Jagdeo now hoping to tap forest $$ by January

Guyana may be able to access the US$30M deposited by Norway into a fund under the World Bank’s supervision as early as next month, President Bharrat Jagdeo disclosed yesterday, saying that the country has already submitted the project documents for the initiatives to be implemented with the money.

“Hopefully, by January, we’ll see the money going to various projects in Guyana,” Jagdeo told a press conference at his office. He said that the World Bank had shown greater urgency within the past few months after pressure had been put on it.  “And I think the World Bank is a little bit more anxious to ensure their name isn’t mentioned anywhere else,” he said.  Jagdeo had been expecting access to these funds for about a year now.

The Guyana REDD+ Investment Fund (GRIF) was established on October 9 with the signing of an administrative agreement between Norway and the World Bank. The GRIF is the financial mechanism for the ongoing cooperation on climate change between Guyana and Norway, in which Oslo will pay up to US$250M for Guyana’s performance on limiting greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, and for progress made against governance-related indicators. Guyana will invest the payments it receives, and any income earned on them, in its Low Carbon Development Strategy (LCDS). To date, Guyana has not received any money from the World Bank and Jagdeo, while in Cancún, Mexico, recently criticized the length of time the process was taking.

World Bank Director for the Caribbean Yvonne Tsikata recently said that money deposited by Norway could not be released until the green light is given by a steering committee comprised of representatives from Oslo and Georgetown.

Jagdeo said yesterday that the steering committee, which includes representatives from Guyana, Norway, and the World Bank, met three weeks ago and laid out some of the procedures needed for the funds to be accessed. He said that a second meeting was supposed to be held in January to look at projects based on the project documents prepared by Guyana. He said that he was told that this meeting is no longer necessary to make a decision on the matter. First phase projects, he said, would include surveyors to do the demarcation of Amerindian lands, solar panels for Amerindian homes, and the setting up of grant fund for the transformation of a village economy in Amerindian communities.

President Bharrat Jagdeo speaking yesterday at the Office of the President (GINA Photo)

“So I anticipate by January/February, we will have approval for those,” Jagdeo said.  “I saw the World Bank said that they are waiting on Guyana to submit the projects. But they were behaving as though my argument about the delay was speaking only about now…. the last few weeks. I was speaking about from Septem-ber last year…,” Jagdeo said.

All mechanisms for transparency and accountability have been worked out, he said. “We’ve said that we don’t have any problem with public audits, or public tender…all of those have been worked out…,” he stated. He said he had made it clear that there will be no compromise on the environmental, social and fiduciary safeguards.  He said too that Guyana is hopeful that it will get the second tranche of funds from Norway–US$40M—by the second quarter of next year.

The press conference became tense at times as President Jagdeo lashed out at the Kaieteur News and some of that paper’s columnists at the manner they reported on his statements in Cancún regarding the delay in access the Norwegian funds.

Jagdeo said that he was using the example to make the point about the difficulties in developing a successful model for financing the fight against climate change. He said that he was making it clear that it does not take only a generous donor in the case of Norway and a committed country like Guyana for a model to be successful. There are several other intermediate institutions—like the World Bank—that have an important part to play.

“It took us from September last year to now, to negotiate what is basically…the setting up of a current account, which you can walk into a bank and set up in a day. Because that is all that the World Bank is doing,” Jagdeo said. He said that the World Bank is charging Guyana some US$700,000 just to have the money pass through what is akin to a current account.

At the Cancun forum in the presence of Norway’s Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, Jagdeo had described Guyana’s experience as a “nightmare” and later clarified that it was the World Bank that he was blaming. In the wake of these comments, the Norwegian Minister for the Environment and International Development, who signed the agreement on his country’s behalf with Guyana,  has also weighed in on the matter. In an interview with the Washington Post, Erik Solheim said that much of the delay in the release of the funds stems from the type of environmental, human rights and fiduciary safeguards that the World Bank requires.

“All these are good, but it takes time, it makes things slower,” Solheim said in the interview, adding that to be fair, while Norway is also frustrated with the delays, these safeguards were “forced upon the World Bank by countries like Norway.”

Solheim further told the Washington Post that when it comes to Norway, “We do not need a huge number of safeguards. It has to be non-corrupt, the money needs to be spent on [preserving forests that are] sequestering carbon.”

Solheim also expressed sympathy for Jagdeo, whose term ends next year and spoke in Cancun of expending “political capital” on saving forests without getting anything to show for it.
“He’s frustrated because it takes too much time. His time as president is running out, he wants this as part of his political legacy. That’s very fair and good,” he said. “From my point of view the main difficulty is this is political innovation. We are inventing a new system for development assistance, or climate support.”

Meanwhile, commenting on the recently concluded Climate Change Summit, Jagdeo said that the conference did not advance the process the way Guyana would have hoped but stated that the country did not go there with very high expectations.  “We went to Cancún with lower expectations than we went to Copenhagen. We recognized that there would be no binding global agreement on climate change and I think by the time everyone got there, there was not even a serious attempt to secure this,” he said. “It [the Summit] delivered on its expectations and the expectations were low,” he said while adding that “it could have been worse.”

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