-says comments taken out of context after recording surfaces
By Jeanna Pearson and Desilon Daniels
In the face of an audio recording of him threatening to bar access and withhold stipends from Amerindian leaders, Permanent Secretary of the Amerindian Affairs Ministry Nigel Dharamlall is denying issuing threats and has said his statements were taken out of context.
Just hours before last week’s protest action outside the Public Buildings against the slashing of the $1.1 billion Amerindian Development Fund, Amerindians from across the country were called to a meeting at the Guyana International Conference Centre, Liliendaal, East Coast Demerara to discuss the 2014 budget. Prime Minister Samuel Hinds, Amerindian Affairs Min-ister Pauline Sukhai and Finance Minister Dr Ashni Singh were present at that meeting.
It was there that Dharamlall was recorded saying that he would not allow any Toshao or senior councillor who presented the government’s Commu-nity Development Project (CDP) as a United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) project to enter his office. Dharamlall was further heard urging them not to support the parliamentary opposition, APNU and AFC.
Contacted yesterday, Dharamlall admitted that the voice on the recording was his but said the statements he made were “…taken out of context. I was in conversations with the gathering of Amerindian young people and leaders and I was imploring that the CDP, which was developed under the Government of Guyana
and through the Ministry of Amerindian Affairs, should not be referred to as a UNDP initiative because they ought to know better because they have been at the start of it.”
He told Stabroek News, “I was indicating to those people that the project is a project of the government and it should reflect that” and added that he was in no way threatening anyone.
“Everyone knows how hard I work and how hard the staff at the ministry work and no leader of any village can ever say that I have disrespected them and I’m always available for them. But the issue is not about Nigel Dharamlall it’s about the Amerindian Development Fund,” he stated.
Stabroek News listened to the audio recording from the morning of April 14, and Dharamlall was heard telling the Amerindians leaders and others present that the government was paying the UNDP eight per cent of the money budgeted for the project to help implement it. “The LCDS [Low Carbon Develop-ment Strategy] is the Government of Guyana… the people of Guyana… I don’t want any single one of you to ever again—and I keep saying this over and over—any CSO [Com-munity Support Officer] who says they are working on the UNDP project called the CDP I want you off the CSO project,” he said.
“…Any Toshao or senior councillor who represents to any village that the CDP is a UNDP project, you don’t have access to my office. I’m coming hard line on people who don’t see a future and who don’t want to be part of the development of the country. How many of you think the CSO project is for employment?” After re-ceiving no response from his audience, he continued: “None of you feel so? So we should stop paying you the stipend?”
Yesterday Dharamlall said, “I’m a public official and I have nothing to hide. The gathering was hosted by the National Toshaos Council and we were invited and I offered my view. I work for Amerindian people and I will stand up for them.” He also said the Amerindian People’s Association (APA) was misleading people with its statements that the ministry was manipulating the Amerindians.
During Dharamlall’s 20-minute speech, he also berated the APA, stating that the body was “in bed with the opposition.”
In an interview with Stabroek News, Laura George of the APA said the association was not too shocked by the revelations of the recording.
“It’s very outrageous; it’s outrageous in the sense of the insult that our people have to go through. To be told, to be threatened; it’s just wrong,” she said. She continued, “We are not shocked about what was told to our people because throughout a lot of our work in the communities we are often told that these are their experiences.
“It’s ugly,” a disgusted George continued. “Just listening to the tone – you didn’t even have to listen to the words, but just listening to the tone – you can pick up that this is an atmosphere of fear, threats, intimidation and manipulation. What are you doing to our people? Why are our people treated as though they have no minds of their own? Why do you have to threaten our people?”
She noted that Dharamlall is a public official and should therefore not deny anyone access to his office because of the decisions of the toshaos or any other person.
George said she believed the APA was the target of the Permanent Secretary’s attacks because of its stance on providing information to those in Amerindian communities. According to the woman, the APA works with factual information and believes strongly in providing the information to communities to empower and impart knowledge.
“So, when our people are empowered, they are able to stand up, challenge decisions, question whatever is presented to them in the communities and nobody likes that; nobody is going to like a strong people,” she said.
According to the Guyana REDD+ Investment Fund (GRIF) website, the CDPs allow residents of Amerindian communities to make major inputs into development by identifying and developing the projects which are to be financed under GRIF. The website added that the project must be approved by a village general meeting, via consensus or majority vote, and all residents are encouraged and entitled to participate in the process.
George explained that the CDPs are exactly what APA encourages. “We are in support of development of our people and development must come from our people and designed by our people… because any form of development imposed on our people and that is not coming from our people, you find that the so-called development would end up swallowing our people.”
According to George, the UNDP is a partner entity and will release funds for the CDPs. She said communities are getting monies directly and not through the ministry.
Though the ministry is an implementing partner in the project and will deal with oversight on the actual projects, it does not deal with the handling of funds, she said.
The Ministry of Amerindian Affairs recently failed to secure approval for its proposed $1.1 billion Amerindian Development Fund. The total allocation was voted down by the parliamentary opposition during the consideration of the budget estimates, owing to concerns about potential misuse by the administration for electioneering and about the effectiveness of the projects to be funded.
The deliberations on the allocated funds had been rife with turmoil and had seen protest action on several days by large numbers of Amerindians. There have been reports, however, of Amerindians who had come to Georgetown ostensibly for meetings, being co-opted into the protests.
According to George, “… interactions with some of the young people and even leaders – some of them were told that were coming down to a meeting.” However, she added, they had been brought to be debriefed and rehearsed for the protest.
Meanwhile, during the leaked recording, Minister Sukhai was heard stating that the budget cut had been “planned and wicked” and an attempt to “punish the people.” She urged them to stand up for themselves and raise their voices against “all the wickedness of the opposition. You have to stop them now.”
George opined that transparency and accountability were important. According to the APA representative, if other ministers were grilled and subjected to scrutiny of their proposed allocations, Minister Sukhai should undergo the same process.
“She should also understand that this is taxpayers’ dollars and it should be very clear what this money is going towards,” George said. “Throughout the years, you have had monies spending but you do not see the results,” she added.