I happily join in welcoming the several hundred Amerindian toshaos, councillors and other elected representatives of the Amerindian villages and communities across Guyana — who have travelled from the coastal and hinterland regions and remote villages and communities across Guyana; enduring the long journey by land, water and air travel, to attend and participate in discussions and decision making at the National Toshaos Council Conference 2017.
As I look forward to following up the events and activities of the five days, I recollect and reflect on National Toshaos Conferences under the PPP/C Government, set against the many complaints and concerns that many of our toshaos have publicly and privately expressed after the toshaos’ conferences of the post-May 2015 period.
The establishment of the National Toshaos Council under the PPP/C Government ushered in a new era, wherein no longer was accessibility and dialogue with Amerindian leaders a limiting factor in the Government’s determined efforts to engage our Amerindian people and their leaders on development issues.
Furthermore, no longer were PPP/C Government officials going to them only, but they were coming to Government at the level of the National Toshaos’ Council (NTC) meeting, with the President and his entire Cabinet and Chief Executive Officers interacting with them, guided by a conference theme and an agenda which the toshaos themselves helped to fashion.
Then, President Bharrat Jagdeo and his Cabinet spent several sessions, spread over a number of days, interacting with the elected leaders of the Amerindian villages and communities; listening to them, discussing with them, and addressing their concerns and requests for assistance; and in the process, offering advice and commitment of resources to create opportunities and support for advancing further the development of the villages/communities.
Cde Jagdeo did also invite all the toshaos to use the opportunity to verify that his Government’s promises and commitments arising out of previous NTC meetings were met, or else to question his Cabinet ministers, who were present for the greater part of three days of the meeting, why any commitment was not met.
As many toshaos oftentimes affirmed: they were not aware that Indigenous Peoples in any other part of the world were afforded such opportunities.
This is contrary to what has been happening under the APNU+AFC Government, which has not only been guilty of hijacking the NTC agenda, but which, on one occasion, sought to interfere with the process for electing the executive of the NTC. Most of the toshaos with whom PPP/C comrades have been having discourse on the post-2015 NTC conferences have complained of having to deal with agendas that lacked substance, relevance, depth and meaning. Many saw the five days of the activities as a waste of time; and indeed, frequently compared the NTC conferences of the post-2015 period to those before then.
Noticeable also is the fact that most of the commitments made by the APNU+AFC Government to our Indigenous Leadership have not materialized. Consequently, there appears to be little the Government can discuss, and so they spend most of the time taking evasive action.
True enough, following 23 years of PPP/C Governance, there are still challenges to be further addressed, but proudly I can say to you that the PPP brought significant improvement in the lives of our Indigenous population. In the process, the National Toshaos Conference provided a forum for Government officials and village leaders to meet, discuss, and agree on the way forward for our Indigenous people. The PPP/C commits to continue to work with our Amerindian people, their elected leaders, and all who would genuinely work with us to bring further improvements in the quality of the lives of our Amerindian people.
The PPP/C will continue to support Amerindian development by raising all matters of concern to the Amerindian people and elected leaders with relevant authorities, and in particular in the Parliament.
I urge toshaos to determine and to ensure the agenda of this week-long engagement has your significant input, and that commitments of the Government, including those from prior years, are not just mere promises, but point to a plan of action for translating these promises into reality.
Fmr Local Government Minister