A GINA release in early March 2008, reported that the Amerindian Act, 2006 passed on February 16, 2006 and assented to by the President on March 14, 2006 had “paved the way for Amerindians to empower themselves socially, economically and politically.” Further, and as a measure of its pride in the Act, the Ministry of Amerindian Affairs, under Ms Carolyn Rodrigues, expended considerable sums on the publication of user-friendly booklets for distribution to Amerindian communities. And as recently as August 19, 2010, PPP/C MP Norman Whittaker boasted that the PPP/C government had consistently followed the provisions of the 2006 Amerindian Act. When all things are considered, maybe Mr Whittaker was being more careful than anyone at that time thought.
The reason is that there is one small – to some significant – problem: Four years after its assent, the Act is yet to be brought into force. Effectively then, the 1951 Amerindian Act Cap: 29:01 described by Minister Rodrigues in 2005 as “outdated and not addressing the needs of Amerindian communities,” remains in force.
I find it hard to believe that this was any innocent oversight by the Amerindian-loving government, if there is such a thing. After all, for more than three years, there were three Amerindian MPs in the Cabinet. At every opportunity, whether it is in the “Cabinet Outreaches,” in the National Assembly, in national and international press conferences, and to the Norwegians, the government never ceased to showcase the Act as evidence of its respect for the rights of our indigenous peoples. Now it seems that all might be a deception, a sham and a façade, cynically disguised.
A possible reason why the Act has not been brought into force is that it creates an obligation on the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC) to “transfer 20% of the royalties from mining activities to a fund designated by the Minister for the benefit of the Amerindian villages.”
The financial statements of the GGMC show that mining activities garnered more than eight and one half billion dollars since June 2006. The failure to bring the Act into force has, therefore, deprived Amerindian communities of approximately one point seven billion dollars ($1,700,000,000).
Maybe this is all innocent. Maybe it is a mere coincidence that during the same period, the GGMC has transferred one point eight billion dollars ($1,800,000,000) to NICIL.
This is Amerindian Month. It is a test of the sincerity of the government. The onus is on it to prove that it does not consider the Amerindians as naïve and gullible, ready to give up their legal right to $1.7 billion in return for a few outboard engines here, some chainsaws there, trips for its leaders to come to Georgetown to perform, or go on window-dressing trips to Norway.
This is a test too of the multiplicity of Amerindian organisations, politicians across parties and civil society activists. They should stand up and let the Amerindians know where they are on this latest blatant example of official deception. Silence is not an option.