Three Executives of the National Toshaos Council (NCT) last evening walked out of a session attended by several Ministers of Government having felt disrespected by remarks made by Minister of Public Security Khemraj Ramjattan during the proceedings.
An annual event, the conference provides a stage for Indigenous leaders representing the 212 indigenous communities across Guyana to discuss with varying stakeholders issues that are affecting their residents.
Among the many stakeholders attending the conference are Ministers of Government who are allocated specific time to interact and address concerns raised by the participants in addition to being present at all plenary sessions as is customary.
Stabroek News understands that unlike previous NTC conferences, Ministers are only attending sessions between 6 pm – 8 pm, which has caused some to question the government’s interest in addressing issues affecting indigenous peoples.
Further, a decision to change the agenda of yesterday afternoon’s proceedings to facilitate an interactive session between participants and Ministers came under intense scrutiny by the Chairman and Vice-Chairman of the NTC, who accused the government of wanting to undermine the work of the NTC.
As explained to this newspaper, the change in agenda interrupted a session that was set to facilitate discourse among participants about issues affecting their community as a means of compiling data to present to the Ministers tomorrow which is the day assigned for them to make their presentations.
According to Vice-chairman, Toshao Lenox Shuman, the adjustment to the agenda was not communicated to the NTC until less than five minutes before several Ministers showed up.
This, prompted both Shuman and NTC Chairman, Toshao Joel Fredricks to reiterate the importance of respect for individuals and time.
“I am a leader and you must let me know what is happening…Honourable Ministers I would like you to know that you can call the Chairman of the NTC and say we would like make this adjustment and so forth, instead of putting me on the spot like this,” Fredricks said.
However, Minister of Public Security Khemraj Ramjattan who had accompanied three other Ministers of Government to the session responded with claims of being invited by both the senior and junior Minster of Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs, adding that notice was given about their presence there the previous evening.
He did not, however, stop there as he moved on to credit his absence from Tuesday’s session to the recently concluded Caribbean Premier League (CPL) matches in Guyana.
“First indeed the Ministers of Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs, both Senior and junior did ask me to be here and I was told that notices were given and I could not be here yesterday because of course the (Amazon) Warriors were playing the (St Lucia Stars) and cricket is very important to me,” Ramjattan told the indigenous leaders before going on to address gun licensing and other issues.
Stabroek News was later informed that three members of the NTC Executive body walked out of the session following the conclusion of an address given by Minister of Natural Resources Raphael Trotman who was among those who attended last evening session. This newspaper could not however identify the executives who had staged the walk out.
Meanwhile, Shuman in an invited comment following Ramjattan’s address, said the Minister’s comment speaks volumes of the government’s commitment to addressing issues facing the indigenous peoples of this country.
“Yesterday, the Toshaos who wanted to go to cricket were lambasted for going to cricket and here we have a Minister of government who, in his own words pretty much said cricket was more important than the indigenous people’s issues. So how can you tell the indigenous peoples that they are not treating this conference seriously when you have a Minister indulging in the same thing?” he added.
Stabroek News was later told that the Toshaos had been penalized by Minister of Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs Sydney Allicock for attending the game since the tickets were reportedly provided by the Opposition.
Shuman also accused the Ministers of trying to undermine the work of the NTC by scheduling evening sessions with the indigenous leaders, saying that such a decision not only dilutes their plenary sessions but is unfair to participants who have been at the conference as early as 8 am.
“At the beginning of the conference we were presented with an agenda that says that Ministers are here in the evening and I say this as I did upstairs, I am no Minister’s sweet bai, sweet girl or side thing if you do not have time of day for me then don’t have time of night for me unless we are having a social drink but beyond that do not come and talk to me about issues at night the days are made for that… You have Toshaos who have been sitting here in the heat all day; Toshaos are falling asleep upstairs and you are just going to thrust your Ministers upon them like this,” the Toshao lamented.
Furthermore, Shuman noted that he would not be surprised if when Friday comes the Ministers decide not to attend the session that was specifically designed for them. “On our agenda we have the day of Ministers scheduled for Friday and we had even invited the President to listen to some of our issues and respond to questions but at this point I may expect that they will not show up on Friday because they do not want to hear the indigenous peoples’ position,” he related.
“They have no intention of dealing with Indigenous peoples problems; of course I can be wrong but come Friday we are going to see because we expect all ministers to be present on Friday so we can present on those positions, His Excellency will be there and people will have questions for him but to me this is not good governance, good governance is something vastly different,” Shuman added.
The NTC Conference is expected to continue today at the Cyril Potter College of Education at Turkeyen.