Permit me the opportunity to respond to Minister Allicock’s pronouncements on the LCDS-GRIF funded Amerindian Development Fund Project carried in the November 28 edition of the Kaieteur News captioned ‘Amerindian Develop-ment Fund projects to be restructured’ and another article carried in the November 15 edition of the Stabroek News captioned ‘Most Amerindian Fund projects missed objectives’. According to the minister, the restructuring is to ensure that everyone is sensitized about the project and is provided with adequate training to ensure transparency and accountability.
To address the issues raised by the minister, in terms of sensitizing everyone, the Project Management Unit (PMU) undertook several measures to ensure that the principle of free, prior and informed consent (FPIC), a right enshrined in the Amerindian Act 2006, was adhered to at all stages of implementation. These included:
- A series of regional inception conferences were undertaken to which each village/community targeted under the ADF project was invited. The main objective was to sensitize members of the Village Councils about the project.
- After the inception seminar series, the PMU undertook scoping missions to each community to conduct a public meeting. The main objective was to sensitize the residents about the project and garner community buy-in and support.
- Numerous measures were taken to ensure that we had maximum attendance at such meetings.
There are a host of other measures and activities undertaken by the PMU to ensure adherence to FPIC which space will not permit me to elaborate on. I am curious as to how the minister intends to restructure the project to enhance FPIC.
The other issue was with regard to training. The minister alluded to the 1-2 day training provided. Once again a profound misunderstanding of the implementation of the ADF project is demonstrated. The 1-2 day initial training in business management is geared to meet the start-up requirements of the business ventures/Community Development Plans (CDPs) in the first year of the project. Subsequent follow-up training missions are meant to be conducted in years 2 and 3 of the project. The reasons for implementing the training in a modular fashion and over a period of time are numerous. I will mention a few:
- The members of the CDP management teams (CMT) which comprise 6-8 members selected by each community to be trained in business management often pull out from the CMT or are changed for several reasons. By conducting the training in different modules over time allows the replacements to benefit from such training.
- If the initial training module was to be extended beyond 1-2 days, each subsequent village/community scheduled for scoping and training would have to wait a progressively longer time to receive funding to start up their business venture (keep in mind the project targets 160 villages/communities over a 3 year period). This means that some communities will have to wait until 2017 to receive their first tranche of the grant. The current modular structure allows the PMU to conduct scoping and training missions for all 160 villages/communities targeted in 2015 which will therefore receive their grants quickly. There is a time value to money, therefore, the communities further down the line will be at a disadvantage if the initial training was extended beyond 1-2 days. The old adage, time is money, is not without merit.
- In addition, markets change, Village Council (VC) members change and even entire VCs change in the case of village elections, with the passage of time. This will inevitably result in communities requesting a change of CDP because different Toshaos have different ideas about which projects should be priority. This is an issue that caused severe delays in the implementation of the project with the current structure of the training programme. If the initial training is extended, it will only exacerbate this problem. Therefore, the CDPs stand a better chance of continuity if all of them achieve start-up in the first year, rather than extending the initial training and having to deal with constant changes of CDPs which result in delays in the disbursement of the funds.
There is a plethora of other reasons for breaking up the training into different modules, nevertheless at the end of 3 years the number of days of training will be the same as if they were conducted all at once. These and the other intricacies of implementation of the ADF project were explained to the minister, however they seem not to have registered. Instead he seems inclined to repeat the misguided notions perpetuated by a member of UNDP who falls lower down in the hierarchy. Incidentally, this individual should be held culpable for the failed CDPs implemented in the pilot phase since he acted in the capacity of project manager in this phase of the ADF project.
With regard to failed projects (CDPs), the minister correctly pointed out that they occurred in the pilot phase but neglected to mention that these were implemented by UNDP with logistical and other support from the then MoAA. I agree with him on this point, and believe that he was kind in saying “some of these projects were not successful.” The minister also mentioned transparency and accountability, but I can only assume he meant on the part of Village Councils. If he was referring to the ADF project, I must agree with him again since UNDP is delinquent in providing financial reports. What is the reason for this?
On the issue of management, if the management of the ADF project was so poor, why was an offer to renew my contract made by the MoIPA? This was an offer which I declined due to an inhospitable environment created by the belligerence of the permanent secretary. So much for the “professional public service”.
The restructuring of the ADF project needs to be sanctioned by the project board. As far as I am aware there has been no Project Board meeting since January 2015, which would make the minister’s pronouncements premature at best.
The Restructuring of LCDS-GRIF project by Minister Allicock underscores a profound misunderstanding of the implementation of the ADF project. Reference made to “one of our donors” in the Stabroek News article further exposes the minister’s deep misunderstanding of the LCDS as a model for economic development.
It is unfortunate to see, at this point in time, the ADF project be used for cheap political gain by throwing unfounded accusations into the public domain. This is certainly a new feature in the implementation of the ADF project. What needs restructuring is the minister’s understanding of the LCDS-GRIF funded projects and a dysfunctional relationship with the UNDP.
Former Project Manager, ADF II