To guard its independence and neutrality from political interference the National Toshaos Council (NTC) has developed a political neutrality statement that was adopted by the executive during its just-concluded executive meeting, says its Vice-Chairman Lenox Shuman.
The neutrality statement was developed over the last three days that the council met at the Guyana Forestry Commission Multiplex Complex, Shuman told a press conference last evening.
Shuman and NTC chairman Joel Fredericks shared the press conference with Vice President and Minister of Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs Sydney Allicock.
The neutrality statement, Shuman said, will become the staple for how the NTC will operate. “It is now for the secretariat and the secretariat staff to support the incoming executive to maintain that political neutrality. I know that you cannot impose but it does not mean that you cannot enforce.”
The statement originated from the rules and procedures that the NTC adopted in 2017 and which in Articles 12 and 13 say that no member of the executive is allowed to actively engage in politics, and they cannot seek to associate the NTC with any political party.
Asked about the Ministry of Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs’ (MOIPA) recent press statement in which the NTC and Shuman were scathingly attacked in response to an interview published by the Stabroek News, Allicock said that “our bedroom stories should not be all over the place.”
Told that the press release issued by the Department of Public Information was all over the media, Allicock said, the media would have probably liked what occurred to continue.
The minister, who spent yesterday afternoon with the NTC executive examining their unresolved issues, said that when earlier in the press conference he said that “teeth and tongue must bite,” it was a signal that differences will arise but there was work to be done.
“People in our villages would not be comfortable to have persons like us moving the process forward to be in continuous attacks”, he said.
The NTC, he added, did not speak about their achievement in the formation of the South Rupununi District Development Council, North Pakaraimas District Council and the Moruca District Council among other achievements but “We focus on the little things that could be overcome.”
Answering the same question, Shuman said the NTC cannot allow anyone to tear down the relationship they have built with the ministry “with a simple press release.” He said, “It will take a lot more to destroy this kind of relationship. Maybe some people would have wanted to see this relationship break completely. Why?”
The NTC was committed, he said, to a professional and cordial relationship with Allicock and Minister within the Ministry of Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs Valerie Garrido-Lowe.
Having spoken of achieving neutrality and obtaining their own office space and freedom to operate, when asked about issues that the executive would have liked to see resolved, Allicock said, at the top of the list was land demarcation, land extension, employment, infrastructure, droughts, and the revision of the Amerindian Act among others.
Addressing these issues, he said, depend on finances and technical staff. Yesterday, he said, “we were more updated on how to overcome them.”
Generally speaking, Fredericks said that on many occasions they had to stand their ground to maintain their level of neutrality. More could have been achieved.
To move out of the confines of the ministry and “operate without much political interference were great achievements,” he said.
Shuman remarked that in handing over to a new executive in July they will be leaving them in a far better place than where they were when they entered. That, he said, “Speaks to the growth of the government, the growth of the Indigenous Peoples and to the growth of the NTC.”
In its statement on April 11th, MOIPA attacked both the council and Shuman.
It said “The Ministry of Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs notes with interest the recent media outings of the National Toshaos Council’s (NTC) Executive Committee and in particular its Vice Chairman on certain matters. The Ministry has observed a trend of public posturing by this body and indeed this officer. The NTC executive has so far not distanced itself from these rather divisive, disingenuous and sometimes incoherent statements”.
It added that the current NTC Executive had never ceased to condemn the sixteen million dollars subvention provided to it by Government and that nearing the end of its three-year term in office it is yet to explain to its membership and the Ministry “why it continues to resist the legislative obligation of accounting for the finances placed at its disposal”.
It added “From the tone and content of a recently reported Stabroek News ‘interview’ it appears that the NTC’s Chairman and Vice Chairman are satisfied with opposition political interference into the affairs of the NTC. This is not unexpected. All of Guyana remains aware of the treatment of Indigenous Peoples by the People’s Progressive Party while in government. The task of ensuring that there was no political interference by Government since May 2015 was a simple and successful one.”
It also levelled a series of allegations against Shuman.
On April 13th, the NTC in a reply said that it was “deeply dismayed and disappointed at the vile and visceral attack” attributed to the Ministry.
“It is beyond shocking that such a statement would emanate from the Ministry that purports to represent the First Peoples of Guyana. The NTC is uncertain if this is actually the true position of the Ministry or if it is that of a rogue officer/s with axes to grind with the NTC and more specifically the Vice Chairman.
“There seem to have been a complete breach of protocol by officers working at the Ministry of Indigenous Peoples Affairs who seem to have two very distinct intentions, firstly to discredit the NTC, and secondly to open the Ministers to mass public attacks”, the statement said.
It said that there were no financial irregularities and said that Shuman was investigated in 2017 and there was “NO” evidence of wrongdoing found. It said that team was led by David James, Legal Advisor to the Minister of Indigenous Peoples Affairs, and also comprised NTC Chairman, Toshao Joel Fredericks, and Rickford Profit from RDC Region 4 as required by law.
The NTC statement said that it is still awaiting a meeting that President David Granger had committed to having with the NTC before mid March to address the issues, but which has not yet occurred.