Jagdeo’s mis-conceptions of the details of Guyana-Norway MOU source of international embarrassment

The road from Oslo, Norway to Cancun, Mexico has been proving to be a rather rocky one for Guyana’s President Jagdeo. In February 2009, Jagdeo and Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg signed a memorandum of understanding in the Norwegian capital Oslo under which Guyana would receive from Norway up to US$250 million ($51.7 billion) during a five year period ending in 2015 for this country to preserve its forests. In return Guyana has undertaken to accelerate its efforts to limit forest-based greenhouse gas emissions and protect its rainforest as an asset for the world. It was a euphoric moment for Jagdeo, one that placed him in a positive light on the world stage and caused some of his supporters to nominate him unsuccessfully for the Nobel Peace Prize.

As a measure of President Jagdeo’s excitement, in November 2009, he described the agreement as a watershed moment, “another first by Guyana” for which Norway should be commended. One year later at a climate change forum in Cancun, Mexico on Tuesday December 7 when, sitting beside the Norwegian Prime Minister, he tore off at his long-time benefactor the World Bank as well as the Norwegians for what he perceives as delays in the disbursement process of what he described as “our money.” According to Mr Jagdeo, a process that Stoltenberg saw as going well, had turned into a nightmare that could for good measure cost him his presidency. This latter comment clearly indicates that President Jagdeo had overstepped the boundaries and with this had lost the respect of Stoltenberg and the World Bank which was quick to point out the mechanics of the Norwegian deal.

Irresponsibility and immaturity
Mr Stoltenberg’s incredulous look at the iconic moment of his outburst was a defining point for Mr Jagdeo and Guyana, a measure of how one moment of irresponsibility and immaturity can undo a year of good solid and hard work. Suddenly the Champion of the Earth shrank into ordinariness and Guyana was exposed as a country unable to appreciate and demonstrate basic rules of diplomacy and discretion. But those who have observed President Jagdeo over the years would not have been as surprised as Mr Stoltenberg. That has been Mr Jagdeo’s brand of behaviour in Guyana where he could rail, abuse and defame with complete impunity.

By the time the President had returned to Guyana two weeks later his temper had subsided and more calmly he announced that he expected disbursements to take place some time next month. Bad as it, Mr Jagdeo’s conduct in Cancun might have been understandable, except that the display of crassness was not an isolated case of abuse but rather a pattern that has been directed at the British over security, the Americans over drugs, the World Bank over process and Guyanese over the mildest criticism, no matter how justified. This is more than a problem for Mr Jagdeo; it is one for the country, its citizens and its diplomats. Their task of damage control will add to the challenge they face with few and sometimes mixed signals from the Office of the President that is effectively the country’s Foreign Ministry.

Glaring misconception
So what is the problem or are there more than is being let on? President Jagdeo had said in January that Guyana had complied with all of the conditions under the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) and that the “only outstanding thing” is the settlement of the trust fund mechanism through which the money will flow to Guyana. Even if that was all, a trust fund carries immense legal and other obligations as the World Bank Director for the Caribbean Yvonne Tsikata had to point out in trying to correct our President.

The fund, the Guyana REDD+ Investment Fund, which aims to be a multi-donor financial mechanism managed by a reputable international organization, is to be operational before any contributions can be disbursed from Norway. Describing Jagdeo’s position as “the most glaring misconception,” Ms Tsikata explained that as a trustee, the World Bank cannot disburse any funds to the implementing partners such as the UN and the Inter American Development Bank, before getting the green light from a Steering Committee comprised of Norway and Guyana. She added that up to now, the committee has not instructed us to transfer any funds and as trustee, the World Bank cannot act faster than the Steering Committee. That elementary fact appears to have escaped Guyana’s President.

And as Prime Minister Stoltenberg pointed out in Cancun, his country’s agreement with Guyana is one that is results-based. Knowledgeable persons I have spoken to confirm Mr Jagdeo’s misinterpretation of the agreement which he negotiated.

Technical and scientific issues
Persons familiar with the agreement point out that its technical and scientific issues and Guyana’s spending proposals under its hurriedly cobbled up LCDS are distinct issues which have been distorted and conflated by Mr Jagdeo. The Verification Report for Norway is not final – Rainforest Alliance has been contracted to undertake this verification of compliance with the enablers (progress indicators) in the Joint Concept Note attached to the Norway-Guyana MOU. I understand that the report is not yet finalised.

Also incomplete is a report by Poyry, a New Zealand management consulting firm that specialises in forest and related industries and which is conducting a study into the technical and scientific issues of monitoring, reporting and verification system (MRVS) for carbon emissions. So, there is no verified performance, and consequently, the Norwegians have no obligation to pay in advance of the agreement on verification.

A separate issue is the proposals for spending. President Jagdeo is confusing these two issues. He said that all spending proposals will be run past the MSSC, which is different from the Steering Committee under the GRIF. According to the LCDS website, the MSSC is not recorded to have met since August, and there is no evidence that MSSC has considered any of the proposals on spending – these are Mr Jagdeo’s proposals.

Then there still remains the anomaly that this is a REDD scheme. REDD is about reductions in carbon emissions. But Guyana is increasing emissions – from increasing gold mining and gold exploration, road-building and associated land-clearing, increasing log exports. So that paradox remains unresolved.

Cancun was a failure for Guyana which was represented by Andrew Bishop but who was effectively silenced by Mr Jagdeo. How fast we have lost ground in terms of our credentials as a climate change champion is demonstrated in the recent UNASUR communiqué, in which there were prominent mentions of Ecuador’s Yasuni initiative to keep oil in the ground but no mention of Jagdeo’s LCDS, even though the summit was held in and financed by Guyana.

Money, money, money
President Jagdeo’s performance also vindicated the view of many here that his only interest in climate change was in the money it could bring. Had the McKinsey study been done by any lesser known consultancy it might have been described as bogus, valuing the retention of our forests at US$580 million annually, when we settled for an average of less than 10% of that for each year over the next five years. And at a very practical level, if Mr Jagdeo really believed in the dangers of climate change, the rise in ocean levels and the overtopping of our sea defences, would he have allowed an entirely new community involving some of his close colleagues to be established right on the shores of the Atlantic knowing that it is the state that will have to come to the rescue of the property owners if the fears were to be realised?

And some of President Jagdeo’s LCDS proposals are equally spurious as the World Bank and Norway would discover with minimal research of the Amaila Falls hydro-project and his land titling for the swing voters in next year’s elections. We are told that just when the 2011 elections are around the corner, Mr Jagdeo wants to spend some $1.6 billion on land titling. Not only has the process of land titling for Amerindians been greatly simplified under the 2006 Amerindian Act which his government was finally forced to bring into law four years late. In fact for several years the national budget has easily provided the money for land titling exercises and there is no evidence of any major backlog of applications that are outstanding. Some fear that without campaign financing laws and no financial controls, the bulk of the $1.6 billion will simply be used for political purposes.

The LCDS Unit in the Office of the President has been busy spending money while some of its key players have been engaging in private consultancies. They should have been sent home a long time ago. Ram & McRae had cautioned about including in the 2010 Budget money from Norway but instead of cutting back on expenditure we now have the Finance Minister going to the National Assembly for $6 billion including $4 billion for Irfaan Ali’s ministry. One can only hope that on this occasion, he has fewer difficulties with the truth than he had with a similar sum around the same time last year.

And finally there is an element of governance in the agreement. That is another word that makes Mr Jagdeo see blue.

Have a happy and peaceful Christmas.

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