Region Two Amerindian villages benefit from $105M COVID-19 relief fund

Minister of Amerindian Affairs, Hon. Pauline Sukhai handed over $105 million of the COVID-19 relief fund to nine Amerindian communities and one satellite community in Pomeroon-Supenaam (Region Two) on Wednesday.  

In her address to regional officials, village leaders and members of village councils, at a ceremony held at State House, Anna Regina, Minister Sukhai said the support to the Amerindian communities is another demonstration of the commitment the PPP/C made to the people while campaigning.

The sum, she said, would help to prepare Amerindian villages for the long-haul as COVID-19 has affected village economies across the country.

“The impacts in Amerindian villages have been very difficult even those communities that have not been severely affected, have had impact, because their neighbouring villages in many areas of the hinterland have been on lockdown and when communities are on lockdown, the Government supports that community however the other communities that were not on lockdown also have an impact,” Minister Sukhai said.

The Minister explained that in certain parts of the country, villages are sometimes cut off from supplies when others are on lockdown. She noted, for example, the hardships villages close to the Brazilian border are enduring because a new strain of the COVID-19 in that country has resulted in a closure of the border. While the order opens one day per week for trade, circumstances such as those has prompted the Government to provide support to buttress Amerindian communities and stimulate their economies.

“So, what we have today is a grant that you don’t have to pay back, but you have to use effectively in your village. You have to use it and you also have to account for it. You have to use it transparently; you have to engage your community residents, you have to engage the leadership in designing for the use of this grant,” Minister Sukhai said.

The Minister also noted that the Government has made several commitments in the manifesto and those that relate to the development of Amerindians would be covered by the investment.

One of those commitments is to introduce connectivity to 200 communities, a programme which started in 2014. At that time 100 facilities were established for Information and Communication Technology (ICT) hubs; however, the previous administration had set the programme aside and the one that they replaced it with was ineffective.

The Government will therefore, reintroduce the ICT project in Amerindian communities.

The investment fund which we will provide will go to 200 communities to utilise part of the fund to prepare the facility once more. Those communities that have built very good facilities and ICT still existing, you will need to repair or refurbish and furnish it again,” Minister Sukhai said.

Communities with existing facilities can use up to $1 million on refurbishment. Others can use up to $2 million on the construction of new facilities, while the remaining funds will go towards an economically viable project for income generation for the community.

This fund is not to be parted up and distributed to households, but to be used as an investment into an enterprise, that will employ a few of the villagers and grow to increase the income of that village and also the income of those who will be employed,” Minister Sukhai said.

The villages are now tasked with deciding the best enterprise to pursue, prepare a proposal and engage the Projects Department of the Ministry of Amerindian Affairs to review and ensure that the project is sound.

The $105 million disbursed in Region Two is part of $1.73 billion COVID-19 relief fund set aside for Amerindian villages countrywide.

Of the sum set aside for Region Two, Wakapau received $15 million because of the size of its population while the other villages: Bethany, Mashabo, Capoey, Mainstay/Wayaka, St Denys/Tapakuma, Kabakaburi, St Monica, Karawab and Akawini all received $10 million each.

Some of the recipients told the Department of Public Information that they were grateful to the Government for its support as they had several projects that they are interested in undertaking to enhance their villages.

“I must say thanks to the Government for giving us $10 million for our village and we had our council meeting on Sunday and we have our plans concerning,” Toshao of Mashabo, Mr. Sylvan Raphael said. He added that the funds would be used to promote ecotourism in the village.

Toshao of Akawini, Mr. David Wilson said his village would enhance its timber producing capabilities to produce value-added products for export. “I feel good.  I think it’s a great initiative that the Government take to give each village this sum of money to do an economic project,” he said.

Bethany’s Toshao, Ms. Sonia Latchman also expressed her gratitude for the money. While her village is yet to decide on how to invest the sum, she said, “it will be a boost towards my community and the village council will be using it towards economic activities to boost the village economy.”

Bethany also benefited from an additional sum of $1.9 million for agricultural development in the village.

Mr. Howard Cornelius, Toshao of Wakapau said his village already has ideas on how best to utilise the fund.  “Thanks to the Government for this wonderful initiative because we have been looking for an initiative like this to do various economic projects in our community and the Presidential Grant has been very limited.”

Meanwhile, Toshao of Kabakaburi, Mr. Sherman Lyte, whose village is among those severely affected by Covid, said he is thankful to the Government for the support.  “I’m very glad and I’m very proud about the Government that giving us this grant and it will be a good start for us because Kabakaburi suffered a lot through the Covid-19 we had like 16 confirmed cases and Kabakaburi was on lockdown and it still continue to be on a partial lockdown,” he said. The village leaders were charged to ensure that the sums are invested in a transparent manner.