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…as REO accused of bypassing council in budget preparation
By Svetlana Marshall
Region Four Regional Chairman, Daniel Seeram said the decision of the Regional Executive Officer (REO) Donald Gajraj to bypass the Regional Democratic Council (RDC) in the crafting of the Regional Budget for 2022, could set back the district’s developmental agenda intended to cushion the impact of the 2021 Floods and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
During an interview with Village Voice News, Seeram along with the Regional Vice Chairman Samuel Sandy said the REO, in single handedly compiling the proposed budget, stands the risk of excluding critical infrastructural projects that can bring much relief to farmers as well as regular citizens.
Among the projects the A Partnership for National Unity + Alliance Force Change (APNU+AFC) controlled Council had intended to execute in 2022 were farm-to-market roads in Cane Grove, Mocha Arcadia, and Laluni.
According to the Regional Chairman, the farm-to-market all-weather road projects if implemented would “bring back economic viability to the region,” at a time when farmers are battling with the negative effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the most recent floods.
“During the COVID pandemic, many persons would have been displaced in terms of losing their jobs, losing their businesses…so we wanted to improve those areas, because we found that a lot of persons actually went into farming, so this would have aided them in bringing out their produce,” Seeram explained, while noting that the construction of all-weather roads would significantly reduce the cost to access farms and transport produce.
Drainage and Irrigation is another major issue across the region, Seeram said.
“When we speak agriculture, we are also speaking about irrigation. Every single community needs drainage and irrigation maintenance programme. This is something we wanted to see done in the region” he said.
The Regional Chairman posited that while the National Drainage and Irrigation Authority (NDIA) provides much needed assistance to the RDC in the area of drainage and irrigation, there are projects that can be easily executed by the RDC at a much faster rate.
“I find when we look at previous budgets in this region, we weren’t placing major emphasis on drainage and irrigation because we always piggy backing on NDIA but NDIA sometimes can be overwhelmed by the amount of work being done throughout the country…I am not saying that they don’t assist us in the region but sometimes, the assistance that we need, we can do it ourselves and do it faster,” he reasoned.
Further, he said on a daily basis, the RDC is inundated with complaints about the deplorable condition of roads and bridges throughout the region, and it was the intention of the Council to have a percentage of those roads and bridges rehabilitated or upgraded in 2022 based on consultation with residents.
Seeram said roads in Ogle, Plaisance, Haslington and Grove are in dire need of repairs. “Haslington/Grove, that general area needs major road upgrades in the internal network, Friendship and Craig also, and these areas, we want to put specific emphasis on them, to have those roads either rehabilitated or upgraded or even total revamping of the entire road system within those areas,” the Regional Chairman explained.
He said had there been consultation on the proposed regional budget, it would have also covered the Health and Education Sectors.
The Regional Vice Chairman told Village Voice News that this is not the first time the Regional Administration would have failed to consult with the Regional Council on the regional budgets that are submitted to the Government for inclusion in the National Budget. He said since the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) Administration took office, the REOs have been bypassing the Council. He pointed out that the proposed farm-to-market roads alluded to by the Regional Chairman have been on the council’s agenda since 2020 but every year since then they have been excluded from the budgets.
Sandy said instead, the Regional Administration, which is controlled by the Government, has been focusing on areas within individuals closely aligned to the government. “In Budget 2020, three roads were done in Herstelling, one was done in a private scheme, not a government scheme, a private scheme, and that road was done because the Minister intervened, informed the engineer to include that road. We are here, and we are not even consulted, the Works Committee was not consulted. In the 2021 Budget another three roads for Herstelling alone and you have so many communities in need of a road,” Sandy explained.
He said the projects are not being equitably allocated across the region.
Both Seeram and Sandy contended that it has been difficult to work with the REO since he took office in January, 2021. According to them, he has no regard for the council, transparency or accountability.
Sandy pointed out that important documents needed to evaluate projects in the regions have not been submitted by the REO.
“The council has been requesting critical documents from the REO that detail bill of quantities, progress of work, payments made, etc, that oversight body has not been provided with the necessary documents,” he explained.
The proposed budget was expected to be submitted to the Ministry of Finance on September 6, however, as of Friday, September 10, 2021, the Council was uncertain as to whether it was submitted. Importantly as of September 10, it was not submitted to the Council.
An extraordinary meeting intended to discuss the proposed 2022 Budget for the Region 4 Regional Democratic Council (RDC) on September 10 was cancelled after the REO, at the last minute, indicated that there was no available venue to host the meeting.
Though the budget circular was issued since late July, it was not until September 2, 2021 that it was emailed to the Office of the Regional Chairman by the REO. The Council has maintained that the proposed budget is not a reflection of the will of the people of Region 4 since their elected representatives were not consulted.
When contacted by Village Voice News on Saturday, the REO declined to comment on the allegations against him. “I am happy that you call and the interest that you show but at this point in time, I don’t have any comment to make on the issue,” Gajraj told this newspaper.
Seeram has written President Irfaan Ali; Minister of Local Government and Regional Development, Nigel Dharamlall; Minister within the Office of the President with responsibility for Finance, Dr. Ashni Singh on the matter with the hope that there would be a solution but to date, there has been no response.