While recognising the government for providing it with some room to grow, the National Toshaos Council (NTC) last night criticised the APNU+AFC administration for limiting funding to it and failing to reconstitute key bodies such as the Indigenous Peoples Commission (IPC).
In a statement on the fourth day of its deliberations at the Cyril Potter College of Education (CPCE) at Turkeyen, the toshaos of scores of Amerindian villages also accused the government of interference in its agenda.
While the government was criticised, the NTC did not spare the immediate past government and current opposition PPP.
“Let us first identify that it is only under this administration that the NTC has been given a “small” room to grow. Under the PPP, every single component from the Chairman’s remarks, to who spoke, and when to hush leaders were all managed by the PPP. Independent media and other organizations were also banned from attending and the agenda and everything else was managed by the PPP”, the NTC statement said.
The PPP/C had long been criticised for its iron-fisted control over the proceedings of the NTC.
Convened under the theme, “Good Governance – A Brighter Future for Guyana’s First Peoples”, the NTC said yesterday the conference has seen renewed calls by the Government of Guyana for the NTC to improve on the its performance.
“While the NTC Executives have worked tirelessly fighting for the Indigenous Peoples, the Government has to also accept its responsibility for the failures in the NTC meeting some key provisions in the Amerindian Act of 2006”, the statement last night said.
Given the geographical spread of Guyana and the communication and transportation difficulties of Guyana, the NTC said it had tabled budgets to the Government only to be rebuffed. It noted that to convene one meeting of the Executive, it costs over $3 Million, leaving no finances to attend emergency meetings, or even turning up at any meetings requested by any Government Ministries, or agencies.
“In 2015, the NTC, after considering its mandate under Section 41 of the Amerindian Act, submitted a budget for 2016 for GYD $38 M. The NTC was given a $12 Million.
In 2016, the NTC once again submitted a budget for 2017 for $48 Million and was given $16 Million.
This year, realizing continued lack of finances to execute its mandate, the NTC Submitted a budget for $87 Million. The NTC was subsequently told that any budget request should not in principle, exceed a 10 percent increase thus we are expecting little to no change”, the NTC said.
It added that this begs the question, “How genuine is the government in asking these questions when they fail to provide the bare minimum that is required for the NTC to simply conduct its business?”
The NTC also rounded on Minister of Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs, Sydney Allicock.
“If we may point out that the Honourable Minister, in his opening remarks, questioned whether the Toshaos’ had any input into the (NTC) Chairman’s Speech, to which we ask, do the Ministers have an input to the President’s speech? Or does the Minister consult the Indigenous People before he delivers his speech?” the NTC questioned.
It pointed out that in May of 2016, the NTC and some other organizations met to develop some proposed regulations for Section 51.3. of the Amerindian Act that would govern the finances derived from mining activities in Indigenous Communities.
“Had these Regulations been finalized and Gazetted by the Ministry, it would have made the necessary finances available to the NTC without tapping into the Consolidated Fund and thus permitting the NTC to `meet and exceed’ its mandate”, the statement said.
Most importantly, the NTC said that the failure of the Government to reconstitute the Indigenous Peoples Commission, and appoint members to the Human Rights Commission, has seen the NTC taking up these challenges.
“These have exposed the NTC to attacks by the GoG, and points to the Government’s inability and unwillingness to address these issues. The NTC views this as the Government’s attempt to distract from the Government’s shortcomings.
“It is our objective to adopted rules and procedures, to govern the operations of the NTC that would lay to waste, all these very issues raised, and develop the necessary framework to `Protect the NTC’ from political manipulation. We are aware that there is a drive by the very person who presented these Questions on behalf of the Minister, to undermine the adoption of these very important Rules and Procedures.
“The NTC draws the Government’s attention to the disruption in our Agenda that would have seen the very details of Section 41 being delivered….The NTC views this as a blatant attempt to undermine the legitimacy and credibility of the NTC and its representatives”, the NTC said.
On Wednesday some toshaos were said to have walked out in protest at remarks made by Public Security Minister Khemraj Ramjattan. The minister has since denied this. (See letter on page 6 in today’s editions”.
Last night, Allicock tried to paper over differences in an address to participants.
“We didn’t come here to fight against one another, we came here to fight to have the issues rectified,” said Allicock yesterday as he addressed participants of the National Toshaos Council Conference.
Allicock was at the time responding to the decision taken by several executives of the National Toshaos Council on Wednesday evening to walk out of session which was attended by several Ministers of Government, after having felt disrespected by remarks made by Ramjattan during the proceedings.
“I agree with the Vice -Chairman of the NTC (Lenox Shuman) who said (on Wednesday) that the Toshaos are not the wives or girlfriends of the ministers and I am very happy that the Ministers are very mature people who are capable of ignoring meaningless noise and continue to work tirelessly for the good of all Guyanese,” Allicock said yesterday.
Furthermore, he opined that the NTC was somewhat unfair in their criticisms before raising concerns about members of the Indigenous body taking to social media to share their grievances as opposed to doing so at the conference itself.
“We have persons who are in leadership positions, who take and make comments that are degrading of others, but we are leaders and it therefore means we should always be looking for solutions instead of fighting,” Allicock stated.