The 7th annual National Toshaos Council (NTC) meeting opened yesterday with the signing of a US$10.7 million agreement between government and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) for Amerindian land titling and community demarcation.
The agreement, which falls under the Guyana/Norway forest partnership, was signed by Minister of Finance Dr Ashni Singh and UNDP Country Representative to Guyana Khadija Musa at the International Conference Centre, which is the venue for the five-day meeting.
According to Singh, the money would be used to advance the land titling initiative that is already underway. He revealed that to date 97 villages have been titled, while 77 others have had their lands demarcated. Under this new agreement, 13 communities are to be issued with titles, while 33 others are expected to be demarcated.
“Our government remains firmly committed to ensuring that we implement this partnership diligently, that we demonstrate to the world our commitment as a country to the principles outlined in the Low Carbon Development Strategy… [LCDS],” Singh told Amerindian leaders gathered at the conference centre.
It is envisaged that titling and demarcation of communities will strengthen land tenure security and expansion of the asset base of Amerindian villages and allow for long-term planning for future development.
The project is also intended to facilitate the fast-tracking of the titling and demarcation process to allow the villages to understand the boundaries of the lands they own and how much land they can exert control over, thereby enhancing and securing the position of villages to opt-in to the REDD+ and the LCDS and allow them to better manage and develop their lands in a sustainable manner.
The meeting is being held under the theme ‘Culture of Good Governance for Sustained Village Economies.’
President Donald Ramotar, who spoke at opening, said that despite the direct impact of opposition-led budget cuts, development in hinterland communities has continued and he cited the community development plan that he said went through rigorous consultations and is now being implemented as an example.
He said initiatives, such as farming, cattle rearing and aquaculture, among others, are on track in 23 villages and soon similar projects for another 139 villages will be funded and they are expected to have a positive impact on village economies.
Addressing what he called the “growing demand for education,” Ramotar said the hinterland scholarship programme has yielded good results and the government would continue to support the children in the interior locations. He also noted that a new secondary school is being built at Kato.
During his speech, the president spent significant time outlining what his administration has done to ensure good governance and he blamed the opposition for difficulties that have stymied progress.
Minister of Amerindian Affairs Pauline Sukhai also spoke at the opening of the meeting and emphasised the need for accountability.
Sukhai said that while growth has been evident in various sectors of communities visited, the support of the Auditor General’s office had to be solicited to conduct audits in some villages where complaints were received.
“Quite a number of complicated conflicts were also exposed, ministry intervention became necessary to resolve community conflicts…,” she said, while noting that these included politically motivated factions who “employed destructive methods to resolve differences at the council and community level.”
She implored the leaders to ensure that the resources in the communities are maximised while also stressing the need for improved accountability and fewer instances of the diversion of village funds and resources. According to the minister, access to funds for development in the communities has been increased and as a result village councils have to be responsible for the success of community projects, for which the community should be mobilised to participate, support and take ownership.
Sukhai added that while village councils have a right to select partners to work on developmental projects, the tendency to allow the partners to operate as if they are the councils should be avoided.
She also warned about the campaigns being waged by some Amerindian groups and urged that leaders guard against their influence.
“Let us as leaders work to stop these dangerous campaigns being waged to stymie the overall progress made on land rights and the benefits to which you are enjoying,” she said, while also dismissing the contention by some that the current Amerindian Act is inadequate.
Chairman of the National Toshaos Council Derrick John described the meeting as one where heads of communities can bring issues and concerns to the attention of the relevant authorities and also for them to share their successes and achievements.
He said as leaders they have to create a legacy and make a mark in the development of their communities and he was hopeful they could build partnerships and continue progress in the various communities. He also said that good governance should be the catalyst of development
Echoing Sukhai’s warnings, John said many leaders are being sidetracked by various organisations and instead of supporting the work of the National Toshaos Council they are condemning and degrading it, which is not good for development. He also cautioned that while some might have issues to raise during the meeting, they should do so in a professional manner.