Currently, a public notice announcing the convening of National Toshaos Conference 2017 is being given wide circulation in the local media. The conference will be held from August 21-26 at the Cyril Potter College of Education at Turkeyen. It will bring together 216 Toshaos and leaders from 216 Amerindian communities and villages across Guyana.
According to the public notice the theme of this year’s conference is ‘Good governance – A Brighter Future for Guyana’s First Peoples.’ The conference theme by its very nature is highly questionable and is a cynical reminder of the Granger administration’s approach towards Guyanese in general and Amerindians in particular.
Take, for instance, the good governance aspect of the theme. Contrary to government propaganda, the governance track record of APNU+AFC is not as star spangled as they would wish the nation to believe. The discriminatory policies meted out to Amerindian communities across the country is unbelievable, to say the least. In this respect, it is apposite to recall the following:
1) the arbitrary dismissal of over 2,000 Amerindian youths employed as Com-munity Support Officers (CSOs);
2) the renaming of the Ministry of Amerindian Affairs, the Ministry of Indigenous People’s Affairs;
3) the amending the Amerindian Act to be named the Indigenous People’s Act;
4) the disappearance of 6,000 solar panels and 10,000 computers intended for ICT hubs in Amerindian communities and villages;
5) the dismantling of the Land Titling Unit at the Ministry of Amerindian Affairs;
6) abandoning the practice of formulating village development plans by Amerindian communities and villages;
7) the abandonment of the widely accepted practice of free, prior and informed consultation with the Amerindian people;
8) the failed attempt to close the Walter Roth Museum housing precious Amerindian artifacts and historical materials;
9) the victimization of Amerindians who refuse to be bullied and/or to carry out instructions inimical to the interests of their communities and villages.
In addition to the above, it is ironical from a governance standpoint that this year’s Toshaos conference will commence on the same day when the first round of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (CoI) on Lands will be launched. This CoI like other CoIs started off on a wrong footing and continues to be is mired in controversy following strong objections raised by the NTC. The NTC was loud in its criticism that it was never consulted or asked to provide its views on the TORs of the CoI.
What is mind boggling is why would a government which crows so much about upholding the Constitution and pursuing an inclusionary democracy want to go the route of ignoring and refusing to consult the NTC which is made up of 212 Toshaos representing approximately 80,000 Amerindians.
This is clearly another manifestation of bad governance on the part of the APNU+AFC whose refusal to consult with stakeholders on matters of concern to them has become a hallmark of the Granger administration. The NTC remains resolutely opposed, and quite justifiably so, to government’s decision to pair indigenous land rights with the claims of freed Africans.
It was only after the NTC voiced strong criticism that government was forced to concede that the CoI on lands will not be addressing Indigenous and ancestral land issues concurrently but as two separate processes.
Moreover, it was only when the NTC upped the ante in the midst of the swirling controversy that President Granger agreed to meet with the council. As regards the ‘brighter future for Guyana’s First People’s’, the other element of the conference theme, attention should be paid to the much publicized Ten Point Strategic Plan for hinterland development announced by President Granger two years ago when he delivered the opening address to the 2015 NTC. That plan continues to flounder and has apparently lost its way.
The Hinterland Development Programme, the education support programme, the employment and youth service, the poverty reduction program, the energy development programme, the happy hinterland household programme, the hinterland and indigenous people’s lands commission, the hinterland public service provisions scheme and the hinterland language, cultural and sports service as well as the hinterland zoological park have all become pies in the sky and elusive dreams never to be realized.
And the mandate given by the President to transform the diverse community of Lethem into a town has become a pipe dream. Lethem has become a ghost town.
At the first meeting of the APNU executive council held in July this year, the Amerindian land titling issue was raised as a matter of concern by the WPA. Though no details were revealed on what resulted from the concerns raised, the majority of Guyanese know very well that the WPA’s position is one of combining land titling issues with the claims of the descendants of freed Africans.
For its part, the opposition has advanced a raft of proposals that would facilitate Amerindian village economic transformation; the advancement of Amerindian village economies into sustainable economic systems through the full implementation of the GRIF-ADF; Amerindian community development and creation of value added products through agricultural processing, eco-tourism and support for community sustainable projects in the extractive sectors.
Careful, if not close attention must be paid to the deliberations and conclusions that will emerge from NTC 2017. And our Amerindian brothers and sisters must be given all the support necessary as they continue to press for the realization of their legitimate rights and expectations.
Clement J Rohee