May 31, 2015 Letters
The holding of Village Council Elections, now overdue, the demarcation of Village Lands and other land issues are stated priorities of the Minister of Indigenous Affairs. For obvious reasons the elections must be foremost. Except for the granting of land for extension of villages and for new communities, I would not regard land issues as top priority because that does not affect the day to day existence of the Indigenous People.
The greatest threat to us is poverty. This scourge needs to be addressed immediately. In order to start alleviating poverty, villages must begin putting forward developmental plans as provided for in Sect. 32 (1) of the Amerindian Act 2006. This is necessary to create employment and generate financial and other income. The Indigenous People must stop looking toward the Government and NGOs for handouts for their survival.
More immediate concerns are long term relief from potable water shortages in villages, pollution of rivers used by villages, health and sanitation issues, impassable roads and run down hostels across the country.
I respect the urgency of the Minister to get on with his responsibilities, but we are expecting procedures laid down in the law to be followed. With regards to the holding of Village Elections, Sect. 33 of the Act stipulates that not less than 3 months before the date of the election the Minister shall arrange a general audit and a financial audit to be carried out on Village Councils, and give copies of the audits to the Village Councils to be presented to Village general meetings. Sect. 69 (1) directs that not later than 60 days before the election date the Village Council shall compile an electoral list of all adult residents and display it for inspection. Sect. 68 (1) says that the Returning Officer shall give the Village Council a written notice of election not less than 35 days before election day. From this one can see that setting the election date depends on the completion of the general audit. If the audits are carried out in time, the earliest the elections can be held would be some time in October, in observance of the law.
The Act provides for Demarcation of existing Village Lands, where it addresses the granting of additional lands for extension of Villages, and for new communities. In reply to comments that Amerindians together own a larger percentage of Guyana’s land area, in proportion to their numbers, than other ethnic groups, I should point out here that much of the communally owned land is arid or swampy or otherwise unproductive, even in the hands of a people with the longest traditional knowledge of living off its land. Our growing population therefore needs extensions if it is to continue its affinity with nature to the benefit of the whole nation. New and pending applications for Village land extensions and new communities must comply with the Act. One of its requirements is that applications must be accompanied by a plan showing the existing village lands, on the basis of a survey by a qualified Land Surveyor and paid for by the State. This was one of the declared uses of the Norwegian funds, for which, by the way, we look forward to an accounting.
I hope the Minister will take all the above into consideration as he takes decisions for the benefit of all involved.
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