Jul 24, 2021 Letters
Amerindian Village Council elections were held within the last few months across Guyana and without a shadow of a doubt, these high-stakes elections were critical for both the PPP/C and the APNU+AFC as the Indigenous vote is critical to the outcome of any general elections and both of the political heavyweights have their eyes set on 2025. Control the Village Councils and one’s party will control the Indigenous vote. That is why past and present governments have thrown financial and other resources at Indigenous communities in their quest for unwavering political support. But while this strategy has served the government of the day well, it has only increased the dependency syndrome which Indigenous people have long grown accustomed to.
Over the years Village Councils across Guyana have rarely been audited, if at all, despite receiving millions of dollars annually. In addition, other material resources such as tractors, buses, boats and engines and all-terrain vehicles have been given to villages almost on a yearly basis. Obviously, most of the funding that Village Councils receive are taxpayer dollars. As such, are the taxpayers of the country receiving value for their money?
Successive administrations have been hesitant, it seems, to touch village leaders who have gone rogue for the fear of losing political support. Many villages have suffered from years of financial mismanagement. Yet the status quo remains. An example would be the forty million dollars that recently went missing from the Orealla Village Council. No one from all indications has been held accountable. The Orealla Village Council example is just the tip of a very large iceberg. If audits were done of all Councils across Guyana today, many would be shocked at the findings. What does this mean in the context of good governance that many Indigenous leaders get away with financial misdemeanours that would see others behind bars?
The current administration, which has a questionable track record of dealing with corruption and a Minister of Amerindian Affairs who many have complained of as being aloof and out of sync with the realities of the many social and economic problems facing Indigenous communities, must make efforts to start streamlining Village Councils to be more efficient. Efficiency begins with greater financial accountability. Financial accountability means adopting financial best practices and dealing sternly with those who mismanage village funds. The government must also look at raising the stipends of Toshoas and Senior Councillors, as those positions are full time and these village leaders often have to forsake family, educational and economic responsibilities to get the work of their communities done. A village leader who receives a stipend that he or she can live on is less likely to stick their fingers into the proverbial cookie jar. Village Treasurers should be adequately qualified, trained and remunerated to ensure quality of service.
It is time to stop throwing money at our indigenous people but to start ensuring that they are adequately prepared to develop and better their villages. A holistic approach in this regard is needed instead of political shortsightedness, which continues to be a millstone around the necks of Guyana’s first people.
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