Serious questions remain about the LCDS including the wisdom of putting Norway funds into the Amaila project

Despite its Stalinist ring, the request to Transparency International by acting Minister of Foreign Affairs Mr. Manzoor Nadir for a purge of the board of Transparency Institute (Guyana) Inc. (TIGI), a civil society group, is no surprise. Similarly, his falsehood that TIGI director Gino Persaud was “removed by the Government from the University Council” and his references to familial connections are entirely consistent with the evolution of the political behaviour of Mr. Nadir.

Not surprising either is President Jagdeo’s threat to host a press conference to deal exclusively with civil society activists Dr. Janette Bulkan and me over a letter on the LCDS signed by a group that includes the two of us. That too has become par for his course. Whether he will carry out that promise is uncertain given his surreal Saturday Night forgiveness fiesta and epiphany.

The venom in the statements by Messrs. Jagdeo and Nadir show how intolerant the Jagdeo administration has become of independent voices and critical views. I have no authority to speak for TIGI, the directors of which are quite capable. I do however feel compelled to respond to the attacks on my colleagues who signed the open letter for their “blasphemy” in expressing their well-grounded fears of abuse of LCDS money by a government that constantly shows only a cynical interest in openness, transparency and accountability and audit of public funds. A government that seems able to find from nowhere sometimes hundreds of millions of dollars to pay for spy equipment, for laptops and for various improper activities.

I assume those associated with a counter-letter under the Jagdeo-led Multi-Stakeholder Steering Committee (MSSC) did in fact read the letter in full and not rely on the government’s misrepresentation of it. To them I wish to pose the following issues relevant to the LCDS:

1. No matter how inevitable, any change in policy has winners and losers. How does the prioritization of the spending projects take account of and compensate, whether by way of cash compensation, retraining or otherwise, some of the biggest losers such as the forestry and mining sectors and their thousands of employees and small operators.

2. Our first peoples deserve reparations and appreciation of the rest of the country. But they also deserve our honesty, not hypocrisy. For four years until I called for action, the Government refus-ed to pay the Amerindians their share of royalty under the Amerindian Act.

3. Under the Guyana-Norway MOU, the Amerindians are not bound by the constraints of the LCDS and can choose to opt in or stay out of the LCDS. They are required to make no sacrifice but are the first in line for rewards. The LCDS is a country project not an ethnic initiative. If the Norwegians wish to assist the Amerindians then they should contribute to an Amerindian Fund.

4. By its patronizing attitude the government is creating a charity, entitlement culture among Amerindians who simply sit back and ask when is the money coming rather than consider among themselves steps to exploit their unique traditional knowledge, their culture and the resources they control.

5. The delay in disbursements is not due to any failings by Norway, the World Bank or members of civil society. It is because the Government has failed to submit proper project proposals which are ready for implementation. At this stage all they can advance is land titling and solar panels for the Amerindians and equity in Fip Motilall’s hydro-electricity project.

To the Government’s credit, land-titling under the Amerindian Act is a low cost administrative exercise which since 2006 has been funded out of the national budget. It does not need LCDS money.

6. The alternative energy initiative is being funded by the IDB and again does not require LCDS money.

7. That leaves the hydro-electricity project spearheaded by a man who has consistently failed to meet his contractual obligations to this country and its people. Under a licence granted to him in 2002, Mr. Fip Motilall’s company was supposed to provide thermal power as an interim measure and commence construction of the Amaila Hydro-Electricity Plant. He did not supply the thermal plant but the Government renewed/extended the licence in 2004, and again in 2006 for one year which means that it would have required further extensions to remain current. That information is not public.

8. Despite all of that bad experience, in 2009 the government awarded Synergy a road project contract under an unlawful process managed by an unlawfully operating government company NICIL. Which businessperson in their right mind would agree to put their money into his company which did not realize that it needed first to have a road to the plant site before it could build the plant?

9. The hydro-electricity plant would revert to the state after an already agreed period with no financial input by the Government. By putting LCDS funds into the company the country is paying for an asset the residual ownership of which is already agreed to be vested in the state. If we are to put money into the project why should Motilall remain in control? Now that we have a Procure-ment Act should we not put the project out to tender? Is the best use of the Norwegian-sourced money rushing headlong into what will amount to a joint-venture with and controlled by Mr. Motilall?

10. Like its comparator the PNC, this government has a poor record on accounting and transparency. But in terms of truth and integrity, this government is in a class of its own. Relevantly, can Mr. Peter Persaud and Mr. Clinton Urling – no doubt well-intentioned and well-informed persons – who have written critically of the letter by Dr. Janette Bulkan and others, tell us how they knew of the Siddhartha 1.8 million acres deal which had been hidden from the rest of the country and possibly the Multi-Stakeholder Steering Committee?

11. I would like too to hear from the informed members of the SSMC about the carbon footprint of the deal with Siddhartha and whether it is compatible with the ethos and concept of a low carbon development strategy.

With all respect to the Amerindians land titling is not a low carbon issue and what do we do with the annual average US$50 million we will receive while Mr. Motilall takes his time in building our hydro-electricity facility? Put it all into his company? I hope the businesspersons on the SSMC would ask their Chairman Mr. Jagdeo to publish the Licence, agreements and extensions with Mr. Motilall before any public funds are put into his company.

Finally, let me say this to Jagdeo, Nadir and those who feel compelled to attack Dr. Bulkan and other members of civil society. I consider Dr. Bulkan and all the other signatories to our letter, capable, patriotic and courageous. I have never distanced myself from such persons and am proud to be associated with them – cuss or no cuss.

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