PRESIDENT, Dr Irfaan Ali insisted that Guyana’s indigenous population will always “have equity in the country.” He emphasised that his government will always listen to their needs and ensure that they are supported as they develop their communities and transform their lives.
The President declared this on Monday as he delivered remarks during the opening ceremony of the National Toshaos Council conference (NTC) at the Arthur Chung Conference Centre, Liliendaal.
According to the President, the objective of the conference from its very inception has always been about listening to the Amerindian people to understand their perspectives, generate ideas, and come together with a common plan and platform.
“We are here not to tell you what to do, but to listen to you; to listen to your ideas; to listen to your needs; to listen to your perspectives and to craft together a plan of action to improve the life of every single Amerindian community in this country,” the President said.
He continued: “Let me be very clear, your rights must and will always be respected by this government. Your rights will always be protected by this government, your rights will always advance under this government.”
According to the President, Amerindians will always have equity in Guyana.
“You have equity in this country. We fought hard so that you can have equity, so that you can be part of the process of development,” the President said.
The President reiterated that Amerindians are no different from the rest of the population and must be treated equally.
“Those are the fundamental principles that we support. We will preserve what is rightfully yours. That is what this government has done from day one — work to preserve everything that can give you a better life and better communities. Your future must be no different from the future of anyone else in this country,” the President said.
Required by the Amerindian Act to be held annually, the NTC brings together Amerindian leaders from over 212 hinterland communities. It is a platform for them to engage government officials and other stakeholders on issues about the development of their communities.
This year, the five-day conference is being held under the theme, “Good governance and fast tracking Amerindian development.”
Aside from the President, the conference will also be attended by the entire government Cabinet, which will hold individual meetings with the Toshaos to discuss concerns in each respective area.
The President made it clear that making the entire Cabinet available to the Toshao is not the government taking over the agenda of the conference, but as a means of ensuring good governance and ensuring that the government is working along with the Toshaos to achieve development.
“Let me be clear, we have no intention of taking over any agenda. Our only interest is to advance your agenda,” the President clarified.
“We are answerable to you. You can take them [government ministers] to task, ask them questions in the presence of everyone. That is an open approach to governance and accountability…. The whole government is making itself available to you; some say the government is taking over the agenda. If the government was absent today, the headline would say the government has no concerns for the Toshaos.”
Further, the President said his government is committed to working with the Amerindian communities by visiting and listening to what has to be told by each village.
“The Cabinet has managed to visit 97 percent of Amerindian communities. If we did not have that one year with so many travel restrictions, we would’ve visited every single community and visited more than once,” the President noted.
The President also spoke on some areas where the government has supported the development of Amerindian communities and how funds from Guyana’s oil-and-gas sector would be funnelled down to indigenous communities through the development of areas such as agriculture and infrastructure.
The President was conscious of highlighting that Amerindian villages development would take place sustainably to ensure preservation of the Amerindian culture and identity. However, the President underscored that preserving the Amerindian culture does not mean that transformation must be static.
“It cannot be static. The preservation of culture and identity does not mean at the expense of the best quality of life that you can have. It requires resources and for us to understand the delicate balance needed to create a sustainable environment,” the President said.
He further noted that “what you can be assured of is a government that will work with you every single day to preserve the cultural identity and the environment in which you live. Our plan is a very simple plan. It’s a plan that seeks to involve you in determining what is best for you and charting a course with your involvement that is best and would deliver the best quality of life for you.”