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…Thomas says allegations lack merit, decision politically motivated
By Svetlana Marshall
Minister of Amerindian Affairs, Pauline Sukhai has removed Marbel Thomas from her duly elected post as Toshao of Campbelltown, Region Eight, over what she describes as breach of the Amerindian Act 2006, but Thomas rejects the allegations.
Toshao Thomas, while maintaining that she will always stand by her people, told the Minister that the move is self-serving and political in nature.
Minister Sukhai made the announcement on Wednesday afternoon during a public meeting at the Campbelltown Village Market in Mahdia, Region Eight. Toshao Thomas and members of the Campbelltown Village Council were among the local leaders present.
Sukhai said the decision was in keeping with Section 28 (6) of the Amerindian Act, and based on recommendations of an investigating committee, that was instructed to examine the operations of the Village Council.
The investigation was launched in November, 2020 after ‘some residents’ petitioned the removal of the Toshao over allegations that she was preventing them from mining in the area. At the time, the Amerindian Affairs Minister had taken a decision to suspend Toshao Thomas pending the outcome of the investigation. While Toshao Thomas was ordered removed, the investigating team has recommended that the Village Councillors remain in Office.
“The Council was elected in 2018, there is no evidence provided to indicate that meetings were held as legally required even prior to the pandemic in 2020. The minutes that were actually presented lack authenticity and verification and therefore cannot be relied on…,” the investigating team said as it justified its recommendation.
Further, the Amerindian Affairs Minister told residents that the team had also concluded that the Village Council spent the village funds without the approval of the village in breach of the Act. It was also concluded that the decisions of the Village Council were made without consultation.
“The committee is of the opinion that as required by Section 10 [of the Amerindian Affairs Act] there was no evidence that the Village Council acted collectively on making decisions as it regards to mining; further to this, there was no evidence of adhering to a procedure as it regards management of mining on village lands,” the team submitted.
In the petition, it was contended that Toshao Thomas had taken control of lands where gold was found and it was later discovered according to the Committee, that she along with the Deputy Toshao, Samantha John; Assistant Treasurer, Vincent Xavier; and Councilor Juliet Xavier had interests in the mining area.
However, Toshao Thomas rejected the report of the investigating team and the decision of the Amerindian Affairs Minister to have her removed. In an interview with Village Voice News on Wednesday evening, hours after the meeting had concluded, the Toshao said she is being wrongfully accused.
“The entire report, to me, is false,” she said as she refuted claims that the Village Council under her leadership failed to conduct general meetings with the residents of Campbelltown. “We [the Village Council] provided evidence to confirm that meetings were held; we provided the investigators with our financial records, which had been made public,” Toshao Thomas told Village Voice News. Further, the Toshao dismissed claims that the Village Council bought a canter for little over $2M without first consulting residents, emphasizing that the minutes of the meeting is there to show.
The Campbelltown Toshao explained that her leadership came under attack after a resident miner discovered gold in a section of the Village resulting in a “gold rush.” It was explained that once the discovery was made, residents from Mahdia, Linden, Georgetown and other parts of the country started flooding the Village, and that she said, was a cause for concern. Realizing what was happening, Toshao Thomas said the Village Council sought to put systems in place to effectively manage and monitor the area, where mining was taking place.
“But they found this as a threat, and so they claim that the Council didn’t want them to work but our intention wasn’t to stop them from work but to ensure proper procedures were followed, and we have all the documents to show,” the Toshao explained.
When the threat to her office was initially made, the Toshao had turned to the National Toshaos’ Council (NTC) for help, but according to her, the NTC has been silent on the matter.
“No one is making representation on my behalf. I just have been trying on my own, especially based on the evidence that I have, like the minutes of the meeting, and those minutes proved what happened and what was discussed and approved, and disclosure of the financial report. We had a financial audit and that was also disclosed to the auditor, monies in the bank, monies in hand, also the assets were disclosed to the investigating team, and all of the information they asked for we had them, so I can’t support the report, when we did all we were required to do,” Toshao Thomas said.
In expressing her disappointment, Toshao Thomas told the Minister in the presence of the residents that her removal is political. “I believe that the Minister is here to satisfy their political cravings and her personal political grievances against me, especially to do with political leaders and parties,” Toshao Thomas said.
The Indigenous leader believes that the Minister and Government by extension want a Council that they can control, but whether in or out of Office, she will defend the rights of her people and village.