The European Union (EU) has insisted on a number of measures before the release of $5.8 billion (€25 million) –frozen under the previous administration – for sea defence and the sugar sector including for government to show that funds released previously were utilized in a transparent manner.
“With regard to the sea defences, the real truth is that it is a tremendously expensive proposition. Unfortunately, due to the previous administration‘s performance, we were eligible for some support from the EU and that had been frozen. It started, initially because of the lack of parliamentary oversight, but they’ve now also tagged on the question of transparency, corruption etcetera onto the requirements and so this government, my ministry is now a recipient of that,” Minister of Public Infrastructure David Patterson told Stabroek News in an exclusive interview.
Patterson met with an EU delegation on Tuesday and subsequently told Stabroek News that there was no movement on whether the funds would be released any time soon and this will impact Guyana’s ability to tackle sea defence areas in need of immediate repair and attention.
The minister said that it was unfortunate that the new administration’s planning and execution of projects would be delayed due to the lack of transparency in the previous administration. He asserted that the work that has been done over the years has not been “substantial.”
“We are supposed to be fixing it and moving on and it has a 10-year life shelf. What we are doing is outing fires and that is the situation that we find ourselves,” Patterson lamented.
The Minister said that teams are out daily assessing the sea defences in the most critical need of work. However, for now, the money is not there, he said and added that the ministry is working on its budgetary request to tackle the direst areas.
Without the billions in EU relief, according to Patterson, the ministry would be more reactionary in addressing sea defence concerns. “I mean, I can probably only react to the worse cases defects in the sea defences as opposed to progressively and systematically repair them so they can be of long term use,” Patterson related.
He revealed that $55 million in emergency relief was recently approved to allow for work to be done at Crane, West Coast Demerara. The minister told Stabroek News that he wanted to see a streamlining of various departments noting that the Mangrove Project was under the Ministry of Tourism when it has a large impact on sea defence. He noted that the National Drainage and Irrigation Authority should be charged with countrywide drainage as a way to cut the bureaucracy at the local level.
Due to the withholding of EU funds, Guyana faces an uphill battle, Patterson said. He criticised the handling of the sea defence sector. “Prior approach to it has been wholly inadequate,” he said.
In January, the EU said that the absence of budget oversight was among the reasons for it withholding $5.8 billion (€25 million) in funds due to Guyana for sea defence and the sugar sector. “The latest partial payments related to these two programmes have been temporarily put on hold until all eligibility criteria, inter alia budget oversight, are satisfactorily addressed,” the EU Delegation in Guyana had said in a statement. When the EU released the statement in January, the National Assembly, the body responsible for budget oversight had been prorogued since November 10, 2014 by the former President Donald Ramotar.
The EU had said that it has a longstanding commitment to support development and poverty reduction in Guyana. It noted that last year, €34 million was allocated to Guyana under the 11th European Development Fund. Then Finance Minister Dr Ashni Singh had called the reason for the suspension of the funds “spurious.”
A delegation from the EU met with APNU+AFC government ministers on June 17. A release from the EU on that meeting said:
“Both sides acknowledged the fruitful cooperation over the last 40 years and confirmed their commitment to continue and further strengthen this cooperation in the years ahead. Areas of collaboration discussed during the meeting included cooperation on sugar industry reform, security, climate change adaptation and sea defences, cultural heritage, public finance management, governance and regional programmes, including investment facilities. The European Union indicated readiness to render immediate Technical Assistance support for areas of Public Finance Management and transparency, while further support for sugar industry reform and governance is being explored.”