The National Toshaos Council (NTC) is to begin its conference today and high on the agenda will likely be ongoing concerns about the lands commission of inquiry (CoI) which the government has convened.
Coincidentally, the lands CoI which is expected to address claims of the descendants of freed Africans, Amerindian land titling and related claims is also set to begin its work today.
Village leaders coming under the NTC have strongly rejected the lumping of their matters with those of other groups under the CoI charging that there had been no consultations.
Amid the dissent, the Granger administration tried to ease the rift by agreeing that Amerindian land titling matters would be put on hold by the CoI until outstanding issues have been addressed but this has apparently not assuaged all of the concerns of the NTC.
Yesterday, the opposition PPP express-ed support for the NTC.
In a statement it said that the NTC is the “legitimate collective voice of the Amerindian people of Guyana, having evolved under successive PPP/C administrations as an important consultative body representing all Amerindian people, their leaders and communities. Thus the agenda and discussions of this NTC must be taken seriously by all participants including the government”.
While it was in office, the PPP/C government had been accused of tightly controlling the NTC and observers say the current council has shown greater independence of thought and action under the APNU+AFC government.
“We, in the PPP, are proud of our track record of inclusion and enhancement of Amerindian rights and the process through which Amerindian rights were enshrined in the Guyana Constitution, in law and in government policies and programmes. One of the unique features of the NTC conferences was the formal dialogue between the Toshaos and Councilors, as national stakeholders, with the President and his entire Cabinet. This became an important and highly anticipated event by both the NTC and the government to address concerns, remedy weaknesses, make proposals and make decisions on the spot”, the opposition party said in its statement yesterday.
The PPP said that emerging trends under the APNU+AFC Coalition government threaten Amerindian rights.
It said that the first concern relates to consistent statements made by top government leaders to have the 2006 Amerindian Act 2006 revised.
“The PPP wishes to inform the NTC participants that it will support any amendments which will enhance Amer-indian rights, however, it will strongly oppose any amendments that will dilute the rights of our indigenous Amerindian peoples. We are worried about the purpose of this push by the government to revise the 2006 Amerindian Act in the absence of any widespread call by the Amerindian peoples and communities to revise this Act”, the PPP declared.
It said that it hopes that the NTC will ensure that there is clarity and commitment by the government that any amendment of the 2006 Amerindian Act does not do any harm to Amerindian rights.
“We have a similar worry with regard to the government’s sloth in the implementation of the opt-in mechanism for the Low Carbon Development Strategy (LCDS). This is critical to maintain the principle of “free prior and informed consent” with Amerindian communities. This fundamental issue requires that the government commits at this Conference to expedite the opt-in mechanism”, the PPP argued.
The PPP said that the government by its refusal to implement the LCDS after 26 months of being in government and its inability to create a viable alternative has created an enormous vacuum.
The PPP also addressed the lands CoI.
“Regrettably, in the face of no “Free Prior and Informed Consent” with regard to the far reaching decision by the government to establish the Commission of Inquiry (CoI) into Lands, and, the overwhelming rejection of the Commission’s usurpation of the 2006 Amerindian Act and Amerindian land rights by the NTC, civil society, NGOs and the PPP/C, the Commission is moving apace.
“Whilst it is understood through media reports that the CoI work has put on hold the examination of issues relating to Amerindian lands, the NTC should note that there has been no amendment of the gazetted terms of reference (TOR) of this COI. Therefore, the government has not moved from its original objective to examine and scrutinise all Amerindian communal lands titling. We encourage the NTC conference to ensure that the government is called on to commit to exclude Amerindian land titling from the COI’s mandate and to revise its TORS accordingly”, the PPP said.
The PPP said that the lands CoI is further compounded by the rushed decision in October 2015 to establish new townships and Neighbourhood Development Councils in Regions 1, 7, and 9 prior to the March 2016 local government elections.
“Communities were caught off guard and were not even informed that the boundaries of these new local authority bodies may/would impinge on their own communities’ boundaries. In some cases, a number of communities /settlements have been included within the boundaries of the new townships. Examples of these include the communities of Red Hill, Koberimo, Barabina, and Smith Creek among others in the Mabaruma township and the Port Kaituma NDC, and, Dog Point and Agatash in the Bartica township”, the PPP said.
It added that the areas of extension applied for by Moco-Moco for example now fall within the extended boundaries of the new Lethem municipality and added that the recent announcement that Mahdia will be declared a township should be monitored as it is expected that it may include the Campbelltown community.
The PPP also argued that the delivery of health services in the hinterland regions has been plagued with constant shortages of critical and basic medical drugs and supplies, poor management, and bad decisions made at the central Ministry.
“At the conclusion of the 2017 National Toshaos Conference, we encourage you to ensure that you have clear and unequivocal commitments from the government that your land rights will be protected, that the principle of “free prior and informed consent” be followed in every case in their interaction with the Amerindian communities”, the PPP urged.