Over $250M from SLED initiative cannot be accounted for; probe launched

Nigel Dharamlall

Over $250 million from the previous government’s Sustainable Livelihood and Entrepreneurial Development (SLED) programme cannot be accounted for.

The announcement was made by Minister of Local Government and Regional Development Nigel Dharamlall during the National Assembly.

At the time, Dharamlall was being questioned by A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) Member of Parliament Ganesh Mahipaul, about $105 million being allocated for the programme.

“SLED is a project under this Ministry because we want to reach out to communities to rebuild lives. I must indicate to you that when we conduct the audit of SLED in its previous life, many on the opposition side are going to face prosecution,” the minister said.

“Under the previous SLED, over $250 Million last year, there is no record.

“As a matter of fact, our investigations have so far revealed that the paperwork for the $250 Million last year, a lot of it was deposited at Haags Bosch,” Dharamlall added.

He noted that some of the disbursements from the SLED programme was tracked to a shop built by a councillor on government reserves. He also referred to the case of Opposition Chief Whip, Christopher Jones.

On August 21, 2020, ranks from the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) Headquarters, Eve Leary, Georgetown, swooped down on Jones’ home to carry out a search after an audit at the then Ministry of Social Protection revealed that the Ministry approved $4.8 million under the Region Four (Demerara-Mahaica) administration for the procurement of equipment for a barbershop under the SLED programme.

The monies were all spent by December 2019, however, $1 million in items were not delivered and the project was not executed. Police Headquarters had said that items fitting the description of the State assets were recovered from Jones’ residence. Jones was arrested and placed on $100,000 bail, pending investigations.

He subsequently filed a lawsuit against the State for what he terms as his wrongful arrest and the trespass on, and unlawful search of his home which led to the seizure of his 18 barber chairs and two air conditioning units.

“SLED had no system when we got into government, so a system will be put in place. It is apparent that in the last administration of SLED, there was no criteria in terms of its implementation,” Dharamlall said.

“And that is why you find high officials of the last regime benefitting to the tune of millions of dollars. That is why you find that over $250 Million cannot be accounted for. And that is why you will find that those who misspent the resources of the tax payers, are going to be held accountable,” Dharamlall added.

The SLED programme, which was implemented through the former Social Protection Ministry, is a programme which was supposed to give grants to cooperatives and friendly societies to equip them to engage in sustainable, entrepreneurial ventures. Specifically, it was supposed to be used to uplift disadvantaged youths.