APNU stands by cut of contentious Amerindian fund

Main opposition APNU is standing firm by its charge that the government has utilised the Amerindian Development Fund (ADF) to mobilise PPP/C support in Amerindian communities.

APNU Member of Parliament Renita Williams in a statement on Wednesday suggested that the government has refused to answer adequately how the $1.1 billion allocation proposed for the ADF but cut by the opposition was to be distributed. She said that the Amerindian protesters outside of the Public Buildings during this past week were mobilised from Region 1 and by the PPP/C.

Williams stated that she had received reports that youths protesting outside of Parliament were told they were going the meet the leader of the opposition parties but instead were surprised to find themselves protesting outside. The APNU MP said, “What is quite noticeable is that the government continues to use the resources of the people of Guyana and their machinery (propaganda) to impose on the Amerindians.”

She further said that “a supplementary paper was tabled in the National Assembly December 2013, where the sum for $500 million was approved towards Amerindian Development”. Williams suggested that with a supplementary of $500 million for the last month of December, it is troublesome that the Amerindian Minister was unable to sufficiently answer how the 2014 allocation of over $1.1 billion was to be utilised.

In a letter to Stabroek News, APNU MP Ronald Bulkan stated that the ADF “is nothing but crude vote-buying using the public purse.” He said, “The details of the activities to be funded under this initiative, however, reveal that $796M was for stipends of $30,000 monthly to be given to some 2, 000 persons, $200M for Presidential Grants to Amerindian Villages and the rest, or $104M, for listed interventions, among these being $2.1M for sports gear, $0.5M for musical instruments and $0.5M for drip irrigation for women’ farming groups.”

Bulkan added, “Let us not be shy in stating that the handing out of monthly stipends of $30, 000 to young people in Amerindian Villages for little or no clear purpose other than to secure political loyalty is not assisting in equipping these young people in preparing them to deal with the challenges of today`s highly competitive world. This handout demotivates and deskills its recipients (designated as Community Support Officers) and does them a decided disservice in the long term. It also encourages a dependency syndrome which is unfair.”

He said that APNU has received information that the stipend is administered through the central government and in turn bypasses the Village Councils.

During a PPP/C press conference on Monday, Region Nine representative Bryan Allicock stated that CSOs would most likely not be paid at the end of the month due to the cut in the allocation—despite the fact that $500 million in supplementary funding was in part approved to pay wages.

When Stabroek News spoke with protesters outside of Parliament over the course of the three days during the conclusion of the consideration of the budget estimates, the responses seemed rehearsed.

Speaking to Stabroek News, Regis James of Aishalton Village Region Nine stated that “we know we are not getting paid” but could not say how many persons within his area this would affect. James said that the opposition’s accounts of what kinds of jobs are being done by CSOs were ill informed. He said that he was not a qualified electrician but he worked on the installation of solar panels.

The opposition had stated that the ADF had to be inclusive of the construction of technical and vocational training centres.

Maurice Adolph from Shulinab Region Nine said that CSOs have left in droves for Brazil because they were concerned they would no longer be paid. He spoke with Stabroek News on Wednesday, less than a week after the cut was effected. Stabroek News pressed Adolph to explain how in the interim persons would abandon their jobs to pursue their fortunes across the borders but he maintained that this was a fact.

Shane Cornelius, of Karrau Village, Region Seven, said that he too was convinced that CSOs would not be paid. He said, “We depend on this $35,000 stipend to help maintain our families,” while explaining that CSOs were tasked with a variety of responsibilities. When speaking with Stabroek News, many protestors echoed the line that CSOs were tasked with a variety of responsibilities but few were able to divulge what that plethora entailed.

Stabroek News reached out to few protesters who claimed they were opposed to the cut, but who admitted that the Amerindian Affairs Ministry did assist with the mobilisation of persons to protest.

The situation outside of the Public Buildings intensified on Wednesday when a handful of counter protesters claiming to be APNU representatives shouted racial slurs at the Amerindians and vice versa. Police were present to separate the two crowds.

Leader of Opposition David Granger had told Stabroek News that APNU had not organised any protests and that the handful of protesters outside of the Public Buildings were not associated with any organised movement of APNU.

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