President Irfaan Ali on Saturday acknowledged that there is a gap between the development of indigenous communities and those on the coastland and pledged that the vast oil resources Guyana has begun to receive will be spread evenly to all Guyana.
Region Nine (Upper Takutu-Upper Essequibo), for example, he said will become the heartland for agriculture, a vibrant centre for industry and commerce, and a hotspot for adventure and natured-based tourism.
“We have to invest more in Amerindian communities because there is a gap between you and the other communities,” the President said in addressing over 50 leaders of the first peoples of Region Nine, where there is a sizeable population of the Macushi, Wapishana and Wai Wai peoples.
The leaders are in Lethem for the annual gathering of the village leaders, called toshaos. Usually, toshaos from across the country meet for the National Toshaos Council (NTC) but the meeting has been split up into smaller meetings of the village leaders from the various regions.
Eight government ministers are in Lethem for this leg of the NTC meeting and the President said they will meet with the village leaders to “prune” and “shape” the development projects ahead.
“You will benefit equally from the resources from oil and gas; there will be no distinction,” the Head of State said.
In the development projects being planned for the region in the next decade, the President pledged that his government will respect the principle of Free, Prior and Informed Consent – a right enshrined in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples that allows them to accept or reject any project that affects them or their territories.
He urged that villages leaders “situate” or consider the wider transformation that will envelop the region in fashioning their development plans.
He emphasised that indigenous communities will not be sidelined but integrated in process of national development and committed to a “genuine spirit of inclusion” with indigenous communities.
He said that the government will respect the rights of Guyana’s first people and protect their “just entitlement” to lands, which has long been a thorny issue.
The President said his PPP/C government wants to ensure that the indigenous peoples are not deprived of lands they are entitled to.
He said the government has already commenced a project to restore and establish a mechanism through which all land issues will be resolved. This mechanism, he said will also deal will expedite the land titling process.
The last national budget allocated $5.45 billion to indigenous communities and this year a minimum of $300 million in Presidential grants was set aside for 220 communities. The President handed over some of the presidential grants on Saturday and some communities received tractors and trailers.
Ministers attending the meeting are: Minister of Health Dr Frank Anthony, Minister of Housing and Water Collin Croal, Minister of Home Affairs Robeson Benn, Minister of Tourism, Industry and Commerce Oneidge Walrond, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Hugh Todd, Minister of Natural Resources Vickram Bharrat, Minister within the Ministry of Public Works Deodat Indar and Minister within the Ministry of Local Government and Regional Development Anand Persaud.