Several Toshaos from regions One, Two, Seven, Eight and Nine yesterday accused the government of sidelining concerns about outstanding land issues, while saying they were dissatisfied with the just-concluded National Toshaos Conference.
“We are frustrated and disappointed by the way the government is treating our situation and not by the delay of release funds from Norway. We believe that some of the mechanisms established by the World Bank and others are there to protect our right, so we invite these bodies to our communities to hear and learn directly from us about our concerns. We have genuine problems that are not being taken seriously by the current administration,” Toshao of Arau, in Region Seven, Devroy Thomas said, while reading from a prepared statement, at a news conference at Herdmanston Lodge.
In the statement, the Toshaos noted their dissatisfaction with the fact that they were not all given the opportunity or enough time to air their problems, which was the initial aim of the conference, and which they were called on to do by the Chairperson of the National Toshaos Council (NTC) Yvonne Pearson. Instead, they said other persons who publicly praised the government were given the opportunity to speak and given more time to do so. These persons, they added, only praised the government for the things their communities have received, while failing to cite the very serious problems that affect the communities, such as mining and environmental destruction, land and other social problems. “At this meeting we had no agenda beforehand, we did not have a chance to say what issues would be discussed and so we held no discussions in our villages. We were not able to bring decisions from our communities before we came to this meeting,” the statement said.
President Bharat Jagdeo, however, yesterday maintained that Toshaos were given sufficient time to air any issues. He said the leaders were asked several times and no one responded.
Toshaos at the conference were asked to support a resolution, entitled ‘Resolution on the fast-tracking of the release of LCDS Funds,’ which affirmed that villages’ “priority projects” which form part of their Community Development Plans are held in abeyance as disbursement of the funds is yet to begin.
The Guyana REDD+ Investment Fund (GRIF) is the financial mechanism for the ongoing cooperation on climate change between Guyana and Norway, in which Oslo will pay up to US$250 million for Guyana’s performance on limiting greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, and for progress made against governance-related indicators. Guyana will invest the payments it receives, and any income earned on them, in its Low Carbon Development Strategy (LCDS). Guyana has not received any money as yet. Norway has released US$68M into the GRIF.
The resolution calls on the Partner Institutions – through which funds from the GRIF will be channelled – “to recognise the participatory engagements of our people at the village level in stating our priorities and development needs, and request of you to expedite the institutional requirement for the release of the funds for the projects. Our frustration and disappointments in the lengthy delay in the release of the GRIF are hindering further development of our villages,” the resolution states.
“We call upon the Government of the Kingdom of Norway and the Government of Guyana to intervene so that the release of the funds is expedited,” it further states.
However, the Toshaos who withheld their support for the resolution yesterday noted that it had been written without their participation. They also said they could not support it when outstanding land issues were not resolved and rights to traditional lands and territories were not recognised by the law.
They further stated that when asked to sign the resolution, the enquired why ‘Partner Institutions’ have not released funds to the Government of Guyana, to which they received no explanation. “We have never received up to date information from government officials or the NTC on the LCDS and negotiations they are having,” they stated, “we need to have transparent information before taking any decision.”
Speaking at the news conference, Toshao of Jawalla, in Region Seven, Lita John said she got annoyed on the second to last day of the meeting, when enough time was not afforded to air her community’s issues. As such, she said, when she and the others refused to sign the resolution, the Chairman asked whether it should be reread so that the others would have a chance to make up their minds. But John said that there was not “enough time” for that. She said that there was no one who could “force me to make a decision; I have to make that decision on my own. Not because I’m a woman I must give up. I must represent myself and my community.”
John stated that permission, without the communities’ consent, was given for miners to operate on their titled lands. Another Toshao also said their lands were demarcated and a map was drawn up by the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission surveyors, but upon inspection, they found that it did not correspond with the certificate in their official documents.
As a result of the faulty demarcation, the Toshaos revealed, the Amerindians’ lands have now been made smaller, and places that are rightfully theirs is now being called “State Land.”
They also said Pearson “has not been useful in representing our problems. Instead [she] strongly defends and represents the government’s position.” As such, the leaders stated that they no longer see the Toshaos Council as being an independent body, and added that “originally we supported [her] but we have lost confidence in her because of her lack of independence and non-representation of our issues.”
Meanwhile, Deputy Toshao of Paramakatoi Noel Thomas asked “why Amerindians have to be signing such resolutions to get money for the government? Why are we being used or abused?”
Toshao of Kaibarupai, in Region Eight, Vernon Austin also questioned Norway’s absence from the meeting, “Why the government didn’t call Norway government or secretary to listen to our problems? I want Norway [to] come and discuss with we.”
The National Toshaos Meeting was held from July 25 to July 29 at the National Convention Centre, Liliendaal.