Guayna's GRIF - What happens to the money?
With reference to your editorial ‘The Norway funds’ (May 14, see below), I wish to mention that on November 7, 2011, the Steering Committee of the Guyana REDD+ Investment Fund (GRIF), which is comprised of representatives of the Governments of Guyana and Norway, approved the disbursement of US$5.94M to the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) for disbursement to Guyana for project related activities, plus administrative fees of US$140,000.
In addition, Norway approved US$1.06M to Conservation International for preparatory work as pass through funds for the GFC.
Out of the US$5.94M, US$3.2M was granted to the Office of the President of Guyana for ‘institutional strengthening.’ At the same time, US$3.6M was granted to the Guyana Forestry Commission (GFC) for Monitoring Reporting and Verification (MRV) activities.
On February 1, 2012 IDB approved the GRIF project for institutional strengthening.
On March 30 Minister Ashni Singh included in the 2012 Budget US$3.1M for the GFC from the approved GRIF funds. So the implication from the Appropriations Bill is that GFC had already spent US$500,000.
However, as the GFC has not laid annual audited accounts before the National Assembly, as it is required to do by its own GFC Act of 2007, GFC spending cannot be monitored by the National Assembly.
Similarly the US$3.3M, which does not figure in the National Appropriations Bill for the Office of the President, may also have been spent between February and March 2012.
This appears to signal a general problem with incoming grant monies that are disbursed and spent after one National Budget has been passed in the National Assembly and before the next Budget.
Mechanisms for requiring government agencies to identify and account for external grant funds received after the National Budget has been approved do not appear to be functioning.
Amid the hysteria whipped up over the cuts to its 2012 budget, it may seem trite to state that it is the government which has failed signally to deliver on the steps that would put the designated sums in its hands for the Low Carbon Development Strategy projects. This stark fact has not however deterred the government from making the most outrageous charges over cuts and blaming the opposition for endangering every single project it can think of. In a way, the opposition’s cuts have inspired the government to try to shift the blame for its abject failure to access the funds which are presently under the stewardship of the World Bank.
It also worthy of note that the $18.3B excised from the LCDS in the budget was a result of this money not having been received by the government under the Norway forest deal and thereby creating the prospect of a vast hole which in normal circumstances should require a fundamental re-jigging of the entire budget. Further, the government should have sought recourse to a conditional appropriation for the sum which is the method envisaged by its own Fiscal Management and Accountability Act.
It remains a fact that since Guyana and Norway signed a forest protection deal on November 9, 2009 amid much fanfare in a clearing in Fairview that not a single major tranche of the US$70M accrued thus far has been released to Guyana. Moreover, Guyana could be eligible for US$30-40M more this year if the inscribed benchmarks in the MOU between Georgetown and Oslo were met. This would mean at least US$100M parked at the World Bank but out of the reach of the country.
It remains a fact that the government and its technocrats, particularly at the Office of the President and the Ministry of Finance are in complete control of the processes leading up to the approvals for the money. There are no members of the opposition on the committees and teams that the government can blame for retarding progress.
So from the Project Concept Notes to the results framework to the full project proposal it is the government of former President Jagdeo between 2009 and 2011 and now President Ramotar which have failed to meet conditions precedent to the release of the US$70M.
Finance Minister Mr Ashni Singh should be asked to explain in Parliament why the government members of the various committees overseeing the project proposals have failed so hopelessly to convince partners such as the UNDP and the IDB that the funds being held by the World Bank should be disbursed.
It is evident that President Jagdeo and his government assumed that the moment that the deal was signed with Norway that the money would flow without restraint. Indeed, it had seemed to all and sundry that this would be the case until it was agreed that the money would be deposited in the Guyana REDD+ Investment Fund (GRIF) under the supervision of the World Bank. Oslo had obviously come to understand the need for rigid safeguards over expenditure.
In the months that followed there were two extraordinary attacks by the government on the World Bank and Norway which were clearly intended to cow them into delivering the funds but which clearly failed. The first was Minister Singh’s astonishing rebuke of the World Bank office here in June 2010 over its reputed lavish circumstances and poor output followed by President Jagdeo’s undiplomatic blast at the Norwegian Prime Minister, Jens Stoltenberg in December 2010 at a climate summit in Mexico over what he termed the “nightmare” in accessing the funds.
While Project Concept Notes have been delivered to the GRIF steering committee comprising Guyana and Norway it is apparent that in the follow-up process there have been deficiencies which have prevented the process from moving ahead to final approval. It is inexplicable that a government which has been in place for 20 years and has engaged with multilateral financial institutions for all of this period has been incapable of magisterially putting together convincing project concepts and taking these through to detailed project proposals which would readily win the green light from the GRIF SC and thereby ensure disbursal of funds.
The projects which the government has stumbled over include the small and microenterprise development project, Amerindian land titling and Amerindian Development Fund projects. Considering the glacial pace at which the process has moved, those persons who protested the cuts outside of Parliament on Thursday should considering reprising their role but this time outside the line ministries in this matter such as the Ministry of Amerindian Affairs and the Ministry of Local Government.
The propaganda has gone as far as suggesting that the solar panels project would be held up because of the budget cuts, completely ignoring that this project had proceeded with government funding because President Jagdeo was miffed at the length of time processing of the Norway funds was taking. Perhaps the government should say whether a specific proposal is currently before the GRIF SC for solar panels and if not how this project would be affected by the budget cuts.
The Cunha canal is another example of the government deception which has been amplified by overwrought statements from the Minister of Agriculture. The Cunha Canal has only recently entered the list of projects for the Norway funds and has to go through the entire process. More importantly, it has to be pointed out that the government has waited 20 years before becoming seized with the importance of rolling back the filling in of this canal. Its lamentations are therefore purely contrived or represent a belated recognition of its own delinquency in addressing this important drainage infrastructure.
The delay in the release of the Norway funds is a sad commentary on the capacity of the government and its technocrats to discharge obligations which while likely to be unnecessarily bureaucratic are par for the course for countries like Guyana which seek a variety of loans. This failure may be a real indicator of the skills available to these processes, their management and the poor ability to execute.
This is where Minister Singh and his Cabinet colleagues should be focusing their energies and efforts. Since he has been in office for just six months, President Ramotar should seek from his ministers and the country’s representative on the GRIF SC a detailed update on the state of projects and ensure that these are taken to finality and the funds released. Once this occurs, the funds will undoubtedly be brought back into the budgetary frame.
The Economic Services Committee of Parliament should also have these funds and their intended use on its radar and one can expect interesting exchanges between the government and this committee on the progress being made.