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Deputy Speaker and Leader of the Liberty and Justice Party (LJP), Lenox Shuman is accusing the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) Administration of failing to consult the Indigenous Peoples on issues of national development, in particular projects and programmes that would directly and indirectly impact their lives.
“I think that the Government has taken an active role…not to engage the Indigenous Peoples of the country,” Shuman told the Village Voice Newspaper in a recent interview.
The Indigenous Leader, who once served as the Toshao of St. Cuthbert’s Mission, said the recent move by the Irfaan Ali Administration to exclude Indigenous Peoples from the process of drafting or finalising the country’s contribution to the Conference of Partners (COP26), is just but a tip of the iceberg.
The Government has committed to reducing Guyana’s carbon emissions by 70% in 2030. President Irfaan Ali, in his address at COP26, explained that Guyana will decouple economic growth and emissions through a progressively cleaner energy mix, with the aim of reducing the country’s carbon emissions by 70% in 2030. He said Guyana will invest in low carbon opportunities for jobs, ecosystem services and social inclusion through an expanded Low Carbon Development Strategy.
However, Shuman said the Indigenous Peoples were not consulted ahead of COP26.
In a letter to President Irfaan Ali on October 28, 2021, the Deputy Speaker expressed grave concern over the lack of consultation, and in doing so, referenced to Article 13 of the Constitution which underscores the importance of inclusionary democracy in the management and decision-making processes of the State, and Article 149(G), which guarantees Indigenous Peoples the right to the protection, preservation and promulgation of their languages, cultural heritage and way of life.
However, at the time of the interview, the Deputy Speaker had not received a formal response from the President or by extension his Government.
In that letter Shuman wrote: “… it becomes difficult to understand under what circumstances and conditions we are to work to protect and preserve our cultures and our environment when the First Peoples are not even aware of Guyana’s Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) which will transition to our NDC. Short of such, it can be viewed as a constitutional short fall of the State in its responsibilities to the Indigenous Peoples.”
In mid-October, ahead of the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Vice President Bharrat Jadgeo held a one-day national stakeholders’ consultation at the Arthur Chung Conference Centre (ACCC) aimed at updating the country’s Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC), but Shuman said the ‘consultative forum’ definitely did not target Indigenous Peoples, who reside primarily in the Hinterland.
“If you are attempting to consult with Indigenous Peoples, there is something called free, prior and informed consent. Now for something to be compliant, you have to give Indigenous People the opportunity to study and understand, the information has to be balance,” Shuman said while noting that it is after extensive consultation that a decision would be made by the Indigenous Peoples whether to endorse a particular project or not.
“None of that process has been satisfied,” he lamented.
He said attempts to secure the INDC has proven to be futile despite several requests were made.
“But it is more than COP26. Look at the LCDS strategy, that was developed in isolation initially when it was put together; now we have a revised or rebooted LCDS that is also being developed in isolation without consulting the Indigenous Peoples,” Shuman said.
He said the situation is no different in the case of the districts meetings for Toshaos. In August, Minister of Amerindian Affairs, Pauline Sukhai, had indicated that due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, there would be no National Toshaos’ Council (NTC) Conference in 2021, however, there will be meetings at the level of the districts.
But Shuman contends that Indigenous leaders were not adequately consulted on the matter.
“There is a non-convening of the National Toshaos’ Council. The Government is not engaging APA, they are not engaging the NTC…none of the indigenous organisations. So that in itself speaks to the Government’s interest and what kind of value they place on the First Peoples,” Shuman told this newspaper.
In early September, the Upper Mazaruni District Council (UMDC) had said the meetings held at the level of the districts contravened the rules of the NTC. Shuman, in the interview with Village Voice News, also contended that there is no provision under the laws for Districts Toshao Meetings to be held in the place of a NTC Conference.