OPINION: Voting against funds for Amerindian development another display of APNU/AFC’s recklessness

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The following is an opinion piece by Dr Leslie Ramsammy

The present Amerindian leaders sitting as MPs and in other influential positions who support APNU+AFC have an obligation to the Amerindian people. They must reject the latest insult from APNU+AFC. They must demand an unconditional apology from the leaders of APNU+AFC for voting against the Amerindian Capital Budget of $845M.

Not for the first time, and I suspect not for the last time, APNU+AFC (the PNC in disguise) betrayed the Amerindians. On Monday, September 22, even as Guyana continues observing and celebrating Amerindian Heritage Month, 29 APNU+AFC MPs mindlessly voted against $845M capital budget for the Amerindian people. Two MPs from that party, Khemraj Ramjattan and David Patterson, knew that voting against the budget for the Amerindian people was spiteful, but they did not have the guts to go against that party. Instead, Ramjattan and Patterson shamelessly and spinelessly abstained from voting. It was another display of recklessness, another display of sheer hypocrisy, another display of vindictiveness.

The Amerindian people, in response to five years of utter neglect, solidly voted against APNU+AFC, and solidly voted for the PPP. Demonstrating how spiteful they could be, but also demonstrating how stupid they can be, APNU+AFC voted against the Amerindian budget.

They voted against a $68M Amerindian youth empowerment programme, $285M grants to Amerindian communities, $42M economic projects, $7M Women’s Group project, a $6M sewing machine project, a $121M tractor and agricultural equipment project, a $26M ICT/Internet hub project, a $4.4M chainsaw project, a $5M village infrastructure project, a $6M generator, a $13M eco-tourism project, a $7M musical instrument project, a $6M project for radio sets, a $15M solar panel project, a $25M farm road project, a $9M irrigation and rainwater harvesting project, an $18M sports project, a $45M bridge/stelling project, $12M for a village office, $60M for minibuses, pick-ups and ATVs, $10M for boats and engines, a conference center for $10M.

Dawn Hastings, an Amerindian and a senior PNC MP who served as a senior minister in the just outgoing administration, led the assault against her people. It was sad and disappointing, but it was also a travesty and an unforgivable attack against a gentle people. This was injustice at its abyss.

How could any political party which wants to be the Government of the people again vote against the interest of the very people they would one day need to vote for that party? But this is not the first time APNU+AFC has betrayed the Amerindian people. One of their first acts in Government in 2015 was to terminate the contract for 2,000 young Amerindian CSOs, robbing the Amerindian community of more than $100M of revenues flowing directly into their village economies. APNU+AFC virtually terminated the Amerindian Land Titling programme in 2015 and diverted more than $US10M ($G2B) away from the titling project.

It was not the first time either that APNU+AFC voted in Parliament against Amerindian budgets. In 2012, APNU+AFC voted against the LCDS provisions for Amerindians, voting against the Amerindian Development Funds, electricity in homes, land titling, laptops for families, agricultural equipment, and upgrading of airstrips in Amerindian communities. In 2012, they actually succeeded in blocking the budget for Amerindians because they had a one-seat majority. They also did the same thing in 2014. This time, in 2020, they could not block the budget because their 29 votes in Parliament were not enough to stop the Government with 33 votes, plus one vote from the LJP’s Lennox Shuman.

Were these things the only things for which APNU+AFC must apologise to Amerindians for, these would already be too much. But this is just a short list of the many times APNU+AFC/PNC have insulted and been vindictive to Amerindians. It seems that APNU+AFC always use Amerindian Heritage Month to hurl more insults on Amerindians. Last year, during the 2019 Amerindian Heritage Month opening ceremony, Sydney Alicock accused Amerindians of being unreasonable for demanding land titling. He admonished his sisters and brothers for demanding land titling when they were not able to use what they already had. It was disgraceful then, and it is disgraceful now.

But Amerindians have not forgotten that, in October 2017, the same Allicock admonished them during the opening of the National Toshaos’ Conference for not supporting David Granger’s Land Commission, which essentially terminated the Amerindian Land Titling exercise and sought to recognize the Ancestral Land Movement being promoted by ACDA and others.

Allicock, George Norton, Dawn Hasting, Garrido-Lowe and others since 2015 supported the establishment of NDCs in Amerindian communities, encroaching onto Amerindian Land Rights, ignoring the FPIC (Free, Prior Informed Consent) protocol established in the Amerindian Act 2006.

When Keith Scott angrily denounced Amerindians as “greedy”, these same Amerindian leaders supported Scott, and Granger and his charlatans never uttered a word of condemnation.

The list is long, APNU+AFC/PNC has a lifelong propensity towards betraying the Amerindian people. Yet they are barefaced enough to soon enter these same Amerindian communities and beg them for their votes. Next year will be Local Government Elections. APNU+AFC, with Allicock, Vincent Henry, Garrido-Lowe, George Norton, Dawn Hastings-Williams and others will beg Amerindians to vote for them. They will do so again in the 2025 elections. Not a word will be said in apology.

The present Amerindian leaders in APNU+AFC have an obligation to reject this latest insult of the Amerindian people, but that will not happen. The Amerindian people will listen quietly, their dignity and integrity fully intact, as they reject APNU+AFC outright.