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EU cash for sugar industry delayed over lack of transparency, accountability

Finance Minister Winston Jordan (centre) and (immediately right) European Union Ambassador to Guyana, Robert Kopecky with their delegations at a recent meeting.

by Zena Henry

A massive €20.2 million (US$22.4 million) payout, which the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) is banking on from the European Union (EU), does not seem likely for Guyana anytime before the end of the year because Guyana first has to prove that there is a transparent and accountable system to spend European taxpayers’ monies.

That budgetary support would have come in handy to aid the ailing sugar sector which only days ago was able to avert a total shut down of its operations since they had not money to keep operations going. The Guyana government on Friday announced the release of cash to pay workers and keep the industry going pending the findings and recommendations of a commission of inquiry to be established before the end of June.

It was said initially that the money granted by the EU was not handed over to Guyana because there was no parliamentary oversight which resulted from the prorogation of Parliament by the former President.

Now, EU Ambassador Robert Kopecky is unsure if or when the money would be disbursed to Guyana. “With all the understandings of the current urgencies and challenges of the sugar industry in Guyana, it is fair to inform that the funds, if available at all again, are subject to the scrutiny and procedures re-assessing the eligibility criteria for budget support that will take months if not semesters,” he told Demerara Waves Online News. The EU envoy said his diplomatic mission has already offered Minister of Finance Winston Jordan technical advice to facilitate the process.

Jordan, who spoke with Demerara Waves Saturday May 6, said much more than Parliamentary oversight is hindering that money being handed over to Guyana as the country’s European counterparts do not trust the current system of monitoring the use of the country’s finances.

Jordan explained that after meeting with the EU Ambassador it was explained that the organization was more concerned with the country’s accountability, transparency and oversight abilities.  He said the Ambassador related that for the representatives to go to their Commission to access money for Guyana they must be able to “convince” them that the country is dealing, “definitely with transparency and accountability in a sustainable manner.”

Jordan said that, “what we (Guyana) need to do will not see us access that money before year end.” In that light, during the meeting with the foreign representative, Jordan said he asked and it was agreed that the EU would assist in a technical assessment of the areas of transparent, accountable oversight which the country had signed on to.

The €20.2 million (G$4.76B) that has been assigned is under the European Union (EU) sugar sector budget support programme.

The Guyana Agriculture and General Workers Union on Friday had called on the EU to release the funds to Guyana, saying that the jobs of thousands of sugar workers depended on it. It was explained, however, that the use of the cash is not at the discretion of the government and that the EU, according to their representatives, must be satisfied at various levels.

GuySuCo’s recently dismissed CEO Rajendra Singh had claimed that $16B would be needed to keep the industry going until year end. Minister of Agriculture Noel Holder had told Demerara Waves that such money would not be placed in the hands of GuySuCo with certain persons still at the helm of the agency.

To date it is undetermined how much money is indeed needed to keep GuySuCo afloat. This is currently being assessed, Demerara Waves was told.