Presidential Grants to be distributed this year – Head of State –at NTC meeting
Georgetown, GINA, October 21, 2013
Presidential Grants, an initiative pioneered by former President Bharrat Jagdeo for Amerindian communities will be distributed this year, President Donald Ramotar announced at the opening of the 7th National Toshaos Council (NTC) meeting today.
The news brought applause from the village leaders who gathered at the Guyana International Conference Centre (GICC) for engagements with government and other public officials over the next five days.
Speaking to a large gathering of Toshaos and Senior Councils, the Head of State explained that the distribution of the grant could possibly take place before the end of the NTC conference.
Presidential Grants are among several means through which Amerindian communities invest in income generating projects, cover expenses, purchase vehicles, outboard engines and other mobile equipment among other interests.
The Grant has increased significantly over the years owing to growth in the economy. The initiative was established in 2007 with a sum of $150M allocated towards meeting the social and economic needs of 140 communities.
In 2008, the venture continued with an additional 20 communities becoming eligible for the grants resulting in $160M being allocated. During the 2010/2011 period, the subvention increased to $500M.
Aside from the Grants, communities began receiving funds from the Guyana REDD Investment Fund (GRIF) to implement their Community Development Plans (CDPs) designed by the communities.
The first tranche of funds was released in August 2012 when the Guyana Government and the UNDP signed a pact at the conclusion of the 6th NTC meeting, ending a long impasse that created some doubt.
Funds were disbursed from the GRIF Trust Fund for the US$6M Amerindian Development Fund (ADF) project which provides financing to support the socio-economic development of Amerindian communities and villages through the implementation of their CDPs.
A Ministry of Amerindian Affairs survey on the CDPs had discovered that 80 percent of the CDPs submitted was agriculture-based, reaffirming the significance which Amerindians still attach to the land.
Today, President Ramotar reminded the Toshaos the projects submitted have been examined and will be ‘satisfied’.
This year also an ambitious agenda has been set to implement programmes in the hinterland which will see computer banks and supportive power supply installed in every Amerindian village. A total of $500M has been earmarked for this endeavour.
“The Ministry of Amerindian Affairs is working to identify the first 50 villages that we will work with, and the Government is going to finance the hubs… We are working to complete the solar panel project. The Prime Minister’s office is going out to buy more,” President Ramotar disclosed.
In the midst of the good news, there were concerns about conflicts in communities and mainly political interference that seek to undermine development initiatives taking place.
NTC Chairman Derrick John urged leaders to be aware of politicians who approach them with promises of betterment, but have partisan interests. He made reference to the political opposition’s cuts to the national budget and the impact they have on Amerindian communities.
Meanwhile Minister of Amerindian Affairs Pauline Sukhai implored Toshaos to make use of the legal system instead of being coaxed by Non Governmental Organisations (NGOs) that tend to have a stranglehold on indigenous affairs.
Claims that the Amerindian Act of 2006 is inadequate and the concerns about the save and except clause were addressed by Minister Sukhai forthrightly.
She argued that the negative claims about the Act originated with the APA in 2006 shortly before the Amerindian Act was approved in the National Assembly.
“The authority to deal with the affairs of Amerindians was for the first time placed solidly in the hands of the village council, leaving no room for any none elected group to exhort influence or push local leaders to make decisions of convenience,” Minister Sukhai said.
The Act along with empowering Amerindians with surface and subsurface rights, including veto power, has also included as a statute, the hosting of NTC meetings on an annual basis.
Toshaos were reminded that they have come a far way, and compared to other countries where basic rights are denied. Permanent Secretary in the Minister of Amerindian Affairs believes Amerindian rights in Guyana are unparalleled.
“It is irrefutable that the progress that we have made over the last 20 years in indigenous development is greater than the combined progress of all efforts pursued at the atmospheric level since European colonisation of the Americas a few centuries ago,” Dharamlall said.
A prime example is the Hinterland Scholarship Programme which allows students from the hinterland to attend schools in the city and also integrate in the wider Guyanese society. Today, opportunities abound for Amerindian children and secondary and tertiary levels education are easily accessible.
In the area of health, serious attention has been paid as new health centres, posts and regional hospitals in Regions 1, 7, 8 and 9 manned by a cadre of trained professionals manning them has significantly improved health.