While some people have expressed a lack of confidence in this year’s National Toshao Council (NTC) conference, and believe the event would serve as just another gathering for chit-chat, Chairman of the NTC, Joel Fredericks, has given assurance that the executive team would work hard to ensure that something tangible is achieved.
Having commenced on Monday, The NTC conference has attracted dozens of Amerindian leaders from across the country, congregating to discuss the challenges they face and chart a course for the future development of their respective villages.
Fredericks said these Amerindian leaders would each have equal opportunity to have their voices heard, and the NTC would work closely with Government to have the issues addressed. However, he noted that the concerns raised would be given priority based on significance.
Unlike previous NTC conferences, Fredericks said, this year’s event is a bit different, since, for the remainder of the week, until Friday, the Council has put together a questionnaire which would be circulated during the regular plenary sessions, when the ministers of Government will be present to answer questions and to take note of the issues affecting these indigenous communities.
All the various sectors will be listed on the questionnaire, and if one or more community has an issue in any of these areas, the toshaos will make note of these issues on there.
“For example, if you have an education issue, you just write at the side, and we will look at it and place all under one heading. We will present it and add recommendations on how we see the issues could be addressed.”
Frederick said these very issues will be raised with ministers and Government department heads, especially as it relates to mining, agriculture, tourism, education, and health.
“We want to hear what the Government planned for these areas, because right now, we are going into a plenary discussion with various groups, and we want to hear the (ministers’) response.”
The NTC Chair did admit that after most NTC conference, there is seldom follow up, and little progress made on the issues raised. However, he has committed to ensuring that the NTC work is placed on a database, and will be following up with every department after the conference. This, he said, will ensure that communities get the help they need, and it would also mean that the conference has served a purpose.
Meanwhile, now that Government has presented the NTC with a plot of land to build their secretariat, Frederick said this would assist the Council tremendously, because its leadership is scattered throughout the country. He believes that erection of a secretariat would bring about more organisation to the NTC, and provide a place where leaders of various Amerindians villages can assemble and discuss issues. The request for a secretariat for the NTC was made last year by Indigenous leaders to President David Granger. The NTC Chairman noted that construction of the secretariat on the NTC conference plot of land, located next to the Heritage Village at the Sophia Exhibition Site, could commence shortly. He added that the President has committed to supporting the venture, and corporate support is expected. Before the opening of the conference, the Opposition People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) had said it hopes the discussions would ensure there is clarity, Amerindian rights would not be harmed, and the widest possible consultation in the communities across the country would ensue, especially in relation to the proposed amendment to the Amerindian Act of 2006.
They also expressed worry with Government’s sloth in the implementation of the opt-in mechanism for the Low Carbon Development Strategy (LCDS). This, the PPP/C said, is critical to maintain the principle of “free, prior and informed consent” with Amerindian villages. This fundamental issue requires that the Government commits at this conference to expedite the opt-in mechanism,” it stated.