I happily join in welcoming the several hundred Amerindian Toshaos, councillors and other elected representatives of the Amerindian villages and communities across Guyana who are attending the National Toshaos Council Conference 2017.
Let me first remind readers that the National Toshaos Conference forms part of the legal framework of governance in Amerindian villages and communities and is intended to serve as a consultative mechanism, offering a forum for leaders to engage government authorities on matters related to village development, among other things.
Indeed, the establishment of the National Toshaos Council under the PPP/C Government ushered in a new era where no longer was accessibility and dialogue with Amerindian leaders a limiting factor in the government’s efforts to engage our Amerindian people and their leaders on development issues. Furthermore, no longer were PPP/C government officials going to them only but they were coming to government at the level of the National Toshaos Council (NTC) meeting with the President and his entire cabinet and chief executive officers, guided by a conference theme and an agenda which the Toshaos themselves helped to fashion.
Then President Bharrat Jagdeo and his cabinet spent several sessions spread over a number of days, interacting with the elected leaders of the Amerindian villages and communities. Cde Jagdeo also invited all the Toshaos to use the opportunity to verify that his government’s promises and commitments arising out of previous NTC meetings had been met, or else, to question his cabinet ministers who were present for the greater part of three days why any commitment had not been met.
The elected Toshaos were always elated at the thought that yet another opportunity had presented itself for them to interact with the President to discuss not only community issues with him, but also issues of a national and international nature affecting their villages directly or indirectly. In the process, both parties were able to understand and appreciate the constraints and the encumbrances that often reduced the desired range and pace of development which government and Toshaos wished for our Amerindian people. In other words, we were both able to see the two sides of the coin.
This is contrary to what has been happening under the APNU+AFC government which has not only been guilty of hijacking the NTC agenda but which, on one occasion, sought to interfere with the process for electing the executive of the NTC. Most of the Toshaos with whom PPP/C comrades have been having discourse on the post 2015 NTC Conferences have complained of having to deal with agendas that lacked substance, relevance, depth and meaning. Many saw the five-day activities as a waste of time, and indeed, frequently compared the NTC conferences of the post 2015 period to those before then. Noticeable also is the fact of most of the commitments made by the APNU+AFC government to our Indigenous leadership have not materialized. Consequently, there appears to be little the government can discuss.
Conferences of the pre-May 2015 epoch saw many of the Toshaos revelling in achievements in the areas that included secondary, technical/vocational and university education, and the improvements and resource allocations that contributed to these successes; improvement in primary health care and the extension of the nature and quality of services available in the village hospitals and health centres; development of and improvement in infrastructure such as roads, bridges, transportation, communication and electricity under the Unserved Areas Electricity Programme. Cde Jagdeo, inter alia, emphasized the importance of transforming the village economies and by so doing, ensure food security, the creation of job opportunities for villagers and income for them also.
Following 23 years of PPP/C governance, there are still challenges to be further addressed, but proudly I can say to you that the People’s Progressive Party brought significant improvement in the lives of our Indigenous population. The PPP/C commits to continue to work with our Amerindian people, their elected leaders and all who wuld genuinely work with us to bring further improvements in the quality of the lives of our Amerindian people.
The PPP/C will continue to support Amerindian development by raising all matters of concern to the Amerindian people and elected leaders with relevant authorities, in particular in the Parliament.
I urge Toshaos to ensure the agenda of this week long engagement has their significant input, and that commitments of the government, including those from prior years, are not just mere promises but points to a plan of action for translating these promises into reality.