US$8M for land titling, solar power in Amerindian communities – Jagdeo
The government’s US$8 million pledge to Amerindian communities, from the first tranche from the Guyana REDD+ Investment Fund (GRIF) set up with Norway, will be used to accelerate land demarcation and finance a solar power drive, President Bharrat Jagdeo yesterday announced.
He made the revelation at the opening of the five-day National Toshaos Council (NTC) Meeting at the Guyana International Conference Centre, Liliendaal. Some US$4 million will be used to accelerate the Amerindian land demarcation exercise, while it is estimated that about US$1.5 million will be used to purchase solar panels for every Amerindian home. The rest is to be used to fund activities arising from the council meeting, Jagdeo said.
He noted that none of the Amerindian communities had been asked to pledge any of their forests to the Low Carbon Development Strategy (LCDS) but if they so choose then it would be additional funds for them. Jagdeo pointed out role of the international agencies in the funding facility and said he hoped that their representatives would be present this week at the meeting to ensure the disbursement goes ahead quickly. “They slow things up tremendously; we’ve been negotiating a year now with the World Bank [and] it’s only a couple of weeks we got the money transferred although it should have been transferred since January to our account because we fulfilled the conditions,” he declared.
Jagdeo urged the Toshaos to tell the officials not to stymie the initial US$30 million GRIF disbursement because “it’s our money, we earned it.”
He said the US$8 million was dedicated to the announced areas since that was what had been identified in consultations with the communities. He also expanded on plans for computers for the Amerindian communities saying the government was setting aside a large sum of money to be spent over the next two years in tandem with the One Laptop Per Family initiative which will concentrate on the coast. “This is not necessarily going to be funded from the Low Carbon Development Strategy, but some of it may come from the treasury itself, to ensure that in each Amerindian village … we have internet access and a bank of computers, maybe about 20 computers in each of these villages depending on their size,” the President said.
He also urged the toshaos to send a clear signal to the international community which sometimes uses the wrong people as middlemen. According to Jagdeo, some NGOs could only receive funding by being “contrarian” and he went on to state that one had undermined a US$5 million project which would have benefited Amerindians. “Let me tell you something, they’re not going to undermine this one, I’m not going to let anybody undermine this one that will bring benefit to our people,” he declared.
He added that some toshaos had already been persuaded to say that they did not want any money from the LCDS, something they subsequently denied when confronted and which their villages were not in favour with.
Jagdeo also noted the need for proper accountability with the funds from the GRIF mechanism, saying “every cent of the money has to be accounted for. When we give you the money to do the projects you’ll have to ensure that the money is spent in a way that delivers results and also you’d have to account for it. We need to pay close attention to fiduciary issues … so we don’t undermine the entire programme.”
Barring the need for accountability, Jagdeo said, the country should be allowed to spend the money how it sees best and he encouraged the toshaos to send that message to the international community.
After the opening ceremony, Aishalton Toshao Hildebrand James said he was “impressed and encouraged” by what he heard and “anxious” to see development in his community. “A lot of youngsters have written the Grade Six Assessment and we have about three tops in the country and I feel if the solar panels are given early it would be better so kids can study in the night. I’m hoping that we get more good results from next year on.”
James said Aishalton does not have a land issue right now but is drafting an application for an extension of its land.
Toshao Bertie Benjamin of Manawarin said life is improving in the hinterland communities and added that the newly announced initiatives could see a growth in skilled individuals in the communities. “It would develop us because that is where the technical skills come in and persons would learn directly what are those things that take place out on the coastal area; they could have that access within the interior also. So, for my part, it is something that is very very beneficial to us,” he said.
Benjamin said his village lands have not been demarcated as yet and that they have started the process which he hoped could happen be concluded soon.
However, Kamarang Toshao Norma Thomas was not impressed with everything the President said particularly his remarks on the NGOs. “We don’t want to hear that from the top leaders, save that for the locals. What are you criticising for? Do you have facts?”
As it relates to Jagdeo’s announcement, she said that unemployment was a problem among her community’s youths and she was looking for initiatives that would be income generating. Thomas added that the government had already approved proposals for large-scale farming and furniture making for which she was grateful and the additional funding would see her realise her hopes for the community.
The toshaos will spend the week engaging government ministers and other officials on several issues including governance; LCDS implementation; accessing social welfare services; sustainable forest management; policing matters; and resource management. Several NTC reports are also to be presented during the meeting which ends on Friday.