MPs lock horns over management of Indigenous Peoples affairs
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Government MP, Lee Williams
Government MP, Lee Williams

–openly trade ‘barbs’ in defence of respective party’s stewardship while in office

By Tamica Garnett

THAT Opposition Member of Parliament (MP) Richard Sinclair, and pro-government MP, Lee Williams have divergent views when it comes to the hinterland Community Support Officers (CSOs) Programme, and other matters related to the country’s Indigenous Peoples was patently obvious when they addressed the House on Tuesday as the 2020 Budget Debates continued.
Williams, who hails from District Seven (Cuyuni–Mazaruni), did not mince words when he said that the country’s First Peoples were made many promises by the former administration; promises that never materialised.
“Our First Peoples of Guyana were told of many promises in 2015, and sold candy dreams but no delivery. More jobs, improved healthcare, more access to education, improved telecommunication, and hinterland electrification, but instead, they raised their salaries within six months. Was that ‘a good life’ for all Guyanese?” Williams questioned
Responding to remarks made by Sinclair, of District Eight (Potaro-Siparuni) during a preceding address to the House, Williams called on the Opposition to defend their being ousted from office, if they indeed did such an upstanding job as they claim to have done while in office.

“Members on the opposite side claiming they did a lot,” Williams began. “Why is it then you were voted out by more than 15,000 votes? Answer the question! Why were you voted out? They are telling us they want to bring back former president David Granger’s legacy. I want to ask, ‘Which legacy?’

Opposition MP, Richard Sinclair

Mimicking a tactic used by the ‘Coalition’ in the run-up to both the 2015 and 2020 elections, Williams said: “We are here as a change, and we will rebuild this country. One good term deserves another, but on March 2, the people spoke, putting the APNU on the opposition bench.”

Williams also called out the APNU+AFC side of the House for their suspension of the “Because We Care” $10,000 cash grants per school child, and said that the Indigenous Peoples did not benefit from the former president’s brainchild “Five Bs” project.
Williams reminded that not only is the PPP/C government returning the cash grants to parents, but it has also been significantly increased.

“Today, as we present the 2020 Budget, the PPP/C has once again placed education top on the agenda, and Amerindians will not be left behind. Over the past five years, schools encountered a lot of difficulties.” Williams said, adding: “Schoolchildren were given half-cut exercise books to each child. I’m sorry I don’t have the exercise book to show the House, but that is the reality. But the PPP/C, over the next five years, will deliver quality education to all Guyanese.”
He also touched briefly on the discontinuation of the One Laptop Per Family project and replacing it with the One Laptop per Teacher programme, saying that it was a reckless move, while noting that the former government did not do much in the area of expanding electrification in Region Seven.

Williams said that though the development of the Indigenous Peoples is vital to our society, the APNU+AFC stymied village councils by not giving them contracts, and discriminated against the youth by firing almost 2000 of them under the CSO programme in 2015.

Launched in 2014, the CSO programme, which fell under the Youth Entrepreneurship and Apprenticeship Programme (YEAP), targeted some 2,000 youths between the ages of 16-40 in Regions One (Barima-Waini), Seven, Eight and Nine (Upper Takutu-Upper Essequibo).

YEAP was part of the then PPP/C Government’s commitment to youth development and advancement, and investment in the lives of the Indigenous Peoples. The APNU+AFC replaced it with the Hinterland Employment and Youth Service (HEYS) programme.

Last month, Minister of Amerindian Affairs, Pauline Sukhai announced that the PPP/C government will be re-establishing the CSO Programme.

During his speech, however, Sinclair said, that youths, under the CSO programme, were handpicked and improperly trained.
“I was told that 2000 young Amerindians were out of work, and called CSOs. I visited one of those communities where those people were, and can say they were hand-picked, lacked proper training, and were there to teach people’s children,” Sinclair claimed.

Sinclair also called for an increase in employment costs for Region Eight in the education budget to be explained, as well as similar increases in similar line items under the health and public works budgets.
Speaking about developments done under the APNU+AFC in Region Eight, particularly in the capital town of Madhia, Sinclair said that there are better roads to access the town; that the district’s hospital was renovated, and new housing scheme developed.
He also noted that many essential services were brought to the community.
“The hospital has been renovated; there’s a new scheme by the airstrip, and a spanking new building for the law courts,” Sinclair said to supportive banging from his side of the House.
Not quite done with the subject, he said: “Not only that, there are units built for housing for different areas that people of Region Eight will not have to travel to GT to get Birth Certificates, business licences; that speaks to development.”

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