President ‘sidelining’ elected indigenous body – NTC
A slap in the face is what the National Toshaos Council (NTC) received when President David Granger, on Wednesday, chose to meet with the Amerindian Peoples Association (APA) instead of the elected body.
This is the sentiment felt by the NTC, which has been repeatedly calling for a meeting with President Granger to iron out issues surrounding the controversial Commission of Inquiry (CoI) into lands.
On Friday, the NTC put pen to paper and issued to the press a statement outlining its concerns about the Government’s decision not to meet with the duly elected body representing Guyana’s Indigenous Peoples.
“The NTC hereby registers its concern that the President chose to meet with the APA before meeting with the NTC, considering the NTC is the duly elected body representing Guyana’s Indigenous Peoples. The NTC is concerned that we are potentially being sidelined for our strong position on the CoI, and that this move is meant to undermine the credibility of the NTC,” the representative body said.
President Granger, in March of this year, established the CoI to examine and make recommendations to resolve all issues and uncertainties surrounding the claims of Amerindian land titling; the individual, joint or communal ownership of lands acquired by freed Africans; and any matters relating to land titling in Guyana.
Since its establishment, the NTC has condemned the CoI, noting that Amerindian land issues are much more complex; and as such called on the Administration to have the CoI revoked. The pleas of the indigenous peoples’ representatives have fallen on deaf ears, with Indigenous Peoples Affairs Minister Sydney Allicock, accusing its leadership of being politically aligned with the Peoples Progressive Party (PPP).
The NTC also wrote to the President, expressing their dissatisfaction with the terms of reference (ToR) of the CoI, and requested a meeting, but are still awaiting a response to their requests.
“At this point, I think we would have written the President enough, and it is now for him to reach out to the NTC. And I think that the Chair of the NTC has (contacted the) Office of the President to get clarification on when this meeting is going to occur, and if it will occur,” Vice Chair of the NTC, Lennox Schuman, said.
Schuman also said that the NTC position remains the same, and that the President’s apparent refusal to entertain a meeting with the body is a cause for concern. He said the next step involves meeting with their membership to discuss the recent developments before taking a unified stance as it relates to paving the road ahead.
At the meeting on Wednesday, President Granger proposed a five point comprehensive review of the CoI, and told the APA delegation that there was nothing sinister in the setting up of the Commission. Rather, he said, the intention was to correct existing anomalies regarding individual and communal lands.
According to a GINA press statement, Executive Director of the APA, Jean La Rose, said, “This is a good step, in the sense that we are able to discuss these issues, we are able to air our concerns and focus on how we can move forward… Hopefully, at the end of these discussions, we will arrive at a common position.”
The President’s five-point plan involves a review of all literature that has to do with Amerindian land titling, particularly as it relates to ongoing programmes; consensus building on the terms of reference; strengthened adherence to the principle of free, prior and informed consent (FPIC), so that communities are fully involved in the process; the reconciling of the positions of the Government, the Commission and that of Indigenous Peoples’ organisations; a review of the Amerindian Act of 2006, and halting the work of the Commission on matters specifically related to Amerindian lands until all the outstanding concerns are addressed.
Wednesday’s meeting with the APA, however, did not sit well with sections of the Amerindian community. What is of most concern to some leaders is that Executive Director of the APA, Jean La Rose, was on the A Partnership For National Unity (APNU) national top-up list for the 2015 elections. As such, leaders are questioning why the APA, which in the past sought international funding and representation for Amerindians, now seems to be “cozy” with the Government.
Among the concerns of the Indigenous leaders are whether the APA is not as strident as it was before, and whether the APA is seeking to undermine the elected NTC.