LCDS group upset at call to delay Norway funds

Following a letter to Norway’s government by a group of prominent Guyanese who said there is no present justification for the release of funds under the forests’ pact between the two countries, members of the Multi Stakeholders Steering Committee (MSSC) have taken “exception” to its contents.

The MSSC of the Low Carbon Development Strategy (LCDS) comprises representatives of government ministries and state agencies as well as non-governmental organisations, environmental and indigenous peoples’ organisations, labour and the business community.

Last week a group comprising civil society members and two parliamentarians, including AFC presidential candidate, Khemraj Ramjattan, in an open letter to Norway’s Environment Minister, Erik Solheim, charged that the government here has “substantially failed” to implement the forest saving agreement with the Scandinavian state, an assertion which was rejected by the Office of Climate Change.

The letter outlined eight “key problems” with the operation of the agreement and the signatories said that they believe that there is “no present justification for the release of the Norwegian funds already in the GRIF, nor for transfer of a second tranche for 2010-11.” The GRIF (Guyana REDD+ Investment Fund) is a fund overseen by the World Bank through which Norway disburses the money under the agreement.

“The Government of Guyana has substantially failed to implement the MoU, either in spirit or in practice,” the letter said, adding however that it has not completely failed. “Norway needs to have a more realistic appreciation of the real progress which has been made, even though small, and build on that,” the letter had said.

In a statement dated March 29, 26 members of the MSSC said that they take “exception” to the letter, which, according to them “is clearly intended to undermine the implementation of the agreement between the governments of Norway and Guyana to provide Guyana with payments for services rendered in preserving Guyana’s forests.”

The statement said the civil society members of the MSSC have volunteered their involvement “because of their commitment towards establishing a transparent and constructive process to deliver the REDD+ Programme and the LCDS.”  The MSSC is committed to its responsibility to oversee, assist and guide the process of Guyana’s LCDS, it added.

“The MSSC finds it regrettable that the letter seeks to prevent the transfer of funds from Norway to Guyana. These funds have already been earned in accordance with the agreement between Guyana and Norway and independently reported and verified by recognised and respected institutions and consultants, including the Rainforest Alliance and POYRY Forest Industry.  We are, in fact, astonished that the signatories of the letter should question the credentials of these organisations,” the statement said.

It acknowledged that there “has been an inordinate and unwelcome delay in the implementation of the REDD+ programme and in meeting the requirements for the disbursement of the funds to specific projects, projects which, in particular and as a priority, will benefit the development of our Amerindian communities, the first custodians of our forests.”

The MSSC pointed out that the process involves working in collaboration with partner entities—currently the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank and the United Nations Development Group—in the submission of projects for approval by the GRIF Steering Committee. It referred to a recent statement from the Norwegian government, which said “the partner entities are finalising the transfer agreements between them and the World Bank which have to be in place before funds can flow from the fund to specific projects” and that “this entails formal procedures in the relevant organisations that will still take some time.”

The statement said that the MSSC holds the view that while the internal procedures of the multilateral institutions may contribute to slowing the process, “we do not share the view that the credibility of these organisations to provide essential fiduciary, social and environmental oversight for project implementation is questionable.

“The MSSC believes that Guyanese have a unique opportunity to combat climate change provided through the LCDS.

While there are bound to be challenges in the implementation of the Guyana-Norway agreement, the MSSC considers it important to understand that in the absence of a global REDD+ model, the Guyana-Norway agreement is a pioneering effort worthy of everyone’s support,” the statement added.

Solheim is expected to arrive here today and it is expected that new terms for the forest protection pact between the two countries will be agreed. Clauses were included in the original Memorandum of Under-standing for the agreement to be reviewed in the light of new knowledge about deforestation rates here.

The two countries in November 2009 inked an MOU that saw Oslo paying US$30 million ($6.2 billion) last year and potentially up to US$250 million ($51.7 billion) by 2015 for Guyana to preserve its forests.

Under the partnership, Guyana will accelerate its efforts to limit forest-based greenhouse gas emissions and protect its rainforest as an asset for the world. Norway will provide financial support to Guyana at a level based on this country’s success in limiting emissions.

Since the signing of the agreement, a report showed that in the first year of the pact, deforestation tripled but was still well under the 0.45% interim reference level.

The signatories of the letter have said that Norway should support civil society “to reduce the disabling secrecy and corruption which this relatively huge amount of money inevitably attracts, insist on and support a transparent and participative revision of the enablers, including independent advisers and civil society, in a process not dominated by the President or government agencies, insist that all material which is not commercially confidential but which is relevant to the operation of this MoU should be in the public domain with minimal redaction and no tampering and open the GRIF steering committee to representatives of the supposedly beneficiary populations.”

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