Concerned that a recent US$17.2M loan for Guyana that is to be used to strengthen the environmental sector could be misused for electioneering, the local human rights body has asked the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) to defer release of the funds until after the May 11th general elections.
The Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA) announced yesterday that it wrote the Country Representative of the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB) on Thursday outlining its concerns that the loan, intended to support the government’s environmental strategy, could be abused for electioneering purposes were it to be made available prior to the polls.
The loan, which was approved on February 11, 2015, is the second of a two-operation Programmatic Policy Based Loan directed at strengthening the environmental sector in Guyana. According to IDB documents, it will enhance the regulatory, institutional and monitoring structures to support the implementation of the Low Carbon Development Strategy (LCDS).
Opposition party, the Working People’s Alliance (WPA), has expressed concern that approval was granted while Parliament is prorogued.
In its letter, which was copied to the Caribbean Office of the IADB, the GHRA said it was disturbed by the timing of the announcement of the approval of the loan. “While the GHRA is not suggesting impropriety in the approval process, or of the IADB as an institution, nor disagreeing with the substance of the loan, issues of perception with respect to timing cannot be overlooked,” it said, while recommending that the loan not be made available to the government of Guyana before general elections and the new Parliament is installed.
According to the GHRA, best democratic practice encompasses the principle that the incumbent government not be able to influence elections by inaugurating new projects which directly benefit particular communities, such as roads, health centres or other such activities. Asian countries, such as India and Bangladesh, it noted, have gone farther and specifically prohibit any projects which might influence elections being initiated for a set period prior to elections. Amerindian communities, it pointed out, are identified among the beneficiaries of the recently-approved loan and it is common knowledge that these communities are traditionally a priority target of political party electioneering.
The GHRA also said the manner in which the government announced the date for general elections was improper and, by not linking the proclamation to the dissolution of Parliament, has generated much controversy. “However any ensuing confusion should not be rewarded by business being conducted as if Parliament were still in session,” it argued.
It further noted that financial management by the current government “leaves a great deal to be desired” and it cited the recent judgment by acting Chief Justice Ian Chang that found that the Minister of Finance Dr Ashni Singh acted illegally by incurring excess expenditure to the amount of $4.554B last year. The funds were “expressly disapproved” by the National Assembly when originally submitted as part of the national budget, it added.
It also pointed to the recent revelation that the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC) has over the life of the current government expended $8.333B to other government ministries and agencies for purposes beyond its remit and in contravention of laws that require all such monies be lodged in the Consolidated Fund.
The GHRA also cited a recent publication by Global Financial Integrity that Guyana has lost an annual average of US$281M in illicit transfers between the period 2003 and 2012.
As a result, GHRA said it would encourage the IDB to defer final release of the loan until after general elections.
In its statement on the loan, the WPA said it viewed the loan with suspicion and disfavour, given the recent High Court decision by the acting Chief Justice that the Minister of Finance has been unlawfully and unconstitutionally spending money that the country’s National Assembly had expressly disapproved.
It also pointed out that Guyana’s Governor to the IDB is Singh and questioned the timing of the loan and the motive and judgment of the Board in approving the loan on February 11. “The WPA is asking the (IDB) to publicly declare whether the loan has been disbursed and if not, to suspend its disbursement while the National Assembly is prorogued and in the consequential absence of any parliamentary oversight over public finances,” the WPA asserted.
The statement said that all moneys payable to Guyana, whether by loan or otherwise, have to be paid into the Consolidated Fund and can only be taken out from the Fund and spent by way of an Appropriation Act. “Obviously, no such Act can be passed while the National Assembly is prorogued or dissolved and any spending would therefore be further illegalities by the Minister and Governor of the IADB Dr. Ashni Singh,” the party said.