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…Williams says tremendous consultations were done under coalition
Former Advisor to the Ministry of Indigenous Peoples Affairs, Mervyn Williams said though significant consultations were done under the A Partnership for National Unity + Alliance For Change (APNU+AFC) Administration to revise the Amerindian Act of 2006, there is little to no indication that the current People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) Administration is willing to pick up the mantle.
“I have not seen anything in Budget 2020 that speaks to the consultation on the Amerindian Act, and I have not heard any whisper from the subject Minister with regards to consultation with on to the Amerindian Act, absolutely zero whisper and so it is clear to me that this thing has already been declared dead,” Williams said during an interview with Village Voice News.
He said instead of advancing consultation on the revision of the Act, the PPP/C Administration regressed when it took a decision to change the ministry’s name back to the Ministry of Amerindian People’s Affairs. Under the APNU+AFC Administration, the name was changed from Amerindian People’s Affairs to the Ministry of Indigenous Peoples Affairs, in response to the cries of the Indigenous People.
“I would hope that in the exercise of wisdom that the Administration will listen to the Indigenous People and will honour their wish. But if you are going to look at the renaming of the Ministry from the Ministry of Indigenous Peoples Affairs back to the Ministry of Amerindian Affairs, if you look at that action alone, you can conclude that there is no respect for the Indigenous People of this country,” Williams – a former Member of Parliament – contended.
Over the years, Indigenous leaders have been calling for the revision of the Amerindian Act on the basis that it lacks substance – a call, which has been echoed by the United Nations Committee on Economic Social and Cultural Rights (UNCESCR).
According to Williams, between 2015 and 2020, the APNU+AFC Administration, through the Indigenous Peoples Affairs Ministry, embarked on a consultative process with the view of strengthening the Act.
“We have done at least one consultation in each region. We have, in fact, engaged no less than 60 villages across the country in that consultation. Villages spoke through their representatives at these cluster consultations,” the former Advisor said.
The National Toshaos Council (NTC) and the Guyana Human Rights Association were also consulted in addition to a number of state agencies including the Guyana Lands and Surveys Commission, the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC), and the Guyana Forestry Commission.
Individual reports have been compiled on the various consultative sessions, Williams said, however, he said there is need for further consultation with villages and political parties not represented in the National Assembly.
“Now those reports have got to be amalgamated into one solid document and there will be need for villages to be revisited as far as some of the consultations go. There are issues yet unsettled that would have to be revisited,” he explained.
Williams said once a new bill is drafted in keeping with the recommendations made during the consultations, political parties in Parliament will have an opportunity to weigh in on the issues the bill will address.
In championing the need for the Act to be revised, Indigenous People are hoping that when the new legislation comes on stream, their rights as Indigenous peoples to land and resources are upheld.
Williams told Village Voice News that protection of the Environment is a key. “They are contending that at minimum, the legislation ought to give the Indigenous people of this country a voice with respect to the use of water and marine resources that flow through their land,” he said.
“For example, if you are in a particular village and for centuries and generations you have been using this river for all of activities that water is required for, and then a mining concession is given upstream, and the draggers come and they start to dredge the banks of the river, and people start to do pit mining, they excavate pits, they flood water and the water starts to seep back into the river, which traditionally was used for among other things drinking and cooking but you wake up one morning and it is all dirty, it is mercury laced and its milky in appearance because of the sedimentation,” Williams explained that painting a vivid picture of the challenges faced by some Indigenous Villages.
He said it is important for Indigenous People to be consulted on industrial, commercial and mining activities that impact their lives.
Just last week, the Amerindian Peoples Association (APA) and the National Toshaos Council (NTC) held a three-day joint meeting to discuss a number of issues including the contentious Amerindian Act 2006.
The APA, in a statement said the Indigenous leaders engaged in extensive discussions on recommendations for the proposed revision of the Amerindian Act 2006 done previously and submitted to the Ministry in 2019. Among these recommendations are amendments to existing provisions that fall under land titling, Free, Prior and Informed Consent and village governance.
In underscoring the need for the PPP/C Administration to keep its promise to revise the Act, the APA noted that several organizations including the APA, NTC, UMDC, NPDC and SRDC met with the current Minister of Amerindian Affairs, Pauline Sukhai and have discussed the revision of Act as part of their general discussions with her.
Among other things, this has seen a general response that the revision can take place once there is a call from a wide cross-section of villages and once it adds to the rights of Indigenous Peoples.
The revision of the Amerindian Act continues to be a high priority for Indigenous peoples in Guyana as many, including the members of the APA are of the firm belief that the Amerindian Act 2006, does not thoroughly recognize the rights of Indigenous Peoples and does not meet international standards and the provisions of our own constitution.