The APA persists with distortion of facts to make itself relevant for the purpose of grant funding

… secret attempts by the APA to deprive Indigenous Villages of progress must stop

The Amerindian Peoples Association (APA) issued a release dated April 18, 2023, attacking the National Toshaos’ Council (NTC) and its Chairman, Derrick John, a respected Toshao of an Indigenous Village in Guyana. In the same Release the APA attempts to also target Vice President, Dr Bharrat Jagdeo, after being exposed for attempting to block finances from going to Amerindian Villages.

This attack on the NTC Chairman, who was unanimously elected by Toshaos of over 200 Amerindian communities, should be strongly denounced. The APA may not like what the NTC’s Chairman revealed in his Letter to the Editor dated April 15, 2023, as the Council called out the APA for filing a secret objection to the ART Secretariat, the international certifying body for Guyana’s carbon credits, without the prior knowledge or consent of the Indigenous people.  This personal attack on the NTC Chair reveals the APA’s unravelling struggle to deflect from difficult questions including, its inability to explain how would suspending the process for Guyana’s credits issued for 2016 to 2020 help our Amerindian People fulfil the plans and projects they have developed for their own advancement.  The APA has not answered this question because they cannot find an answer that makes sense or that is truthful.

Being unable to rely on facts, the APA resorts to disputing issues such as the number of LCDS 2030 documents they received, while avoiding the substantive issue of the overall consultations with thousands of Amerindians; disputing how many meetings they managed to attend, while avoiding the fact that there was broad-based engagement; and waxing lyrical about the structure of Minutes of meetings, while avoiding their non-existent contributions to those meetings.

The APA purports to project itself as the sole arbiter of what is right and good for Indigenous People and the sole fighter for the progress and development of Amerindian communities. However, the facts expose this deception, and the Guyanese populace is intelligent and well versed in matters that affect them.

The fact is that under Amerindians in Guyana, under successive PPP/C governments, have made the most progress in every sphere of their lives.  The track record of the PPP/C on Indigenous Peoples issues is unquestionable as summarized in the few points below:

FACT 1: STRONG COMMITMENT TO INDIGENOUS LAND TITLING UNDER THE PPP/C GOVERNMENT

Land titling has moved from 6 per cent in 1992 to 14 per cent by 2014, and from August 2020 the process has been resumed and is progressing. Successive PPP/C Governments have stood in strong support of indigenous land titling and have the track record to show for it.  While Indigenous people in many countries have right of use of the Land only, in Guyana where the Indigenous People account for approximately 9.7 per cent of the population, Amerindians own land including the forests resources within their Titled Lands.

The APA has lied about the land titling programme and has made every effort to stall the process over 2016-2020.  When asked about the Land titling project by the Stabroek News, the APA’s Governance Coordinator, Laura George, was exposed for lying that the land titling project started under the PNCR-led APNU+AFC Coalition government.  When confronted with the facts at the last National Toshaos’ Council Meeting in July 2022, she claimed that the Stabroek News misquoted her, a claim that the Stabroek News has since disproved.

The APA remained silent when the APNU+AFC Coalition’s Keith Scott dubbed Amerindians of Guyana as “avaricious” or greedy in no place less than the National Assembly – a comment that was made after the National Toshaos’ Council (NTC) called on the Coalition to deliver on its promises and advance the Amerindian Land Titling programme. The APA also remained silent when Amerindians were told by the PNCR-led Coalition that if they benefited from lands, they would have to forego benefits from Guyana’s oil and gas resources. The APA said nothing when there were widespread objections to the establishment of a Commission of Inquiry (CoI) into ancestral and indigenous land – objections grounded in fear of a return to the pre-1992 disposition where Amerindian land rights were not a priority.

A summary of the situation regarding land titling should capture the following relevant facts:

  • When democracy was restored in Guyana in 1992 – bringing to an end 28 years of PNCR-led dictatorship – a total of 74 villages, approximately 6% of Guyana’s territory, were titled but many had not been demarcated.
  • From 1992 to 2010, demarcation proceeded for the 74 villages and a further 22 were titled along with reformed legislation (including the 2006 Amerindian Act) and an improved policy/regulatory framework built around village-led process including elected representatives (Toshaos and Village Councils)
  • In 2009, the original LCDS conceptualised the Amerindian Land Titling Project, which would address all outstanding titling requests, utilising money received under the Guyana- Norway Agreement and implemented in partnership with the United Nations Development Program (UNDP).
  • In 2013, the project started, and during the periods 2013-2015, and 2020 to date, a total of 24 villages were demarcated.  This is out of an overall project total of 28 demarcations to date.
  • The  24  villages demarcated under the PPP/C-led Government,  including the two Certificates of Title prepared this year translates to 5,477 square miles or 1,418,741 hectares of legally held Amerindian lands.
  • During the period  2015-2020,  when the  PNCR-led Coalition was once again in Government, only 2 were hurriedly given their certificates of title after the passage of the no-confidence motion. The APA supported this slow and diminished approach of the land titling project and proffered no criticism during this period.

FACT 2: SUSTAINED SUPPORT FOR THE AMERINDIAN ACT AND CONTINUOUS IMPROVEMENT IN LEGISLATIVE PROVISIONS BY THE PPP/C

Guyana is one of the first countries in this region, and one of the few in the world, to have dedicated legislation for indigenous peoples.   Successive PPP/C Administrations have prioritized constitutional protections, legislative support and created institutions that bring greater rights and benefits to Indigenous people, empower governance and decision making at the village level and support regional and national representation of indigenous people’s rights through the NTC.

The Amerindian Act 2006 charts a clear pathway for securing land titling for Indigenous Villages and empowers villages to plan for the development through a process of self-determination.  The Act also outlines the role of the National Toshaos Council in representing Amerindian people. These legislative provisions have all been mainstreamed in the forest carbon credits programme. The Act allocates sub-surface rights for small and medium scale mining operations to Amerindian villages.

The APA, instead of supporting the facilitation of conditions needed for greater rights and benefits, quietly conspired with the APNU+AFC Coalition to redefine what is indigenous, to include non-Amerindian communities – a move that would have set back the rights of Indigenous people. It was the PPP/C that led the fight to resist this.

The PPP/C Government has also led the way in creating constitutional provisions for the establishment of the Indigenous Peoples Commission (IPC), a landmark move that underscores the importance our Government places on indigenous peoples’ development ensuring that it is at the highest level of the Constitution.  It must be noted that it was under the former government, with which the APA is aligned, that there was a move to reduce the representation of elected Amerindian leaders on the IPC. According to a Committee of Appointment report, brought to the National Assembly in March 2018 by the former Administration, moves were afoot to reduce Amerindian representation on the 15-member Commission to 30 per cent – meaning that of the 15 members, three representatives are from the National Toshaos Council. It was the PPP/C that resisted this effort and withheld support, where a two-third majority vote was needed in Parliament, to stave off this move.  Again, here, the APA was silent.

FACT 3: EMPOWERING INDIGENOUS LEADERSHIP THROUGH THE NTC

The Amerindian Act outlines the role of the NTC to represent the Indigenous peoples of Guyana. The NTC is the national body that represents all Indigenous Villages in Guyana, as set out in the legislation that governs Indigenous Peoples matters in Guyana: The Amerindian Act 2006.  Part IV, Sections 38-43 of the Act outline the Role and Functions of the National Toshaos’ Council. Toshaos and Village Councils (the wider body elected to manage the affairs of the village which is headed by the village Toshao) are elected at the village level in keeping with Part III of the Amerindian Act.  Toshaos then represent their villages at meetings of the NTC.

Among the functions of the NTC as detailed in Part IV of the Amerindian Act, is to: “coordinate and integrate the activities of the villages on a national basis” as stated in Section 41 (h), and “to prepare strategies and plans for the protection, conservation and sustainable management of village lands and natural resources” as stated in Section 41 (e).  By virtue of the provisions of Part IV of the Act including Section 41 (h), collectively these legislatively enshrine the powers of the NTC, to lead on, guide and endorse the LCDS and approach to carbon financing in Guyana.

At the annual NTC Conference in July 2022, all elected Toshaos present (over 170 leaders in attendance) engaged with the LCDS team who joined discussions on the Strategy and plans for the next phase. These discussions included reviewing the output of the consultations and the process for, and progress on, issuing and marketing carbon credits.

A resolution was passed by the full NTC, with no objection, endorsing the LCDS 2030 inclusive of all its elements. The Government and the NTC Chairman emphasized the need for Toshaos to stay involved as the implementation of the LCDS 2030 moves ahead, village plans are prepared or updated, and new opportunities arise.

In addition to frequent engagements with the NTC and other leaders, the Government of Guyana consulted with the NTC and all leaders of indigenous villages across the country in February 2023 to update them on the process of marketing and sale of Guyana’s carbon credits under the ART TREES programme. The mechanism for disbursement of forest carbon funds to communities was discussed, inclusive of the amounts to be received by each community and the systems they would put in place to manage and account for the funds.

As of March 2023, villages across the country have chosen to ensure their village plans are ready for the investment of 15% of the money earned from the sale of Guyana’s ART-TREES credits. The remainder of the revenue is being invested in multi-community and national programmes and projects and this is an uncapped sum. All of this has been discussed in detail with all of the indigenous leaders who fully agreed to this process.

The APA appears to feel threatened by the NTC which is why they have pursued an attack on the Council and the Chairman.  Whilst they are quiet on the fact that they have a support based of a scattering of villages across 2 regions of Guyana, they often attempt to usurp the role of the NTC – the legitimate representative of Guyana’s Indigenous Peoples.

A strong NTC, which the PPP/C government has always supported, threatens the APA’s machinations. As evidenced by their Press Release of April 18, 2023, they are unrelenting in their unjustified attacks on this representative non-governmental organisation for the sake of defending their financial survival and their affiliation with the PNCR-led APNU+AFC Coalition.

FACT 4: SUSTAINED BUDGETARY SUPPORT FOR SIGNIFICANT DEVELOPMENT AT INDIGENOUS VILLAGE LEVEL

At no time in Guyana’s history have Amerindians had more support than when successive PPP/C administrations have been in office.

The PPP/C Government has a strong track record of investments in Indigenous Villages in areas of health, education, infrastructure, ICT access, hinterland electricity, and water supply. Every village is engaged in the process of identifying needs and those needs are progressively met in annual budgetary allocations. Additional to this, Presidential Grants, and now earned revenues from carbon credits sales would further add to village development.

From August 2020, the PPP/C has allocated billions to Amerindian development, which allowed for: increase in the presidential grants to villages; provision of agricultural support via trailers and tractors; and the 1,972 Community Service Officers (CSOs) who were terminated by the APNU+AFC Coalition government, with silent concurrence of the APA, have been rehired by the PPP/C government; restoring over $700million to Amerindian villages, and the complement of CSOs has since increased to 2,500. In 2023, alone, billions are budgeted for the completion of 10 new schools in Amerindian villages and four new major hospitals; as well as a $ 5 billion special allocation.

These are facts that the APA avoid because these facts do not support the fallacies that they peddle. Rather, the deception that they have stood by are being exposed; the NTC Chair has done so in his letter to the Editor on April 15, 2023, and the PPC/s Government has done so on several occasions.

FACT 5: RESPECT FOR FPIC

The  PPP/C  Government has always emphasized the important role of consultations with Indigenous Villages.

In relation to the LCDS 2030 consultation, the consultation started in October 2021, and remained open for the entire duration of the ART-TREES consultation period and was not closed until after the (extended) ART-TREES consultation period was closed. The LCDS consultation was extended to seven months, and the LCDS 2030 was only finalised in July 2022, well after the ART-TREES consultation period had concluded. All input from those who participated in the national consultation, including on ART-TREES and benefit sharing, was taken on board.

Only when all these processes were completed did Guyana move ahead with the final stages of issuing credits for 2016-2020. All of this was publicly communicated throughout the process, and more in-depth conversations took place with a wide range of stakeholders, including elected representatives of indigenous peoples and those who participated in the Multi-Stakeholder Steering Committee.

There is now significant support for turning this progress into practical results and impact for indigenous peoples and local communities across the country, who have already received a total of US$22.5 million and are following their own village-led processes to determine whether and how to deploy these resources for the betterment of their own villages and communities.

CONCLUSION

For over two years, the APA has been invited to participate in, and to help lead, consultations across Guyana concerning the LCDS and ART-TREES. However, the APA was very selective in engaging in the consultation that it has now raised grievances about.

Further, the APA was asked to join other stakeholders on the LCDS Communications Sub-Committee– yet did not attend meetings or participate in any way. They neglected – even when asked – to come up with suggestions on addressing some challenges such as identifying translators fluent in local languages, thereby leaving this work to others.

Furthermore, the APA was asked – like other members of the Multi-Stakeholder Steering Committee – to lead consultations. Unlike other members of the Steering Committee who led consultations, and gathered input and feedback, the APA never fulfilled this responsibility. After the consultation was completed,  other members of the  Steering Committee discovered that hundreds of the copies of the LCDS, given to the APA to help with consultation, were sitting in the APA’s headquarters in the city. Yet now the APA raises unspecific complaints about a consultation it did not participate in and seeks to drown out the views and voices of indigenous leaders and other local stakeholders who did take part.

Truth be told, the APA survives by presenting themselves as the ‘saviours’ of the Indigenous Peoples.  The only way that they are able to attract certain types of donor financing is by creating a situation of need, and one that warrants them to ‘save the people’.

The APA has a reputation of attracting large sums from a broad range of donor organisations, and there is very little to show for it at the village level. Concerns have been expressed by several Indigenous Villages, that only a minimal amount of that aid goes to villages. The vast majority of this aid allegedly going towards expensive charter flights, high-end hotel bookings, and paying super salaries.  The very fact that the APA has no means of income but from grant funding that is secured by painting a role for themselves, shows their agenda. They are able to pay themselves handsomely by showing Guyana in a bad light, by pulling down elected indigenous leaders, and by blocking earned finance to 242 Amerindian Villages.  The APA should publish their financial statements from multimillion dollar donor contracts from various development partners and this would undoubtedly reveal many of the concerns that Indigenous Villages have been expressing about the Association.

These are the facts.

1. The APA consulted no one but themselves, flouted FPIC and disrespected village decision structures, in filing its complaint to the ART Secretariat to suspend carbon credits payments to Guyana, especially its indigenous population.

2. The APA has not justified how the stopping of payments to Amerindian Villages would benefit the Villages – specifically credits from 8 years ago (2016).

3. The APA continues to be silent on their track record of use of donor financing totally devoid of transparency and reporting to the constituency they purport to represent.

4. Why should the carbon credit payment to Villages be stopped until the APA says it is okay to proceed? It is unclear as to who has appointed the APA to be chief spokesperson for Indigenous peoples.

5. How can the views of the APA’s office staff, of approximately 10 persons be made to represent a population of Amerindian People of close to 100,000 persons who have elected their own legal representatives under the Amerindian Act?

Reflecting the reality in Guyana, one based on facts, does not serve the APA.  The attack by the APA on the Chairman of the NTC, and the carbon credits programme has taken the APA’s narrow self-interest to a more destructive level.   This time, they are taking away ‘bread’ from the indigenous peoples and securing their own personal financial standing by doing so.

This must stop. The APA cannot destroy indigenous peoples’ livelihoods and get away with it. The APA must do better and not continue to be driven by political affiliation and their misguided approach to justifying their relevance for the sole purpose of attracting donor financing.

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