Elections for a new Village Council, ie, for captain and councillors are due in Orealla Village and Siparuta Village Region 6, in April this year. As such, according to the Amerindian Act of 2006, there are certain procedures that ought to be followed by the Minister of Amerindian Affairs, the incumbent Village Council, and the Returning Officer as follows:
“(1) Part III – Governance – Section 33
“(3) Not less than three months before the date of the Village Council elections the Minister shall arrange for a General Audit to be carried out comprising:
(a) A supplementary Financial Audit from the date of the last Financial Audit; and
(b) An audit of the Village Council’s Records and documents.
“(4) The Minster shall give copies of the General Audit to the Village Council and the National Toshao’s Council and the Village Council shall call a Village General Meeting immediately after it receives the General Audit and shall make it available to the Village General Meeting.
“(5) A Village Council shall make the Financial Audit and the General Audit available to the Village General Meeting immediately upon receiving each audit.”
The procedures outlined above were not carried out in Orealla and Siparuta before the previous elections held in April 2012. It is our reasoning that this was deliberately done to conceal the council’s atrocious record of financial accountability.
For example, in Orealla, the village is yet to receive proper accounting for two presidential grants the council received at the end of 2011, viz, $3M to help construct a village guest house, and $5M to improve the potable water supply. To date, no village guest house has been constructed, and the sixteen black tanks which were purchased were shared out last year to an official’s friends and relatives.
Added to this, several questionable withdrawals had been made from the council’s account, and the village remains ignorant of how these withdrawals were spent.
Now back to the Amerindian Act of 2006:
“65. (3) The date of the election shall be fixed by the Minister in consultation with the Returning Officer and the Minister may fix a date for the Election of a Toshao which is different to the date fixed for the election of the councillors.
“68. (1) The Returning Officer shall give the Village Council a written notice of election not later that thirty-five days before election day, which shall confirm the following:
(a) The day on which the election will be held;
(b) The hours between which voting may take place; and
(c) The location of the place of voting.
“(2) When the Village Council receives the Election Notice the Village Council shall immediately call a Village General meeting and inform the meeting of the contents of the election notice.
“69. (1) Not later than sixty days before the election date, the Village Council shall –
(a) Compile an electoral list of all adult residents;
(b) Display the electoral list at the Village Office and permit all residents to inspect it;
(c) Submit the electoral list to the Returning Officer.
In the lead-up to the last elections, the time-lines mandated above were not followed by the Minister, the Returning Officer or the Village Council. In fact the electoral list was posted just under two weeks beforehand, and that list contained the names of persons not residing in Orealla, who were allowed to vote.
A simple analysis of these laws would establish they stipulate that two general meetings should be held by the Village Council before the elections to announce the results of the audits and announce the contents of the election notice.
We hope that those concerned would do their utmost to comply with the Amerindian Act this time around, for the incumbent council is in more dire straits than was the case before the previous elections. For example, no general meeting of the villages has been called since December 2012. (The Amerindian Act stipulates one every 3 months.)
No properly constituted statutory meeting of the Village Council has been held for over three years; no financial report has been given to Orealla and Siparuta by the Village Council since August 2012; the Toshao who has been acting as treasurer since June 2013 when the official treasurer resigned, has borrowed various sums of money from Siparuta’s income, estimated at over $lM, but he has not sat down with the Siparuta councillors to determine the correct figure.
Many village assets have to be accounted for, eg, two tractor trailors (valued at over $lM); two outboard engines – one a 40hp Yamaha and one 15hp Johnson; a laptop computer and a printer; the village tractor; the village boat – its engine, propellor and steering system, and over seventy lifejackets; a mobile saw-mill; and two 051 Stihl chainsaws, etc.
The village electricity system is being managed by the existing council, and when residents pay light bills no receipts are given to them. The same can be said about water rates. Many times when residents paid log and lumber royalties they were promised they would be given receipts “later” but that never happened.
What a concerned, objective Minister should do now is not merely arrange for an audit, but for a thorough investigation into this council’s entire operations. This was what residents petitioned for in 2013 on at least two occasions, but the Minister was unresponsive which gave residents the impression that she was being supportive of the then state of affairs. The same can be concluded about the National Toshaos Council and the Indigenous Peoples Commission, for these two bodies were also informed about the state of affairs in Orealla and Siparuta but they reacted with astonishing indifference.
It is absolutely crucial that elections be held in Orealla and Siparuta in April, as is mandated in the Amerindian Act (elections every three years). Out of an original council of nine councillors and the Toshao, five councillors have resigned and two are non-functional. In Siparuta, the senior councillor was forced by residents to resign last year because of irregularities.
Finally, if the Amerindian Act of 2006 is not followed this time around, then tell us, what would convince us that these laws are not useless?
Clement Lewis (Orealla)
Carl Peneux (Orealla)
Milton Newman (Siparuta)
Michael Williams (Siparuta)
Yonette Stass (Siparuta)