and not addressing the needs of Amerindian communities,” remains in force, Ram wrote.
“I find it hard to believe that this was any innocent oversight by the Amerindian-loving government, if there is such a thing. After all, for more than three years, there were three Amerindian MPs in the Cabinet. At every opportunity, whether it is in the “Cabinet Outreaches,” in the National Assembly, in national and international press conferences, and to the Norwegians, the government never ceased to showcase the act as evidence of its respect for the rights of our indigenous peoples. Now it seems that all might be a deception, a sham and a façade, cynically disguised”, Ram wrote in his letter.
He posited that a possible reason why the act was not brought into force was because it creates an obligation on the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC) to “transfer 20% of the royalties from mining activities to a fund designated by the Minister for the benefit of the Amerindian villages.” Ram pointed out that the financial statements of the GGMC show that mining activities garnered more than $8.5B since June 2006. The failure to bring the act into force has, therefore, deprived Amerindian communities of approximately $1.7B, he said. He also noted that during the same period, the GGMC transferred $1.8B to NICIL.
Ram, in his letter, said that it is a test of the sincerity of the government and the onus is on the administration “to prove that it does not consider the Amerindians as naïve and gullible, ready to give up their legal right to $1.7 billion in return for a few outboard engines here, some chainsaws there, trips for its leaders to come to Georgetown to perform, or go on window-dressing trips to Norway”.
He said that this was a test too “of the multiplicity of Amerindian organisations, politicians across parties and civil society activists. They should stand up and let the Amerindians know where they are on this latest blatant example of official deception. Silence is not an option”. (Gaulbert Sutherland)