A review of the Low Carbon Development Strategy – Conclusion

Today we conclude our review of the Low Carbon Development Strategy (LCDS) announced by President Jagdeo to the international community and now the subject of consultations taking place across Guyana. The first two parts of this series appeared in these columns on July 19 and July 26 and both before and since that time the reading public have had the benefit of a series of letters on the strategy both supportive and critical of it. More significantly, the Stabroek News has been carrying a ten-part review by Ms Janette Bulkan in which she addresses some of the more technical questions about forest carbon and our own forests about which she is extremely knowledgeable.

Not surprisingly, Ms Bulkan has drawn from a representative of the Guyana Forestry Commission and from the Office of Climate Change set up in the Office of the President strong criticisms, some of which have crossed the line into personal attacks. Ms Bulkan’s contribution has stood out for its scholarship and her responses to the criticisms have been measured and responsible. She and other critics have also been attacked for pointing out the serious weaknesses in the document and for not offering recommendations to improve it. That is regrettable for a number of reasons.

One would expect those who are now employed as full-time specialists to recognise from the identified weaknesses the implicit recommendations for improvements. They cannot expect those from the outside to do their work for them. For all the money that is being spent on the LCDS, there seems to be no official voice and the structure of the website hardly fills the breach. As a result one is confused by the ambiguity created by the government’s assurance to the domestic audience that the country will not cede our sovereignty while the highly respected international weekly Economist informs the world that the Guyana President has committed the country to ceding to the world the stewardship of the country’s entire forests by outsiders.

Second, it is often easier to re-write than try to improve a document containing fundamental flaws; third, the government has refused to publish important information relevant to the strategy such as the McKinsey Study on which so much seems to hang, as well as the agreement the President signed with the Prime Minister of Norway which it seems will constitute some kind of model for developed countries to pay rainforest countries for drastically restricting forest operations. And there should be no valid reason for the government’s spokespersons being unwilling to concede the very valid points being made by others, and offering a commitment that these would be incorporated into the final document. Indeed no one is sure – and that seems to extend to the members of the LCDS Steering Committee – of the process for accepting and rejecting the submissions made by others.

Extravagant assumptions
In Part One of this series we said that the success of the LCDS would not be determined in Guyana but by what happens in Copenhagen in December this year, and in the more powerful countries of the world who the strategy expects to pay Guyana as much as US$580M per year for keeping our forests intact as our contribution to fight global warming. This column believes that there will be some money available but nothing on the transformative scale worked out by McKinsey. One has only to look at Exhibit 4 of the strategy which places the projections of expected government revenues for fruits and vegetables within a spread of US$40M–US$110M in 2013, an investment of US$80M–US$100M in 2009 and net exports of US$250M–US$350M after 2011. The estimate for aquaculture products seems even more exotic with a projection of 2013 government revenue of US$150M–US$200M, an investment of between US$135M and US$175M in 2009 and net exports after 2011 of US$500M–US$1,000M after 2011! It borders on the reckless to estimate government revenue in the form of taxation to be 30% of gross revenue, ie before expenses. Whoever did those numbers clearly does not understand our tax culture or the range of tax allowances including export allowances that are available for particular businesses.

I fail to see why anyone would not want to question seriously these projections, and inevitably the value arrived at by McKinsey of US$580M as the value debt owed to Guyana for keeping its forests intact. With Guyana having just 0.5% of the world’s standing forests, that figure which translates to a value of $116,000M, for all the rainforests is a huge sum indeed. No wonder even persons supportive of the LCDS do not believe that Guyana would receive anything like the sums quoted in the document.

And it is that kind of doubt that makes the proposed spending sound a mere wish list. There is nothing in the strategy that indicates how the government will adjust its proposed spending programme if the sums received are less than McKinsey tells us our forests are worth intact. And does the expenditure mean that the government will be engaging in these businesses or giving to particular businesses the money which should be for the country as a whole?

Poor accounting and accountability
As a columnist who has witnessed the bad accounting, misspending and unlawful spending which has become a defining trait of the Jagdeo administration, I shudder at the thought that this or a government with similar tendencies would have control of huge sums of money extracted from international donors to spend as they please. Our under-resourced Audit Office, minimal accountability, gross wastage, unprecedented extravagance, increasing corruption, widespread non-compliance with the financial regulations and poor accountability will hardly impress the international community, and it seems unjust and immoral to ask Norway or any other country to give us money to spend in a manner which their own taxpayers would find completely unacceptable. It is ironic that the LCDS may itself be an example of the absence of accountability. The 2009 Budget had no provision for all the structures, the huge consultancy fees, the costs of travel both locally and abroad being spent on the LCDS, and one has to wonder where the money is coming from (Lotto?) and who is controlling the spending. What we need to accompany any strategy is an accountability strategy that finds favour with our population.

Another reason for doubts about the strategy is that it is not rooted in the culture and habits of this government or in any strong commitment to the environment. For nearly two decades, Asian and Chinese logging companies and local chainsaw operators have been allowed to do almost as they wished with the forests, and efforts to reverse those practices will take time to produce results. The government imports for itself and allows the importation, often duty free, of large numbers of gas-guzzling vehicles; we have unlimited numbers of ministries and departments, no policy on recycling; we tolerate mining practices that are detrimental to the environment and dangerous to some communities and practise not big, but huge government. President Jagdeo most eloquently demonstrated that lack of commitment when he threatened to continue cutting down our forests if the rich countries do not pay up. Blackmail as Plan B can hardly be described as a strategy.
What if the money does not flow?

President Jagdeo is right that we need to protect the environment, but for the wrong reasons. By protecting our forests and our environment we are also protecting our present and future interests. He is also right that we need a strategy to lift the economy from its sub-par performance of below 2% since he became President to a level where the economy provides valuable jobs so that our artisans do not go knocking at the doors of our less-endowed neighbours only to be used and humiliated. He is wrong to believe that such a limited document can provide the blueprint for the economic growth and development of the country.

Guyana does not need a Development Strategy – it has one. Millions of real dollars was spent on versions 1 and 2 of the National Development Strategy (NDS) financed by the Carter Center during the last decade. It brought together the best that Guyana could offer in terms of time and talent and remains a sound document that could drive national development while caring for the environment. It recognised the value of the country’s forests, flora and fauna to eco-tourism which warrant mainly footnotes in the LCDS. It advocated a national forest policy with “guidelines for environmental protection and sustainable resource utilization.” President Jagdeo is half-right when he states that our forests are our most valuable resource – in truth it is the people – but the greatest value of that wealth can be derived if we sustainably manage them. It is not as the President seems to think, all or nothing. The NDS which President Jagdeo praised for its inclusiveness and comprehensiveness has languished largely unimplemented because of his own lack of commitment and attention span.

On the other hand, the LCDS is mainly a document for raising money. As such, it comes with too many shortcomings.

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