Former President Dr Bharrat Jagdeo has chided President David Granger and his Government ministers over their lacklustre approach towards Guyana’s first people and the Heritage Month celebrations currently underway.
Speaking at his Church Street Office, the Opposition Leader drew specific reference to the President and his minister’s approach and treatment of this grouping of Guyanese. He cited the hosting of the National Toshaos Conference (NTC) as an example.
President Granger was a no show on the opening night of the Heritage Month activities, with subject minister Sidney Allicock simply declaring that the Head of State was “busy.”
Speaking with members of the local media corps during a press engagement, Jagdeo said, “We hope that we are not going to be subjected to platitudes again from Government of Guyana about how much they care for Amerindian people in speeches this month, when the practice in the past two years is one that could lead to the dispossession of Amerindians of their lands and a loss of welfare in their communities.”
Jagdeo was adamant the PPP/C and the Amerindian peoples were not looking to hear commonplace jargon and rhetoric from the administration about their love affair with peoples of the hinterland.
According to Jagdeo, the current administration “has a lot of ministers who do very little during the day… Look at the callous disregard they had for the Amerindian People; the Minister said they can only meet with the Amerindian from 6 to 8pm when the Toshaos conference was going on.”
He quipped that Public Security Minister Khemraj Ramjattan was too busing hunting criminals during the day.
The former president recalled that during his tenure as Head of State, he attended the NTC and sat for two full days during the course of those meetings, in addition to having the ministers present “working with people, listening to their concerns.”
He juxtaposed his administration’s approach to that of the coalition APNU/AFC (A Partnership for National Unity, Alliance for Change) Administration.
“In this case, we had a speech from the President right at the beginning. (He was) supposed to go the last day, (but) didn’t even show up. It is total disregard for people; and then you question why they are concerned.”
Speaking to the recently concluded NTC, Jagdeo surmised that many left the capital city “without being any clearer as to the Government’s position, or in fact leaving with more trepidation about the Government’s position on these issues.”
He drew reference to the Commission of Inquiry set up by President Granger to look into land ownership, “and the position taken by Government in this regard.”
Jagdeo observed, too, that despite the Amerindian land component of the CoI being put on pause, “the damage is already done, because the Government unilaterally put in place the terms of reference without consultations.”
He posited that Government has also publicly endorsed some of the “more extreme positions that could become a wedge between Amerindians of Guyana and other races, particularly Afro-Guyanese; and we must fight this.”
The Opposition Leader also surmised that with the CoI proceeding as it is, “it is raising more worry in the minds of the people as to where it will end, and how much more divisive it will be, not just between Afro- Guyanese and Amerindian, but Afro Guyanese and Indo-Guyanese now.”
He reminded, too, that the PPP would adamantly oppose any attempts to take away any benefits afforded to Amerindians through proposed amendments to the Amerindian Act.
“We have seen Eric Phillips before the CoI saying that the Amerindian Act of 2006 was an act of reparation.”
Jagdeo reminded that the Amerindian Act of 2006 did not give any lands to that section of the Guyanese population—a notion being peddled by Phillips—but rather outlined a process by which Amerindians can access land.
He recalled, too, the now infamous statements by Minister Keith Scott, wherein he called Amerindians avaricious (greedy), and had said too that subsurface rights had been afforded to Amerindians as a result of the act; and as a result, they should not benefit from sub-surface rights.
“Any attempts to take away sub-surface rights from indigenous people will again be opposed,” according to the opposition leader.
He was critical too of Government’s approach to the use of money earned under the Low Carbon Development Strategy (LCDS) and Guyana’s pact with the Kingdom of Norway, which led to sums being set aside for the land titling programme for Amerindians.
“A significant part was set aside for the titling activities; that has practically stalled.” He reminded too that monies had been placed in an Amerindian Development Fund but Government has since been cherry picking with its use of funds that had already been set aside.
Jagdeo is adamant the money is there, and that Government must, instead of dragging its feet, accelerate the process.