A suggestion by President David Granger for the establishment of an authority to monitor policies on indigenous affairs has Pauline Sukhai, former minister of what is now the Ministry of Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs and a PPP/C MP, worried that it would be an attempt to usurp the independence of the National Toshaos Council (NTC).
The proposal, made during yesterday’s opening of the 10th annual NTC Conference, would see an administrative body in place year-round to ensure that the decisions of the NTC are properly implemented.
And while Granger acknowledged that Toshaos under the Amerindian Act are empowered to deliberate on and make decisions on the resolution of a large number of problems that affect indigenous communities, he pointed out the difficulty the NTC may encounter in monitoring the decisions implemented by the body all year round.
“It is… very difficult for a single annual conference to execute day-to-day management to these complex problems… The conference must therefore ask itself whether there can be a different administrative approach to resolving these problems rather than meeting once a year and not being able to monitor the implementation of your decision for 365 days,” he said.
In light of this, he said that there is a need for a strong administrative body, with a national reach, that would fill the gap between village level administration and the ministerial level.
He said, “Here on the coast, a village could look to the NDC [Neighbourhood Democratic Council] and the NDC can look to the RDC [Regional Democratic Council] and the RDC could look the Ministry of Communities and to the National Assembly.” He asked, “Is there a parallel system for what is in effect, is a parallel form of administration of our indigenous villages?”
This being said, President Granger stated that the time has come to look at the setting up a body, which possesses the resources, the financial and managerial skills and the organisational structures to effectively address the myriad challenges which hinterland residents face.
In the same breath, he offered the assurance that such a body would not usurp the role of the NTC or the Ministry of Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs but rather ensure effective implementation of decisions taken by the council.
However, Sukhai, who attended the opening in the company of fellow opposition parliamentarian Yvonne Pearson and former permanent secretary turned PPP/C Member of Parliament Nigel Dharamlall, said that the establishment of a five-member authority can be seen as an attempt to not only usurp the function of NTC but also that of the Ministry of Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs.
“How would you be establishing a five-man committee when there is the established ministry with two ministers and highly technical staff and also you have the NTC? The NTC is an independent body,” Sukhai said.
“I don’t see independence in that. What I believe should be happening is that there is need for support for empowering and training indigenous people,” the former minister added.
Weighing in on the land titling issues raised by Chairman of the NTC Toshao Joel Fredericks during yesterday’s opening ceremony, Sukhai said she found it worrisome that after a year in government, not a single title has been issued or demarcation completed under the new administration even with the presence of the Amerindian Land Titling project.
“It worries me when the President says Amerindians control 14% of Guyana’s land mass, larger than four regions put together; that sends an underlying message that nothing is being done. It is something to think about ….I do hope the NTC will place emphasis on this message,” she added.