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…Amerindian Ministry slow to act
By Svetlana Marshall
Months after residents of Wikki-Calcuni petitioned the Ministry of Amerindian Affairs to remove their Toshao, Ezard Fredericks, from Office over allegations of malpractice and breach of the Amerindian Act, the Amerindian Affairs Minister, Pauline Sukhai, has reportedly failed to take any concrete steps to address the concerns of the villagers.
Wikki-Calcuni is an Indigenous Village located in the Upper Berbice River, Region 10, and depends on farming and logging for its economic survival.
In a letter addressed to the Amerindian Affairs Minister on February 23, 2022, the Deputy Toshao, Ranne Johnson and Councillors, laid out a number of issues with the hope that Minister Sukhai would intervene.
Chief among the issues is the need for Fredericks to be removed from Office as Toshao of the Wikki-Calcuni Village Council as well as that of the Treasurer.
“We, the majority of residents, maintain that they must go, as they are not administering the affairs of our community to our satisfaction,” the Deputy Toshao and Councillors stated in the letter as they referenced to an earlier petition sent to the Amerindian Affairs Ministry.
According to the concerned village leaders, the Toshao has been withholding critical information about logging operations in the village from the Council.
Further, it is alleged that without consulting the Council, the Toshao granted permission for a businessman to conduct logging operations in Wikki-Calcuni, while blanking out another who would have secured the backing of the Council and villagers.
It was explained that Ameer Bacchus, a resident of Hururu Amerindian Village, upon signaling his intention to purchase 24 species of logs from Wikki-Calcuni, met with the Deputy Toshao, four councilors and some 37 villagers on February 17, 2022, during which an agreement was reached and signed by the officials present.
According to the letter, Bacchus had agreed to pay specific residents and fellers an advanced payment of $40,000 to $50,000 each per 25 tags. He had also committed to bringing his machine and transportation to assist with transporting the logs.
The concerned leaders said despite a commitment by the Toshao to facilitate the agreement and make representation on behalf of the village for full approval from the Amerindian Affairs Ministry, Fredericks and the Treasurer returned days later to indicate that Bacchus cannot operate in the village.
“It is apposite to note that another businessman, ‘Tony Jaggebat’ had engaged about 10 residents/loggers directly to cut only wamara logs for him, and he had paid them advances, including the Toshao. No public meeting was held prior to this engagement, for all the residents to be informed about the interest or background of the businessman and for consensus to be reached for him to work with the village,” a section of the letter read.
The Deputy Toshao and Councillors are now accusing Fredericks of favoring ‘Tony Jaggebat’ over Bacchus, a known and trusted businessman.
“Mr. Tony Jaggebat and the Chinese investors are only interested in wamara logs. How can we only harvest one species of log, when a businessman is interested in 24 species?” the Deputy Toshao and Councilors questioned.
However, upon receiving the letter, the Amerindian Affairs Minister reportedly informed the concerned leaders and residents that she had not received the petition.
It was then that a second petition for the removal of the Toshao was penned on March 4, 2022.
In that petition, the concerned leaders and villagers accused the Toshao Fredericks of breaching Sections 25, 26, and 27 of the Amerindian Act.
“We have lost all confidence and trust in our leader because he had contravened the Act that governs us,” a section of the petition reads.
It adds: “The mismanagement of our village all began shortly after the village election was concluded.”
Attempts to contact the Minister of Amerindian Affairs on the matter proved futile on Saturday, however, the Village Voice Newspaper understands that following the correspondence, Minister Sukhai visited Wikki-Calcuni but no concrete commitment was made to address the concerns of villagers.
Former Member of Parliament, Mervyn Williams, who served as Ministerial Advisor at the Ministry of Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs pre-2020, said it is unfortunate that to date, the Minister has not acted on behalf of the villagers.
In an interview with the Village Voice Newspaper on Saturday, Williams accused Minister Sukhai of colluding with the Toshao to facilitate the operations of ‘Jaggebat’ over Bacchus. It is alleged that both the Toshao and Treasurer are integrally involved in the operations of ‘Jaggebat.’
“The other part of the issue, is that the businessman moved in equipment and moved in employees to pursue this business of harvesting forest produce. It is then they say that they acquired knowledge of the agreement was signed; after the man had mobilized,” Williams said.
According to the former MP, despite these grave concerns, the Amerindian Affairs Minister has poured cold water on the matter. He said the situation does not augur well for the management of Amerindian villages across the country.
“It sets the stage for lawlessness to take over not just in Wikki-Calcuni but all other villages across the country,” he posited.