By Kurt Campbell
[www.inewsguyana.com] – The Government of Guyana in collaboration with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) have signed a US$10.7 million Amerindian Land Titling Contract, which in effect was the high point of the opening of the 7th annual National Toshaos Council Meeting at the Guyana International Conference Centre on Monday October 21.
This project is being facilitated under the Guyana/Norway agreement where the Norwegian Government has agreed to pay Guyana up to US$250 million by 2015 for keeping its deforestation below an agreed reference level, as well as avoiding increased forest degradation.
The money will aid in advancing Government’s Land Titling Project which has already seen 97 Amerindian villages receiving titles and 77 being demarcated. Using this US$10.7 Million there will be the issuing of absolute grants to 13 villages and 33 village demarcations over the next three years.
Delivering the feature address at the opening of the conference, President Donald Ramotar underscored the importance of land titling and demarcation to sustaining development, an area in which there has been considerable progress he told the more than 200 Toshaos and village leaders present.
The Head of State wasted no time in highlighting what he believes are intimidations to progress in Amerindian communities by the Opposition through its reduction of funds geared towards Amerindian development in the 2012 and 2013 National Budget.
He said it is the Government’s philosophical belief that people are most important to economic development.
“The economy must serve the people and not people serving the economy” he said, adding that “that’s why people have always been at the center of all out policies.”
He told those present that new project proposals are being looked at and prioritized to continue the growth in the interior.Meanwhile, Amerindian Affairs Minister Pauline Sukhai spoke of the Government’s satisfaction with the growth and expansion of Amerindian Communities ranging from better education and health to transportation and agricultural initiatives among others.
She noted on the other hand however, Government’s dissatisfaction with the many audits carried out in those communities that have exposed complicated conflicts, poor relationship among village leaders and politically motivated destruction of villages.
The Minister sternly called for an improvement in accountability and a reduction of instances of diverting along with the strengthening of the administrative systems and the use of village assets.
“While the access the village funs have improved, you must remain responsible.”
She also called for the putting aside of political allegiances. During what appeared to be an attempt to ‘setting the record straight’ the Minister noted that contrary to what is being peddled there are no grave injustices being faced by Amerindians in the area of land titling.
In this regard she pointed to the Amerindian Act and the Land Titling and Demarcation Legislation that the National Assembly has instituted.
The annual National Toshaos Council Meeting is where democratically elected village leaders come together to engage the Government, raise their concerns and collectively discuss a national approach in coordinating strategies for their development.
This year’s meeting is being held under the theme: “Culture of Good Governance for Sustained Village Economies.”
In this regard, National Toshaos Council Chairperson Derrick John expressed the view that the theme is fitting since good governance is a catalyst for development but reminded of the challenges that accompanies same.
He identified as challenges also to Amerindians: the adaptation to climate change, the creation of jobs for youths and the reduction of poverty in communities.
He urged those present to make full use of the forum and challenge them to create a legacy as leaders that will be remembered and for others to follow. “We are great people, we have to live up to that legacy, we are the first people and we need to lead like the first” he said.
Also in attendance at today’s event was Prime Minister Samuel Hinds, Opposition Leader David Granger, Several Government Ministers, Members of the Diplomatic Corps and Police Commissioner Leroy Brumell among others.