Roughly 2,000 Amerindian youths will be out of work due to the voting down of the $1.1 billion Amerin-dian Development Fund, PPP/C Region 9 representative Bryan Allicock said yesterday.
“Some 2,000 young Amerindians are to go on the bread line,” Allicock declared at a PPP press conference.
The parliamentary opposition—APNU and the AFC—voted down the total allocation over concerns about potential misuse by the administration for electioneering and about the effectiveness of the projects to be funded.
During his budget speech, Finance Minister Dr Ashni Singh said $200 million was spent on the Youth Entrepreneurship and Apprenticeship Pro-gramme (YEAP), which was launched in regions 1, 7, 8 and 9, and 198 persons were trained in basic computer skills and solar panel installation. He added that $796 million had been proposed for the continuation of YEAP, expanding to regions 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 10.
Allicock told Stabroek News that jobs were directly tied to the funds earmarked for the continuation of YEAP and funds paid to Community Services Officers (CSOs).
He refuted the claims by opposition members that the youths were being paid a stipend for not doing any meaningful work. He also denied that the money allocated was being used for political recruiting purposes. He said that he himself had never recruited youth for the PPP/C when he was charged with the supervision of over 16 villages.
Allicock stated that the young people involved in the CSOs were not chosen based on their political affiliation as was suggested by APNU members during the consideration of the budget estimates.
When Stabroek News inquired about what the CSOs do, Allicock explained that they are both helping and apprenticing.
Village leaders will be phased out and the younger generation will be required to take over in the future, he noted. “In the 2014 budget, provisions were made to ensure that every Amerindian village would have these young people learning and providing much needed support to their communities,” he added.
Allicock accused the opposition of taking a contradictory stance. “It is ironic that the opposition would complain that there are no investments in the villages and that we need to assist them with income earning programmes and secure livelihoods, then on the other hand the opposition denies over $250 million for such programmes which were provided in the 2014 budget,” he argued.
Allicock said the cut will severely affect “the Secure Livelihood initiative in Region one, [the] annual Subvention to the Bina Hill Institute–this has been ongoing for years—grants to 10 villages to support eco-tourism projects, and $200 million which goes annually to Toshaos who decide what initiatives they have been tasked by the villagers to pursue.”
The main opposition APNU, in a statement, said it was dissatisfied with Amerindian Affairs Minister Pauline Sukhai’s inability to justify the $1.1 billion allocation. “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.
“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 Develop-ment Fund without the assurance that the programme will be put on a sound non-political education foundation,” the statement added.
The AFC, for its part, pointed out that items outlined for funding were vaguely named and that there was no indication given of how the programme would create skills, jobs and sustainable livelihoods for Amerindian and interior youth. “The AFC had proposed to the government that the sum sought could be reduced initially to $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,” the party noted in a statement.
Meanwhile, yesterday members of the Amerin-dian community continued to protest outside the Public Buildings as the Committee of Supply continued with the consideration of the budget estimates.