– Coalition thwarted in attempt to cut funding for Amerindians
By Rabindra Rooplall
THE APNU+AFC on Tuesday failed in a bid to vote down the capital expenditures under the Amerindian Affairs Ministry in the National Assembly. The coalition was outvoted 32 to 25 with two Members of Parliament (MPs) abstaining from the vote.
The odd move by the Coalition occurred on Tuesday during the consideration of the agency estimates in the Committee of Supply.
Had the coalition been successful in voting down the $845M, funds for development in Amerindian communities in Regions One, Seven, Eight and Nine would have been cut.
The allocation the opposition unsuccessfully voted against is disbursed under the ministry’s Community Development and Empowerment Programme.
The division vote was proposed by coalition parliamentarian, Ganesh Mahipaul.
Missing from the opposition side during the vote was their Chief Whip, Christopher Jones and Opposition Leader, Joseph Harmon.
Amerindian Affairs Minister, Pauline Campbell-Sukhai said the opposition voted against sums to support agriculture, youth development, investment funds, tourism and developmental projects, the reinstatement of the CSOs the coalition sent home when they assumed office in 2015 and transport that will include the procuring of ATVs and pickup trucks for Amerindian villages.
In the celebration of Amerindian Heritage Month, the minister said it is a travesty that the APNU+AFC saw it fit to vote against development and relief for Amerindians countrywide.
“Over the past five years the APNU+AFC Government had stifled the growth and development of Amerindians,” the subject minister said, adding: “They are vindictive because they feel they did not get the majority of votes (electoral) and support from the Amerindians so they are intent on discriminating them.”
Government MP, Dr. Thandika Smith, was also taken aback by the move by the coalition.
“I had firsthand experience of seeing the most malicious and discriminatory act by the APNU+AFC as they voted against over $800M for the development of Amerindian Communities,” she said, contending that the mindset of the coalition seems to be a continuation of what the APNU+AFC had done over the past five years.
“I am really heartbroken to see the persons who took an oath to stand for all Guyanese and especially for the Amerindian community and would vote against the development of their fellow brothers and sisters. You know something that really hurt me and that I am really upset about, is Ms. Dawn Hastings specifically mentioning she will tell the Amerindian community in her language and in their language that she didn’t vote for them. That is what she said, it’s disappointing to see how these people are dishonest, barefaced, shameless, you know, sitting in Parliament and claiming they are representing the Amerindian people,” Dr. Smith conveyed.
The parliamentarian said that the PPP/C government has plans and programmes to benefit every Amerindian community and as Amerindian Heritage Month is being celebrated, government will continue to work hard and make representation countrywide.
Meanwhile, government MP Yvonne Pearson-Fredricks, in her response, noted that the APNU+AFC is vindictive and under the current government, all interest of the Amerindian community will be respected and supported.
“You know it was not really shocking but I wish to point out that representative of Region One, Ronald Cox, he voted against the Amerindian budget; Region Seven, Dawn Hastings sitting there in person also voted against it; Region Nine, Vincent Henry and they all talking about what they did for Amerindians,” Pearson-Fredricks said.
She continued: “Fighting about the name Indigenous and Amerindian and here is the chance that they had to support a budget that will bring betterment for our villages and our communities throughout the country and what happened? They have failed; like APNU+AFC failed in the last term of office they have failed here this afternoon in Parliament to truly represent the Amerindian people. But we don’t expect better and we want the public to know, we want particularly the Amerindian peoples to know what is happening in Parliament. However, we will continue to stand up and bring true representation to the table so that our people can move forward.”
Further, Minister of Local Government and Regional Development, Nigel Dharamlall, expressed outrage, noting that the Coalition has been deliberate in its attempt at pursuing a course to delegitimise and deconstruct Amerindian welfare and capital support.
Noting that this was also done in 2012 by the PNC/R, Minister Dharamlall said “what is even more worrying is the fact that Amerindian MPs Dawn Hastings of Upper Mazaruni; Juretha Fernandes of Bartica; Vincent Henry of Rupununi and Ronald Cox of Mabaruma, all voted against the 2020 Capital Budget of the Ministry of Amerindian Affairs.”
Government MP and Region Nine representative, Allister Charlie, said the action by the Coalition in the House on Tuesday was callous and vindictive.
“We have seen the attitude of the coalition parties on the campaign trail, being very nice with the Amerindians, being cordial with the Amerindians but they just wanted their votes and now in Parliament today (Tuesday) they voted against the most important budget — Guyana first peoples,” he said.
PPP/C Parliamentary Secretary, Sarah Brown, said the Coalition’s negative vote was Déjà vu when one looked back at what they did six years ago.
“I would’ve witnessed and for me is something that I did not expect umm, given that I would’ve seen some new faces and I thought that it would have brought with them more representation for people and it was a big disappointment and I hope that this trend, will not continue and that they can be able to see that we need to be able to support projects that will bring relief to our people, especially when, as a nation, we are fighting the COVID-19 pandemic and also the effects and the hinterland… we need, desperately need the assistance for farmers, for agriculture, we need our young people to be back on board to have them in employed as CSOs and communities are starving for resources,” she said.
Some measures covered in Budget 2020 that will support Amerindian development include the removal of VAT on hinterland travel, the 25,000 solar units for hinterland, the $15,000 cash grant for school children, the new ferry for the North West District, the $25,000 for Old Age Pension, the $1.5B for hinterland urban and rural roads and the $25,000 per household for COVID-19 relief.