After taking office just on the verge of Amerindian Heritage Month, Amerindian Affairs Minister Pauline Sukhai conducted a brief review of the work done by the then Indigenous Peoples’ Ministry over the past five years relative to land-titling and other development-related issues for Indigenous peoples.
What was found was not surprising, compared to the other sectors of development under the then APNU/AFC Administration.
Like in other sectors, no real effort had been made to embark on projects which would have resulted in real development occurring in communities. For example, based on media reports, the Minister discovered that the unit designated to fast-tracking the Amerindian land-titling project had produced little to no results, while exhausting large sums of money. As a result, communities are still waiting for their titles to be issued.
In essence, there is little outcome to show for the work done within the last five years in relation to the land-titling issue. It was reported that, for almost one year, the project had been put on pause, as the Amerindian Land Titling Board did not facilitate any meeting to discuss or move forward with their plans.
The new Government will now have to return to the process and bring the project back on track, as Amerindians have been waiting for years to have their lands demarcated and titled.
The Amerindian Land-Titling process was facilitated by the Amerindian Act of 2006, which catered for land- titling and extensions. This led to establishment of the Amerindian Land-Titling Project, which commenced in 2013 and was scheduled to end in 2016. This was a US$10.7 million project.
It is clear there was the absence of a proper vision by the previous Coalition Government in relation to Amerindian development. The A Partnership for National Unity’s (APNU’s) recent voting against $820M in the National Assembly earmarked for developing Indigenous communities compounded the theory of the lack of vision for these communities. Prior to 2015, several crucial development-related projects were started under the PPP/C Government, which were either put on hold or disbanded altogether after 2015. Besides land-titling and demarcation, there were quite a few other initiatives aimed at improving and reviving village economies, improving healthcare delivery, improving access to education, providing electricity through the distribution of solar panels etc.
The National Secure Livelihood Programme, which was carried out by the PPPC Administration in collaboration with Volunteer Services Overseas (VSO) International, is a fine example of how the Government and NGOs can collaborate in ensuring improvements in the living standards of Amerindians. This project was aimed at addressing the challenges of economic development in Amerindian villages and hinterland communities. The initiative was not only meant to expand production of the locally-grown produce, but also processing of value-added products.
Additionally, there was the Presidential Grant initiative, a monetary award allocated to Amerindian communities to help them establish income- generating projects to advance their growth and development.
It is quite unfortunate that the then Coalition Government did not see it fit to continue some of these projects, even though those projects were proven to be successful and funding had been allocated to see their completion.
We believe there is need for more collaboration between the Government and other development agencies to support and fund similar community development projects, which would see Amerindians enjoying a better quality of life. For example, there is need for more programmes that would focus on skills training, entrepreneurship etc. Poverty in these areas could be tackled only if persons are empowered to change their situations.
Additionally, the Indigenous Peoples Commission (IPC) has a role to play in seeing the development of Amerindian communities. This body was created to promote and protect the rights of Indigenous people, raise awareness of their contributions and the problems they face, and make recommendations on economic and educational policies to further their interests.