The combined opposition Thursday afternoon voted against the GUY$1 billion Amerindian Development Fund (ADF) as the House continued to consider estimates of expenditure for the 2014 National Budget.
Opposition parliamentarians questioned extensively how the money was expected to be spent. In the end they were dissatisfied with the answers provided by the government. Opposition Shadow Finance Minister, Carl Greenidge said “more information should have been provided” and more discussions should have prevailed prior to the Ministry of Amerindian Affairs’ estimates being considered.
Parliamentarians for A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) and the Alliance For Change (AFC) contended that there were no real reasons for the Fund, against the backdrop that the House had approved a GUY$500 million vote in December 2013.
Amerindian Affairs Minister, Pauline Sukhai said the ADF in this year’s budget had included GUY$796 million for youth and several Amerindian development projects.
She said that the Fund came about following the National Toshaos Council meeting last year. Sukhai added that the GUY$500 million did not capture all the plans for spending last year. She said that that sum was geared mainly towards priority projects.
Prior to the consideration of the ADF, there was a ruckus among MPs across the divide in which the opposition accused government of planning to use the money as a slush fund to electioneer in Amerindian communities.
The contention is that the governing Peoples Progressive Party/Civic’s (PPP/C) support in its traditional East Indian stronghold has been waning, prompting it to woo Amerindians in a bid to regain its simple majority. The PPPC has 32, APNU 26 and AFC 7 seats in the House.
Opposition leader, David Granger while addressing Parliament, prior to the vote on the fund stated that both sides did agree “on a high level mechanism aimed at satisfying the needs of the people” he said that ” we are serious about it and we feel that it is a good move , a good initiative and we would not like that the initiative to perish because of a technicality”. He said that the Opposition was of the view that more information could have been provided, adding that “discussions could have yield consensus as he made an appeal to the Speaker that the matter to be discussed and negotiated, even as he anticipated a “collision” on the issue prior to the vote.
Speaker Trotman indicated at this juncture that he was prepared to meet with both sides. However , the government side did not budge on his offer.
Noting that the government was “dangling a billion dollar toy” in front of the Amerindian people, AFC MP Moses Nagamootoo stated that in the face of the ADF being voted down, the government was aiming at an opportunity of electioneering. “The bigger the damage the better the chance for electioneering”, he said.
Nagamootoo said that while the AFC supports aspects of the budget, during the general debate the party had indicated that “there ought to be room for dialogue and consultation and consensus with regard to some aspects of the budget “.
However, as no agreement could be met on the ADF, the government was aiming at mobilisation of the Indigenous people as he professed the AFC’s support and care for the Amerindian people. He said that Thursday’s imminent opposition to the passage of the fund was an opportunity for the government to mobilise the Amerindian people. “This is an opportunity to mobilise Amerindians to feel that the Opposition does not have their interest at heart”.
Sukhai while being grilled on the ADF , stated that “ this ADF , that we are presenting here came out of the National Toshaos Council (NTC) meeting in October where 205 Amerindian ;leaders sat and discussed their priority and their needs” . She said the Toshaos indicated that they wanted the government to make interventions for various projects.
She was asked extensive questions on training as well as accountability by Opposition Amerindian MPS. She was told that many youth have shied away from the programme because they were unsure what it is about but Sukhai noted that there is a,” “she said the dropout rate is very minimal…. additional sums will be used for expanding the programme , to regions 2,3,4 5 and 10”.
APNU MP, Sydney Allicock , who heaped a barrage of questions at Sukhai , told the minister that she may not be in tuned with the true nature of the programme’s progression.
“ I am not sure that you are aware of the true picture , there has been a lot these young people , they do not know exactly what they have to do so they have been absenting themselves because we have not been spending the money the right way”, Allicock stated.
Sukhai said that the project officers have been very supportive of the village councils and according to her the project is now in its 6th month and “we are in the process of preparing reports on the project”. She said that the 187 villages which have planned to participate in the project this year were going to be engaged in a number of programmes including information technology.
Sukhai was also questioned on whether the project is parallel to the GRIFF project. “Funds from the GRIFF is allocated to two major projects that seeks to support Amerindian development …one has to do with security and the other has to do with community development plans “, Sukhai stated.
She added that the Amerindian act speaks to the village council having the authority to develop plans, adding that the community development plans are overlooked at the level of the village with the participation from villages. She added that the ADF “go through similar processes” adding that one of the issues raised by the village leaders is the issue of training for Indigenous youths in specific areas.