The Ministry of Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs will collaborate with other State entities to work closely with Indigenous Peoples village councils to ensure proper accountability for their resources, says Minister of Indigenous Peoples Affairs Sidney Allicock.
“Right now we have a bundle of accountability issues. Some toshaos do not even want to hand over the keys because they lost the elections. We are going to address those issues.”
In an interview with Stabroek News, Allicock said, “Over the past three years we allowed the communities to try to empower themselves and getting them to understand their rights.”
However, he said, one of the challenges his ministry has found is “problems of accountability in many communities, in some it is ‘big time’.”
In mining communities, he said, “It is a nightmare.”
Micobie in Region Eight (Potaro/Siparuni), he said, “is a long outstanding problem. When you do get down to the bottom of the story, you find that previous toshaos have signed up agreements and given exclusive rights to miners without the knowledge of the people. That is not an isolated case. That is why when they go to court they are losing.”
When evidence is put forward, he said, it shows where toshaos received royalties and then treat the revenue for personal gains without the communities benefiting.
To deal with this problem, his ministry, he said, “will ensure that the toshaos work closely with the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission, Guyana Lands and Surveys Commission and Guyana Forestry Commission to bring them up to date with the laws of the country and to bring some order with the new councils.
“Upgrading the capacity of councils is paramount in village administration at present,” he said.
Meanwhile, Minister in the Ministry of Indigenous Peoples Affairs, Valerie Garrido-Lowe said that some of the former toshaos who cannot account for revenue they received were “the same people crying and lambasting Government for FPIC (Free Prior and Informed Consent) while they themselves are not observing FPIC when they make their own decisions and transactions in their communities.”
She continued, “We only catch up with what goes on when there is a handing over from one council to the next council. Many villagers know of monies being collected but they do not see what the monies are used for. In one instance there was an invisible guest house built.” She did not elaborate on where the invisible guest house was built.
Meanwhile both Allicock and Garrido-Lowe said that depoliticising Indigenous village councils of party politics post national toshao elections and educating people to empower themselves and to focus on developmental issues will have to continue.
“We had glaring examples of political interference by the Opposition in the toshao elections while we stayed away from campaigning to give candidates the chance to look at issues rather than party politics,” Allicock charged.
While Government took a conscious decision not to campaign in toshao elections, Garrido-Lowe said, “We had the Opposition interfering in every way possible and in every region. In Moruca, MP Pauline Sukhai asked to see the candidates so she could speak with them. Some of them went up to meet with her.”
Allicock said another example of political interference took place in Region Five (West Berbice) where the Regional Chairman went into the village to campaign for a candidate of the Opposition’s choice.
The Regional Chairman’s visit to the village was without prior announcement, he said, and was seen as disrespect by the toshao who was reelected and subsequently sworn in.
“There were reports that the Opposition took people in who had no form of identification to vote. The Opposition was upset when those persons could not vote. The present toshao won the elections. The Opposition supported candidate said it was not fair and as a result the Regional Executive Officer held back the swearing in while awaiting legal advice,” Allicock said.
On allegations that Minister in the Ministry of Public Infrastructure Annette Ferguson went into Mainstay/Whyaka to campaign for a candidate who was running against PPP/C MP and former toshao Yvonne Pearson, Garrido-Lowe said, “Minister Ferguson did not go to campaign. She went on business as a minister.”
She added, “Let us put the coin on the other side. They campaigned all over. Right there in Pakuri, they were there barefacedly to ensure that their people were chosen.”