Archaic laws still govern Amerindian areas
November 8, 2003
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Amerindian districts, areas and villages in Guyana do not fall under the system of local government and are administered by appointment according to archaic laws, rather than an electoral process.
The Amerindian Act gives the Minister of Amerindian Affairs the authority to establish a council as “a body corporate”, for any district or area as the case may be and to appoint officers. The current minister is Carolyn Rodrigues.
Guyana has two Amerindian Districts - Annai and Karasabai in the Rupununi - and areas and villages which are administered either by the district, area or village council as the case may be.
The districts are a combination of several small villages within a certain geographic range and are administered by a district council. An area, such as Santa Rosa, comprises several smaller communities over a smaller geographic range and is administered by an area council. Villages which are well populated and large enough in size to be declared a village are administered by a village council.
The act makes provision for district and area councils which it says shall consist of a district commissioner; district officer; the Amerindian captains within the district or area; and such other person as the chief officer, with the approval of the minister, may appoint.
In appointing any Amerindian to be a member of a district or area Council, the Amerindian Act says that the chief officer, “shall pay due regard” to the wishes of the inhabitants of the district or area.
The act says that every person appointed to be a member of a district or area council shall hold office for a period of two years, but shall be eligible for re-appointment from time to time. The chief officer, with the approval of the minister, may revoke the appointment of any member of a council at any time and appoint another person in their place.
The office of the district commissioner has since become redundant and in some districts and areas, the assistant regional executive officer, who is answerable to the Regional Democratic Councils (RDCs), administers the affairs of the Amerindian Districts, areas or villages as the case may be. The RDCs fall within the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Local Government and Regional Development.
The Amerindian Act also makes provision for the chief officer to establish a village council, “which shall be a body corporate for any village. It shall consist of a captain and such other persons as the chief officer may appoint having due regard to the wishes of the inhabitants.”
Officers are appointed every two years and are eligible for re-appointment by the chief officer. The captain is chairman of a meeting of the council, and the chief officer may revoke the appointment of any member of the council at any time and may appoint another person in place of the member whose appointment is revoked. Rodrigues has admitted that when the situation warranted it she has had to use the powers vested in her by the Amerindian Act to remove the leader and council of a village.
The functions of the council include holding, for the benefit and use of the members of the Amerindian community, all the rights, titles and interests in, or, over the land within the district, area or village as conferred in the act; to manage and regulate the use of the land; to discharge such other duties as may devolve upon the council pursuant to rules or regulations made under the act.
While the councils may levy taxes upon the Amerindian residents in the district, area or villages as the case may be, the minister has to approve the taxes. According to the act, the proceeds of such taxes are to be utilised exclusively for the benefit of the district, area or village in respect of which they had been levied and raised. However, the practice of taxation does not exist and is not known to have existed in any of the Amerindian communities.
Captains are paid a stipend, which they deem to be grossly inadequate. Works carried out in the community are done by the administration of the Regional Democratic Council.
A district, area or village council may, with the approval of the minister, make rules for any of the following purposes: the provision, maintenance and regulation of food and water supplies; the prohibition of the poisoning or pollution of the waters of any river or stream; the improvement of sanitation; the establishment and regulation of markets; the development of agriculture and livestock; the felling of timber, and the fees to be paid in respect thereof; prescribing or prohibiting certain methods of trapping; the preservation of roads, buildings, culverts or airstrips; the prevention of grass or bush fires; the prevention of soil erosion; the restriction of the manufacture of `piwarri’ or any similar intoxicating liquor; prescribing the method of assessing any taxes, and prescribing means for the recovery thereof by the seizure and sale by public auction of the moveable property of a defaulting Amerindian; regulating and prescribing the manner in which lands under the control of the council may be used; for such other purposes as the minister may, from time to time approve.