Nov 12, 2010 News
…as House approves remedial measure
By Gary Eleazar
A legal snafu which has seen the denial of access to several hundred million dollars for Amerindians for the development of their communities was after four years rectified yesterday, when the Minister of Amerindian Affairs, Pauline Sukhai, piloted the Amerindian Act 2006 (Commencement) Bill.
The Minister said that the Bill is an attempt to validate all of the actions taken under the provisions of the Act over the years.
Under the Act, the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission would have to pay over a percentage of their royalties to a special account, which would in turn be used for Amerindian Community Development, but this was never done
However, some of the acts under the Law which never came into force include the setting up of the National Toshaos Council as well as land demarcation exercise among others.
The Bill was assented to in 2006 by Head of State Bharrat Jagdeo and a commencement order signed by the then Minister of Amerindian Affairs, Carolyn Rodrigues-Birkett, but this got misplaced and as such was never published in the gazette.
Sukhai, in Parliament yesterday said that notwithstanding the mistake, Guyana, among the many countries with indigenous populations, should feel proud for advancing a model in protecting the rights of its indigenous people.
She stressed that there was a significant level of consultations, adding that it was the Amerindian communities that prepared the Bill and the National Assembly merely facilitated the process of making it into law.
“This approach of consultations embraced by the administration allowed for the production of a modern piece of legislation designed by Amerindians.”
She stressed that with the commencement of the Bill, it will allow for the transfer of moneys for the Amerindians. She also pointed out that the administration is not deliberately denying access to this money.
Dr George Norton of the Peoples National Congress Reform in his presentation to the House during the debate spoke of Minister Rodrigues-Birkett lauding the Bill in the original debate recalling that she had said that, “the Amerindian People have long been asking for the passage of this new Act…We cannot afford to have them wait much longer and we should not ask them to do so.”
Dr Norton said that if that was the case with the Bill, are they now expected to just believe that the fact that it has commenced for close to half of a decade was just an oversight.
“Is this oversight part of the evidence of the PPP’s perennial and determined commitment and efforts to bring improvements to the lives of our indigenous peoples in villages and communities that they so often boast about?”
Dr Norton also questioned the level of powers vested in the Minister, adding that the National Toshaos Council is a ‘Toothless largely decorative body.”
Prime Minister Samuel Hinds in his remarks whilst stating that there should be no questions about all supporting the Bill, the administration had erred and is “willing to accept some wrapping on the knuckles for the slip up.”
He did say that while the government is embarrassed about what happened they are now seeking to correct what was done.
Whilst explaining the transfers of money for the Amerindian Fund he did not say just how much money has been accrued or whether the fund or transfer mechanism.
Alliance For Change Member of Parliament David Patterson told the House that his party endorses the statement made by Christopher Ram who had stated that, “the onus is on this administration to prove that it does not consider the Amerindians as naïve and gullible, ready to give up their legal right to $1.7B in return for a few outboard engines here, some chainsaws there.”
He said that even though not enacted the Act was conveniently used by the ruling party to their advantage.
He spoke to the elections of Indigenous Village Councils and the formation of the National Toshaos Council which are but two instances where provisions of the Act were used even though not enacted.
“By the same token, the millions of dollars prescribed by the Act since 2006 from mining proceeds to Indigenous communities should be applied, but it is apparent that this Government is seeking to evade this liability.”
He said that his party will not support any Bill that would seek to exonerate the subject Minister carrying out their Ministerial duties under the Amerindian Act nor failure to pay over these funds.
He pointed out that the GGMC has the money but is just sitting on funds waiting on a transfer mechanism.
Gail Teixeira, a PPP member of Parliament, repeated the statement that the Bill was just aimed at validate the actions undertaken under the Act thus far. She admitted that there was a mistake, but the only such mistake made by the Government in their 18 years in office.
Teixeira used to opportunity to laud the Act saying that it is the most progressive piece of legislation in the Western hemisphere for indigenous peoples.
She said that mechanisms have been put in place to ensure that it does not happen again
“It’s an error, we have corrected it, let’s move on, we have important things to deal with.”
Shadow Finance Minister Winston Murray in his presentation to the House firstly congratulated the Prime Minister for being man enough to accept that they had made a mistake adding that the very Bill that they are seeking to approve is at best rather messy and can be challenged.
He said that in the Act it calls for a commencement order to be published in the gazette to bring it into law.
Murray said that the Bill that they are seeking to approve merely validates what has been done under the Act ever since 2006.
He stated that what they should have done was to bring to the House a commencement order rather than just bring a separate bill to validate. “It will still require the Minister to bring an order.”
Speaking to the attempts by Members of the government to discredit Christopher Ram, Murray said that they should not always seek to do so, pointing out that it was Ram who in the first place brought up the flaw. “It was because he brought it up that you now have cause to fix it.”
He too questioned what the status of the fund is and just how much money is being held for the Amerindians.
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