Minister of Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs Sydney Allicock has urged the Toshaos attending the ongoing National Toshaos Council (NTC) conference to attack issues rather than personalities as he warned of the ill-effects of political division on community development.
Speaking at Monday’s opening ceremony, the Minister described the gathering as one that allows the leaders from the varying Indigenous communities sprawled across Guyana’s hinterland to both reflect on the work achieved over the past year and to plan for the work slate for the one ahead.
Acknowledging the almost full capacity of the conference room at the centre on Monday, Allicock stated that such an occurrence shows the interests of leaders in working towards the development of the Indigenous peoples.
However, while the interest may be there, Allicock expressed concern over the lack of respect shown for Toshaos in various villages and the fact that some village leaders are using their office to enforce unlawful rules and unheard of punishments. He also contended that there are some villages that have been torn apart by “agents of division.”
“The same people who elected their leaders show scant regard for those leaders as they manage the day to day affairs of the villages. Likewise, disrespect by some Toshaos for the citizens of their villages is alarming. We cannot continue to operate in this manner if we are going to move forward,” Allicock stated.
“There are some leaders who seek to use their elected offices to their own self-interest much to the frustration of villagers… Expelling councillors from meetings for disagreeing with a Toshao, threatening councillors with dismissal, making arbitrary decisions and entering into agreements to exploit village resources without council or village approval cannot be allowed to continue,” he added.
The minister further revealed that he is cognisant of the fact that there are communities and leaders who seem bent on continuing to be “ruthless” in their way of doing business.
This being said, Allicock reiterated the importance of accountability with regards to “hard come finances” as a critical competent in moving forward as a respected body.
“As a ministry, we are going to work with you to ensure that all leaders abide by the law; it is my hope that when I do, those who thrive on causing division will not seek mileage from my actions,” he said.
Moreover, Allicock urged the NTC to take its responsibility seriously and the Community Development Officers (CDOs) to be more proactive.
“I, myself, when complaints come, pass it on to the relevant Ministry and they take action, only to find out that most of the times it is the Toshaos who would have given permission without the knowledge of the council and this is embarrassing. We need to desist from that sort practice, you are a Toshao, you are a leader for your people, and consultation is needed, is the first step to a decision,” he added.
Allicock continued his speech by underscoring the importance of working together in taking the development of Indigenous people forward.
“We need to work together as a team; we each have a role to play in bringing the good life to all. Let us regard that role with pride and urgency, let us deliver on our obligations. If we need assistance in that regard, we must request it without delay; if we recognise that we are unable to deliver in our respective manner, we must do the honourable thing in the best interest of our indigenous people,” he charged.
“In order for us to move, we can’t be divided and I have seen communities politically divided and it is serious. It will hamper us if we do not move out of that mode; ignore the agents of division and embrace each other as leaders with a common cause in the best interest of indigenous Guyanese… let us work together onward and forward for a good life for all,” he added.
Despite these challenges, Minister Allicock noted that progress has been made over the past year to develop the lives of the Indigenous peoples as he alluded to the Hinterland Housing Programme, the Hinterland Employment and Youth Service (HEYS) project, and the drilling of wells in Region Nine as some of the projects which have been rolled out.
Additionally, the minister highlighted ongoing infrastructural work by the ministries of Public Infrastructure and Communities as well as that of the regional administrations.
Further, he spoke of government’s engagement with the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) for the development of agricultural projects said to benefit regions One and Nine.
In the meantime, Allicock reaffirmed his commitment and that of the government to strengthening of the Amerindian Act of 2006 and addressing Indigenous rights and land issues.