Annual Toshaos conference… say Govt attempting to undermine discussionsThe 11th Annual National Toshaos Council (NTC) conference was dogged by more controversy on Wednesday, as several members of the NTC executive staged a walkout over what they described as an attempt by Government to ‘undermine’ the issues being put forward for discussion. Vice Chairman of the NTC, Lenox Shuman, told Guyana Times that toshaos were supposed to have presentations on Wednesday, and as they were trying to consolidate their position with Government, so that they could have meaningful action, there was no minister present until the evening.“The fact that seven Government ministers showed up just to engage the NTC at this very last moment is questionable. It brings to my mind the question of sincerity. How sincere, and what kind of action (are you) going to get for these people? And I see it as an attempt to undermine the credibility of the NTC; to undermine the proposed work that the NTC is doing, and to ensure that the NTC remains weak,” he said.Shuman said the walkout may be viewed — or spun — in the light that some of the NTC executives were irresponsible, but that is far from the truth. He said the NTC felt it should take a stand, and the Amerindian people’s issues should be treated with importance.So far, Indigenous Peoples Affairs Minister, Vice President Sydney Allicock; Minister within the Indigenous Peoples Affairs Ministry, Valerie Garrido-Lowe; Natural Resources Minister Raphael Trotman; Public Security Minister Khemraj Ramjattan; Attorney General and Legal Affairs Minister Basil Williams; and Minister within the Communities Ministry, Dawn Hastings-Williams, have attended the conference.Shuman argued that while most of the issues are discussed during the day — and would require the ministers to be there to dialogue with the toshaos – the ministers have been showing up late in the evenings. “And just to be frank: I don’t see the NTC to be a side chick or a side thing for the ministers — that they could only see us in the nights. What is wrong with during the day? My nights are my nights. And we deal with our community issues during the day time?” he further lamented.Although this issue has created some unease among participants at the conference, the NTC vice chairman has said the executive is still hopeful that most of the issues raised would be addressed.“When we present, we have the opportunity to present the people’s position, and develop a tracking mechanism to bring all these issues to light. But the ministers’ late attendance, in my view, is to dilute those issues and take away from them. And we are not prepped to allow that to happen,” he explained.Ministers of the Government would all be present to listen to a more comprehensive presentation on Friday, and would have opportunity to state how they can help to address the issues, but Shuman is of the opinion that most of the toshaos may not want to present anymore, given the issue which has arisen.The NTC officials told Guyana Times also that issues which should have been resolved since the last NTC conference have again been discussed, and the same solutions given last year have been re-tendered this year. He said that, over the past year, the NTC has been preaching for Government to release the guns seized from Amerindians during the gun amnesty, and Ramjattan has again promised to give the guns back.“Minister Ramjattan showed up and said, ‘You will get your guns back; we have to put serial numbers on them’. Why (could we not) get this action since a year ago, when we brought it to his attention?” he asked.The NTC executive had used the opportunity of the opening of conference to condemn recent comments made by a Government Minister who had suggested that Amerindians are greedy.Chairman of the Council, Joel Fredericks, criticised Government “over an incident which took place in the National Assembly”. Fredericks said the organisation views the comments made by the Minister as a direct attack on Indigenous people’s identity, and expressed disappointment with the statement.“(There are) Ministers of the Government, insulting the Indigenous people and calling them greedy, also in Parliament, without any consequence,” he lamented.He also raised concerns that no parliamentarian from either side of the House had objected to the remarks purportedly made by the said Minister in Parliament.Issues such as alleged political interference in Indigenous communities, and the need for strengthening of the NTC were also discussed at the conference opening.