By: Devina Samaroo
Nearly four years have elapsed since Community Development Councils (CDC) across the country have had their elections, and sheer chaos is reigning in those communities where there is a desperate yearning for the
removal of dictatorial leaders.
Region One (Barima-Waini) Regional Chairman Brentnol Ashley during an interview with Guyana Times disclosed that there are tremendous administrative and community problems occurring in the CDCs within his district, owing to the fact that residents are beyond aggrieved over the protracted suspension of elections.
“Because of no elections, there is a decay in the council itself. The leadership is done in a dictatorial manner where only one person is making the decisions for the community, and it is chaos,” Ashley related.
CDC elections were supposed to be held last year along with the National Toshaos Elections; however government took a decision to suspend the elections until further notice.
Ministerial Adviser on Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs Mervyn William had explained to this newspaper that the ministry was only mandated to supervise elections for Amerindian Villages (meaning those villages with Amerindian Land Titles).
During the interview, he had sympathised with the fact that the CDC-run villages needed elections, but he made it clear that the responsibility was not with the Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs Ministry: “We inherited an operation that was a bit snub … The previous Administration created CDCs, but there is no statutory body that provides for CDC. It is not provided for by law… the Ministry only supervises Amerindian Villages. I guess the AREOs were accustomed to running these elections in this manner, but the Ministry is not responsible for elections in CDCs,” he had stated.
Williams added that the Communities Ministry, headed by Ronald Bulkan, is likely to oversee the elections in the CDCs.
However, former Advisor to the Amerindian Affairs Minister Yvonne Pearson had disregarded the above justification.
In an invited comment, Pearson previously pointed out that the Amerindian Act 2006 shows that there was a clear distinction between an Amerindian Village and an Amerindian Community, and that the Ministry in charge has responsibility for both.
According to the Act, an Amerindian Village means “a group of Amerindians occupying or using Village lands; “Village lands” means lands owned communally by a Village under title granted to a Village Council to hold for the benefit of the Village”, whereas an Amerindian Community is “a group of Amerindians organised as a traditional community with a common culture and occupying or using the State lands which they have traditionally occupied or used”.
Pearson argued therefore that both Community Councils and Village Councils fall under the responsibility of the Ministry.
Since the suspension of the elections last year, government is yet to announce a way forward with the Regional Chairman contending that the longer it takes for a decision to be made, the more chaotic the situation will become.
Ashley came down to Georgetown earlier this week to visit the respective ministries with the intention of discussing the issues but his journey turned out to be in vain.
According to Ashley, when he arrived at both the Communities and Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs Ministry, he was informed that there were no available persons to meet with him on the matter.
However, the Regional Chairman said he finds it odd that while the Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs Ministry is claiming to have no control over the CDCs and their elections, they are still providing resources to the communities to carry out its functions: “How effective is it that you are still supporting and giving resources yet you find it difficult, you are saying it is unconstitutional for the Ministry of Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs to carry out elections in these communities. I don’t understand what is the concept that is trying to be displayed here,” Ashley expressed in utter bewilderment. Moreover, he pointed out that because one person alone is in charge of the communities, resources are often abused and used for personal interest instead of for the benefit of the people.
“Because it is one person, the chairperson, when assets are given, it becomes as though the asset belongs to that individual and the community does not benefit from it.
The process of accountability, the financial resources, are being given and the communities are not benefitting and they are not accounting to the community for their actions,” he explained.
He highlighted that in many cases, the chairperson is also the secretary and the treasurer, therefore that individual is free to do as they please with the resources that have been allocated for the community. Additionally, the Regional Chairman said there are a number of land problems in the CDCs where the Chairperson would allegedly authorise the granting of lands to affiliates or on the basis of bribery.
“Sometimes there is a collaborative effort between the one man that is controlling the community and sometimes the officer responsible for carrying out the function of the Lands and Surveys Commission,” Ashely alleged.
In this regard, the Regional Chairman is pleading with the relevant authorities to address the matter with urgency so that elections can soon be held and a constituted body installed, so that democracy can prevail in the CDCs.