As the curtains come down on the 2019 National Toshoas Conference, regional representatives have complained that the forum is not what it’s supposed to be and instead, is politicised.
This is according to Vice Chair of Region One (Barima-Waini), Sarah Brown, at a press conference on Friday.
“…The conference at this time is not was it used to be or what [it] is supposed to be. We have seen politicising of the entire conference – from the leadership of the National Toshoas Council right down, we’ve seen politicising,” she noted.
According to Brown, Amerindian leaders who have attended the conference are not getting any of their concerns addressed. In fact, she noted that they are not even getting the opportunity to raise their issues.
“Instead of having the Toshoas coming here to represent the issues, our Toshoas are concerned that they’re only coming here to listen to speeches and to be a part of the campaign show instead of having our issues addressed…,” the Region One Vice Chair told reporters.
Meanwhile, the same sentiments were raised by her Region Nine colleague, Vice Chairman Karl Singh, who said that the NTC is not like it was previously conducted.
“The timeframe in which they allow for questions and answers by the Toshaos, which is most important, are cut short. So basically, when the Toshoas started asking questions they says we can only take two or three questions so there is not sufficient time,” he contended.
Singh believes that this is deliberately planned because there are no proper answers to the many questions that the Amerindian leaders have.
Furthermore, the regional leaders went on to bemoan the Government’s neglect of hinterland communities. They pointed out that many of the projects that the coalition has been touting are ones that were actually initiated under the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) regime but implement by the current Government.
Only recently, the PPP highlighted its effort, while in office, to engage the NTC on issues of Amerindian rights and community development as well as matters of national importance. Something which the party said is absent from this current Administration.
To this end, the PPP announced that it is planning a National Development Conference to be held in April, should it win the elections next year. This was revealed by Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo at this weekly press conference on Thursday.
Already, he noted, the party has drafted its agenda for the conference and shared it with the Indigenous leaders who attended the NTC.
Key among those issues is ensuring that the country’s Indigenous peoples benefit from the resources that Guyana will be receiving from the budding oil and gas industry.
“It’s a comprehensive agenda. It speaks of economic development and job creation. Oil and gas – we need to clarify the position that Amerindians have to benefit as much as any other group of persons in Guyana from oil and gas… So the conference will discuss specifically that,” he noted.
This is in light of statements made by Junior Social Protection Minister Keith Scott back in 2017 when he said Amerindians were “avaricious” since they had too much land and threatened that they would not benefit from the new oil revenues.
Nevertheless, Jagdeo noted that this is just among an array of issues to be addressed at his party’s conference.
“It will discuss the resumption of land titling activities and timelines for both titling lands as well as for processing extension. It would address healthcare, for example, supply of drugs, medical personnel, upgrading facilities. It would address education issues because many of them would have complained that they don’t have teachers, the nutrition programme that we start have not extended to some communities – the hot meals – and all of the other things,” he contended.
According to the Opposition Leader, the PPP National Development Conference will highlight specific outcomes for policy initiatives that it will be undertaking – unlike the coalition’s agenda which he said consists of just making speeches as was done during the NTC.
“There is no development in these communities. Just Ministers flying in, spending millions of dollars … then they go to the community, eat up the people food but then they bring no development in that area… That is what we can continue to expect and a lot of promises,” he asserted.
On the other hand, he posited that the conference agenda the PPP has put together consists of policies for hinterland development. Jagdeo said that they are trying to shift the conversation to the future and unlike the coalition, they intend to detail specific plans for every sector to develop hinterland communities.