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Communities Minster unearths ghost fund for Amerindians, insists on greater control by regions

Centre: Left to Right, Junior Ministers of Communities Keith Scott and Dawn Hastings as well as Senior Minister of Communities Ronald Bulkan pose with Regional Executive Officers, Deputy Regional Executive Officers and Regional Chairmen from the 10 Administrative Regions.

by Zena Henry

Local democratic organs are being pushed to take greater control of their respective locations since their oversight prevents many inconsistencies and the emergence of shady funds, Minister of Communities, Ronald Bulkan said during a Regional Democratic Councils Forum held at the Arthur Chung Convention Centre Friday, July 31.

The Minister made his address to more than  200 Regional Executive Officers (REO), Deputy REOs, Chairmen, Councilors, along with ministers of government, international partners and invited guests.

He explained that in March of this year he traveled to Kamana Region 8 in the North Pakarimas where residents complained bitterly and begged assistance against ants that were severely destroying their crops. Bulkan said, while no help came in that regard, the village received a Hilux Cruiser financed under a program called the ‘Amerindian purpose fund’ which in January 2013, received $1B from the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC).

“The regional administration was not consulted over this allocation and it appears, neither was the Indigenous People who were supposed to be the recipients.” “The existence of this fund was unknown to the National Assembly…” the minister continued.

In another Region 8 discovery, the minister said he had come across an anti-malaria team that was working without the knowledge of the RDC’s health committee, since the interaction was only with the REO. “Today all government initiatives must ensure that it takes place following meaningful consultation with the 10 RDCs,” Bulkan warned.

He reported that from 2012 to 2014; the regional bodies have been allocated a total of GUY$2.136 billion with more than GUY$1.3 billion going to the four Hinterland regions. Bulkan declared that all expenditures must be linked to support the economy of each region. He noted that “The regions will not be left on their own to craft their respective Plan of Action for Regional Development (PARDs) (an initiative of the President) for the period up to 2020. You will receive full support and active cooperation from the Ministry of Communities to assist in this task.”

With the recent passage of the Local Government (Amendment) Bill, local organs will now have greater oversight of their communities and this means less of central government and more agency management. They will thus have to create business opportunities and grow their local economies, requiring more financial, social and environmental leadership. Various ministries are expected to provide technical support in this regard. Bulkan said the regional administrations will no longer be treated as “step children; with their authority ignored and their role understated.”

Unitrd Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Country Representative, Khadija Musa in her remarks touted the holding of local polls as a means of empowering the people, while noting the cohesive tendencies that will be promoted among people working towards the same goals.

 “I look forward to seeing the deepening of this (democratic) process by the early holding Local Government Elections”, she said. “Be assured that UNDP’s country office is ready to support you in the areas related to strengthening local governments…”

In a brief statement by President David Granger, which was read by Dawn Hastings-Williams, Minister within the Ministry of Communities, he reassured that government will not interfere with local communities and ensures that local polls are held this year.

“Your government will adhere to an empowerment policy that regularly renews local democracy by ensuring that Local Government Elections are held this year.” 

The Communities Minister also announced a new initiative where regions will have their own flags and emblems. Specimens were handed to regional chairs for discussion and inputs to the government.

The Senior Minister of Communities has already told the National Assembly that, based on information from the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM), Local Government Elections could be held in December 2015 for the first time since 1994.

Guyana’s Constitution says Local Goverment Elections must be held every three years.