Jagdeo says ‘silly, useless’ World Bank officials stalling Norway funds
The government yesterday said that it will use the first set of money from a US$250 million forest-saving deal with Norway to demarcate Amerindian lands and fit every Amerindian home with solar panels over the next two years, but accused “silly, useless” World Bank officials of stalling the release of the funds.
Guyana’s Low Carbon Development Strategy is the foundation of the five-year agreement with Norway, which has agreed to have the World Bank administer the funds. But President Bharrat Jagdeo yesterday said that the release of the first tranche of the funding – US$30 million – was being stymied by the World Bank. He said the first set of funds should have been deposited into a special World Bank fund since January, but the Fund was only set up earlier this month.
“I hope that whilst you are here that you also send a clear signal to the international community who sometimes, because of distance, and sometimes because they have some real silly, useless people, don’t care,” Jagdeo told a meeting in Georgetown with the elected leaders of all of the country’s Amerindian villages. Jagdeo also handed out land titles to 10 Amerindian villages.
“Let us send a clear message to the international community that they must get out of the way and allow us to move forward with our development.”
Officials of the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank were not at the opening ceremony of the conference of Amerindian leaders.
Guyana has nine Amerindian tribes scattered in almost 100 Amerindian villages but they have remained the country’s poorest, with most still surviving on traditional subsistence farming, fishing and hunting. The government has said it will use any funds it receives from forest-saving deals to spur development in the villages.
The land rights issue has been a thorny one, with Non-Government Organisations (NGOs) criticizing the government for its handling of the issue and Jagdeo yesterday took a swipe at those NGOs.
“Some NGOs, to make money, have to be contrary. They can’t say, ‘we agree with you,’ so they snipe and try to undermine,” Jagdeo declared.
“Don’t fall into some other person’s way of making money. That’s how they survive,” Jagdeo told the Amerindians gathered for the week-long conference at the Guyana International Conference Centre.
Minister of Amerindian Affairs, Pauline Sukhai, also had her bit of warning for the Amerindian leaders who make up the National Toshaos Council. “I mention now with great conviction that you recognize the need for cleansing and eradicating of suspicions with respect to Amerindian land rights and ownership,” Sukhia declared.
Dr George Norton, an Amerindian Parliamentarian with the main opposition party, which has rapped the government on its corruption record, did not agree that the World Bank was hampering the flow of funds.
“The World Bank and other international financial agencies are trying to make certain that things are done the proper way, and if it means slowing down a process, then so be it,” said Norton.
The Parliamentarian said that the President was also being unfair in criticizing Amerindian NGOs.
Amerindian leaders have insisted that the government’s proposals to save the forest do not address its international obligations to indigenous groups.
“We have urged governments and international agencies to protect our traditional practices and help resolve outstanding land issues,” Tony James, president of Guyana’s Amerindian Peoples Association (APA), said at a World Bank meeting in Georgetown earlier this year. Indigenous leaders say the government is taking over traditional lands through poor demarcation and that in some areas communities were demarcated without their knowledge. The Amerindian Act of 2006 gives Amerindian villages legal powers to manage and conserve their lands.
“Some community lands are being sliced by half, some by quarter, some by three-quarters,” said John Adries, the leader of the Paruima community, which numbers 600 Arekuna people.
In an example of what they said was poor planning, a hospital that serves indigenous people in the mountain village of Kato was left out of land demarcated by government. But Norton said that the problem is not only in Kato.
“It has happened in so many villages,” Norton said.
Jagdeo said that part of the problem with the demarcation of land has been the lack of surveyors, but Norton said that Amerindians, who would best know their land, were trained through a World Bank-funded initiative, but the government did not accept this qualification.
The government is seeking international partnerships and incentives to protect 15 million hectares (37 million acres) of forest.
Amerindian communities have been told they can opt into the initiative or choose not to be part of it.