The National Toshaos Council (NTC)—a constitutional body of elected representative for the more than 20,000 Amerindians in Guyana–is up in arms over the appointment of a Commission of Inquiry (CoI) to look into outstanding issues, related to lands belonging to Amerindians and freed African slaves but government insists it is within the President’s prerogative to address land matters, in a way he chooses.
A defiant State Minister, Joseph Harmon, told members of the media that when it comes to land and land related matters, “the authority for the issue (ance) of any land title is the president or any person so authorized by the president to issue titles.”
He did concede that the public pronouncement by the NTC, “is a matter of concern because we believe that all citizens of this country have a right to have their issues addressed at whatever level it needs to be addressed.”
Speaking to the rationale behind the objected to CoI, Harmon told media operatives that Head of State Granger, having listened to the complaints of the citizenry across the country during outreaches, opted for that course of action.
Minister Harmon was adamant the two matters to be dealt with by the CoI, namely the lands related to freed, African slaves and that of Amerindians will not be lumped together. “I believe we need to have some more engagement with the parties so that they understand this more carefully.”
Harmon was unable to say whether the Ministry of Indigenous Peoples Affairs, did consult formally with the NTC on the appointment of the Commission, or the drafting of its Terms of Reference (ToRs).
According to the Minister of State, the Ministry has been engaging with Toshaos and community leaders across the country—an activity led by Minister of Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs, Vice President, Sidney Allicock.
He pointed too, to a recent Toshoas confab held in the Rupununi where he said, Vice President Allicock, “explained this in detail, in very clear detail what was being done, that in this COI is being provided an opportunity to deal with issues in relation to Amerindian land titles, ancestral lands and any other land issues.”
The Minister of State is adamant, where land issues have been settled these will not be included in the COI and the scope of its work.
He pointed to areas “where you have conflict,” saying “there is no absence of conflict in the application for Amerindian Land titles.”
He explained that more often than not, applications for extensions of land, would see encroachment into other designated areas which have led in part to the conflicts.
The Minister of State used the occasion to reiterate that “the only person under the laws of Guyana that can make these adjustments is the president of the country and the President has provided an opportunity for us to address these conflicts under the aegis of a Commission of Inquiry appointed by the President himself with wide powers to address these issues so that they can be brought to bear and dealt with.”
Harmon said, land applications by Amerindians where there are no issues will be recommended for titles by Government and will not fall under the ambit of the COI—a message related to the Toshoas during a recent Region Nine retreat. “Where no issues exist then that’s not a problem,” Harmon told reporters.
He was adamant “this government has committed itself to working very closely with all the people of Guyana; this government has committed itself to working with the indigenous peoples and dealing with their aspirations in a very methodical way.”
Speaking to the imminent debate to be had in the National Assembly calling for the revocation of the COI, Harmon said the coalition government will outline what it has been doing for the development of indigenous people.
Harmon sought to provide an assurance there is no attempt or intention on part of the government to dilute any aspect of the Amerindian Act of 2006 or to replace it by any intervention.
The NTC Executives met with members of the media and complained bitterly over the appointment of the COI without being involved in the drafting of the Terms of Reference.
The Ministry of Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs subsequently said it notes with consternation, the lamentations of the NTC and said further, ‘It is unfortunate that, an insignificant minority of agents of the NTC have allowed themselves to become instruments of partisan political purpose.”
The Ministry has since further called on NTC Chairman, Joel Fredericks to substantiate claims that the Government is: “…violating the Amerindian Act and the “…United Nations’ Conventions that speak to the treatment of indigenous peoples” through the establishment of the COI on lands.
The Ministry has also taken umbrage to the NTC’s Vice Chairman, Lennox Shuman saying he “owes the Nation an unqualified apology for his veiled attempt to himself incite racial tensions on a national scale using the COI as his chosen tool.”
The Ministry said it rejects out of hand these outrageous and grossly misleading utterances by the two most senior members of the NTC.
In its critique of the NTC Vice Chairman, the Ministry said, “this type of vulgar, self-serving, political and narrow minded posturing by persons who were elected to serve the indigenous peoples of Guyana speaks to a departure from the mandate given them by those who reposed trust and confidence in them as leaders… These two gentlemen must now come clean and choose between service to the indigenous peoples of Guyana and their personal political egos.”