The People`s Progressive Party General Secretary Clement Rohee is quoted in the media as describing the actions of the combined opposition of voting against the allocation of $1.1B for an “Amerindian Develop-ment Fund,” as callous and vindictive saying that it represents a brutal assault on our Amerindian citizens. He is further reported as saying that the opposition`s actions are “demonstrative of the uncaring and hypocritical attitude towards our indigenous people.” What is the truth, though?
In two-page ads appearing in the leading dailies and presumably paid for using taxpayers’ money the public is told that this allocation was aimed at “rolling out projects and programmes, which specifically target and encourage self sufficiency, and economic and social development in the hinterland.” The details of the activities to be funded under this initiative, however, reveal that $796M was for stipends of $30, 000 monthly to be given to some 2, 000 persons, $200M for Presidential Grants to Amerindian Villages and the rest, or $104M, for listed interventions, among these being $2.1M for sports gear, $0.5M for musical instruments and $0.5M for drip irrigation for women`s farming groups.
This is nothing but crude vote-buying using the public purse. Let us not be shy in stating that the handing out of monthly stipends of $30, 000 to young people in Amerindian Villages for little or no clear purpose other than to secure political loyalty is not assisting in equipping these young people in preparing them to deal with the challenges of today`s highly competitive world. This handout demotivates and deskills its recipients (designated as Community Support Officers) and does them a decided disservice in the long term. It also encourages a dependency syndrome which is unfair.
APNU has received direct information from many of the villages that this stipend programme actually undermines the traditional authority of the Village Councils as it is administered directly by central government and bypasses the councils. The beneficiaries are recruited into the PYO or youth arm of the PPP.
The expenditure of $1,100M can go a far way though in achieving the goals stated in the ad referred to above, if it is meaningfully directed.
When I visited the villages of Toka, Massara and Yakarintha in April 2013 as part of an APNU fan out exercise throughout the Rupununi, we were told by communities what some of their priority needs were. Among these were the following: (i) access to development credit for farming, agro processing, aquaculture, tourism, etc; (ii) internet access; (iii) constitutional reform; (iv) reform of the Amerindian Act; (v) quality education; (vi) employment opportunities; (vii) better transport infrastructure; and (viii) proper medical facilities.
More recently APNU`s hinterland MPs and officials have been advised that properly equipped technical institutes catering for hinterland students is a burning need. Editor, this is why Leader of the Opposition David Granger stood up in the National Assembly and appealed to the government before the vote was taken for an earnest dialogue as to how best this allocation could be used in the interest of hinterland communities. It is of course known that this appeal was ignored as the government clearly had no interest in meaningful engagement but rather wishes to pursue a narrow political agenda.
The combined parliamentary opposition, however, has a duty and a responsibility to prevent the government from using state funds in a reckless manner and for purely partisan purposes. We will continue to discharge this responsibility despite the hysteria which the state media will now propagate and however many protests will be centrally organized.
Ronald Bulkan, MP