The Alliance For Change (AFC) would like our Indigenous brothers and sisters to know that we fully support the allocations for the Ministry of Amerindian Affairs’ current Budget 2014, which is a total of $411.9 million. Out of this, $33.5 million is earmarked to be spent on national and other events and, according to Minister Sukhai, $25,000,000 of this will be for Amerindian Heritage Month. The combined opposition did not reduce this budget last year and we did not do so this year.
Last year (2013) the capital budget came up to $435.188 million of which $392,588,000 came under the Amerindian Development Fund and we approved everything. The Ministry of Amerindian Affairs’ entire budget was approved and never cut last year although many of our Indigenous brothers and sisters informed us that they were told that the opposition had cut the Amerindian budget. If this is indeed so then they were told a very big lie!
In December of 2013, (four months ago) Minister Sukhai came to the Parliament asking for a further $500,000,000 under the Amerindian Development Fund for Amerindian Development Projects and Programmes which she got. How many villages benefited from these monies, we do not know, and the right thing for any responsible youth/adult to do is to ask the Minister about this – how was the $500,000,000 spent? The money belongs to our Amerindian brothers and sisters and they are entitled to answers.
For 2014, the capital budget for the Ministry of Amerindian Affairs came up to a total of $1,142,500,000 for five projects in all – buildings, Amerindian Development Fund, water transport, land transport and office furniture and equipment. However all five came under one Project Code, 161 – Amerindian Development. AFC approves of the buildings, water transport, land transport and office furniture and equipment, but we have questions regarding one allocation under the Amerindian Development Fund for which $1,100,000,000 was allocated. Under this project there are a further four items:
1. Youth Entrepreneurship and Apprenticeship Programme (YEAP) – for which $796,000,000 is earmarked;
2. construction of village offices and multipurpose buildings;
3. purchase of sports gear, musical instrument, drip irrigation systems, tractors and implements;
4. support to other projects and programmes including eco-tourism.
The AFC has genuine concerns about YEAP, the first item under the Amerindian Development Fund. The reason is that last year we approved $200,000,000 for YEAP and were very happy that our Indigenous youths were going to be exposed to types of training that would give them the opportunity to get jobs when they graduated, including business training. However, a few months into the programme, we were told that all was not well with YEAP; that the youths were not receiving the training as the Minister had promised, except for the ones working in the health, education and forestry or agriculture sectors. The other youths were left to fend for themselves most of the time and did not know what to do but receive the $30,000 per month for which they are not at fault.
Now Minister Sukhai is asking the opposition to approve $796,000,000, that is $596,000,000 more than last year for the YEAP, and this cannot be right. As leaders of this country we have a responsibility towards all Guyanese and we would be shirking our duty if we allow our taxpayers’ hard-earned monies to be carelessly spent.
The YEAP has some weaknesses that need to be strengthened and the AFC would like the Minister to review this programme and implement measures to strengthen it. For instance, start training youths in carpentry and joinery, auto mechanics, electrical mechanics, masonry, information technology, cosmetology, etc – the choice is theirs – for a minimum of six months at least, so that when they graduate they will be able to get real jobs.
We knew that we could not reduce/cut any allocation by itself, and instead had to “not approve”, as the Chief Justice ruled, the entire Project Code 161 – Amerindian Development. That is why we decided to ask the government to let us discuss this matter so that we could be allowed to reduce the allocation of YEAP and would not have to cut the entire Project Code 161. Sadly, they refused to speak with us.
Soon, however, Minister Sukhai, as other ministers did last year, can come back to Parliament with a supplementary bid for a reduced sum of $200M for the YEAP, the same amount she asked for and received last year and we will approve it. She can also ask for everything else that was automatically cut because of the YEAP and the AFC will approve them… we did not disapprove of them in the first place.
We, in the AFC, understand the dilemma of the lack of training and jobs in Indigenous communities and want better for all Indigenous youths. To this effect we have been asking the government to build technical institutes, agricultural and mining schools and home economics schools like Carnegie in all hinterland regions to cater for professional training for our Indigenous youths.
I would like to categorically state that the AFC would never oppose money for proper training and jobs, titling of Amerindian lands or community development. However, with regard to the LCDS funds, we do not have control over this money since it is handled and carefully monitored by international bodies and implemented along with the Ministry of Amerindian Affairs. Whenever monies are released for projects falling under the LCDS that is when communities will start to benefit.
I would like to advise my Indigenous brothers and sisters to be brave; ask more questions and consider the answers carefully. A story has two sides and the right thing to do is to listen to both sides; only then a fair opinion can be formed on the subject. A government is the manager of a country and the people in the government are just like you and me; they have flaws and make mistakes and are therefore liable to correction. The opposition’s job is to question the government and in so doing produce better programmes that will benefit the whole country, or in this case, our Amerindian brothers and sisters.
Many of them travelled to Georgetown on Sunday to protest outside of Parliament against the “not approval” of the Amerindian capital budget, but as I have explained, the Minister knows that she can come back to Parliament and ask for everything else except the $796 million for YEAP. For this we will approve a reduced amount of $200 million, and I have explained the reason why, and I am sure, after doing their own review in their villages, our Amerindian brothers and sisters will agree with us that $796 million is far too much to be spent on this programme.
They will agree with us, also, that the amount of money the Minister is spending to transport two thousand of them out to Georgetown to protest – chartering airplanes, boats, paying for hotel accommodation and meals for all of them – these are millions of dollars which could have been used for their actual benefit.
AFC wants better for our Indigenous youths and will always support programmes that will benefit them for years to come.
AFC Indigenous Parliamentarian