The Amerindian Peoples Association (APA) says a senior government official has been misrepresenting its European Union (EU)-funded project to help educate indigenous communities on a new forest management process and says that any intimation that the project funds are being misused has no basis in fact.
The APA has begun to implement the project, “Promoting the effective participation of indigenous peoples in the FLEGT Voluntary Partnership Agreement process in Guyana.” It activities so far include a series of community workshops on the FLEGT (Forest Law Enforcement Governance and Trade) and FLEGT Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) primarily for regions 1 and 2, the development of materials for the workshops and for wider distribution, and the participation of community representatives at local and national forums where FLEGT VPA is being discussed.
The APA and the EU last December signed a two-year agreement worth $36 million for the project, which officially began in March.
In a statement, the APA said that it has recently come to the notice of the organisation that the facts of this project was misrepresented by a senior government official during various forums including public meetings held in Amerindian villages in regions 1 and 9. “It first came to our notice that during a meeting near Georgetown this official was reported as saying to people who were brought to take part in a protest action, ‘Recently they had a big project. I think they got 150,000 Euros which is nearly 40 million Guyana dollars, APA, claiming they represent Amerindian people.
The European Union gave that to them … and that’s why I want to tell all of you as well, the LCDS is government of Guyana’,” the statement said.
The APA said that it has been reported that the same official also made similar statements in recent meetings in Santa Rosa Village, Moruca, Region 1, and in other communities in the Rupununi, Region 9. Additionally the official has also been reportedly attempting to discourage people from cooperating with the organisation. In the meeting near Georgetown, the people were told that they must not support the organisation as the “APA is in bed with the opposition” and that what the APNU and AFC are doing in parliament, “the APA is doing the same thing outside in the field,” the statement said.
The APA said that it wishes to clarify that it is a non-profit non-governmental organization that is registered under the laws of Guyana and is not affiliated to any political party. “That this government official feels entitled to tell hundreds of Amerindians which organizations they can and cannot freely associate with or misrepresent how the organisation operates belies a deeply disturbing measure of how far an official of the government is from respecting the rights of the indigenous peoples to make their own decisions,” the APA declared.
Although the APA did not name the official in its statement, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Amerindian Affairs Nigel Dharamlall had been recorded berating the organisation, stating that it was “in bed with the opposition,” during a meeting with Amerindian leaders.
In a subsequent interview with Stabroek News, Laura George of the APA had said the association was not too shocked by the revelations of the recording
George said she believed the APA was the target of the Permanent Secretary’s attacks because of its stance on providing information to those in Amerindian communities. According to her, the APA works with factual information and believes strongly in providing the information to communities to empower and impart knowledge. “So, when our people are empowered, they are able to stand up, challenge decisions, question whatever is presented to them in the communities and nobody likes that; nobody is going to like a strong people,” she said.
The APA statement noted that the project comes at a time when Guyana and the EU are in negotiations over the terms of a FLEGT VPA, an initiative that aims to stop the sale of illegally and non-sustainably harvested timber within the EU and to reduce deforestation in timber producing nations, including Guyana. “The objective of this project is to ensure that Amerindian communities have the information, capacity and opportunity to make their own choices about related development and since the FLEGT VPA has implications for indigenous communities, it is important that their leaders are empowered to make informed decisions regarding the various aspects of these negotiations. Therefore while the FLEGT VPA may be a government led initiative, indigenous peoples have a huge stake in determining how these negotiations go,” the statement said.
It added that the funding for this project was awarded to the APA through a completely transparent and formal application process and the APA will have to rigorously account to the EU for the monies spent. “Spending can only be done according to what was agreed in the project document. Monies will not be paid in one lump sum but instead in parts during the two years period as the APA satisfies project requirements. Any intimation that the grant funds for this project are being misused by the APA has no basis in fact,” the statement said.
“Prior to receiving this grant the APA had been involved in discussions on the subject at the central level and had been making strenuous representation for wider indigenous participation at the national level and for direct input from the communities into these discussions. Among other recommendations, the APA had stressed the need for funding for more outreach and consultations as the organization had noted that enough was not being done to highlight and address indigenous concerns,” it added.