President Donald Ramotar has instructed Minister of Finance, Dr. Ashni Singh to this week sign the disbursement agreement to set up the Amerindian Development Fund.
“I have requested of the Minister of Finance that during the course of this conference on behalf of the government of Guyana, to sign off on the disbursement agreement for the flow of the GRIF (Guyana REDD+ Investment Fund) funds, to allow for the implementation of (the) Amerindian Development Fund agreement with the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) to fund villages community projects. The agreement will see our villages benefit for approximately $360 million over the period of time,” Ramotar told Amerindian leaders at the opening of the sixth annual National Toshaos Council (NTC) conference yesterday. The funds will come from monies earned from Guyana’s forestry partnership with Norway.
Two weeks ago, Amer-indian Affairs Minister Pauline Sukhai had announc-ed that conference would culminate with the signing of an agreement the Amerindian Development Fund that will commence the execution of community development projects in Amerindian communities.
Under the theme “Establishing strategic approaches and alliances for sustaining Amerindian development,” the conference kicked off at the International Conference Centre at Liliendaal, East Coast Demerara, with the president committing to the development of Amerindian villages countrywide. With over 150 Amerindian village leaders in attendance, the five day conference is aimed at reviewing and analyzing strategies to assist with the specific development of Guyana’s indigenous populace.
In his address to attendees, Ramotar highlighted areas he said showed that his administration played an integral developmental role in Amerindian life and stressed on land rights. “We have been at the forefront so that the issue of Amerindian land right is recognised and enshrined in the laws of this country,” he said.
“Today we have 96 titled Amerindian villages in Guyana occupying almost 14% of the landmass of this country, very soon during …our heritage month in September, we will sign the Amerindian land titling document with the UNDP which will see the implementation and completion in three years, the land titling (and) demarcation of land for those villages that would have submitted their application and those villages that have approved demarcation while the processing of 41 applications for extensions of land, the committed sum of some $1.5 billion put aside to work on this,” the president said.
He warned the toshaos to be on the lookout for persons who “continue to harp about unresolved land issues,” saying it is a ploy being used “for their organisational survival.”
The president also criticised the opposition, whom he said led budget cuts aimed at crippling Amerindian development. “Only recently the combined opposition went on a cutting spree and they even cut programs for the vulnerable, they even put in danger the provisions of solar panels for the Amerindian community. They put in danger the One Laptop per Family (OLPF)…and several programs that we have,” he said.
According to Ramotar, the opposition’s move was unconstitutional and he said that his party would this Thursday seek to have the monies reimbursed. “What they did was unconstitutional and we have put back this to them in parliament this Thursday and we will see the sincerity if they will vote for it or not,” he said.
Toshaos were lauded for their efforts in preserving Amerindian culture with specific emphasis on their languages. At the opening ceremony, students from a combination of villages sang the country’s National Anthem and said the National Pledge in Akawaio. St Cuthbert’s Mission was singled out for its efforts in teaching the Arawak language to their youth.
“Ensure the preservation of the cultural heritage, in particular Amerindian languages… continue land titling and demarcation…expand social services in the community including the construction of more schools… complete the solar energy plan so that every home in every village can have that facility to work with…food security…transforming the village economy… marketing prospects…” urged Ramotar as he urged the establishment of strategic approaches for Amerindian development.
Minister Sukhai, in her comments, echoed most of what Ramotar said, even as she pointed out that accountability is an area that needed highlighting as the lack of accountability places pressure on needed resources.
The words of NTC Chairman, Yvonne Pearson were met with loud applause: “We have to wake up and know what we want and know how to get it.”