…says no free, informed consent pursuedThe People’s Progressive Party (PPP) is questioning the silence from Government after it created two new Neighbourhood Democratic Councils (NDCs) in Region Nine (Upper Takutu-Upper Essequibo), without even consulting the residents as part of the ‘free and informed consent’ process.Communities Minister Ronald BulkanAccording to the Party on Tuesday, Communities Minister Ronald Bulkan surreptitiously gazetted an order on June 1, 2018 creating the Aranaputa/Upper Burro and Annai, Region Nine NDCs.“Most worrisome is that this Order was only posted on the Official Gazette website a week later and up to that point neither Minister Bulkan, who signed the Order, nor the Vice President and Minister of Indigenous Affairs, Sydney Allicock, had made any public announcement concerning these new NDCs.”According to the Party, in 2016, the Communities Minister issued an Order declaring Aranaputa an NDC in Region Nine, but this is in an area where there is no titled land. “However, this was a controversial move as there was little or no consultation with the community or the surrounding titled communities.”The Party recalled that Bulkan had admitted during the 2018 Budget debate that he had set up a council in Aranaputa without the involvement of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM). The Party added that the Minister had also admitted that the Chairperson and Deputy Chair were being paid from the Toshaos budgetary allocation for Region Nine.Noting that an NDC has to comprise more than one People’s Cooperative Unit, the Party said that this new Order terminates the previous Order. According to the PPP, it also increases the territory in the Aranaputa NDC to include two People’s Cooperative Units, with a six-member council. “But the most egregious aspect of these Orders is the establishment of the new Annai NDC … now includes a very large territory with several titled Amerindian communities – Annai, Rupertee, Kwatamang, Wowetta and Surama. The new NDC will have 12 council members. However, most of these titled villages just completed their elections for Toshaos and Amerindian Village Councils.”“None of these communities were consulted in keeping with the international policy of ‘Free Prior and Informed Consent’ included in the Amerindian Act. As of June 8, 2018, the Regional Democratic Council, the North Rupununi Development Board, and the Amerindian Village Councils and communities in these areas were totally unaware of this development.”The Party pointed to a number of issues, including the complete lack of progress in issuing communal titles, comments from Presidential Advisor Eric Phillips, the establishment of the Land Commission of Inquiry and the Government’s refusal to implement Low Carbon Development Strategy (LCDS) initiatives aimed at Indigenous development.“The end result is that applications for titles and extension of lands to Amerindian peoples and the demarcation of titled lands are now virtually at a stand-still. Whilst the (Amerindian Development Fund) seems to have become susceptible to ‘cherry-picking’ by the Government as to which villages will receive their project funds. The slowing down of all the initiatives of the LCDS, and, in particular the (Amerindian Titling Project) is a major cause of concern, especially since US$2 million of the available US$10 million has been spent in the last three years and produced nothing.”“Other actions by the Government leave no doubt as to its policy with regard to Amerindian rights and communal titles, the termination of 1972 Amerindian Community Service Officers in July 2015; the closure and termination of all staff in the ALT of the Ministry of the Presidency in late 2015, new staff for the ALT Unit were hired over a year later; the consistent violation of ‘Free Prior and Informed Consent’ on issues affecting Amerindian communities; the worsening socio-economic conditions and shortage of drugs and medical supplies in these interior areas, to name a few,” the Party added.