Bill on rights of Amerindians inextended Kaieteur Park approved
Roopnaraine says key concerns not addressed

By Patrick Denny
Stabroek News
July 29, 2000

The National Assembly on Thursday approved by a majority the Kaieteur National Park (Amendment) Bill 2000 despite pleas for a deferral of the vote until a court decision on its constitutionality was handed down.

The Bill was piloted through its second and third readings by Prime Minister Sam Hinds. It establishes the rights of the Amerindian community in the extended boundaries of the Kaieteur National Park.

The legislation was supported by the PNC while Alliance for Guyana (AFG) parliamentarian, Dr Rupert Roopnaraine was the lone voice in vigorous opposition to it. He claimed that the draft of the Bill that was before the parliament had been rejected totally because it did not include all the guarantees the community had been given by then president, Janet Jagan.

However, Science, Technology and Environment Adviser to the President, Navin Chandarpal, said that this was not so but that Amerindian activists had raised matters not discussed at the meeting with the former president.

When he introduced the Bill, Prime Minister Hinds said that what was being done by an amendment to the Kaieteur National Park Act of 1999 could have been done by a regulation. However, he said that the government, at the request of the residents of Chenapau, was amending the Act so as to enshrine the rights of the Amerindians to the additional lands of the extended boundaries of the Kaieteur National Park. The boundaries of the park were extended by the 1999 Act.

Outlining the origins of the bill, the Prime Minister said that a delegation from the Amerindian community had met then president Jagan after the March 1999 legislation had been approved. Among the concerns they had raised, he said, was their traditional use of the area for fishing and foraging.

He conceded that the draft which was sent to them subsequent to the meeting did not meet the complete satisfaction of the Chenapau residents as it did not address the loss of their freedom to mine in the extended areas. He said that they had argued that they needed to engage in mining in order to buy the things they required from the coast.

Prime Minister Hinds said it was a concern that would have to be addressed and that government would have to act quickly to spur development so as to increase their earning capacity.

Speaking for the PNC, Raphael Trotman announced the intention of his party to support the Bill despite some concerns it had. Among these, he said, were that concerns by the residents of Chenapau were not addressed when the Prime Minister visited the area, nor were answers being given during the Prime Minister's presentation.

Dr Roopnaraine blasted the government for bringing a Bill, the draft of which was circulated June last year and had been rejected by not only the Chenapau residents but also the entire Amerindian community.

He also attacked the government for relying on the much-despised Amerindian Act for a definition of "Amerindian" in terms of the legislation, pointing out that the term had been defined in the Iwokrama and Wild Birds acts among others.

Dr Roopnaraine complained too that it was not only the Amerindians of Chenapau who had been affected by the 1999 legislation but the entire Patamona people who considered the area sacred ground, rooted in religious belief and practice.

He observed that in seeking to protect the Amerindians' rights, the Bill was in fact limiting their exercise of them, pointing out that the Amerindian rights in the area should not be restricted to just hunting and fishing.

Dr Roopnaraine voiced distrust at the haste with which the Bill was being rushed through the House when the government knew that its constitutionality had been challenged in the courts and was to be heard on Monday. He suggested that it be withdrawn and the government set in train meaningful consultations on its provision.

Opposition Leader, Desmond Hoyte of the PNC, suggested that in the light of the court challenge, holding the Bill in abeyance would seem to be the wise thing to do.

Chandarpal disagreed, pointing out that passage of the Bill was necessary to allow the government to fulfil its commitments to the Chenapau residents.

He stressed that the government had made serious efforts to discuss the amendments as presented in the Bill and to get the understanding of the community about why some of their concerns could not be addressed in the legislation.

Chandarpal explained that the use of the Amerindian Act for a definition of "Amerindian" was intended to make it specific to those Amerindians who had previously engaged in these practices in the past.

Chandarpal pointed out that government recognised the need for sustainable development which required balancing the preservation of the fragile ecosystem, protecting the environment and ensuring that the resources now enjoyed were available to future generations. To do this required "sensible thinking and the evaluation of alternatives," he said.

Chandarpal said too that the government was committed to the establishment of a National Protected Areas System (NPAS) and to the programmes and projects built into the National Bio-Diversity Programme. He disclosed that the government had approached a number of agencies for funding to develop the capacity of the Amerindian community to enable them to capitalise on the opportunities arising from the activation of the park system.

These efforts resulted in a $30 million grant from the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) which could have covered transportation, physical support, the development of craft skills and the establishment of facilities in the Park for the direct sales of the craft. However, he said, the funds could not be accessed as the Amerindian community had been advised that its acceptance would indicate agreement with the extension of the boundaries of the Kaieteur National Park. Chandarpal said it had been agreed that the capacity building would commence before the extension of the boundaries was implemented and hoped that the Amerindians would rethink their position so that the funding could be accessed.

He noted too that because of the different categories of the protected areas different approaches would have to be employed and hence there was need for flexibility in addressing all the concerns, which if included in the legislation, would not be possible.

He also questioned the role of the international agencies whose views did not always coincide with the interest of the residents. Chandarpal recalled one meeting where the residents had expressed one set of views but which the captain who had been at another meeting threw out. He said that all those who represented and spoke on behalf of the Amerindian community and were desirous of seeing their standard of living improved should support the bill.

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