Linden wants to administer business development projects

- says $1B of LEAP funds spent on consultancies

Just days after President Donald Ramotar’s undertaking that government will provide support for accelerated job-creation in Linden, Region Ten Chairman Sharma Solomon has told Stabroek Business that state-initiated programmes designed to generate private sector activity in the mining community must not only have the backing of the community, but must be free of official controls that place unacceptable limits on Lindeners’ ability to determine how such programmes are managed.

Solomon told Stabroek Business that it is important that the envisaged criteria for the implementation of state-backed development projects for Linden take account of the experience of the European Union-funded Linden Economic Advancement Programme (LEAP), which he said, failed to meet the objectives that had been set for it. In this regard, he identified government control of the LEAP Board and the misapplication of substantial amounts of its finances as being among the reasons why the project fell short of expectations. According to Solomon of the $2.2 billion allocated to the LEAP project more than $1 billion was expended on consultancies while half of the remaining amount was spent on projects in which the people of Linden had little say. “The fact is that as far as impacting on the development of the Linden community is concerned LEAP has been a very forgettable project,” Solomon said.

LEAP was a Government of Guyana and European Union programme which had the objective of fostering entrepreneurship and enterprise for economic development of Linden.

Region Ten Chairman Sharma Solomon

It was borne in the face of continued decline of the bauxite industry in Region 10, and the consequent severe economic dislocation and was part of a Government of Guyana and European Union initiated effort to expand Region 10’s economic base through the diversification of the local economy away from the traditional bauxite dependency.

LEAP was launched in 2002 with the aim of enabling the emergence of a viable entrepreneurial sector to compensate for loss of jobs in the bauxite industry.

The establishment of a business incubator for nurturing fledging businesses, providing and facilitating new investments and rehabilitation of economic infrastructure were among the primary targets of LEAP, though Solomon said that a disproportionate amount of the funding was spent on areas not directly related to developing businesses in the community.

The Linden Economic Advancement Fund (LEAF), a complementary programme to LEAP, was established for the provision of accessible micro, small and medium credit facilities in support of economic activities.

Stressing that it was important that any new development projects learn from the lessons afforded by the LEAP experience, Solomon told Stabroek Business that while no one could quarrel with the objectives of the initiative, its “overall management was bad” in addition to which progress in the desired direction was stymied by the presence of two members of the ruling party on its board of directors.

Meanwhile, Solomon said the preparation of “a dossier” was currently underway aimed at identifying key areas in which development support needs to be targeted and articulating community views on how such development projects should be
managed. Solomon said that numbered among the key elements in the “dossier” are the setting up of a television station in Linden, electricity reform and business-driven initiatives in the agriculture, manufacturing and information technology sectors. The “dossier” which Solomon says seeks to provide Linden with its “own development agenda” is to be submitted to government.

Last Friday, during a visit to Linden, President Ramotar announced that Finance Minister Ashni Singh would be engaging three commercial banks with branches in Linden to initiate low-interest, low-collateral loans to facilitate small business enterprises in Linden.

Solomon told Stabroek Business that while Linden would welcome government initiatives to help bring jobs to Linden and to expand the base of its economy, those initiatives were likely to be embraced wholeheartedly, only if the people themselves had a real say in how the projects are designed and administered.

Linden has been at the centre of public attention ever since the announcement during the 2012 budget debate that government would halve the subsidy on electricity tariffs which the community currently enjoys. “Linden will never buy into GPL,” Solomon said. “It is a loss-making entity. The whole electricity generating regimen needs to be reformed. The other point of course is that you cannot impose such a condition on a community where unemployment is as high as 70 per cent.”

According to Solomon, the “dossier” that is being prepared for submission to government also contains proposals to reduce electricity wastage and to better manage the distribution of power.

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