Government has tapped into the budget to fund solar panels for hinterland villages and is prepared to do the same for land demarcation exercises owing to slow disbursement of funds from the forests’ saving deal with Norway, President Bharrat Jagdeo told Amerindian leaders yesterday.
In his address at the opening session of the National Toshaos Conference being held at the International Con-vention Centre at Liliendaal, the President promised that within two to three months, solar panels will be given to each home in every Amerindian community. Government is also prepared to tap into the budget for land demarcation even though it is costly, Jagdeo said to loud applause. The government had earmarked funds from the agreement with Norway to pay for these projects.
One hundred and seventy-two toshaos and senior councillors from across Guyana have gathered for the conference which ends on Friday. In a 40-minute long speech, during which he reminded the toshaos that this was his last address to them as President, Jagdeo spoke glowingly of the achievements under his administration. “We have given your children the right to live a dream in Guyana,” he said.
But the President lashed out at the World Bank – the trustee for the Guyana REDD+ Investment Fund (GRIF) – for sloth in disbursing funds. The GRIF is a fund for the financing of activities identified under the Guyana’s Low Carbon Development Strategy (LCDS). The Government of Norway has committed to provide up to US$250 million to the fund up to 2015, based on independent verifications of Guyana’s deforestation and forest degradation rates and progress on REDD+ enabling activities. The money from Norway has not been received as yet even though it was paid into the fund but a number of things have to be overcome, Jagdeo said.
He recalled that US$8 million had been identified for the Amerindian community for solar panels, for the demarcation process and an Amerindian Development Fund. There was an international tender for the solar panels and a Danish company won the bid. “But we can’t get them to pay for this because guess what, they want to come to your communities and ask you whether you want these solar panels or not; whether it will create environmental problems or social problems…,” the President said in an apparent reference to the World Bank. “All of these safeguards. It’s a straightforward procurement…,” he continued.
“So what we’ve done, we’re taking US$3 million from our own budget and buying the solar panels,” he said to loud applause.
The President said a lot of communities have requested demarcation which is very costly and there is not enough money in the budget. “All they [World Bank] have to do is to pay the surveyors to do the demarcation,” he said. Jagdeo added that there is already a process where many communities were demarcated in the past “yet they are saying we have to come and assess the entire process…” The money is sitting in a government account “but we can’t access it,” Jagdeo told the toshaos. “But if we can’t we’ll have to use our own money. I’m not waiting on any international organisation to slow down development in this country,” he said.
Earlier, the President had blamed the bureaucracy in the institution for the hold-up. “If I were dealing with the World Bank and some of the other organisations including some UN organisations, I’ll cut the staff by half and get… twice as much work out of them,” he said. “What has happened is that you have a bureaucracy dedicated to creating jobs for people from northern countries.” He said while there were some “good people” in these institutions “a lot of them just sit around, come on various trips to our countries, stay at the best hotels and go back and write a report. That doesn’t transform people’s lives.”
Minister of Amerindian Affairs, Pauline Sukhai also spoke out on the non-disbursement of GRIF funds citing the “lame procedural
technicalities”. She urged toshaos to speak out.
Currently, there is US$68 million in the GRIF. Norway paid the second tranche of US$38 million on July 18.
Meantime, the President told the indigenous leaders that the Guyana Learning Channel will be seen in every single Amerindian community in the coming months. He also said that moves are being made to create the logistics for each Amerindian community to have access to the internet within two years. He also mentioned embarking on projects to transform the village economies.
Speaking on the progress made under the PPP, he said that today, children have access to secondary education, have accessed scholarships, and the government has and continues to address land issues. He said Guyana is one of the few countries that have given sub-surface rights to indigenous communities and also cited the establishment of the Indigenous Peoples’ Commission. “We are a model country when we talk about treating Amerindian people right,” said the President. “In this country, we’ve come a long way,” he said.
Sukhai, meanwhile, said that 160 villages have benefited from presidential grants with $436 million distributed to villages thus far.
Chair of the National Toshaos Council, Yvonne Pearson, said the conference is an opportunity that they all look forward to. It is being held under the theme ‘Consolidating and Expanding Frontiers for Amerindian Development’.