Garrido-Lowe, Pearson clash over progress for indigenous people

-Minister cites sun-dried tomato factory

Valerie Garrido-Lowe

Minister within the Ministry of Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs Valarie Garrido-Lowe yesterday said that the proposed 2018 budget is `fit and proper’ as it makes provision for the survival of Guyana’s first people but according to opposition MP Yvonne Pearson, this is far from the truth.

“Sometime I wonder…if we are living in the same country, Guyana. The Minister in her opening remarks said the budget under the theme….is without a doubt a fit and proper budget. As an indigenous person standing here in this House I feel insulted…What is fit and proper about the 2018 budget?”, Pearson asked during the opening day of the budget debate.

Garrido-Lowe who read from a prepared speech, attacked the PPP/C for failing to create a suitable living environment for the indigenous peoples before praising government for steps it has taken and is taking to change this.

“In order to restore the pride and the dignity of the indigenous peoples’ of Guyana, economic empowerment is vital…It is really shameful, Mr. Speaker, that for the past many years, no real effort was made, to create an environment for them to enjoy a better standard of living. But no more, Mr. Speaker, your Government is ensuring, that that wrong is being corrected. Strong measures are being put in place to fix that problem and it will take some time, but, it will be fixed”, she charged much to the satisfaction of her fellow government MPs.

Yvonne Pearson

“Mr. Speaker, in keeping with our country’s Green Agenda and the 17 Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations, your Government has embarked on a developmental strategy of building strong village economies by promoting agriculture, agro/food-processing, eco-tourism and youth entrepreneurship in hinterland regions”, she said while adding that this year government has invested millions of dollars in a number of Amerindian villages.

Among those that she singled out is the $59M sun-dried tomato facility at Paramakatoi. This project she reminded is a collaborative venture between government and the High Commission of Canada. “Today, this modern facility, complete with a solar power system, a solar dryer and internet connectivity, a processing facility, a dormitory, a water trestle and a guard hut, stands at the top of the mountain, as a beacon of hope and innovation – a true testimony for all to see, that the indigenous people of Guyana, can rise to any occasion; that they can build thriving communities and sustain themselves, and contribute more to society”, she said.

She informed that 40 farmers of Paramakatoi, Mountain Foot and Bamboo Creek supply the facility with naturally grown, healthy and fresh tomatoes while nine persons are employed at the processing facility. The Paramakatoi Agricultural Cooperative was established with 58 farmers and 43 food processors were trained, she said while adding that to date the facility has purchased 4,956 pounds of tomatoes from these farmers and dried tomatoes in stock amounts to 334.2 pounds.

The minister also identified the “Rupununi Essence” product produced by the Makushi women in the North Rupununi. She said that as a result of government’s investment the cosmetic product made out of coconut oil, crab oil and lemon grass oil – all natural resources from the communities is a growing industry in the hinterland which has created much needed employment for the indigenous peoples’ residing in that area.

Coffee production

In 2018 she asserted, government will invest millions more into Amer-indian villages. Among the projects envisioned are a $10M ground coffee production facility at Santa Rosa Village in Region One, a $10M cassava flour production plant in Kwebana Village in Region One and a $10M Lapidary Workshop in Monkey Mountain. They all will create employment opportunities for residents.

She stressed that allocations in the 2018 budget will ensure the implementation of a range of other projects in Amerindian villages which will support and enhance existing livelihoods, development of new economic, social and environmental initiatives, provide jobs for the local people, increased entrepreneurial capacity and help in the reduction of poverty linking all to the Green State Economy

However Pearson made it clear that she was unimpressed with the minister’s presentation and aside from offering little relief to the indigenous peoples she accused government of piggybacking on projects started under the PPP/C administration.

She agreed with the minister that the gap between the hinterland and the coastland has to be bridged. “What is happening here is that the gap is widening. There is no bridging of any gap”, she stressed.

According to the opposition MP, there is need for indigenous peoples to have economic empowerment and for them to live well and benefit from the good life. She made it clear that the “petty things” outlined by the minister can in no way ensure that Guyana’s first people live good lives.

She said that while the minister has answered some of her questions there are still many that are unanswered.

She noted that the Rupununi Essence that the minister spoke about was in existence for some time adding that the focus is on cassava flour when there are other forms that can be explored.

Pearson stressed that a lot of what the minister spoke about was in existence before government took office. “I am not excited and I doubt whether our people are excited to hear that. That’s old news”, she shouted above heckling from her fellow opposition MPs.

According to Pearson, the 2018 budget theme is misleading. “Where is the good life?” she questioned before offering her own answer. “There is no good life anywhere around and if there is no good life how can it continue. How can the journey continue when there is no good life?”

Noting that there is confusion, mistrust and fear brewing in the population, she said that if one looks at the themes for the previous budget presentations, they all encapsulate the `good life’.

“Where is this good life? It hanging somewhere beyond our reaches…Again we are waiting, we’re hoping for the good life. More than ever now people are being faced with tremendous hardship and not good life”, she said adding that hundreds in the agriculture sector have lost their jobs.  Pearson said that it has become like a song which only certain people can sing because they are living the good life.

She then turned her attention to government’s green economy concept. “Do we really understand what a green economy is? This word is being thrown around…A green economy is not painting our important state buildings in green…planting palm trees all over the place. No! A green economy is not establishing parks all over the place. No!” she shouted above heckles and laughter.

“Tell them Yvonne, tell them!” an opposition MP shouted as Pearson informed the House that it is important to understand the concept of a green economy.

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