The Ministry of Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs yesterday launched a blistering attack on the National Toshaos Council’s (NTC) Executive Committee and its Vice Chairman Lennox Shuman, particularly in relation to an interview with Stabroek News.
The Ministry’s attack on the NTC and the outspoken Shuman will be seen as a further attempt to clamp down on dissenting views.
In an article in the April 9th edition of Stabroek News, Shuman was reported as saying that the government had not made any progress on the crucial area of land titling and accused the ministry of interfering in the business of the NTC. He also said that the behaviour of the current government is similar to the previous one.
Yesterday, the ministry fired back. It said that it noted the recent “media outings” of the NTC Executive Committee and in particular its Vice Chairman on certain matters. The ministry said that the NTC executive has so far not distanced itself from these “rather divisive, disingenuous and sometimes incoherent statements”.
The ministry said it is reassured that the positions taken on these matters are not reflective of the thinking of the wider NTC and the general population of Indigenous Guyanese citizens.
The statement by the ministry charged that the NTC is on record as having written to President David Granger on certain matters.
“Much of these writings are confrontational, demanding and disrespectful to the Office of President of Guyana. Simultaneous with calls for meetings with His Excellency President David Granger, Lennox Shuman, Vice Chairman of the NTC issued a call for mass public protest against the Government of Guyana by our Indigenous Citizenry. The Ministry will allow the Guyanese public to judge Shuman’s intentions”, the ministry statement said.
This claim by the ministry was yesterday denied by the NTC. Joel Fredericks, the NTC Chairman told Stabroek News that neither the NTC nor its vice chairman called for a mass protest against the government.
Fredericks said the issue of a protest had its origin in Nappi Village in the Rupununi which has expressed concerns about a lease given to an agricultural project and to an extension of the Lethem township, both of which encroach on land that the village traditionally occupied and for which they were seeking extensions and titles. This was done without the free, prior and informed consent of the people of Nappi, Fredericks said. The village was concerned about this and the village’s deputy toshao and a councillor travelled to Georgetown and met with the Minister of Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs Sidney Allicock.
Fredericks said that after meeting with the minister, the deputy and the councillor paid a visit to the NTC office where they reported that the minister had promised to address their concerns with the relevant authorities. Fredericks said the NTC took a decision to allow himself and Shuman to visit Nappi and hear the concerns. At that meeting, Fredericks said that the people of the village said that if their concerns were not addressed they would travel to Georgetown and stage a protest. At no time did the NTC call on the people to protest, he said. However, the NTC indicated to them that whatever action they took, it would support them, Fredericks added.
On their return to the NTC’s office, Fredericks said, they reported to the NTC executive what had occurred and a decision was taken to inform all the toshaos because other villages have the same extension and land titling issues. He said, “The ministry is misinformed. We are not attacking Government. We are highlighting the concerns.”
Under the Norway forest protection agreement with Guyana, he said, Government is obligated to address the land demarcation and titling issues of a list of villages in which Nappi is included.
Meanwhile, the ministry’s release yesterday also said that the current NTC executive has never ceased to condemn the $16 million subvention Government has given it and it is nearing the end of its three-year term in office and was “yet to explain” to its members and the ministry “why it continues to resist the legislative obligation of accounting for the finances placed at its disposal. It is a statutory obligation of the NTC’s Executive Committee to prepare and present ‘Annual Reports’ of its financial operations, a requirement which it has never satisfied.”
In response, Fredericks, who was in Mainstay, Region Two when contacted last evening, said that the NTC has been accounting to the ministry which issues the subvention but he will provide more detailed information on the issue today as he did not have the records on hand.
The ministry statement also levelled a series of accusations against Shuman. Stabroek News was unable to contact him for comment on them.
Last year, the government and the NTC had clashed over the government’s plan to hold a lands commission of inquiry which would lump all land related matters including those of Amerindians and the descendants of slaves. After criticism from several groups, the government decided that the commission of inquiry would address Amerindian issues separately.
The present NTC whose term comes to an end shortly has been assertive and has pushed strongly for changes in various areas. The previous NTCs had tended to be under the control of the then PPP/C government.