Government has failed to get approval for its proposed $1.1B Amerindian Development Fund, which the opposition voted down due to concerns about its potential misuse by the administration for electioneering and about the effectiveness of the projects to be funded.
The funding included a total of $796M earmarked for the continuation of the Youth Entrepreneurship and Apprenticeship Programme (YEAP) and funds paid to Community Services Officers were intensely scrutinised by both APNU and AFC members during the continuation of the consideration of national budget estimates on Thursday evening.
Led by Yvonne Pearson, about two dozen Amerindian youths, including school children clad in uniforms, thronged the halls of National Assembly after the vote and they voiced their disappointment at the cuts.
When one youth was asked by Stabroek News if he would have benefitted from the project, he smiled broadly and said, “I don’t know. Ask them (pointing to the other persons). I was told by my guardian that I had to be here.”
Minister of Finance Dr. Ashni Singh had told the House that last year $200M was spent on the YEAP, which the Amerindian Affairs Ministry planned to expand this year.
Leading the barrage of questions were opposition members from hinterland regions who said they have firsthand insight into the programmes, which they called epic failures.
“If we don’t get this right we can never go right,” APNU’s member and Region Nine resident Sydney Allicock told Minister of Amerindian Affairs Pauline Sukhai. He argued that while funds were being injected into YEAP, it would not yield any benefits as youth in the villages were given a stipend but not taught any meaningful skills that they could rely on in the future for subsistence. He said that a target analysis was needed to assess if the funds were properly spent and what gains have been had by community members.
This was echoed by other opposition members, who said that the funds should go towards developing institutions where hinterland youth can attend and gain a skill. AFC MP Cathy Hughes questioned how many persons would be trained and was told by Sukhai that two persons each from 187 selected villages would be trained this year.
Sukhai also defended the allocations, saying that it was through a meeting with National Toshaos Council last year that the programme was devised and while $500 million was given to run it, it was not enough for all the plans her ministry had listed under the programme.
Trevor Williams, also of the AFC, sought to clarify whether funds from the Guyana REDD+ Investment Fund (GRIF) were being used to run parallel programmes and was told by Sukhai that funds from GRIF belonged to the people of Guyana and had specified programmes which it funds.
Dissatisfied with answers given in response to a series of questions, the opposition members used their majority to vote down the entire Amerindian Development Fund, while noting that due to the ruling by the Chief Justice items could not be separated but had to be cut or approved in their entirety. Opposition members subsequently justified their decision, saying that the project seemed to be an electioneering tactic instead of an educational development policy for hinterland youth.
AFC members Valarie Garrido-Lowe, of Region Seven and Ulla Marcello of Region Eight, both stated that emphasis should be placed on getting technical and vocational institutions into the regions or providing funding for students to attend institutes in the city instead of giving them stipends.
APNU said that it was dissatisfied at government’s justification. “APNU has called for a review of YEAP in order to ensure that the large amount of money being sought [is] to be expended for serious education and not political purposes,” it said in a statement.
“It is known that the Community Support Officers who graduate from YEAP are under the control of the ministry and not the communities in which they belong. APNU has decided not to support the Amerindian Development Fund without the assurance that the programme will be put on a sound non-political education foundation,” the statement added.
The AFC, meanwhile, said items outlined for funding were vaguely named, while there was no indication given of how the programme would create skills, jobs and sustainable livelihoods for our Amerindian and interior youth.
“The AFC had proposed to the government that the sum sought could be reduced initially $200 million to give the government time to come up with specifics after wide consultations on the ground with the various communities. However the PPP/C refused to have any negotiations with the AFC or APNU with resulted in the non-approval of the fund,” it noted.
The AFC also said it believes the Amerindian Development Fund projects ought to be placed within the formal Low Carbon Development Strategy (LCDS) framework to be funded from the GRIF, following independent assessment and subject to safeguards. It further added that it believes that YEAP is nothing more than “a political tool aimed at exploiting poverty, creating dependency and extending the machinery of the ruling party for electioneering purposes” and it noted the need for a report on how last year’s funds were allocated.
“The AFC also wishes to make it clear that in the absence of funding for the Amerindian Development Fund in this year’s Appropriations Act, the Minister of Finance may seek passage of supplementary appropriations bills to fund individual projects that are supported by the National Assembly,” the party added.