Govt dismisses Amerindians land concerns as “greed”
… sovereignty now belongs to the State, not the people – Scott
The Amerindians are greedy because they have requested security in the lands they have held since time immemorial, were the sentiments expressed by Minister within the Labour Department, Keith Scott in the National Assembly. Scott also philosophised that sovereignty now belongs to the State, governed by the coalition A Partnership for National Unity, Alliance For Change Government (APNU/AFC).
These were some of the news that befell the nation this past week in response to the Peoples Progressive Party’s (PPP) motion to halt the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (COI) into the issues surrounding lands belonging to Amerindians and freed African slaves.
The ‘lands row’ debate on Friday in the National Assembly descended into a ruckus that enveloped the hallowed Chambers of the National Assembly this past week, when legislators met to not only pay homage to fallen comrades, but push through critical legislation needed for the advancement of the Oil and Gas industry, as well as bringing some clarity to the vexed issue of land, land entitlements, and land disputes among Africans and Amerindians in Guyana.
The almost sacrosanct hallowed Chambers of the Parliament of the Cooperative of Guyana was desecrated in a manner that will surely be a marked point in history, and the nation must now truly ponder on what “geriatric children” for the most part make up the 65 members of the National Assembly.
The Director of Public Information, Imran Khan, has since confirmed that proverbial gloves are off, and it’s no more ‘Mister Nice Guys on the part of the government ministers and representatives.’
According to Khan, “The Opposition is waging political warfare and quickly shifted into campaign mode…Being in the political contest, the onus is on us to respond appropriately (and not always nicely), and to defend the people of Guyana from this onslaught.”
But what exactly obtained in the hallowed Chambers this past week?
On Friday, the political Opposition was free to press through its motion – a debate weeks in the making – calling for the immediate suspension of the Commission of Inquiry (CoI) that was established by Head of State, President David Granger.
During the course of the debate, which began on Thursday and culminated on Friday evening, Government Speaker to the motion – specifically Minister Keith Scott – rose and told the National Assembly that Amerindians were avaricious in their request for more lands.
He was peddling the same line as African Cultural Development Association (ACDA) and now Presidential Advisor, Eric Phillips, that Amerindians, while being the smaller population in Guyana, were looking to own 24 per cent of the country, including sub-surface rights.
This position was vehemently argued against by the political opposition.
Scott, in his presentation, also hinted at the fact that sovereignty does not belong to the people, but instead the State – a startling reminder of the party paramountcy philosophy that was the hallmark of the Forbes Burnham Government.
The Government Minister did not make a mistake in his comments, as he supported his Government’s position by pointing to a possible invasion by perhaps the Venezuelans, and essentially said it was not the people that would have to defend themselves and territory, but rather it was the State.
Opposition members quickly took umbrage to this position, pointing to the Supreme Law of Guyana, which says that sovereignty lies in the people of the country, and that the elected leaders are merely representatives of the people.
Nigel Dharamlall is the former Permanent Secretary in the then Ministry of Amerindian Affairs, now Indigenous Affairs. The PPP backbencher, in his arguments against the motion, and supporting his former Minister, Pauline Sukhai, sought to expand on the Terms of Reference (ToRs) secretly worked out by select members of the Granger Administration.
This attempt, however, was shut down by the Speaker of the National Assembly, Dr Barton Scotland, leading to what can only be described as one of the most chaotic moments in the history of the Guyana Parliament – notwithstanding infamous ‘flour throwing’ when flour was banned – by the late Janet Jagan, and the cereal references by the late indomitable Deborah Backer in reference to the ever prevalent drug trade locally.
Dharamlall was told by the Speaker Dr Barton Scotland to cease his irrelevant references to the sugar industry, as he debated a motion related to lands.
The PPP Member of Parliament insisted his line of questioning was not only relevant but cogent to his line of argument in the debate.
The Speaker was having none of it however, and instructed Dharamlall to take his seat, since he was in contravention of the standing Orders relative to relevance of a presentation.
Experienced Chief Whip Gail Teixeira, however, led the protest by the PPP members of Parliament in support of their colleague’s right to speak.
By this time Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo joined the fray and immediately repudiated the Speaker, Dr Baton Scotland, saying that his partisan behaviour must come to an end.
The Speaker decided, however, that it was best to abandon his post, since by this time the hallowed Chambers of the National Assembly had descended into a state worse that the ambience that permeates its environs on a normal day when vagrants adorn its exteriors.
It was about 18:30hrs in the Friday evening of a session that had begun at 14:00hrs – a session that had been preceded by another round of drama the previous night.
Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo instructed his MP to continue his presentation. The Speaker had vacated the seat, the Sergeant at Arms had already removed the Mace, it was just the members of the Assembly sitting in the House.
It was not a ruckus, it was a fish market debauchery that followed.
“Disrespect! Disrespect! Disrespect! This is disrespect!” was the chant of the Government members as Opposition members egged their colleague into finishing his presentation.
By the end of the night, few remembered that the President had in fact put the CoI on hold with respect to Amerindian land issues.
Minister of State Joseph Harmon had earlier in the night assured no sinister motives in the CoI, but this did little to allay the fears of the Opposition.
This, however, paled in comparison to the verbal onslaught that obtained the previous night, when Natural Resources Minister Raphael Trotman was allowed to unleash an unrestrained, vitriolic attack on the Opposition Leader over his concerns expressed in regard to the Petroleum Bill which was promulgated the previous night.
Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo had attempted to bully the Opposition into submission, and not having a further say on the motion.
He, at this point in time, exacted his powers as PM in order to have the last say, but this did not obtain, as the Speaker of the National Assembly allowed the Opposition Leader to make a contribution to the now historic debate.