Nightmare and reality

However he may try to spin it, the record will show that President Jagdeo described Guyana’s experience tapping forest protection funds from Norway as a “nightmare”. Those funds were transmitted by mutual agreement to the World Bank which is intended to act as the intermediary and it was at this institution the President later trained most of his fire.

Vastly experienced in dealing with the multilateral financial institutions, President Jagdeo would be well aware of the procedures and pre-conditions that attend disbursals of monies from MFIs particularly the World Bank and the IDB. Following the tiff in Cancun which no doubt embarrassed Norwegian Prime Minister Stoltenberg, it was left to Oslo’s Environment Minister who had signed the agreement last year on behalf of his country with Guyana to put everything in perspective.

In an interview with the Washington Post, Mr Erik Solheim said that much of the delay stems from the environmental, human rights and fiduciary safeguards the World Bank requires.

“All these are good, but it takes time, it makes things slower,” Solheim told the Post, adding that to be fair, while Norway was also frustrated with the delays, these safeguards were “forced upon the World Bank by countries like Norway.” His mention of human rights safeguards was quite illuminating.

Solheim added 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.”

And, according to the Post, Mr Solheim expressed sympathy for President Jagdeo, whose term ends next year and spoke in Cancun of employing “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.”

It was evident from Mr Solheim’s input that there was nothing untoward about the manner in which the World Bank and the steering committee in charge of the relevant fund are proceeding. Indeed, it will be interesting to see how the World Bank’s steering committee picks through concerns about environmental and human rights safeguards.

Perhaps however, President Jagdeo will now begin to better understand the exasperation and frustration that many of his own citizens feel at his decisions and his own refusal to observe rules that address accountability.
The clearest example of this reality is his government’s treatment of the billions of funds accruing from the lotto games and the impenetrable firewall that surrounds its activities. While fully entitled, no citizen, including those who play the lotto games, has the ability to easily enquire from the President where these funds are allocated, how this decision is made, whether the disbursals are utilized in the manner in which they were intended and whether they provide value for money.

President Jagdeo’s architecture is not so much bureaucracy as it is simple arrogance; a plan for control of this lucrative pot of money and an obstinate refusal to do the right thing. This mentality permeates all sections of his government and is seen quite brilliantly in the reckless silence on the manner of allocation of state lands at Sparendaam to senior government officials for upscale constructions. This mindset must have emboldened the President to believe that he could prise away funds from Norway and the World Bank easily and without the strict probity usually expected. He was wrong.

The various proposals to be funded by the Norwegian monies no doubt require detailed feasibility studies and a critical corps of persons able to execute the thrust of the project. Are solar panels the answer to the energy needs of these communities? Or will such expenditure lead to questions such as the ones that will harry the laptops-for-poor-families initiative? When Guyana has completely fulfilled the requirements established under the Norway deal the relevant tranche will be transferred. And then monitoring will continue anew by the slew of consultants and intermediaries embedded in the agreement.

The average Guyanese is deprived of this armoury and is left to speculate and forage for information. Taxpayers’ funds are to be used for the opaque Marriott-branded facility but up to now there is no hint as to who the silent, hidden investors might be. This brand of vacuity is exactly what the World Bank and Norway will frown at.

The Amaila Falls road building project is another fitting example of how President Jagdeo’s government has contemptuously assigned public funds to an investor who is yet to convince the public that he can construct roads in virgin jungle. Under these circumstances it would be irresponsible if the World Bank and its steering committee weren’t fastidiously ensuring that funds transmitted in the name of Guyana had met the benchmarks set for release.
The President seems to be in an almighty hurry these days to have funds disbursed to his government. This may well be a function of the sharply dwindling remainder of his term. That, of course, is no excuse for profligacy or unthinking expenditure which could further deepen the debt burden of the country.

The President should also be aware that in the same manner his party sought a curtailment of aid to Guyana during the Hoyte Presidency, his government may also be vulnerable to this exact call because of its unwillingness to open up its governance to reasonable scrutiny.

In the remaining months of his term, President Jagdeo is likely to experience more disappointments in relation to his expectations of how Guyana’s traditional financiers operate. He must decide whether in the interest of the nation he alters his path of defiance or continues on a nightmarish road that he himself recently complained of.

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