Inadequate financing has hampered ability of National Toshaos’ Council to meet its mandate

Dear Editor,

The National Toshaos’ Council (NTC) concluded its first executive conference for the year on March 31, 2016.

While many pressing issues were discussed, points of utmost urgency to be addressed remain the continuous land disputes, disputes between indigenous communities and miners, and the issuance of permits by GGMC and GFC to non-indigenous peoples for traditional indigenous lands. This in itself puts the revisions of the Amerindian act of 2006, the Mines Act, and the Forest Act all as top priority for the NTC to lobby the government of Guyana to move on.

The resolution coming out of the NTC Conference in August of 2015 was for the NTC:

* To develop a constitution and other governance structure through its regional and sub-regional bodies to put the NTC on a better footing.

* To have a timeframe for the current Amerindian Land Titling (ALT) programme extended

* To support the government in the development of an Indigenous Lands Commission

* To work towards advancing the rights of women and gender balance

* And to see the revision of the Amerindian Act of 2006 and to have it include the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as integral parts of the New Act, to name a few.

Of these resolutions, to date, the NTC has been impeded by finances to have movement in any direction and thus hampering the NTC’s ability to meet its mandate under the Amerindian Act, or even to grow.

A budget was submitted to the current administration for $38M of which the NTC was granted just over $12M. This puts the organisation at a severe disadvantage to do any effective work.

While the NTC is aware that monies are available through other financing agencies including the IDB to execute projects, it is important to understand that the NTC does not have the necessary financial infrastructure to apply thus the NTC is put at the footstool of many other organisations that may want to take advantage of the NTC to push their agenda.

The NTC sees that land to our indigenous Sisters and Brothers is of utmost importance as we have traditionally cared for and taken care of these jungles and lands for millennia. Under that light we support the ALT programme. However, we do have some reservations about the exclusion of traditional lands under the programme. We are also calling on the government to seek an extension from the government of Norway to the funding and timeframe for this programme.

We look forward to working with the government on key initiatives to helping to protect indigenous peoples’ ways of life, culture, traditions, and to securing their lands. In that light, to name one initiative, we are working, in consultation with indigenous communities, and with the Government and Conservation International, on a key initiative to see communities plan better for their future in the form of a Community Development Plan.

OLD VS NEW

Under the previous administration, it was noticeable that the NTC’s political capital was a coveted asset and thus the previous government sought to control the NTC.

Under the current administration, while there is a progressive and forward looking Vice President in the Minister of Indigenous Peoples Affairs who is willing to see the NTC as a more autonomous entity, there are political forces from within this administration that think it and see it fit to interfere with the workings of the NTC. Most notable was when one government official called the core of the NTC executive into a meeting attempting to manipulate its working and to dictate what the NTC can and cannot do, and during a recent meeting, said official declared that, “I do not respect the decision of 20 people in a room making decisions for all indigenous peoples in 200+ communities.”

This, we must note, is a very troubling development since the NTC was set up and elected to do just that.

It is also disturbing to see such interference at such early stages in the political life of this new administration. Should this continue, it will leave the NTC, once again, as the grandchild who was left with a huge political inheritance and never allowed to leave home.

Yours faithfully,

Lenox Shuman

Vice Chair – NTC,

Toshao – St. Cuthbert’s

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