The Toshaos must not allow the government to dictate their communities’ development agendas

Dear Editor,

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 determined efforts to engage our Amerindian people and their elected leaders on development issues. Furthermore, no longer were PPP/C government officials going to them only, but they were coming to the government  at the level of the National Toshaos’ Council (NTC) meeting with the President and his entire Cabinet and Chief Executive Officers and interacting with them; guided by a conference theme and an agenda which the Toshaos themselves helped to fashion.

The President and his Cabinet spent several sessions spread over a number of days, interacting with the elected leaders of the Amerindian villages and communities: listening to them, discussing with them and addressing their concerns and requests for assistance and, in the process, offering advice and the commitment of resources to create opportunities and support in order to advance further the development of the villages/communities.

The President did also invite the Toshaos to use the opportunity to verify that his government’s promises and commitments arising out of previous NTC meetings were met, or else, to question his Cabinet ministers who were present for the greater part of three days of the meeting, as to why any commitment was not met. In this way, the elected Toshaos were better positioned on their return to their villages/communities to update residents on the progress they had made in advancing their respective development agendas.

The elected Toshaos who sacrificed time, effort and family to travel from various villages and communities across the ten administrative regions of our country, and to be present for their NTC conference were always elated at the thought that yet another opportunity had presented itself for them to interact with the President and discuss with him not only community issues, but also matters of a national and international nature that affected their villages,(viz, climate change) and consequently their lives and livelihoods 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, the PPP/C government and the NTC were both able to see both sides of the coin and agree on the way forward. As many Toshaos oftentimes affirmed: they were not aware that Indigenous Peoples in any other part of the World were afforded such opportunities.

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. Some of the Toshaos with whom PPP/C comrades had discourse on the post 2015 NTC conferences have complained of having to deal with agendas that lacked substance, relevance, depth, meaning. Many saw the several days activities as a waste of time and resources; and indeed, frequently compared the NTC conferences of the post 2015 period to those before then. Noticeable also is the fact that most of the commitments made by the APNU+AFC government to our Indigenous leadership and the people they represent have not materialized. Consequentially, there appears to be little the government can discuss and as a result, they spend most of the time taking evasive action.

Conferences of the pre-May 2015 epoch saw many of the Toshaos revelling in achievements and successes that included: i) establishing the Ministry of Amerindian Affairs and appointing a Minister of Amerindian Affairs; (ii) passing the 2006 Amerindian Act; (iii) Setting up the Indigenous Peoples Commission. This Body evolved out of the Constitutional Reform process. (iv ) Establishing the National Toshaos Council; (v) Education – secondary, technical/vocational and university education and the improvements and resource allocation that contributed to these successes. This included building new schools, extending and rehabilitating existing schools; equipping secondary schools with dormitories to cater for children from remote areas; the Hinterland Scholarship Programme and the construction of a new students’ dormitory at Liliendaal, East Coast Demerara to accommodate hinterland students who attend secondary schools in Georgetown; upgrading and training of teachers via the distance education mode;  National School Feeding and Uniform Assistance Programmes; the Hot Meal Programme. (vi) Improvement in primary health care and the extension of the nature and quality of services available in the hospitals and health centres/posts in their villages, including the construction of district hospitals/health centres/health posts; the training of doctors, medexes, dentexes, midwives, health workers, pharmacists, etc; (vii) development and improvement in infrastructure such as roads, bridges, airstrips, transportation , communication; development of the Hinterland Electricity Programme and focus on distribution and use of solar panels; the Hinterland Water Strategy (viii) the preparation of community development plans by village/community councils to help catapult the socioeconomic development of hinterland communities and the funding of these plans by the PPP/C government; (ix) the village economy ‒  the introduction of presidential grants commencing 2007 to fund economic projects in the villages and the launch of the National Hinterland Secure Livelihood Programme in the Amerindian Villages; (ix) land titling and demarcation and more.

In May 2015 when the APNU+AFC government took over the realms of government, there were still other challenges to be addressed, but honestly and proudly the PPP/C can say that we brought significant improvement to the lives of our Indigenous population. In this regard, the National Toshaos Conference provided an important forum for government officials and village leaders to meet, discuss and agree on the way forward for our Indigenous people.

The PPP/C did set the platform for economic take-off in the Amerindian villages and communities.

Undoubtedly, the PPP/C will continue to support Amerindian development by raising all matters of concern to the Amerindian people and elected leaders with the APNU+AFC government and, more particularly, in the Parliament.

The NTC also has a duty, an obligation and the right to raise concerns affecting the people its represents. Towards this end, it is important that Toshaos not allow the APNU+AFC government to determine and to dictate their development agenda, for under the Amerindian Act of 2006 the Amerindian Village Councils control what happens on their lands.

Yours faithfully,

Norman Whittaker

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