Nothing can justify the APNU/AFC voting against the allocation of funds that are geared towards ensuring that Amerindians enjoy a better quality of life. In the words of the Minister of Amerindian Affairs, “It’s a travesty and an embarrassment” that a party that claims it cares for the concerns of all Guyanese would take such an action.
While it did not come as a surprise, the APNU/AFC Members of Parliament, during the consideration of the current and capital estimates for the Ministry of Amerindian Affairs, on Tuesday voted against $845 million intended to bring relief to the Amerindian residents and villagers. Among areas for which the sum caters are: equipment to support agriculture; youth development; reinstatement of the Community Support Officers project; Presidential Grant Initiative; transport, which includes procuring of ATVs and pickup trucks for Amerindian villages.
From the onset, the APNU/AFC Members should have known beforehand that no right-thinking MP, who is serious about seeing Guyana move forward, would join with them to vote down funds aimed at various development initiatives; and hence they would not get the required number of votes to win if a division is called.
It is well known that the APNU/AFC does not have a good track record in the hinterland communities, and the results of the March 2 polls have supported this contention. Therefore, voting against finances for key development initiatives only worsens the situation, and will certainly cause the Coalition to lose more political ground.
The consideration of the estimates provided yet another opportunity for the APNU/AFC to redeem itself and for its members to prove that they are serious about what they committed to doing in their promises to Amerindians and Guyanese as a whole.
It could be recalled that the then APNU and AFC Opposition had done the same thing prior to 2015 when they enjoyed the majority in the Parliament. Tuesday’s events brought back these bad memories when they used their majority to block funding for several development projects that were proposed by the PPP/C Government at the time.
In 2014, for example, AFC and APNU cut about $9.3B from the National Budget. The cuts targeted many sectors, and certainly had a huge negative impact on ordinary Guyanese.
At the time, projects such as the Specialty Hospital; upgrading of regional and district hospitals, including Port Kaituma, Kwakwani, Linden and Bartica; Eye Surgery Operating Room at Linden; the procurement of ambulances, ATVs and boats; surgical equipment and instruments; Amerindian Development Fund; Cheddi Jagan International Airport; Civil Aviation; hinterland airstrips, were all affected.
While the cuts represented a major barrier in the PPP/C’s efforts to move ahead with its development plans, it is the people who suffered in the end. To date, there is still no Specialty Hospital, electricity costs remain high due to the Amaila Falls project not getting the necessary political support to get off the ground, and the list goes on.
No one could have comprehended the rationale for voting against the Specialty Hospital. Such a facility would have ensured that all Guyanese obtain health services that they can otherwise access only overseas.
Similarly, the Amerindian Development Fund has, in the past, seen Amerindians receiving benefits through a number of areas, including equipment, rehabilitation of community huts, benabs, acquisition of solar power, computer systems, and the construction of dorms and hostels.
In voting against funds for Amerindian development on Tuesday, the APNU/AFC members once again abdicated their responsibility to act in the interest of citizens, more particularly the people who voted for them. Voting against funds, particularly programmes that are geared to offer support to sections of the population that have been crying out for much-needed resources, is not only morally wrong, but it selfish and insensitive.
The current Government has laid out a detailed plan for the development of Guyana’s Indigenous Peoples for the next five years. It is quite clear that the Government has a full grasp of the challenges facing hinterland communities, and has made the necessary budgetary allocations accordingly.
There is no doubt that much more needs to be done, both in terms of policy design and implementation, and resource allocation, to ensure that economic vibrancy is returned to Indigenous communities and that the rights of Indigenous peoples are fully protected.
It would be good if the APNU/AFC were to prove that they have matured politically by joining with the Government in tackling these issues.