APNU+AFC SLED programme riddled with discrepancies
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Minister of Local Government Nigel Dharamlall
Minister of Local Government Nigel Dharamlall

–Local Government Minister tells Committee of Supply

MINISTER of Local Government Nigel Dharamlall has called out the Opposition for grabbing millions of dollars’ worth of grants under the Sustainable Livelihood Entrepreneurial Development (SLED) programme that was intended to benefit single parents and other vulnerable citizens.

On Wednesday, the Committee of Supply approved a total of $1.5B following scrutiny from A Partnership for National Unity+Alliance For Change (APNU+AFC) Shadow Minister and Member of Parliament (MP) Ganesh Mahipaul.

Minster Dharamlall reminded the House that the PNC/R is the largest element in the A Partnership for National Unity + Alliance For Change (APNU+AFC) coalition, which started the SLED programme during their time in government from 2015 – 2020.

However, it was not until a change of government in 2020 that several instances of what amounted to ‘fraud and criminality’ in the spending were unearthed under the project.

“We are currently conducting a forensic audit of the programme during the course of the administration of the APNU+AFC. And to give you some titbits about what we have found that will be ungracious when [Leader of the Opposition Aubrey] Norton hears of who, amongst his cohort, how many of them have benefited, some in the millions,” Minister Dharamlall revealed.

He alleged that some of the APNU+AFC members personally benefitted from the grants; even a senior member, he said, benefitted some $165M on the pretext of setting up an organisation in the Rupununi.

“I can assure you, when the audit is fully complete, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Special Organised Crime Unit (SOCU) does take action against those who pilferaged this lead grant programme,” the minister told the Committee.

Despite these grim circumstances, the minister said that the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) government would continue with their commitment to regional transformation, regional economic transformation, and, more particularly, the transformation of villages across Guyana.

“President Ali made a commitment in 2020 to make sure that small businesses benefit as much as possible, and small people, many of whom are single mothers and are vulnerable, benefit from grants such as this. So, during the course of this year, we will intensify the distribution of grants across the country,” Minister Dharamlall said, adding:

“Unfortunately, in the last government, only a handful benefitted. Now the masses will benefit from this programme.”

The programme provided funding to individual persons or organisations to support entrepreneurial activities, particularly in the areas of agriculture, livestock and apiculture.

FLASHBACK: The now abandoned building that was supposed to have housed the Coomacka block-making project and that was reportedly given $4.496 million under the APNU+AFC government

A total of $760 million was disbursed under the SLED programme from 2015 to 2020, in increments of $115 million, $40 million, $100 million, $150 million, $250 million and $105 million, respectively.

The capital programme was first catered for under the then Ministry of Communities, but was later transferred to the then Ministry of Social Protection. In 2020, it was transferred to the Ministry of Local Government and Regional Development.

In that same year, after the PPP/C assumed office in August, the Ministry of Labour began assessing the disbursed monies, and how the projects from previous years have impacted community development. A special audit on the programme is also being carried out by the Audit Office, after several irregularities in the issuing system were detected in the 2019 disbursements.

From the physical assessments conducted by the ministry of the 2019 projects in Region 10 ((Upper Demerara-Berbice), several alleged instances of ‘fraud and criminality’ are said to have been detected.

Several of the business ventures were done under co-op societies. However, it was discovered that several of the co-ops were not registered with the co-ops division of the Labour Ministry.

Further, most of the projects that were assessed were never completed and needed to be fixed, notwithstanding all the money being disbursed.

According to the Auditor General’s 2019 Report: “Audit examination of a sample of beneficiaries’ files revealed that application forms were not completed, despite being a requirement. In addition, no criteria or checklist was seen as utilised for the appraisal and approval of grants. As a result, it was difficult to ascertain the reason(s) for granting approval to the beneficiaries.”

The Auditor General’s 2020 Report noted that a Special Audit into the SLED Projects will be launched, and a separate report will be issued.

“Audit examination of a sample of beneficiary’s files under the Sustainable Livelihood and Entrepreneurial Development (SLED) projects revealed that no application forms were completed despite it being a requirement as stated in the notice inviting applications published in the newspapers. In addition, there was no criteria or checklist seen as utilised for the appraisal and approval of this grant. As a result, it was difficult to ascertain the reason(s) for approving the respective beneficiaries,” the 2020 AG report reinforced.

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