St Cuthbert's Mission says it hardly gets state funds
-residents urge regular auditing of council's finances
July 10, 2004
(This is the 20th in a series on local government. Today the focus is on the Amerindian Village of St Cuthbert's Mission)
St Cuthbert's Mission feels cut off from state financing and says the majority of the funds its gets are from ex-residents and donor agencies. Meanwhile, residents are calling for the regular auditing of the village council's finances, with particular focus on the collection and spending of royalties from logging and the proper use of the council's assets.
Since the current council took office on November 8, 2003, the previous one has not handed over its records or assets, the captain and councillors told Stabroek News during its recent visit.
The new council, according to the current captain or "touchao" John Simon, wrote the previous captain David Simon asking him to hand over the village council's bank book, records and assets but to no avail. Efforts, he said, were made through the Regional Democratic Council and the Ministry of Amerindian Affairs but without success. The captain said that an auditor was in the area to look at the council's books but they could not be audited because even though the former captain had been informed in writing about the audit he did not show up.
Meanwhile, some residents told this newspaper that most of the councils have problems of accountability, and handing over from one council to another was always a problem. They recommended regular auditing since they feel that the council's finances and assets are not being properly accounted for.
The village council's cannibalised tractor
Residents said also that if this is not corrected, the same situation will continue with most captains and councils when they take office.
Elections for village leaders are held every two years and statutory meetings are held on the last Saturday of every month.
Simon who previously served three consecutive terms from 1995 to 2001, said that in 2001 he handed over a 290-Massey Ferguson tractor in working condition to the previous council. The tractor, which has not yet been turned over to the current council, has been cannibalised. Among missing parts are the keys, starter, batteries and steering components. Also missing, he said, are a 25-horsepower outboard engine and a mechanical water pump. Simon was re-elected last year November.
This council has opened a new account since loggers, mainly chainsaw operators, pay royalties for work carried out on the council's land. The royalties provide the council's main source of income. The captain said that sometimes the operators "take blows" so the council gets little or no money.
The current council includes the secretary, nursery school head teacher, Gwendolyn Hussain; assistant secretary, teacher Orlando Shuman; treasurer, teacher Brenda Causeway; and assistant treasurer, teacher Carl Adrian. The other councillors are former captain Leyland Clenkian; sculptor Linus Clenkian; nurse/midwife Amanda Ferreira-Mahadeo; Noel Causeway and agricultural officer Mark Bernard.
Councillor Shuman, noting that no financial statements were handed over to this present council, said that three persons had served as treasurer during the last council's term and when the third one resigned, the then captain eventually took control of the finances.
St Cuthbert's Mission, also known by its Arawak name Pakuri, falls under the jurisdiction of the Region Four (Demerara/Mahaica) administration but three-quarter of the titled communal village lands fall in Region Four and one-quarter in Region Five (Mahaica/West Berbice).
The village of about 1,300 people is tucked away on the left bank of the Mahaica River and surrounded by savannah and shrub lands to the east and denser vegetation to the west. Population growth has been slowed by constant migration from the village to Georgetown, Linden, the East Coast and East Bank of Demerara and even the Caribbean, Canada and the USA.
The mission, which got its saintly name from the Anglicans who worked among the Amerindians in the area in the early 19th century, is administered by a ten-member Amerindian Village Council in keeping with the Amerindian Act. By road, St Cuthbert's is some 57 miles from Georgetown and by river it is 65 miles to Mahaica on the East Coast Demerara.
Need for subvention
On the council's financial status, the councillors said that unlike Neighbourhood Democratic Councils (NDCs) which get an annual $3 million subvention from the government, the Amerindian village councils are not provided with funds to carry out any capital or current works.
They feel that an annual subvention should be given to the councils and proper accounting systems should be put in place. They noted, too, that because there is no police operating in the area, the captain and councillors have to take on law enforcement functions, settle disputes, act as arbitrators and generally serve as administrators for the village.
The village captain is paid a $7,000 stipend but according to Simon since he took office he has not been paid. On the last occasion when he made enquiries about this, he was told at the regional office that his letter of appointment had still not been received.
Councillors pointed to central government funding to other select Amerindian communities. They said while they are not jealous most of what their village has achieved over the years has been through the efforts of its various village councils and individuals. Most of the assistance they get is from non-governmental organisations. The wind-powered water system at St Cuthbert's was built with funding from the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) through the disbanded Futures Fund.
Support of former residents
Many residents who left the area, councillors acknowledged, continue to give back to the community. They include in recent months the Shuman family in Canada who donated two computers and medical supplies to the school and the community; and Abit Hussain from New York who has donated books and other educational material and sports equipment to the community.
In addition the community gets assistance from the CT Robinson Trust. The community gets a quarter of the fund's interest allocated annually which is spent strictly for cultural revival and poverty alleviation. A six-member committee - the St Cuthbert's Lokono Cultural Committee - manages the fund. The captain chairs the committee.
Some funding is also provided to students attending tertiary institutions. The village gets an annual sum of about 3,000 to 4,500 pounds sterling annually depending on the interest gained on the fund. The Caribs of Dominica get three- quarters of the fund annually.
According to the councillors, the annual grant has seen some successes with the emergence of village calypsonian, the Mighty Pakuri (Julian Kattow); some of the best Lokono dancers, outstanding Arawak speakers, the establishment of the Lokono Language department and the teaching of the Arawak language to children between the ages of 10 to 15 years.
In the past some residents said there was a total departure from their culture with many trying to deny their cultural heritage. Now they are regaining some of their skills in archery, top spinning, sling-shot shooting, and hunting.
The community has a playground but it needs fencing. A proposal for this has been forwarded to the President's Youth Choice Initiative programme.
The current council has a six-month plan of action which is being implemented. One of the priority areas is the upgrading of the Landing Road, which runs through the village to the Mahaica River and the reconstruction of the two bridges along the roadway.
The councillors said the road is the responsibility of the RDC but no funds have been provided this year. To this end they have applied to the Basic Needs Trust Fund for funding to repair the bridge and the road.
No rest house
At present the village is without accommodation for visitors to overnight. Whenever there is a request to the council for such visitors, the council has to seek permission to use the school or the health centre. To deal with this problem, the council has held preliminary discussions with CIDA and submitted a design and application for assistance to build a rest house.
To many residents including owners and drivers of vehicles, one of the main problems is the poor state of the 11 and 3/4-mile-road, which links the Linden/Soesdyke Highway to the village. While the 19-mile drive from the Linden/Soesdyke Highway junction takes about 20 to 25 minutes, the drive from the highway to the village takes an hour or more.
Drivers and owners of vehicles, Andrew James, Michael Adrian and Linden Daniels said that for as long as they could remember the road has always been a big problem for the community.
James said for as long as he could remember government after government, particularly at elections time, would promise to look after the road and when the elections are over they forget the promises they made.
Councillor Clenkian and James recalled that prior to the last general elections, there was an announcement in the media that some $40 million was earmarked to construct the road. After the announcement nothing else was heard. They both said there had been some discussions on a likely increase in crime if the road was built. However, they said with development there has to be some measure of security and monitoring systems have to be put in place. James, Simon and Daniels recalled that there used to be a police outpost in the area when the toll station was operational. They are urging that the road be built and a permanent police presence established at the junction of the St Cuthbert's road and the highway.
They recalled that recently the body of a murdered Muslim cleric who had been abducted was buried in a shallow grave along the roadway to the village.
At present the road is only accessible by four-wheel drive vehicles. Apart from acute vehicle wear and tear, the traveller is fatigued by the end of the journey. But since no one can speed, there has been no fatality.
There are two short-cuts to the village, cutting off some five miles of travel. Stabroek News took the main road and counted 30 `potholes' within a five mile-stretch.
When the rain falls the roadway becomes a virtual stream. After the rain stops the water settles in large pools along the road. The drivers said that when the road is not filled with water the sand becomes a problem and vehicles have to be serviced "more than regular."
Lumber and sand trucks also damage the road and tracks are frequently made alongside the main road for easy access. New drivers to the area frequently lose their bearing because of the many detours cut to avoid the pools on the road.
Under the previous village council, efforts had been made to fill the holes but erosion nullified the earlier benefit. Apart from that Clenkian said only once in his "living" memory, "a long time ago" did the regional administration take a backhoe to fill some of the potholes on the road.
Simon feels that with good engineering skills and cutting off some turns, the 11 3/4-mile roadway could be reduced to about seven miles on a properly built road.
He suggested that the road be built similar to the one linking the community of Laluni but with a longer life.
James feels that St Cuthbert's is neglected by the administration, making comparisons with Moraikobai in Region Five (Mahaica/West Berbice). He noted central government's funding to upgrade the 55-mile road that links the Linden/Soesdyke Highway to Moraikobai. He contends that the road from the highway to Moraikobai on the Mahaicony River is longer than from the highway to St Cuthbert's and the road to St Cuthbert's should cost less.
Residents and the council told Stabroek News that water supply is a sickening problem. During the dry season the wind-driven water pump is used to obtain water. There were two standpipes in the village but only one is functioning. At present most of the residents are using water obtained during the current rainy weather. Later they would have to fetch water from the pipe which is found in the centre of the village. Some people walk as much as two miles with containers to obtain water. From the time children get home from school they spend time fetching water. And water is obtained only when the wind blows. The nearby Mahaica River is still the last resort. During the dry season the majority of people go to the river to bathe and wash.
On this issue, the councillors noted that Minister of Housing and Water, Shaik Baksh had visited the village in March and promised to look into the water situation. He said that it was likely that assistance for a solar-powered pump could have been obtained from India. The village is still waiting to get a feedback.
There is a nursery school and a primary with a secondary department. The primary accommodates some 238 children but the school is without a substantive head teacher. Two trained teachers are in charge. The head teacher moved from the area because of the run-down state of the quarters provided.
The captain said that representation was made on several occasions for the head teacher's quarters to be rebuilt. Repairs to the building are the responsibility of the RDC. He said that no head teacher appointed to the school would be able to live in the dilapidated building. The works supervisor attached to the RDC had paid an inspection visit but there has been no follow-up work since.
The area is without a secondary school and residents feel that their children are being denied a secondary education. They suggest that a secondary school be built within the village with dormitory facilities to accommodate students from areas such as Santa Mission in the Demerara River and from Moraikobai.
Hussain, who heads the nursery school said that each year after some 14 to 17 children write the Secondary Schools Entrance Examinations (SSEE) only one child is given a scholarship to attend a secondary school in the city. The rest are deprived of a secondary education because the secondary department at the primary school is not geared for the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate examinations. Even if they pass the Third Form examinations, she said the children could go no further in their education. Many of the young women end up bearing children while the majority of the young men seek employment out of the community. "Many talents die right here," she said.
When residents leave the village for business in the city they travel to the business premises of Fidel Raghoo at Soesdyke. Then they wait on the pickups to travel back to St Cuthbert's. When they arrive late and miss the transportation, some would sleep on the benches outside the shop if they cannot go back to the city to relatives or friends, or cannot afford hotel accommodation.
Clenkian suggested that a plot of land be given for the construction of a hostel at either Soesdyke or Kuru Kururu to accommodate Amerindians who travel for various reasons out of their community and cannot afford hotel accommodation.
He and some others noted, too, that they are not allowed to overnight at the Amerindian hostel in Princes Street, Georgetown.
They alleged too that the Amerindians prefer not to use the hostel at Mahaica. They contend also that there are farmers from the area who need to overnight at Mahaica when they travel to sell their produce. Because of accommodation difficulties, many farmers have stopped using the river to take their produce to market. The hostel is located next to an abattoir and the surrounding area is used for the disposal of animal waste.
The area is in need of an ambulance. When there is an emergency, since most of the vehicles are out during 03:00 hrs to 15:00 hrs, the medex or nurse/midwife has to call a vehicle or an ambulance from Kuru Kururu or Soesdyke. In addition the ambulance is not a four-wheel drive and it takes three to four hours to get to and from the area. Reception by telephone is not always dependable.
Because most of the people are farmers, there are a number of accidents caused while using farms tools and chain saws. There are also cases of snake bites, besides childbirth complications. Five years ago, Ferreira-Mahadeo said that a 17-year old died from a transverse (breech) birth but the infant survived the operation by caesarean section. She said that although a vehicle was in the village, the driver was impeded by the road condition.
Generally residents said that living conditions in St Cuthbert's have improved significantly over the past ten years. But this they credit mainly to employment and training obtained from Omai Gold Mines Limited. At one time there were some 80 persons from the community employed at Omai in various fields such as technicians, computer operators, surveyors, plumbers, drivers operators, supervisors and cooks. With their earnings many residents built modern homes and moved away from the traditional thatched buildings. However, alongside most of the new houses are little thatched-roof buildings where they process their cassava products. In recent years too about seven persons in the village have bought four-wheel drive vehicles, which now provide the regular passenger service. In the past, people accessed the community via tractors and Land Rovers.
According to the captain, 75% of what the village has achieved came about through contributions by individuals. The politicians "come around elections time and make promises" and leave. "Omai has really changed our lives," he said.
In the 70s and 80s
In the 70s and 80s residents used to walk to Long Creek to catch buses to Linden or Georgetown. Men who were employed at Timehri or were with the army at Camp Stephenson would walk a distance of 28 miles through the South Dakota Circuit and Madewini, leaving the mission the night before to report to duty at 5:30 am.
On the positive side - the residents said that everyone sees St Cuthbert's as a cultural capital for Amerindians but it ends there. The decision-makers would visit the community for Heritage Day, September 10, and then the community is forgotten.
The captain said that the village would always cooperate with government, non-governmental entities and political parties to try to improve their livelihood. He said that 95% of public servants, including teachers, working in the village are from within the community.
Living on traditional land communally, he said, is also a disadvantage to residents since unlike other Guyanese who could obtain loans using their land as collateral, the Amerindians cannot.
Basically a logging community, farming is done on a subsistence level because of a lack of transportation to get produce to markets. However there is an abundance of citrus and pineapple and the potential for other fruit crops. Moreover, despite the potential for fruit-processing, the village is without electricity except for a few persons who own generators.
The village suffers from poaching of its forestry resources because of the council's inability to monitor the forests. Last December, however, they caught a poacher harvesting logs. The offending logger agreed to pay the village the sum of $100,000 in royalties but he has only paid $15,000 to date.
The village has one working telephone located at the health centre and it is used mainly for emergencies. There was another which was installed by the Guyana Telephone and Telegraph (GT&T) Company but it is at present out of order.
Shuman told Stabroek News that the council has made a proposal to GT&T to boost the cellular signal as many people have cell phones but they can only access the service by walking a few miles away from the village or closer to the highway.