Georgetown, Guyana- (July 27,2015)- Minister of Governance, with additional responsibility for the Department of Natural Resources and the Environment, Raphael Trotman, during the course of the weekend, visited the Iwokrama International Centre where he met with the North Rupununi District Development Board (NRDDB) and Iwokrama representatives.
At the meeting, which was held at Bina Hill, Region 9, the future of the project, the sustainability of the NRDDB; a partner of Iwokrama and the issues affecting the success of the project were extensively discussed. In addition, the poaching of animals, the Wildlife Protection Bill and the consequences of its absence were also raised by the NRDDB and Iwokrama representatives.
Minister Trotman told members of the meeting that his Ministry is working on a Wildlife Bill which he expects will be presented in Parliament soon. This revelation was welcomed by the members of the meeting. It was revealed by the NRDDB and the Iwokrama representatives that in the absence of a Wildlife Protection Law, the remoteness of the area and other factors, action to combat poaching has been limited.
Amit Sharma, a ranger attached to Iwokrama, said that due to the absence of the law and the necessary systems in place, many offenders escape being caught. He noted too that the only law in existence was the Iwokrama International Centre of Rainforest Conservation and Development Act, 1996 and it was not equipped in that regard to fully penalize poachers.
According to the Act, Chapter 20:04, “Any person who contravenes the provisions shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine of one hundred thousand dollars or to imprisonment for one year and where the offence is of a continuing nature, to a further twenty five thousand dollars each day….” However, enforcement capabilities continue to be a challenge.
The group also discussed factors which are affecting the viability of Iwokrama, including the condition of the access road. Virgil Harding, an executive of the NRDDB, told the Minister and his team that the number of visitors to Iwokrama has been low; resulting in a lack of revenue generation, due to the state of the roads leading to its location.
“There are lots of people who are willing to come to Iwokrama but the traumas of travelling these roads from Georgetown to here, not a lot of people come. So we have got to make it more accessible, smoother, to push Iwokrama where it needs to be,” Harding related.
To this end, he proposed to the Minister, upgraded roads so that the travelling can be less time consuming, hassle free and therefore more attractive for tourists and other visitors so that revenue can be generate for both Iwokrama and the NRDDB to benefit.
Chairman of the NRDDB, Michael Williams, told the Minister and Advisor to the Department of Natural Resources and the Environment, Clayton Hall that the NRDDB is a representative body for most of the villages and Iwokrama has always been a partner to the communities. In this vein, Williams said that with Iwokrama being in such serious financial constraints, it therefore meant that the 16 villages being represented by the NRDDB are affected.
He disclosed that the various capacity building trainings, among other activities, have been cut off due to the financial state of Iwokrama.
However, Advisor on Sustainable Development of the Department of Natural Resources, Clayton Hall, who accompanied the Minister, said that the NRDDB was set up to aid and support Iwokrama. He noted that they have now become dependent on the organisation and as such, the effects of that dependency are being felt.
Mr. Hall said that the communities must use the training and experience they have gained from being a part of Iwokrama to help them embark on other projects and programmes which can ensure their sustainability.
Minister Trotman adding to this said that the Radio Paiwomak station which is based at the Bina Hill Institute should be utilized to the fullest of its potential for additional revenue to be generated for the development of the communities.
In further remarks, Minister Trotman noted that Iwokrama was and is struggling for financial support to maintain its day to day activities and to meet its commitments. He shared that, President David Granger had convened a meeting where it was established that a committee would have been formed to put Iwokrama back on firm footing. That committee has since been commissioned.
However, the Minister said that while immediate solutions were needed, they must not only be focused on reviving Iwokrama but must too seek to brand the project as a Guyanese one. “For far too long it has been seen as a Commonwealth Project but it must now be owned and seen as a Guyanese project, a local, indigenous project that we can share with the world rather than the world having a part of us without us being a part of it,” he said.
He concluded that he will be furthering discussions on the matter with Vice President and Minister of Indigenous People’s Affairs, Sydney Allicock to brainstorm a most effective solution for the Project to be saved.
“The three areas I am seeing here are more research, tourism and resource exploitation in a sustainable way but we will be looking at all options. It is not our intention to close Iwokrama but to restore it to its original intent but in a sustainable manner,” Minister Trotman remarked.
The Meeting was also attended by representatives from Iwokrama, Mr. Dane Gobin and Proprietor of Farfan and Mendes Limited, Andrew Mendes as well as the Regional Chairman, Brian Allicock.