By Nicholas Peters
The Hinterland Employment and Youth Service (HEYS) needs to be a participatory programme in order to really address the specific needs of Hinterland communities and youth development.
Such a programme, which will be launched next week, also needs to be free of politicisation, build the capacity of young people, provide substantial reports on projects’ success, and meet clear target objectives to be considered a true success.
These measures would also ensure that the programme is not a repeat of the recently ended and controversial Youth Entrepreneurial and Apprenticeship Programme (YEAP), which saw the implementation of Community Service Officers (CSO) in Hinterland communities.
This is according to Indigenous Peoples’ rights advocates, Jean LaRose, Laura George and Tony James, who in a recent interview with Kaieteur News shared their expectations for HEYS and their observations on the YEAP’s CSO system, launched under the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) administration.
“In as much as the CSO programme had certain objectives which could have been beneficial if it was properly implemented, the result on the ground has been that it (was) politically carved out,” said James, Vice President of the Amerindian Peoples’ Association (APA).
James related instances whereby CSOs would abuse the position they held, which allowed them a monthly stipend of $30,000 from the Government. He shared that whole families were acting as CSOs with political alignments playing into their services. Meanwhile, some abused the system by collecting their monthly stipend, despite living in Georgetown, choosing only to revisit their respective villages to collect the payment.
Nearly 2000 CSOs from Indigenous communities lost their $30,000 stipend, under the coalesced A Partnership for National Unity and Alliance For Change (APNU+AFC) administration after they decided to discontinue the programme.
The move was criticised by the now Opposition People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C), as one which “unjustly” branded the CSOs as “political activists” and effectively left hundreds of young people unemployed.
However, according to Minister of Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs during the Parliamentary debate on the 2015 Budget, the PPP/C administration had no intentions of continuing the programme beyond April this year. The Minister claimed to possess documentation which proved that was the case. He noted that the CSOs were neither contracted employees nor public servants.
Starting September 1, HEYS will replace the YEAP, and the CSOs, with the objective of providing sustainable jobs for youths in Hinterland communities. This initiative will also ensure that persons who were employed as CSOs undergo training so that they can be reemployed, according to the Government’s ten-point plan for Hinterland development.
By the end of the YEAP, James said that there have not been any indicators that the programme was a success. He added that some communities reported CSOs also sitting in statutory meetings with village councillors which was in violation with the Amerindian Act of 2006.
James continued to relate that the continued politicisation of CSOs led to divisions in communities more than ever. He questioned whether the YEAP achieved its objectives of building youth capacity, since the monthly stipends did not motivate youth to actively participate in community development.
“It wasn’t helping the communities and I cannot say it was a success,” James said.
According to LaRose, for people and organisations like the APA to make a proper assessment on the effectiveness of the CSOs system, evidence needs to be provided to show that it actually impacted communities region by region.
Such information would outline the number of the programmes implemented under the YEAP, the number of CSOs that participated and completed those programmes, and whether the programmes ultimately achieved their objectives in Administrative Regions’ communities.
However, LaRose shared that the information is not available to make a pronouncement on whether the YEAP or the CSOs were effective methods. Instead, people must rely on anecdotal reports.
“Without the obligation to really give back to their community, the monthly stipend made CSOs feel entitled to the money they received, said LaRose.
She continued, “It can work if there is a structured programme, if it is not politically motivated, and if at the end there is a targeted objective as to what these youth can attain.”
Moreover, George echoed her colleague’s sentiments by saying that YEAP could have been a very useful engine to build the capacity of Hinterland youth while they earned funds to sustain themselves.
However, distrust which grew between CSOs and villagers as a result of questionable contracts which crossed lines with regard to communal administrative services such as education and healthcare, and presented other problems.
In her opinion, what the organisers of the new Hinterland support programme need to do is to actually meet with representatives of different sub-districts to really formulate how the impending projects are executed.
“Every district has their own – in some cases urgent – needs in terms of support, and what it is they want to see for their young people. It needs to be a participatory programme,” George opined.
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