On 4 December 2009, Guyana’s President, Bharrat Jagdeo, was interviewed on the BBC programme “Hard Talk“. At one stage, the presenter, Zeinab Badawi, asks Jagdeo about REDD. What Jagdeo doesn’t say in response is more interesting than what he does say. He doesn’t mention the logging companies already logging Guyana’s forests. He doesn’t mention mining. He doesn’t mention road-building. He doesn’t mention the risks of corruption.
The transcript of the part of the interview during which Badawi asks about REDD is below. The programme is posted here in four parts – the REDD discussion starts in part two (2 mins 38 secs in) and continues in part three.
It’s fascinating to see how Jagdeo avoids answering the questions. Asked about whether Guyana has sufficient anti-corruption measures in place, Jagdeo mentions reference levels, consultation, indigenous peoples’ rights and monitoring. By which time, Jagdeo hopes, we will have forgotten the question. Then he mentions a transparent financial mechanism. The mechanism is not yet in place and Guyana is working with the World Bank “to ensure that happens”. Had he said that as an immediate response, Badawi might have followed up with another question about corruption, perhaps pointing out that Guyana ranks 126th on Transparency International’s 2008 corruption perceptions index (a position the country retained in 2009).
At the end of the discussion on REDD, Jagdeo mentions the word corruption. Then he goes off on a tangent and tells us that he took part in a meeting with NGOs in the UK, as if that in some way addresses the issue of corruption in Guyana. Jagdeo doesn’t exactly decline to answer the questions about corruption. He just talks about something else.
BBC: I want to look at one specific example which affects your country, Guyana, and Norway, because we know that deforestation it causes something like 17 per cent of world greenhouse gas emissions. You’ve struck this deal with Norway, whereby you will not cut down your forests and they pay you something like US$250 million over a certain period of time. Why should you be paid to do something that you should be doing anyway?
Jagdeo: Well, first of all it comes back to the same point that the developed world used their forests in their industrialisation. They used it as a very valuable asset to increase prosperity in their countries. Why shouldn’t we do that? Why shouldn’t we do that? Why should we be saving the world? I should be allowing my people to cut down the trees because they want to get out of poverty. They have a lot of poor people there, they have a lot of indigenous people who rely on the forest. So I’m saying if the world sees the forest as so important as an abatement solution then it must be willing to pay for that, for us to create alternatives, not to cut the trees down but to create alternative employment for our people. So that in their strive for prosperity, they don’t have, they can then achieve that, without cutting down the trees.
BBC: But deforestation actually isn’t a big problem is it in Guyana? You’re quite well forested because you’ve got a sparse population and you’ve got a lack of infrastructure, so it’s an easy experiment, isn’t it?
Jagdeo: No it is not easy, because in the future, we, we, there are real demands. We have, for example, several companies that want to go into the forests, several Asian companies. We have several proposals now to convert the forest and plantations for palm oil etc. We have to resist those. And the way that we do that is by being incentivised, to create a whole series of low carbon opportunities for our people so they can find alternative employment.
BBC: So is it for the logging companies or is it for the poor people who are cutting down trees for firewood and charcoal?
Jagdeo: The money doesn’t go to any logging companies. The money, in Guyana’s case will go to education, health care, making the economy more climate resiliant. Now about 70 per cent of our people live below sea level, most of our agricultural lands are below sea level, there are 360 kilometres of sea defences, it is to strengthen those sea defences. Then to invest in fibre optic cables . . .
BBC: So it goes to the community. Because that’s very important.
Jagdeo: To the communities. And all the money from indigenous people …
BBC: You’re sure it will? Because there’s a lot of people who are worried, you know, that it might go elsewhere.
Jagdeo: No, no, no. But clearly it has to be monitored from an international perspective, for transparency and accountable use of the resources. And also by the national legislator in your country. And the way we develop our model is with the inclusion of everyone.
BBC: I wanted to ask you that, about the transparency, because there is an awful lot of concern. Organisations like Global Witness, the campaigning group, are concerned that it may fuel corruption. I mean US$250 million going into a small country like Guyana is an awful lot of money. And Eric Solheim the Norwegian environment minister said in October this year that there will be robust anti-corruption measures and only when this hurdle is passed will the country, Guyana, be eligible for large scale payments. That’s what said. Have you got sufficient anti-corruption measures in place?
Jagdeo: Well, we recognise if we want to make this model replicable, that there are a few things we have to, principles that we have to enshrine in the model. First of all, that this, the agreement has to be based on science and therefore the reference level, that is that it has a methodology that everyone agrees to. Secondly, it must have national acceptance and we have had a detailed consultation process. Thirdly, it must protect indigenous peoples’ rights and that’s done in our model.
BBC: So you’ve got those there?
Jagdeo: Fourthly, it must have a complex system of monitoring performance and fifthly, a transparent financial mechanism. We are working with the World Bank to ensure that happens, that we have a financial transfer mechanism that will be audited at a national level and also subjected to international audits.
BBC: Are you not a bit uncomfortable that somebody might say that this is a bit of green imperialism here? You’ve got a rich country like Norway saying to little Guyana, now we’ll give you this money so long as you make sure that you do this. I mean, isn’t there a touch of that?
Jagdeo: No, I don’t feel that, because in the financial transfer mechanism we made it clear that we’re prepared to be very strong on accountable, accountability provisions, but we’re not trading soveriegnty or domestic flexibility.
BBC: You can understand why there might be that feeling?
Jagdeo: Yes, but the thing is that many countries have that concern, that it’s a new form of imperialism, but we feel we can be part of the solution.
BBC: All right, so your . . .
Jagdeo: We feel we can be part of the solution. Our forests, the payments to the forests, can create a whole series of employment opportunities and at the same time serve a global good.
BBC: OK, but this is just an experiment at the moment, but do you think that once the concerns about accountability, because you know there are alarm bells ringing as Interpol are saying about the potential for criminality which is vast in corruption prone countries if you carry on with this kind of model that you’re doing. But do you think that it’s going to be adopted by Copenhagen at some stage?
Jagdeo: I think so. I think REDD, that’s reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation will be part . . .
BBC: That’s what this is called, REDD, isn’t it?
Jagdeo: Yes. Will be part of the Copenhagen Agreement.
BBC: All right.
Jagdeo: And the whole issue about corruption, Global Witness came to Guyana and I said to them, why don’t you organise a forum in the UK for me to talk to the NGOs? They had a, I went to the UK, I had a chat with a lot of the NGOs, some still don’t like it, some are hostile to it, but I feel a lot of those people live in the past.
BBC: It’s going to happen.
Jagdeo: It is going to happen.
BBC: All right.