While urging the swift operationalisation of the Public Procurement Commission (PPC), European Union (EU) Representative to Guyana Ambassador Jernej Videtič yesterday handed over a $2 billion cheque to Minister of Finance Winston Jordan to aid in improving the country’s sea and river defences.
Ambassador Videtič, who also handed over a Coastal Engineering Design Manual for Guyana’s sea and river defences to Minister of Public Infrastructure David Patterson at a ceremony at the Marriott Hotel, said the Government of Guyana has made significant strides in improving public finance management, transparency and accountability.
This remark by the Ambassador, which was made to an audience that included other members of the diplomatic corps, appeared to be a reference to the EU’s refusal to release funds to the former government last January because of the absence of budget oversight, among other reasons.
“Amongst other things, the government has adopted a Transparency Action Plan, published on the government’s website, including measures to improve budget execution reports, to advance the budget cycle and to prepare comprehensive government procurement plans,” the Ambassador said yesterday.
He added that other actions, such as the transfers to the Consolidated Fund of monies in dormant accounts, forensic audits and the announced operationalisation of so far unused modules of the Integrated Financial Management System, further contribute to improve transparency and accountability. The government was encouraged to continue its efforts to improve public finance management.
Minister Jordan, in his address, said that the Public Accounts Committee has taken steps to set up the PPC. He pointed out that EU does not give “away money easily” and that Guyana has had to work hard to achieve certain set targets before being eligible for the disbursement of the resources. He said among the conditions to be satisfied were a stable macro-economic position and satisfactory progress in the implementation of credible and pertinent reforms to improve Public Financial Management (PFM).
According to Jordan, since taking office last year May, the government has developed and embraced a PFM action plan and has publicised both the plan and a budget transparency action plan on its website. Boasting of the significant progress made between then and December last year, the minister said that they had already recorded a 72% achievement rate of all critical indicators outlined in the plan. He named the quarterly exchanges between his ministry and the Auditor General’s office as the most significant improvement, which he said would see great improvements in the government addressing a number of concerns in the Auditor General’s annual reports and the significant strides made at the Guyana Revenue Authority to broaden the tax base and improve the efficiency and equity in tax collection.
The minister also spoke of the transferring of the lotto funds to the Consolidated Fund and the fact that all the dormant accounts have been closed and monies transferred to the said fund.
“Further, over 50 forensic audits have been conducted, indicating widespread fraud, corruption and mismanagement of resources under the previous regime. These audits are being studied with a view of pursuing administrative and/or legal options,” he added.
He said that steady progress has been made to improve transparency in public procurement practices in recognition of the fact that clear, consistent and transparent procurement processes are at the heart of anti-corruption measures and building people’s confidence in their government. He also mentioned that the government established a new National Tender Board, increased the tender limits, and expanded the pool of evaluators, among other initiatives.
Sea and river defences
Meanwhile, Ambassador Videtič pointed out that the EU has been Guyana’s main funding provider—with more than 500 million euros being given since 1975—and sea and river defences have been the main focus of the cooperation. Other areas include agriculture, economic development, energy, water and human rights.
He pointed out that given the country’s low-lying coastal area, it is particularly vulnerable to rising sea levels and coastal erosion of natural estuarine and sea defences.
“Guyana’s capacity to adapt to these vulnerabilities needs to be developed to limit the negative impacts of rising sea levels and climate change. Georgetown, in particular, is at risk,” he noted.
He said that over the past two years the country has shown marked capacity for protecting itself from rising sea levels. It has also formulated an integrated coastal zone management approach and the Ministry of Public Infrastructure has put in place a new sector policy strategy. The new manual handed over to Patterson sets the standards for designing sea and river defences specific to Guyana’s conditions.
The recently released funds are from the 10th European Development Fund (EDF) and Videtič noted that already, in partnership with the Guyana Government, a follow-on sea and river defence programme is being developed under the 11th EDF, through which Guyana stands to receive some $7 billion. This new programme will focus on further development, including legislative measures, strengthening defences and increasing drainage capacity in Georgetown.
Such programmes, he said, are vital given the challenges faced by climate change, which can only be fundamentally addressed at a global level.
“We are very keen to continue to collaborate with Guyana and other partners in making the Paris Agreement a reality and tackling climate change in a meaningful way,” he added.
Jordan said the new disbursement by the EU is provided through a sector support programme, which is linked to a number of target indicators relating to policy development, capacity building and risk-informed investment planning. Emphasis on the sea and river defences continues through the 11th EDF programme as the bulk of that money is earmarked for this sector. The minister said among the activities to be pursued are the harmonisation of the legal framework, development of updated disaster risk management policies and enhanced coordination of sector agencies.