Georgetown, Guyana – (October 7, 2019): President David Granger, this morning, declared open the 13th annual National Toshaos’ Council Conference being held at the Arthur Chung Conference Centre, Liliendaal, East Coast Demerara.

President Granger, in his address to Toshaos and other village leaders, said development would be meaningless unless peoples’ lives could be improved.

“Human development is at the core of ensuring a ‘good life’. It recognises the importance of improving people’s lives – especially in the four fields of education, health, livelihood and social protection. Human development aims at ensuring the ‘good life’ for all. Indigenous people inhabit all ten administrative regions of Guyana, mainly in the hinterland. Human development in Guyana, therefore, must mean hinterland advancement,” the President said.

The Head of State said Guyana is moving towards becoming a more inclusive and equal society.

“This means that hinterland human development is imperative – especially in education, health, livelihood and social protection – the four essential fields of existence and human endeavour,” said President Granger who noted that hinterland human development has improved appreciably over the past four years.

“Indigenous peoples are enjoying better access to public education, public health, public information, public infrastructure, public security, public telecommunications and social security.”

President Granger said too that progress in the four essential fields of human development – education, health, livelihood and social protection – has been measurable.

However, the persistence and gravity of social ills such as alcoholism, child labour, drug abuse, sexual abuse and teenage pregnancies, should not be allowed to derail progress on the path to development, the President said.

“The eradication of these social ills and the elimination of extreme poverty require intensified cooperation among Regional Democratic Councils, the National Toshaos’ Council, Indigenous Village Councils and Central Government, particularly through the Ministry of Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs,” he said.

Public education, the President said, is indisputably a pillar of national development while noting that Government has invested $170B in public education over the last four years and a further $52.2B committed in 2019.

The President told Toshaos and Village Leaders that hinterland education “gained a good share” of the investments and is being improved and expanded.

Similarly, the Head of State said hinterland health services have been upgraded over the past four years and are being expanded further. Health clinics, which provide medical services to indigenous people, have also been rehabilitated.

“Health professionals have been deployed to the hinterland to boost health-care delivery. Emergency health-care services have been improved with the addition of new water ambulances in riverine neighbourhoods – at Baracara, Karawab, Kwakwani, Moruca, Orealla and St. Monica,” the President said.

Further, the Head of State said higher standards of living for indigenous peoples can be assured by improved access to public services – such as public infrastructure, public telecommunications and public security.

“Your Government has continued to narrow development gaps between the coastland and hinterland in the provision of these services. The Hinterland Sustainable Agriculture Development Programme has improved food security through the expansion of hinterland agriculture and agro-processing in the Barima-Waini, Cuyuni-Mazaruni, Potaro-Siparuni and Rupununi Regions. Hinterland farmers have benefitted from the services provided by the programme,” President Granger said.

The Head of State noted the Hinterland Employment Youth Service (HEYS) and the Youth Entrepreneurship and Skills Training (YEST) programme have been stimulating jobs and entrepreneurship within indigenous communities.

“Jobs are important in providing incomes for households and in diversifying and stimulating village economies. Hinterland development is about human beings, it is about people and we are on the right path. Hinterland development is advancing,” the President said.

Despite the progress, President Granger acknowledged that hinterland communities continue to be “bedevilled by social ills which act as brake on human development”.

“I repeat my appeal to the National Toshaos’ Council Conference 2017 to work together to reduce the incidence of alcoholism, incest, murder, non-communicable diseases, people-trafficking, prostitution, substance abuse, teenage pregnancy and suicide in certain communities,” the President told Toshaos.

President Granger assured that Government will determine how the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) aspirational and global targets will be incorporated into national planning processes, policies and strategies. He urged the NTC to pay attention to the SDGs and to help to incorporate them into their own planning for the next ten years.

Reminding that the Government will launch the Decade of Development 2020-2029 next year, President Granger explained that the ‘Decade’ aims at promoting a more equal society in which everyone would feel a sense of belonging and share in national development.

The objectives of the ‘Decade’ will be aligned to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

“The ‘Decade’ will promote measures aimed at closing the development gaps between the hinterland and coastland. It will aim at ensuring that indigenous peoples, inter alia, would not be left behind. It will seek to promote measures aimed at solving the social problems which handicap indigenous peoples and hamper human development,” the Head of State said, while adding that the SDGs are important to human development.

The President said their targets and indicators are useful measures by which to assess progress during the Decade of Development when addressing human development. The Head of State pointed to SDG Nos. 1 to 4 which speak to ending poverty in all forms; ending hunger, achieving food security and improved nutrition and promoting sustainable agriculture; ensuring healthy lives and promoting well-being for all at all ages.

SDG No.3 calls on states to reduce the number of deaths and illnesses from hazardous chemicals and air, water and soil pollution and contamination substantially.

“Water safety and sanitation is vital to achieving this target. Hinterland creeks and rivers must be protected from pollution, including from mining effluent and mercury. These waterways are still used by our indigenous peoples for bathing, drinking, cooking, fishing and washing. They must be kept clean,” President Granger said.

Guyana is signatory to the Minamata Convention on Mercury and is committed to phasing out the use of mercury in the gold-mining sector by 2030, on condition that viable alternatives to mercury can be found. The President said the Decade of Development will promote safe water, sanitation and hygiene services (WASH) for indigenous communities.

“The Decade of Development aims at eliminating hunger; ensuring food security, safe water and hygiene; enabling everyone to access universal primary and secondary education and expanding technical and vocational training opportunities for indigenous peoples,” said President Granger.

SDG No. 4 aims at encouraging inclusive and equitable quality education and promoting lifelong learning opportunities for all. It requires that all boys and girls complete free equitable and quality primary and secondary education leading to relevant and effective learning outcomes, by 2030.

“The Decade of Development will ensure that, by 2029, all indigenous children have universal access to both primary and secondary education and an increase by 50 per cent in the number of youths and adults who are trained in technical and vocational skills,” the President assured while noting that the targets are achievable and would improve substantively, the quality of life of indigenous peoples by 2029.

“I believe that these are realistic goals which can be achieved within the next ‘Decade’. I urge this National Toshaos’ Council Conference 2019 to endorse these five fields of action for inclusion in the objectives of the Decade of Development 2020-2029,” President Granger said.

Similarly, Ministers of Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs, Mr. Sydney Allicock and Ms. Valerie Garrido-Lowe outlined the progress made in hinterland development during the last four years.

Toshao of Shulinab, Mr. Nicholas Fredericks, who is also Chairman of the NTC said, the NTC over the past year continues to fulfil its mandate.

“Thanks to the commitment of the executive and staff of the Secretariat, we are moving forward,” Fredericks said, even as he urged Toshaos and other leaders to make the best representation possible on behalf of their constituents.

“We are here for one week for very important discussions. Use the opportunity now to focus and don’t be distracted. We have a lot to celebrate,” the NTC Chair said.

He explained that while progress is being made, there are some challenges specifically with communication across the various villages. Toshao Fredericks commended Government for its ICT hubs as they have assisted greatly in improving communications.

This year’s NTC Conference is themed, “Guyana’s First Peoples united in the promotion of the Green Economy through preservation of our languages, lands and rights.”

Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo, Vice President and Minister of Public Security, Mr. Khemraj Ramjattan; Minister of State, Mrs. Dawn Hastings-Williams and Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Mr. Basil Williams were among government ministers present at the opening ceremony.

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