Melville urges setting up of indigenous people's commission
Stabroek News
March 31, 2002

Related Links: Articles on Amerindians
Letters Menu Archival Menu

Amerindian land rights issues, the revision of the Amerindian Act and the establishment of an indigenous people's commission have been raised once more in the budget debate and this time by GAP/WPA MP, Shirley Melville.

Melville also feels that the security of Guyana's border need to be beefed up in view of an increase in crimes ranging from cattle rustling, motor-cycle thefts and trafficking in narcotics.

Melville, who represents the GAP faction of the GAP/WPA alliance in Parliament and who opted to take part in the debate while her colleague Sheila Holder walked out with the PNC Reform for the second day, said that the burning issue of Amerindian land still had to be dealt with in a comprehensive way.

Demarcation on government's urging in some Amerindian areas, she said, had gone ahead but some communities were now finding themselves in contention with others because of boundaries. Boundaries were not a problem before demarcation, she said.

She recalled that government had promised that after demarcation it would look at extension of the demarcated communities and the issuance of new titles. Noting that communities that had accepted the demarcation were now expressing concern, she asked whether government would now spend more funds to meet requests for extension to communities, which were clearly in need of additional land.

On the Amerindian Act, she said that the revision was a welcome gesture but the process must be guided by knowledgeable persons who must also have the confidence of people in the various communities who would have to live with the Act, which should serve their needs.

Calling for the establishment of the indigenous people's commission, which was an approved constitutional body, Melville said that there was definitely a need for it as well as for it to be adequately equipped and staffed.

She said security was a major problem as it was a known fact that Guyana did not have the manpower to secure its borders. There was an alarming rise in crime in Region Nine (Upper Essequibo/Upper Takutu), she said, which included cattle rustling, motor-cycle thefts and trafficking in narcotic drugs. With the development of the Georgetown/Lethem Road, she added, there would be greater need to be more vigilant.

To deal with the issue, she proposed that more local people should work along with the few policemen who are present in the region. She called for a system of payment to be put in place for government guards in the region who sometimes have to wait for two months before they are paid a month's salary.

In relation to the administration of Amerindian villages, Melville said that village leaders needed to be trained in administrative matters, including accountability, so they could make informed decisions on behalf of the communities they represent. Funds, she said, will be required for this.

Party politics, she urged, must not play a role in the election of the leaders of the communities. In addition, government officials with direct links to political parties should not attempt to influence the outcome of village elections.

Noting that the government has made budgetary provision for upgrading Lethem roads, she said that a large sum of money was allocated in last year's budget for the central road in Lethem. But poor quality of work and wastage of funds continued to be a problem. Melville pointed out that it was not yet six months since that road was upgraded but it had started to deteriorate.

She observed that education was hamstrung by the shortage of teachers and cited instances where many classes in the hinterland regions were without teachers. In Region Nine, where she resides, Melville noted the need for training and resources. And the region was in need of a Regional Education Officer.

Turning to health, she said that HIV/AIDS was on the increase in Region Nine and there was also a shortage of drugs. Commending the medical team that worked in the region under difficult conditions, she also expressed thanks to the Brazilian government, which continues to assist the people in Region Nine in a number of social services.

Melville said that weaknesses in the regional system did not allow much needed financial resources to be dispersed in the best interest of the people. She cited differences between the Regional Executive Officer and the Regional Chairman, which needed to be remedied quickly to accommodate development in a unified way. The absence of the Regional Executive Officer and his deputy also led to funds not being disbursed when needed, especially in emergencies.

Though more than 90% of the people in the region were involved in agriculture, she said, government continued to show little interest in it. There was potential for the production of cashew nuts and sorrel and if markets were identified, the demand would be greater than the supply, she added.

Job creation through handicraft production was not the answer to poverty alleviation, she contended, and government must not overlook the opportunity for self-employment through agriculture, for which funding would be required.