Tuesday, June 3, 2008

EU micro projects held up after gov’t withholds support

EU micro projects held up after gov’t withholds support
Stabroek News news item. Tuesday June 3, 2008
By Nigel Williams

The Guyana Government has withdrawn its endorsement of a number of micro projects being funded by the European Union (EU), frustrating more than 30 groups across the country, and putting in jeopardy close to $200M, which was set aside for the programme.
As the deadline for the implementation nears, project coordinators are fearful that Guyana would lose out on the EU funding.
It is not clear why government has withdrawn its endorsement of the proposals. This newspaper was told that in late April the administration had agreed to some 39 projects but subsequently withdrew its approval late last month. Contacted for a comment yesterday the EU Delegation in Guyana would only say that the Guyana government was managing the programme, which is being implemented by the Micro Project office and a board. The EU could not say why the projects were being held up.
Stabroek News was unable to make contact with Minister of Finance Dr Ashni Singh who is the National Authorising Officer, his deputy, Tarachand Balgobin said he could not speak about the withdrawal of the government endorsement. Efforts to get a comment from Cabinet Secretary Dr Roger Luncheon proved futile.
Programme Manager of the Micro Project Office, Jimmy Bhojedat, when contacted on the matter told Stabroek News that he had been aware of an earlier endorsement by the government, but he was subsequently advised to hold off on inviting applicants to sign their contracts. Bhojedat said like many other persons he did not know why there was a change, although he acknowledged that he had sought to find out, but got no answer. He said however, as far as he was aware there might be some discussion going on regarding the hold up.
“I have received several calls from persons who submitted proposals… every day people are calling,” Bhojedat commented.
Stabroek News was told that the decision to withhold support for the contracts was made at the level of cabinet. A source close to the programme told Stabroek News that ever since the initiation of the programme the Jagdeo administration has had problems endorsing some projects, which according to reports are from groups that it has concerns over. The source said it was a pity that government would choose to use politics against such groups.
“If the process is further delayed without any explanation from the government the money will go back to Europe,” the source said, adding that civil society should be given support in any society. According to the source, for this round of projects which started in February some 100 proposals were submitted. The board however approved 52 from which 11 were eliminated when they reached the Ministry Of Finance and the EU.
“Both the EU and Government agreed to 39 projects and the government wrote to the board late April indicating this,” the source said. However late last month, the board received word from the administration that it had revoked its ‘no objection’ to the proposals under the full applications scheme where funding is at a higher value of $95.36M and the fast track scheme valued at $78.160M. This newspaper was told that following government’s April endorsement of the applications the micro project office was preparing to invite the applicants to its office to sign their contracts, but this had to be put off.
Lloyda Angus of the Trafalgar/Union Communion Development Council, one of the several groups that applied for funding to run off projects told Stabroek News yesterday in an invited comment that she was appalled at the hold up of the projects. She said that she had vented her frustration at the Micro Project office for the delay, but later she got to realize that it was the government that was responsible. The West Coast Berbice group had proposed to set up a poultry-rearing enterprise with the view of bringing relief to residents of Numbers 28, 29 and 30 Villages. Sixteen persons from the respective communities were to benefit from the project, which Angus said was needed in the communities where jobs are scarce and the living standard poor. The group had requested just over $7M, but was granted $5.3M, Angus told Stabroek News. “I know all along that something was going wrong because some of the agencies like Go-Invest and Ministry of Agriculture who had agreed to partner with us are now showing no interest,” Angus lamented.
The Ithaca Agricultural Land Development Associa-tion; Maria’s Lodge Voorburg Shantille Cane Farmer’s Cooperative on the West Bank Demerara; First Assembly of God Wortmanville-Genera-tion Next group and the Blankenburg Women’s Group for Social and Economic Empowerment are among the 39 applicants whose projects had been approved but are now being held up.

Under the programme, which began in 2005, groups are invited to submit proposals for funding on micro projects. Bhojedat said his office would ensure that all the requirements were met by applicants before passing on the proposals to the micro project board, which would review and evaluate the proposals before crafting a short list, which is sent to the European Commission and the Guyana Government. He said the final decision rests with the administration to approve the contracts.
Giving a little background to the programme, Bhojedat said that this round of contracts would have been the third since the programme was launched in 2005. He said so far they had approved 104 contracts, noting it was the first time they had encountered this difficulty in administering the scheme. The thrust of the programme is to improve the socio-economic conditions of vulnerable groups through the development of sustainable and participatory self-help schemes. The programme will come to an end later this year and according to Bhojedat, August 17 was the deadline for the implementation of all projects. Asked what would happen if the situation remains the same, Bhojedat said the money would likely be returned to Europe. He said if government gives a belated endorsement the parties (EU and Government) could agree to an extension of the implementation dead line. “But that is entirely out of my remit it is a matter for the government,” Bhojedat asserted.
In an advertisement earlier this year inviting proposals from members of the public, the Micro project office had indicated that within the available budget frame the bilateral financing of micro projects is based on a 75% government support with a ceiling of $2.6M under the Fast track procedures and the remaining 25% coming from the beneficiaries can be cash or kind. For this round of contracts that has been held up proposals were only considered in the employment/income generation sector.

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