Several individuals and groups in Linden, Region 10, are under the microscope for millions of dollars disbursed to them by the APNU+AFC government for projects that never materialised.
According to the Department of Public Information (DPI), 13 groups received a total of $34 million under the Sustainable Livelihood and Entrepreneurial Development (SLED) programme in 2019 for community development projects. Those groups were required to be registered as Co-operative Societies before funds were released.
On Friday, Minister of Labour, Joseph Hamilton along with Chief Co-operative Development Officer, Perlina Gift, fanned out across Linden to get a first-hand look at some of the projects. The first stop was at the Green Jaguar Environmental and Community Development Co-operative Society at Wisroc.
“In the case of the five point whatever million dollars project that money was disbursed and collected by the Member of Parliament of Region Ten, Mr. Jermaine Figueira and as a I saw it, where it is located, it’s on some private land that is attached to a homeowner. So, for all intents and purposes Government money has now become private property and we can’t have that,” Minister Hamilton said.
The team visited another pig rearing project valued close to $5 million in that area.
Over in West Watooka, $6 million was given to a group for a community centre and ICT hub. The incomplete building was abandoned in 2019. Minister Hamilton said another $2.3 million was provided for poultry rearing but that project never got off the ground and the incomplete chicken coop was taken over by vegetation.
Additionally, the co-ops at Old England and Coomacka received funds for block making projects valued a total of $6 million. The Coomacka block making project is located in a deserted area, and the abandoned building has no roof according to ducuments seen by DPI.
Minister Hamilton said these cases are a clear indication of the misappropriation of public funds, and those involved would have to account for those sums.
“What we were looking for is $34 million and we couldn’t find $34 million. We went to a pig rearing project where persons received $5.9 million and somebody went overnight and put two pigs and we went to another pig rearing project and based on what was said to me, they are on land they had no authority to be on,” he said.
Minister Hamilton also visited several other projects where monies ($1.5 million to $2.2 million) were disbursed through the former Ministries of Communities and Social Cohesion for the enhancement of recreational facilities and agriculture initiatives. The Labour Minister said one man received over $2.2 million for a chicken rearing project. However, when he visited the project, he was told that the individual had migrated.
“So, there are two separate types of projects, one for co-ops and communities and then you had individual projects. So, you had to have a godfather somewhere for you to just go and collect $2 million and then you disappear,” he said.
Minister Hamilton said this would not be condoned by his Ministry.
“We cannot continue to allow people to take public funds and use it for their benefit.”
The Labour Minister said he has ordered an integrity audit of all co-ops across the country. These audits will begin within a month and be completed within the third quarter of this year.
“I want to know the state of every co-op in this country… independent auditors will go and audit to see whether they are transparent and to ensure we can utilise the law to retrieve property that somebody has claimed as their own…Once that is done, we will write-off those that must die and those that will live must be transparent,” Minister Hamilton said.
The SLED programme was set up in 2015 after the coalition government came into office and $760 million has been invested over the years. A special audit of the 2019 programme has commenced and a separate report is expected to be issued by the Audit Office.