April 12, 2012
Mrs. Campbell-Sukhai: Thank you Mr. Speaker.
I am very pleased to signal to this House the endorsement of the estimates and the Budget for 2012. I want to extend compliments, and endorse all the compliments that have already been bestowed, on Hon. Minister Ashni Singh and his team. The state of affairs of indigenous people in Guyana is one which we have seen advancing each year. If one had the chance to engage in discussion or dialogue, or even read some of the issues that the United Nations Forum on Indigenous People had to deal with, the indigenous people in Guyana would feel very proud of our advancement. This is not to say that the development of indigenous affairs or issues with respect to the development of Amerindians in this country is perfect. I believe every term that our Government, the People’s Progressive Party/Civic Government, has won and has been in office has indicated this to the nation. In fact, our manifesto always alludes to the fact that we have much more to do towards the advancement of Amerindian development in Guyana. In that manifesto we will even continue to point out the areas of focus which we would wish to deal with in each term. And again, so it was in the elections of 2011. Our manifesto carried a tall list of issues which we feel as a Party, and as the Government in office, we need to address. So in setting that pace, let us not forget or let that not cloud our minds, that over the last two decades our Government, the People Progressive Party/Civic Government, has been able to make a very significant turn around and shed some of the marginalisation and plight bestowed on us since the days of colonisation, and even the dark days when Guyana was undemocratic. In fact, we must point out that, we as a country, as a nation, have been preserving our fledgling democracy for the last two decades. It is for this period that I want to establish that a significant level of attention, a significant level of achievement, a significant level of development, has occurred. Therefore, while we do not pat our backs, or we do not beat our drums, we would wish not to have our minds clouded that nothing was done.
Yesterday the Hon. Sydney Allicock made his presentation. I believe that my impression of the Hon. Member prior to becoming a Member of Parliament was that he had a very stable level of thinking or he was independent in terms of thinking. Yesterday he raised a number of issues which I believe needs to be addressed. In fact, the Hon. Member made a call for the amendment of the Amerindian Act. I wish to say that the Amerindian Act of 2006 has been noted for the recognition of Amerindian land rights through full and absolute collective title, constitutionally guaranteed against any taking by the state as well as for giving statutory recognition to the intricate cultural and spiritual relationship of Amerindians with land. If this law or the part that dealt with titling of lands to Amerindians was so flawed how can we then explain the responsiveness of the members of the villages and their and leaders, in seeking to submit their requests for titling? If this legislation was so flawed why would 41 communities submit independently, after their own discussion, for extensions? I believe that in the past the Hon. Member would have understood the process, but suddenly he is denying, living in denial, that the Act offers a very good, an excellent, process for the titling of lands to Amerindians. I believe those who crafted the law, who spent more than three to four years consulting on the ground, the leaders who contributed to the formulation of this modern piece of legislation, would have been staring at each other in awe, if they were together, thinking about their work how their own is now denying that they are capable of formulating and putting into law the type of process which they believe in. I think it is an injustice to those leaders who spent enough time dealing with this.
I also want to raise a few other issues which the Hon. Member dealt with yesterday. He also said that in St. Ignatius they are worried about the land being allocated to outsiders or to others. I wish to say to this Hon. House that that is not the information of the Ministry neither has St. Ignatius, when I scan the list of 41 villages, submitted any application to date for extension. Therefore, while he is a Member of Parliament and probably has a constituency in Region 9, he needs to connect with the people so he would be ably advised as to the village position. And, therefore, his information on St. Ignatius issues with respect to extension to land is what is flawed. He needs to go now and request whether they will in the future be submitting an application. If they were so concerned about the lands being given away then it would only be natural for them to advance an application. Guyana REDD+ Investment Fund (GRIF).
The Hon. Member went on to talk about the issue with respect to the Guyana REDD+ Investment Fund. He stated that he would like to see the accountability and management of that Fund done properly. The Hon. Member’s words, of course, sounded exactly like the release which was put in the press sometime in March, 2010. Maybe he was quoting, or maybe he read the Amerindian People’s Association (APA) letter and the release, the public statement, which was made to the media in March, 2008 and 2010, and also the letter which the APA sent to the Norwegian Agency for Development and Cooperation sometime in March, 2010. We agreed to ask to manage the funds. I wish to say that the last National Toshaos Council meeting held in Georgetown just last year, provided an overall approval for the use of the funds that were committed to assisting Amerindian development, and to fund critical and priority projects which were contained or were part of their community development plans. Of the 170 leaders who attended that Conference 166 of them signed the resolution asking the Governments, which is the Kingdom of Norway and the Government of Guyana, to expedite the disbursement of these funds. What I want to say is that we cannot be shifting on Amerindian development because we are on some side now. We have to be able to leave that behind and put our people first. We have to put our people first. Many of us wave the flag and many of us say that we are very proud that we are the first people, and here it is one of our own is reneging and shifting on our own development.
This brings me to the fact that when the Hon. Member last spoke in the National Assembly, when we were discussing Financial Paper No. 7, he was able to abstain, and I felt very happy. What was he abstaining on? He was abstaining from the votes on the objection and the disapproval of the allocation for hinterland roads. I would therefore wish to recommend to my colleague, friend, and the Hon. Member on that side, that you cannot renege. On hinterland roads you showed clearly that you could stand up, be your independent thinker, and vote for or abstain in support of our people.
I also want to say that drawing from the conclusion of all that he said… [Mrs. Backer: Who is he?] …sorry, all the Hon. Member said, when he spoke about the indigenous people and their lands, I want to say that the Member must exercise great care that he does not send the wrong signal to the public of a disconnect with the Amerindian population and the rest of our nation. In Guyana today there is no need to insight, or any intent to swap out, or swoop up, state lands away from others who have equal and legitimate rights to land in this country. I drew this conclusion as he raised objection to the award of house lots, in the Tabatinga Lethem Housing Scheme, to others whom he referred to as coastlanders. I wish to remind the Hon. Member that Guyana comprises an ethnically diverse population, and no one should insinuate or advocate covertly or openly any form of discrimination against our Guyanese brothers and sisters.
The Government’s struggle for the release of the GRIF funds – and I want to raise this point here - has been marred by both internal and external agitators. Recalling the letter sent the Norwegian Development Agency, I believe the intent was to sabotage the disbursement of funds to Guyana. Funds committed to pursuing a low carbon economy, and from which Amerindians stand to benefit with regards to funding of projects identified by them. This is the extent to which detractors of indigenous development will go to stymie much needed developmental support necessary to make a difference in the economic development, the creation of employment and the increased income for our people. It begs the question: Is the opposition adverse to Amerindians receiving higher levels of development? I ask this question since I also heard from the other side the Hon. Member Marcello making mention of a similar comment. The Hon. Member noted that Amerindian development financing should come from income earned from within and not from handouts from foreign countries. Her position noted that outsiders, coastlanders again, are plundering the wealth that rightfully belongs to the people of the hinterland. I suspect that she was referring to the mostly… [Ms Wade: The Hon. Member.] The Hon Member I suspect was referring to Amerindians whose population is an estimated 90% in the hinterland. Therefore, I wish to say the following fact must be presented: that Amerindian Village Councils have the authority under the Amerindian Act to provide permission to any miner who has lawful permission from Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC) to mine. What currently obtains too in the villages is that the village council average tribute rate ranges from 10% to 15%, coupled with conditions that support community development and provisions of employment and services by the miners operating within their village. It would be wise if the proceeds collected by village councils are invested in projects which will benefit the residents. The Ministry of Amerindian Affairs has to constantly address the complaints by the members of the communities that are engaged in mining, and provide authority and permission for miners to work in their land. They should be frugal and also be able to wisely spend those funds.
I also wish to make the point that the Hon. House must know that GGMC is mandated under the Amerindian Act of 2006 to pay over or transfer 20% of the royalties collected from mining occurring in Amerindian titled areas. Last month the GGMC transferred to the Amerindian Development Fund (ADF) a total of $49,081,382. This being done has again meant another plus, for support, for increasing the benefits from the mining sector which will be supporting village development.
With respect to her call not to use, as she called it, foreign country handouts, to drive Amerindian development, I can only relate the fact of the anxiety of the many village councils and members who are awaiting the disbursement of the GRIF funds. Mr. Speaker, not forgetting that the funds are not handouts but are lawfully earned by Guyana under the stewardship of the People’s Progressive Party/Civic Government, I, therefore, take umbrage that it is being referred to as financial handouts from foreign countries.
While the wait for the release from the GRIF funds has been long, it is most welcoming as the budget mentions that the GRIF funds will provide support to the socio-economic development of Amerindian communities through the implementation of their community development projects. The villages and communities, I am sure, are happy, as to date a total of 166 communities have submitted their community development plans. Out of those the Ministry of Amerindian Affairs has identified priority projects and has already conducted the financial and environmental assessment on the proposals, including examining the organisational and management structures they are proposing.
I must also say that the concept paper and proposal has been published late in the last week of March, 2012, for the comments of stakeholders. Thus, I wish to say the process is already revealing that there is a transparent process involved for projects that will be funded by the GRIF fund.
The Ministry of Amerindian Affairs is looking forward to lending our support in the execution of the wave of investment to the villages in the realisation of their priority projects and enterprises that will serve as the catalyst in advancing the transformation of the Amerindian village economies.
I now want to mention the role of the National Toshaos Council as lending meaningful and complementary support to the village councils and to the work of the Ministry. I mention this to demonstrate the partnership which has unfolded in supporting the growth of the village in the areas of governance, administration and accountability; and to also put to rest the criticism emanating out of the media that the entity is political. I wish to say that they are only implementing the functions that are mandated to them under the law.
With respect to the Presidential Grant Programme Investments, I wish to say that this programme provides significant financial resources which contribute to the increased levels of assets owned by the villages, and also assist in capacity building of village councils and village members to manage small social productive and economic initiatives. The service has improved the economic infrastructure in villages through the implementation and management of many projects. The commitment for the 2010-2011 amounted to $353.6 million going to a total number of communities amounting to 187. These are not handouts and therefore when one examines the level of investments and financial support which the People’s Progressive Party/Civic Government has been making available to the villages I believe it is significant. I would wish to say that we should not deny the level of capacity that is emerging from the villages with respect to the successes in the presidential grant funding. Of course, you would find cases where there might be some failure, but the majority of these projects are successful. The Government of Guyana last year also included 28 additional settlements and satellites who for the first time will be receiving their grants. If one wants to hear what the grants are spent on with respect to the sectors I do not have the time to read the long list of 121 communities which have already uplifted their grants. I wish to say that the grants are utilised in relation to agriculture 43 projects, 30 in transportation services, 32 in village commerce, and 14 in eco-tourism initiatives. Thus far approximately 300 permanent jobs and 250 temporary jobs are expected to be created; some are already in progress and these include shop keepers, boat captains, drivers, guest house attendants and project managers. Over and above all the job opportunities and income is expected to be generated from these projects over the years.
Turning again to another opportunity which allows for the economic advancement of communities, I wish to draw to your attention the successful execution by the Santa Rosa Village Council of the Moruca Credit Scheme and Development Trust.
Earlier, they had some hiccups in relations to the fact that they had issues with collections, but they have corrected that. They have just appointed a new board of trustees and the revision of the Scheme’s policies were completed. To date they have issued 46 loans to small entrepreneurs, totalling $4,370 000 for the financing of micro and medium commercial enterprises in the sub region.
These investments and support, which are provided to villages, will set the pace for catalysing the transformation of their economic activities from subsistence to a much more expansive one, whereby income and employment are expected to be generated.
Mainstreaming environment into the national development planning also involves, establishing links between poverty and the environment. Climate change issues, abatement and adaptation remain high on the agenda of village councils, which now seeks to extend economic activities beyond subsistence cultivation. At the Ministry level, a good example is manifested in the support to the most vulnerable groups to combat the effects of climate change. Towards this end, 2676 beneficiaries, who were severely affected in the last flash floods of Region 9, were provided with monetary assistance. The total expenditure for this initiative amounted to $54,500, 000 in cash relief and $9,500,000 for the re-tooling of local farmers with equipment, implements, machineries, storage, containers and seeds for replanting after the floods. I speak here only of the Ministry of Amerindian intervention in this disaster, which was experienced, but there was a collaborative effort. The Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Health, Ministry of Public Works, the Regions and the Regional Administrations were all collaborating on it and all provided support, including the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM).
This is a good example of our Government responding to our people in times of disaster and while there were a lot of furore about this, for example, payments made to the victims of the floods during the campaign period. I have had my say in the media, but I believe sometimes when we take for granted Government’s support to the indigenous people, we must stop using it in a way which reflects poorly on our Amerindian brothers and sisters. Over the last three years, the People’s Progressive Party/Civic Government had made almost $110 million in supporting the National Hinterland Secure Livelihood Programme and these projects are implemented...
If there is one investment that the People’s Progressive Party/Civic Government has made over the last three years, which offers prospect for supporting sustainable livelihood options for villagers and Amerindians, it would be the National Hinterland Secure Livelihood Programme, implemented by fifteen villages in the Mabaruma sub-region. In 2011, this programme received a budget of $25 million, which supported the establishment of processing plants and equipment to advance the processing of value-added products. The pilot programme is a model for establishing similar business enterprises in connection with the Government’s Low Carbon Development Strategy. With seven enterprises in agriculture and aquaculture production, 238 direct beneficiaries are already earning from the ventures. Income is likely to increase, as the yield in pineapples, cassava and ginger matures and is marketed.
The National Hinterland Secure Livelihood Programme did not proceed without hiccups. Like any project, plans and implementation strategy had to be re-examined, local farmers had to be continuously exposed to capacity building sessions and one of the enterprise had to be resuscitated, while one had a late start up.
An offshoot of these sustainability efforts has been the revitalisation of the bee keeping project that had been tremendously affected by the increment weather during the past year; as such we had to hire apiary consultants who had to facilitate the building of 62 new hives and the villagers have committed to complete 250 hives. Presently, the bee-keepers had been taught to extract honey from the hives, breeding of the queens, pest management, packaging and bottling of the honey.
In a similar vein, we facilitated the engagement of a cosmetics scientist from the USA for the creation of more marketable value added products from the crab-wood seed. The villagers have been taught to manufacture these projects based on a newly acquired technology. They are refining the production of soap and crab-oil, and also venturing, very soon, into the production of shampoos.
In Arukamai, ginger farming has multiplied and has been expanded to 30 acres. With promising yields, the cassava producers from Yarikita have commenced trial of producing value added products using their newly acquired machinery. The pineapple farmers have started selling their products locally as the yield, or the initial yield, is still sporadic. The crab processing group has produced more than 500 pounds of frozen crabs since its start up, but, for half of the year.
With respect to the hassar rearing project, the pond was completed in August last year and in September of last year, 3000 hassar fingerlings or hassar fries were placed into the ponds. However, as soon as the specialist term came to an end, the management of the project was affected by the poor management of the village council and the association established to take the project forward.
Contrary to reports that there were no hassars to be found in the ponds, our Community Development Office (CDO) and the aboriginal interns from Canada verified on April 3rd, 2012 that there were hassars in the ponds. The specialist has provided advice to the primary stakeholders over and over that hassar is a species of fish which are bottom dwellers and will not surface in any regularity. The media have over milled this story in their attempt to discredit the Ministry of Amerindian Affairs and the Minister, whose pronouncements made to the press was based on the advice of the specialist. Stabroek News indiscriminately attempted to engage a response without due regards to the facts of the matter.
The Tobago village capacity is constantly being supported as they are still adapting following their resettlement and coping with the management of projects remains a challenge for them. The ownership of projects under the National Hinterland Secure Livelihood Programme remains largely with the villages and the village council, including the associations that are involved in this programme.
I do not intend to be irresponsible, what I intend to do is to continue to support and to build the capacity of the leaders and the members of the Tobago Village, to empower them and not to support or to advocate dependency.
Overall, the National Hinterland Secure Livelihood Programme is slowly transforming the village economies in Region 1, with the hiring of additional specialists in the future. We expect that this programme will stand as a model for the other regions in due time.
Let us look at some of the expanding infrastructure taking place in the Hinterland. Whilst the entrepreneurial initiatives in the villages are taking place, the current focus and development of economic infrastructure, such as water, electricity and transportation will obviously be improved and it will better facilitate the competitiveness of products coming from areas within the Hinterland.
In terms of market access, the effects of village entrepreneurship can snowball tremendous poverty alleviation as it foments income generation, thereby providing the impetus for exchange, which is the blood of a progressive economy.
The road construction and rehabilitation in the Hinterland has been a process in development that the People’s Progressive Party/Civic Government has endeavoured to continuously undertake.
The $2 billion Hinterland Road Programme for upgrading the main roads network will see central connections being improved and expanded. Already, at this present time as we are deliberating and debating here in the National Assembly, the time to get from Lethem to Karasabai is now reduced by half the time. Initially, it took three hours or more to get to Karasabai from Lethem, now it takes one and a half hours to get there. In addition to that, the linkage that has been created is the fact that mini-buses are now plying the route and the cost for travel by the residents of Karasabai has been drastically reduced. It cost less than $6000.00 return to Karasabai from Lethem, when in the past or the not so long ago past it cost $60 000.00 hire one-way.
I will also wish to draw to your attention the Moruka Sub-Region Road Construction Programme. Over the year, 80 miles of road was constructed in the Moruka sub-region, 52 miles are in progress currently and maintenance works on some of the roads have already seen 4 miles being addressed. Let us look at the results, Santa Rosa, an Amerindian Village, in less than two years have seen the entry of no less than 60 vehicles of all types and models, ranging from cars to pick-up trucks, lorries, tractors and the luxury SUVs. This improvement in the road network is benefitting all residents, including school children. Alternative modes of travel now exist or are available. Village councils are investing in vehicles, providing transportation services to residents and the entrepreneurial potential have had direct benefits from the expanded road network. Therefore, yesterday when I was listening to the Hon. Member, Mr. Allicock, when he spoke about transportation needs in Lethem for school children, I wish to let the Hon. Member know that with the better roads, better improved roads, I believe that entrepreneurship must begin to take hold; that we must not advocate dependency. I want to demonstrate this by saying, Mocomoco, Tapakuma, Warimure, Kaburi, Wallaba, just to name a few communities, have invested in mini-buses and pick-up trucks so that they will be able to provide the much needed transportation for their residents.
This is what we are aiming for in the villages, sustainability, independence and entrepreneurship of our people, so that the question will not be asked later in the future, why are Amerindians not getting into commerce and business? Likewise yesterday a question was asked in this House, why do Amerindians not have the opportunities to be doctors, lawyers and accountants, etc? The environment created by the People’s Progressive Party/Civic Government is throwing up the opportunities not only in commerce, business and tourism, but also at the educational level.
I want to touch a little bit on the solar electrification of the Hinterland communities, which is executed by the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM). The Ministry of Amerindian Affairs have stood solidly behind OPM Hinterland Electricity Unit (HEU). I listened to an assertion made in this House that there is discrimination in the distribution of the solar panels. I wish to close the case. I wish to say that the programme means that every single household will receive a 65 watts solar unit. Therefore, the village council, who on receipt of the bulk is responsible for the distribution, not only are they responsible for the distribution, but local technicians have been trained so that they will not discriminate in terms of who to install for. With this, I believe we have to cleanse our political minds, because if we do not build trust it very much affects Amerindians development.
Capital expenditure - the capital investment in 2011 amounted to the total of $272 million in support to build material capacity in various villages. From guesthouses transportation to farms equipment implement, this year we will see capital expenditure of $213,600,000 covering similar expenditures, in keeping with the mandate of the Ministry to improve living conditions and open up the possibilities for socio-economic growth of the villages.
Land titling and demarcation – again this is a manifesto promise even before 1992 and we are very proud as a Government to say that we have made such significant strides in this area over the years. Therefore, we will be working persistently with the partner institution, which is responsible for the disbursement of funds, to fund the land titling and demarcation programme, we intend that within the next three years, we will complete titling, demarcation and also continue to address the submissions of extensions. We intend to title 13 villages. We will also be looking at 19 demarcations and 41 village extensions. I must say that the land titling and demarcation project...
Mr. Speaker, least it be said that equal access to education is not available, I wish to say that this is one of the pillars or the main strategy of the People’s Progressive Party/Civic Government, to widen the reach to Hinterland students; new secondary schools in Sandcreek will be completed soon.
I have listened again to the colleagues on the other side or the Hon. Members on the other side who spoke yesterday. They mentioned that there were some issues dealing with the lack of support for students from Region 8, who were being denied or who did not have the opportunity to attend skilled training and technical institutions. I wish to say that this indeed is not so, the education support, which this Government has provided to the Hinterland students and youths, is magnificent and cannot be compared to any opportunities that existed before.
For 2011, Maikwak produced one scholarship student and there are five scholarships awarded to Region 8 to attend technical institutions. In addition to this, there are many other opportunities with respect to indigenous youths applying for scholarships under the PSM (Public Service Ministry) and also applying for entry into the boarding and lodging and free tuition at the Kuru Kuru College, not forgetting the BIT training programme, GNITC and other areas where these scholarships are available.
I will now wish to deal a little bit, very briefly, with issues to do with health, since this was also raised in Dr. George Norton’s presentation. He did not relate, speak or represent Amerindians, so I just briefly want to say that there has been an expansive upgrading of the building’s or health infrastructure across the Hinterland. Likewise, the Government also provides a very highly subsidised referral system for Hinterland residents who have to receive treatment in Georgetown.
Likewise, the Amerindian hostel has accommodated 1281 persons, mostly patients, receiving attention at the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation. Expenses for accommodations, dietary and transportation return, including drugs and the physician, are all paid for by our Government.
Another issue which we have worked on and I believe is significant in the lives of Amerindians is in supporting the Ministry of Home Affairs and Guyana Registration Office (GRO) in ensuring that every Amerindian adult resident, including children, receive their birth certificates.
Today, we can speak of all the changes, but my time is limited. I want to mention one aspect to dealing with the policy and governance, with respect to Amerindian villages. Our Government has continuously made efforts to improve the level of governance in Amerindian communities and to empower Amerindians throughout Guyana with the establishment of village rules. Under the law, villages have to produce their village rules and we have been encouraging villages to produce those rules. So far, there is already four such rules that have already been provided with legal review and will be sent to be gazetted. An additional nine village rules have been submitted for legal review and therefore, again I believe the villages and the village councils are indeed moving apace with respect to the growth and development of their capacities.
Our outreach – a matter was raised yesterday with respect to consultation, involvement and participation of the indigenous people in national programmes, policies and even the construct of this budget. I wish to say that the National Toushoa’s Council meeting is one of the broadest forum at which consultation takes place. Guyana is one of the only countries whereby Indigenous Leaders are allowed to interact with the entire Cabinet, including His Excellency. That is one forum from which we use as a platform to hear from our leaders, what their visions are, what their needs are and how much more can this Government support. In addition to that, we have Ministerial teams outreach, in our outreach we have taken on the task to allow village council members to make their intervention. They are the prime key participants in the meeting. I or anyone else, who is participating in the activities, limit ourselves with respect to our presentation.
I wish to say that Amerindians development poise to take off to achieve greater levels of development, I wish to admit that there is still a long way to go, to proudly say that Amerindians are no longer vulnerable, we have leap frog to greater heights by providing services to all Amerindian villages throughout; strengthening village economies, developing of our human resource, enhancing our infrastructure and investing in our people through a collective effort in improving social welfare, health, education and through respecting and reserving Amerindian heritage and protecting Amerindian peoples’ rights.
As a member of the People’s Progressive Party/Civic Government, I appeal to the Opposition to join forces in ensuring that Amerindian development will continue to be improved and I am confident that working together as one people, one nation and one destiny; I am stealing this from the Hon. Prime Minister, “Lead by His Excellency, President Donald Ramotar, together we will solidly be able to support the furtherance of Amerindian development”. While that is so, it is a very popular slogan which the Hon. Prime Minister uses in his speech and I think it is very relevant, not forgetting that is was the Hon. Member, Minister Benn’s father who coined that slogan. Therefore, again, “One people, One nation, One destiny”.
The Ministry of Amerindian Affairs supports the passage of the 2012 budget and gives its full support to the Ministry of Finance team. [Applause]