There are surreptitious, sinister and pernicious plans afoot to erode the rights and land entitlements of the Indigenous people of Guyana through the legislative changes being proposed to the Amerindian Act by the coalition A Partnership for National Unity/ Alliance for Change (APNU/AFC) Government.
Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo sounded the alarm on Sunday evening when he met with scores of Toshaos at the Regency Hotel in Georgetown—ahead of Monday’s opening of the annual National Toshaos Council (NTC) at the Arthur Chung Convention Centre.
The former President was at the time heading a People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) delegation that included Executives Donald Ramotar, Clement Rohee, Anil Nandlall, Gail Teixeira and Pauline Sukhai.
Speaking of the impending plans of the Administration, Jagdeo firstly pointed to the fact that the policy directives are no longer in the hands of the substantive Ministry or Minister since Vice President and Minster of Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs, Sidney Allicock is ‘without authority.’
“He is a good man,” said Jagdeo, who added that the only problem is that he is without authority since the decision-makers, are at the Ministry of the Presidency.
The Opposition Leader in spelling out the dangers of the proposals to be discussed by the Amerindian leaders during the course of this week’s NTC, said while the name change of the legislation—from Amerindian Act to Indigenous People Act—on the face of it appears innocent, it has to be seen in the context of recent assertions of the Administration.
The Opposition Leader was adamant that changes to the Amerindian Act to Indigenous peoples could inherently cause other groups of persons to be deemed indigenous. Jagdeo was adamant that the purpose of the Amerindian Act is to cater for the needs of the Amerindian People and said the PPP/C will never at the national level support any changes that will erode the rights afforded to the Indigenous people.
Jagdeo urged the Toshaos to enquire diligently about the benefits to be accrued by any proposed changes and if however, the answer is in the negative, then it is the duty of the Indigenous people to fight against the changes.
“We are worried because we see a pattern,” Jagdeo pointed out, and recalled that during the first week in office by the APNU/AFC administration, close to 2000 Community Support Officers—primarily Amerindians scattered across the country—had their services terminated.
According to Jagdeo this act, in addition to placing 2000 persons on the breadline, immediately removed in excess of G$700 million which were being pumped directly into the village economies. He reminded too of the arrangement between the Kingdom of Norway and the Government of Guyana under the Low Carbon Development Strategy (LCDS).
That programme saw Guyana earning some US$250 million of which US$30 million had been set aside to be directly invested in Amerindian communities but this has been neglected by the current Administration.
He said Government is instead looking to ‘coastalise’ the LCDS to shift the resources accrued from hinterland communities to instead be spent in urban Guyana.
Speaking directly of the interventions by the PPP/C Administration in protecting the rights of all Guyanese, Jagdeo was adamant that there is no super-race and this is protected under the Constitution of Guyana which guarantees equal rights to all.
He committed the PPP to supporting any measures that would see an increase in the resources for the development of the nation’s First Peoples even as he vowed to vigorously oppose the ‘sinister surreptitious’ plans afoot.