It’s not only the IDB

a recent publication, President of The Amerindian Action Movement of Guyana (TAAMOG), Peter Persaud, questioned the commitment of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) to Guyana’s indigenous peoples, due to the bureaucracy involved in unblocking sums long due under the Forest Carbon Protection Facility (FCPF).

The matter raised by Mr Persaud on the non-prioritization of indigenous rights is a sentiment not quite unfamiliar to many who had to work with international organisations on Amerindian development. One of the character traits of these organisations is a troubling lack of understanding for dynamics of development in Amerindian communities, cobbled with limited adaptability to realities on the ground. In this last instance, one may interpret a semblance of unwillingness to demonstrate flexibility for these realities which go hand in hand with the context of rarity of resources in the Hinterland.

Staff of international organisations are more often than not, unacquainted with the Amerindian Act no. 6 – 2006, and are subsequently challenged by their own incapacity to understand the guiding principles of major issues such as Amerindian land titling.

Past observations have also revealed that staff of international organisations, including local, are generally unfamiliar with Amerindian cultures, and when faced with the Amerindian way of life, demonstrate little adaptability and concern for the difficulties faced by Amerindians.

The UN’s compulsory international financial safeguards and standards are reflective of this anomaly. For instance, the organisation excludes consideration for the fact that it is practically impossible for over two/thirds of Amerindian Village Councils to conduct financial transactions which, in practically every case, requires their possession of a bank account. Under the government funded Amerindian Land Titling (ALT) Project to which the UNDP is a partner, this situation has been recurrent, and generated varying degrees of frustration from the government implementing partner, as well as the Village Councils which for some, waited months before payments were unblocked. There is one instance where over a dozen Amerindians were left unpaid up to when the project was interrupted in June 2015, after having waited for seven months. Whether the payments were made under the Allicock administration remains uncertain.

While international financial standards are necessary to ensure transparency and accountability when disbursing Government of Guyana funds, it is equally important to accept that Amerindian beneficiaries are often unable to produce receipts for transactions which require reimbursements, particularly in the case of travel expenses involving means such as ATVs.

The nature of service providers and geographical location combined, render paper traces difficult. Seeking refunds for beneficiaries then becomes tedious and lengthy, involving multiple back and forth with the international organisation, and failure to effectuate timely payments if any at all. Paper bureaucracy in these organisations is outrageously time consuming and unresponsive to on-the-ground emergency situations.

Interestingly, most international partners to government funded development projects, receive significant financial compensation to cover operational and administrative charges. These include the typically high salaries, daily subsistence allowances and other financial benefits for contracted staff. Mr Persaud’s reference to the posh working conditions and salaries of those at the IDB’s Guyana office is therefore not without reason.

Similarly, the UN practices high DSAs which vary per region, ranging from $17,000 to $37,000 per night in Region Two, per person. Under the first phase of the ALT Project, DSAs were removed and field expenses for each team member were grouped to cut costs, given that overall project funds were already insufficient to complete the project.

The partnering UNDP had resisted the change, settling for not less than 20% of DSAs for its staff. Under the ADF, less than US$7M were allocated to address Community Development Plans for over 100 villages. Yet, resistance was again shown when it came to slashing costs for UNDP staff who participated on field trips. This begs the question as to whether international organisations are more concerned about indigenous development or their own comfort.

Apparently, under the Allicock administration, DSAs have been reinstated.

The presence of international organisations might be necessary to help guide us along the path of development Guyana has undertaken. However, we must acknowledge that their relevance, as well as their survival, depends on the situation of underdevelopment (based on established international criteria) and poverty of our people.

Interestingly, the birth of new actors emerging from South-South cooperation might enhance the quality of actors in the years ahead. In the meanwhile, the Government of Guyana must maintain the upper hand in ensuring that international organisations respect their commitments in a timely and cost-efficient manner.