Ministry, NTC iron out issues ahead of Toshaos Conference

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By Bibi Khatoon

It would seem that the Executive of the National Toshaos Council (NTC) and the Minister of Indigenous People’s Affairs have moved past their issues and are working on the way forward.

One week after the Indigenous People’s Affairs Ministry engaged in a blistering attack on the NTC, Minister Sydney Allicock met with the body and hosted a joint press conference at the Guyana Forestry Commission’s training centre, Kingston Georgetown last evening.

The four-hour long meeting on Wednesday afternoon is alleged to have seen the two sides recommitting to working together ahead of the 2018 National Toshaos Conference.

“Differences will come but there is work to be done,” Allicock said when asked whether the issues between the two sides were ironed out. He pointed to the fact that both sides are sitting at the table as testimony that they have moved forward, though the expressions around the table seemed tense.

At the meeting, Toshaos from each administrative region were represented.

The Ministry’s Press statement on April 11 accused the NTC of organizing a mass protest against the Government and failing to account for Government subventions. The statement further called out NTC Vice Chairman, Lennox Shuman for “divisive, disingenuous and sometimes incoherent statements” made in the press.

Shuman had previously granted an interview to Stabroek News in which he called out the Government for failing to make progress on the crucial area of land titling and accused the ministry of interfering in the business of the NTC.

On Wednesday evening, Shuman told the media that the Ministry and the council “always had a very cordial relationship.” He asserted that the relationship built over the years cannot be erased with one press statement.

The NTC is planning to change executive members when the National Toshaos Conference is held in July.

The body took the time to outline some of its achievements and challenges over the past three years.

Chairman of the NTC, Joel Fredericks disclosed that the body was able to acquire a plot of land from the Government to begin the construction of its own building but is awaiting the completion of paperwork.

Both Fredericks and Shuman noted that the council is also no longer subjected to political interference.

However, the land titling project was again highlighted as one of the issues to be cleared up, along with employment and infrastructure for the indigenous communities.

Minister Allicock was quick to point out though, that the ministry can only do as much since “we haven’t gotten that person as yet, who can wave a wand and get things done.”

The Government is required to address land titling and demarcation under the Norway forest protection agreement with Guyana for which US$10.7M was given. However, in 2016, it was reported that only a quarter of the 68 villages were demarcated.

Just last year, the Government and the NTC clashed after the Commission of Inquiry was established to jointly look at Amerindian land titling and investigate the ownership of lands acquired by freed Africans. The Amerindian land titling aspect of the CoI’s responsibility was eventually removed.

Prior to the 2015 General and Regional Elections, it was reported that the NTC was controlled by the governing party.

While the NTC is planning to hand over the reins to a new executive, it was noted that the body has adopted a set of rules and procedures which stipulates that no member should be actively engaged in politics.

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