The National Toshaos Council (NTC) consisting of 208 elected Amerindian village leaders who represent over 80,000 persons is currently meeting at the Cyril Potter College of Education under the theme ‘Good Governance – A Brighter Future for Guyana’s First Peoples.’ This is a good theme to espouse as good governance is fundamental not only to accountability and transparency but also to realizing improved livelihoods for all those who are represented at the NTC.
Amid the eloquent speeches and fanfare, the leaders are meeting against the backdrop of some significant developments: the effects of climate change on communities – flooding and drought; the antagonistic relationship between the NTC and representatives of the executive; the perennial under-performance of the governmental agencies that are mandated to serve the inhabitants of the hinterland; and the Commission of Inquiry into Land Ownership.
The residents’ daily lives are affected by appalling road networks, lack of potable water, poor medical facilities and an educational system that is under-performing, among others. These issues have been raised time and again with little or no significant improvement. A range of reasons why the issues are not addressed have been forwarded including budgetary constraints, but is it really budgetary constraints, inaccurate budgeting or an inability to effectively manage the financial and other resources at our disposal?
As a people we have allowed and, in some cases, encouraged our leaders to get off the hook with decisions, agreements and actions that are inimical to our best interest.
The time has come for us to make informed decisions when choosing our representatives without allowing ourselves to be hoodwinked by perks and other insignificant materialistic gifts that do not benefit us in the long run. It is a shame that after fifty years of independence we are yet to have a system of self-determination at our community level, and a significant level of power is directed from sources outside our communities.
It is my considered belief that the political culture has to change in order for the persons who were elected to manage the affairs of these communities to become more accountable to their constituents. For example, how about revisiting the clauses contained in the Amerindian Act 2006, which stipulate quarterly community meetings and the presentation of reports to communities. Is this being done and/or demanded by the respective communities? Are relevant questions being asked of the leaders and questions answered? Secondly, from my observation working in various hinterland communities, a great percentage of residents do not participate in elections for Toshaos. The causes of this need to be addressed to enable more proactive community involvement in local governance.
The faster we demand, through the utilization of all legal means to bear pressure on the system, we will have the desired results that will allow us to generate and create wealth utilizing the abundant resources at our disposal. Additionally, and arguably, it will also yield better results from our students at our national exams, enable the development of sportsmen and women, ensure our natural resources are managed in a sustainable manner and ensure our rights are respected.
The NTC, in its current form, can play a pivotal advocacy role for financial, technical and other resources to effectively improve the lives of the people they represent. It can also, by extension, foster capacity building for Toshaos in budgeting, leadership and other areas which can meaningfully contribute to their respective communities and ultimately Guyana. This will be a good step in the right direction to ensure a system of sustainable governance is achieved.
I would like to extend best wishes to the Toshaos as they deliberate on the important issues at hand.