Admin concerns holding up EU micro projects – Ashni Singh
Stabroek News news item. Thursday 3 July 2008
Government had concerns about “administrative matters” in the European Union (EU)-funded micro-projects programme hence the withholding of approval for the 39 proposals, Minister of Finance Dr. Ashni Singh said.
He made this disclosure during his presentation to the National Assembly on the global food prices increases motion on Tuesday, and added that when these concerns are addressed, the projects will continue.
People’s National Congress Reform (PNCR) Member of Parliament, Mervyn Williams, who spoke just before the finance minister had asked for an explanation as to why approval for the projects was not granted.
Williams had noted that, according to his information, the 39 projects were all agro-based. “Was this move to deny access to EU funding by NGOs a calculated and deliberate move by the government to paralyze and render non-functional NGOs with which the government is uncomfortable? Or was it a move to systematically destroy NGOs in general after their significant successes in impacting in areas where government itself has failed miserably”, he had asked.
Stabroek News had previously reported Cabinet Secretary, Dr. Roger Luncheon as stating that the government had withheld approval because certain expectations were not met. He had not elaborated and when pressed to explain this position he would only say that the administration was trying to reconcile whatever differences existed.
Government had withdrawn its endorsement of some 39 micro projects valued at close to $200 million under the programme.
Programme Manager of the Micro Project Office, Jimmy Bhojedat, had earlier told this newspaper, that he had been aware of an earlier endorsement by the government, but he had been subsequently advised to hold off inviting applicants to sign their contracts. Bhojedat said he did not know why there had been a change, although he acknowledged that he had sought to find out but had got no answer.
Some persons, whose proposals have been held up, had expressed their disappointment. Wesley Porter of the Ithaca Agricultural Land Development Association had recently said his group was still searching for answers regarding the delay. He had stated that members of his group had read previous articles by this newspaper on the issue and many of them were no longer hopeful that the project would come on stream. Around 30 cattle and rice farmers from the community and surrounding villages had come together to develop over 600 acres of land to increase their yields and earning capacity. However, Porter said while they had ambitions they were constrained by financial resources. The group had requested $10 million, but the EU approved $7.5 million. The group is hoping to increase its pasture acreage and make the farmland more productive, while promoting community development. It also intends to increase yield per acre. Porter had told Stabroek News that currently the land being used to rear cattle and plant rice was being leased from the Mahaica-Mahaicony-Abary/ Agricultural Development Authority (MMA/ADA). He said the cost to lease the lands exceeded the profits the group would make from the cattle, and as such it was looking to own its own farmland.
Badewattie Kandial, President of Blankenburg Women’s Group for Social and Economic Empowerment had also related to Stabroek News that her group members were beginning to feel disappointed as the deadline for the implementation of the project neared, but the contracts had not been approved. Kandial’s 10-member group had proposed to manufacture pepper sauce. Its proposed budget was $2.5 million, but the EU was prepared to provide $1.8 million.
Lloyda Angus of the Trafalgar/Union Communion Development Council had also told this newspaper that she was appalled at the hold up of the projects. She said 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 as jobs were scarce and the living standard poor. The group had requested just over $7 million, but was granted $5.3 million, 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 had lamented.
MP Williams noted on Tuesday that President’s College had two proposals among the lot.
Under the programme which began in 2005, groups are invited to submit proposals for funding on micro projects. The Micro Project Office would then 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 would then be sent to the European Commission and the Guyana government. The current contracts that have been held up are part of the third set since the programme was launched in 2005. 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.
August 17 is the deadline for the implementation of all projects. Bhojedat had said if the situation did not change the money would likely be returned to the European Commission.