Cabinet on Tuesday approved US$100,000 ($20 million) in emergency funding to the Iwokrama Rainforest Centre to cover expenses such as paying staff of the cash-strapped forest reserve facility as international funding has dwindled over the years.
According to Minister of State Joseph Harmon, the funding was approved after Minister of Governance Raphael Trotman briefed Cabinet on what he said was a “sad situation.” He said Cabinet was informed that the centre could not meet operational expenses. “It could not pay its staff and some other expenses which had to be met could not be met,” he said.
He added that a committee inclusive of Trotman, the centre’s Chief Executive Officer Dane Gobin, Major General (rtd) Joe Singh, Clayton Hall from the Ministry of Presidency, Dr Raquel Thomas from Iwokrama, Dr David Singh from Conservation International and Damien Fernandes from the Protected Areas Commission along with representatives from the University of Guyana and ministries of Tourism, Public Infrastructure and Indigenous People’s Affairs will review the operations of the centre and recommend a way forward. The committee is expected to commence its work immediately.
Following questions, Harmon revealed that Secretary General of the Commonwealth, Kamalesh Sharma, during a visit here this week, stated that the Commonwealth would be unable to further support the centre. Harmon also said that Chairman of the centre Dr Rajendra Pachauri has not been functioning as he faces legal challenges in India.
“We have a situation where we have had limited funding for the project,” Harmon said. “A situation where the inflows coming into the project have been reduced significantly and therefore this is the reason why we have to review the board itself and the work that is done there at the centre so that we can actually look at some new models as to how best we can utilize that pristine rainforest that was a reserve not just for the Guyana but the benefit of the world.”
Asked about the marketing of this area as a tourist destination for locals to raise funds, Harmon said this is why the review committee has representatives of the Tourism Ministry.
Explaining the inclusion of Ministry of Public Infrastructure, he said that in the development of the Linden/Lethem road, the fact the Iwokrama lands “smack in the middle of it will have to be considered in so far as the road design and certain bypass arrangements are concerned.”
Harmon also said that local tourism and a different way of marketing this centre will be among some of the things being looked at by the review committee.
Last year, the centre had said it depended heavily on government for a huge portion of its financing as international funding had dwindled.
In February this year, former cabinet secretary Dr Roger Luncheon had announced that Cabinet had approved a US$100,000 tranche from the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission to the Iwokrama centre, which was intended to provide financial support. It is not clear whether this US$100,000 was paid over, or if this is the same figure that the new government will be transferring.
Luncheon, according to GINA had stated that the loan to Iwokrama would assist the centre in successfully implementing its 2015 financial plan. He had stated that the “current dire financial situation” of the centre would be eased with the monetary intervention.
Linden LegalAid Clinic
Meanwhile, Minister Harmon also announced that Cabinet has approved the sum of $6.350 million as support for the Linden Legal Aid Clinic.
He said this sum was required for the clinic to continue its work for the rest of the year. He said Cabinet had also approved the Linden Legal Air Clinic becoming a subvention agency under the government.
Earlier this year, Company Secretary of the clinic Joan Ward-Mars had said that it had never received a penny from the Government of Guyana.
“The Centre was destroyed by fire during the Linden protest in July 2012 and all efforts by the Minister of Human Services to provide funding to facilitate the reopening of the Centre have been thwarted,” she had written.
Harmon also stated that Cabinet has directed that there be a review of all legal aid clinics across the country to ensure legal services are provided to the poor and vulnerable.