…tells predecessor “withdraw motion, retire from politics”
Vice President and Minister of Indigenous Peoples Affairs, Sydney Allicock, yesterday (Monday) launched a vitriolic attack on the National Toshaos Council (NTC) leaders over public complaints it would have made in opposition to the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (CoI) into Amerindian Land titling issues and those related to freed African slaves.
He was at the time dismissing a parliamentary motion led by the opposition Peoples Progressive Party Civic (PPP/C) that came up for debate in the ‘Private Members’ sitting of the National Assembly.
Minutes after acknowledging the presence of NTC Chair Joel Fredericks and his Deputy Toshaos Lennox Shuman, the Minister with responsibility for indigenous people’s affairs chided the two over their public criticism of the CoI.
The two leading members of the NTC—elected representatives of the various tribes of indigenous population—were present for the debate, seated in the public gallery completely decked out in traditional chieftain head-dresses.
Dismissing the motion piloted in the National Assembly by the PPP/C former Minister of Amerindian Affairs, Pauline Sukhai, the current substantive Minister opened his presentation to the debate by castigating the two Toshaos and their roles in the public debate on a ‘non-existent issue.’
During his opening remarks, Vice President Allicock told the House that four days before the debate, “(the) two leading members of the National Toshoas Council), on a frolic of their own saw and sought to debate the same none existent situation while repeating the same and terrible arguments as the PPP party.”
Allicock’s assertion was immediately—though unsuccessfully—challenged by PPP/C front bencher, Priya Manickchand, who objected, leading to the Minister firing back taking a swipe at her party in opposition and said “this motion helps to cement their place in their position beyond 2020.”
’30 pieces of silver’
The Minister, minutes later again, sought to rebuke NTC Vice Chair, Toshaos Shuman, when he rebutted the PPP/Cs arguments in favour of the existing Amerindian Act of 2006.
Sukhai in her presentation argued that the 2006 Law adequately addresses Amerindian land titling and other rights issues.
Minister Allicock responded by telling the House that the National Toshaos Council was stoutly represented at several forum voicing concerns over the inefficiencies of the 2006 Act.
Vice President Allicock observed however that, the Vice Chairman, Toshaos Shuman recently broke ranks with the NTC and called for the halting of the land titling project.
He described the ‘about face of no mean order” on the part of Toshaos Shuman, as reminiscent of the biblical story on the ’30 pieces of silver.’
“Politics being as dynamic as it is, the said gentleman is on record a few days ago, now on an about-face of no mean order.”
The debate was off to a rocky start from the inception forcing the PPP Members of Parliament, led by Chief Whip Gail Teixeira, hurriedly convening meetings ahead of the scheduled time—eventually coming to a compromise.
Already been degutted by the Speaker of the National Assembly, Dr Barton Scotland—according to Sukhai—Government used its majority in the House to enforce the time restraints imposed and insisted the sitting of the National Assembly be closed off at 10:00pm, instead of completing the debate and taking a vote before bringing the session to a close.
Former Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Anil Nandlall, had used the opportunity of a Parliamentary break to meet with media operatives ahead of the debate, to lament the hard-line stance being taken by Government and the Speaker.
He insisted the machinations were an attempt on the part of the Speaker and Government to stymie ‘robust debate’ in the highest decision making body on matters of national importance.
“This is a matter of paramount importance,” he said, lamenting the refusal to extend the sitting beyond the 22:00hrs.
Frantic meetings during the break eventually led to the House resuming from its short break at about 21:00hrs, with an agreement between the two whips to have the two opening speakers to the debate present their arguments after which the debate would resume next month on June 16.
According to the Terms of the CoI being objected to, the Commissioners will “examine and make recommendations to resolve all issues and uncertainties surrounding the claims of Amerindian land titling, the individual, joint or communal ownership of lands acquired by freed Africans and on any matters relating to land titling in Guyana.”
The NTC has also staunchly objected to the two issues being lumped together in one motion.
In the original motion submitted by the former Amerindian Affairs Minister, she argues, “the expansive mandate of the Commission could undermine the legitimacy of Amerindian land rights and lead to the dispossession of Amerindian land titles and future land titling.”
This conclusion is being fuelled by public statements emanating from several high-ranking government officials regarding Amerindian lands, according to Sukhai.
Minister Allicock sought to make it clear however, that this argument on the part of the opposition and the NTC was in fact a falsehood as there isn’t even a veiled suggestion of the dispossession of Amerindian lands on the part of government.
Calling for the withdrawal of the motion, Minister Alicock said the PPP/C front bencher and former Minister of Amerindian Affairs should in fact bequeath herself into political retirement.
The commission at the source of the debate was established by Head of State President David Granger earlier this year and is chaired by Reverend George Chuck-a-Sang. Other commissioners are: David James, Carol Khan-James, Professor Rudolph James, Lennox Caleb, Berlinda Persaud and Paulette Henry.
President Granger at the time of swearing in the commissioners had given its establishment as a means of settling existing controversies originating from disagreement over ownership of land so as to satisfy all of the citizens of this country, “that we need not fight each other for land; that we will investigate their claims and we will respond to their just demands.”
The Commission has since been met with staunch opposition particularly by the political opposition and the National Toshaos Council.