Lotto funds for youth projects

Stabroek News
September 26, 2000

Over the last few months, President Bharrat Jagdeo has met young people from across the country as part of his Youth Choice Initiative and allocated sums between $30M - to $90M per region. The projects are micro to small scale and cover sports facilities, computer centres, chicken farms, skills training, libraries, rehabilitation of community centres etc.

The financing for these projects is coming from the government's 24% portion from the lotto run by the Guyana Lottery Company (GLC).

After his elevation to the presidency more than a year ago, Mr Jagdeo indicated quite firmly that empowering the youths of this country and making them real players in the business of Guyana was high on his agenda. At every step of the way he has attempted to make youths the centrepiece of his efforts. This must be commended.

There are, however, important concerns surrounding the use of these funds and the projects which are to be implemented.

The first is the decision making over the use of the lotto funds. The total government take is estimated to be around $1.3B to date. Some of this has been spent but the lion's share is uncommitted. While the funds accrue to the government on the basis of a deal it signed with the lotto operator, the money is essentially that of the people of the country who have wagered on this particular lotto game. It shouldn't be that the government has the final and decisive say on how much is to be spent and on what. Otherwise, the funds end up being used in a way that gels with only the government's objectives in mind.

That is certainly not the type of inclusiveness that this government has preached. There is supposed to be a lotteries body deciding on the allocation of funds. Its work has never been in the public domain and as far as we know the government's desire for the use of these funds constitutes a fait accompli.

It would be a much better arrangement if government and non-government representatives in equal numbers sat in the open and made these decisions. The non-government representatives should be drawn from the trade unions, private sector, churches, charitable groups etc. Importantly, their decisions should not be subject to Cabinet review or presidential prerogative.

Secondly, and related to the above reason, the lotto proceeds could quite easily end up being used in a partisan way. In an election season, the temptation is all too overwhelming to utilise the fund in a way to improve the appeal of the ruling party. It then becomes a campaign financier with partisan overtones. The President and his government have to be alive to this. The onus is on the government to assure the public that the lotto proceeds will not be used to reward certain constituencies and moreover that the funds will not be employed unabashedly to buttress the electoral chances of the ruling party. The Youth Choice Initiative is to be taken to all regions ostensibly using the lotto funds. Thereafter, the government should put a freeze on further expenditure until after the elections.

To make this work, the government would have to give a detailed accounting of what has been credited to the lotto account, what has been used and what is to be committed shortly. A running account of this type should be available to the public.

The third concern is the soundness and sustainability of these projects. The lotto money should be funnelled into ventures which will eventually be self-sustaining and exhibit judicious use. Projects are being decided on with remarkable speed and work put out to tender. Though the youths are commendably coming up with their own projects, the ideas should be put under rigorous review with one of the primary conditions being making them self sustaining. The government should not be providing temporary relief from the pain of extreme want. It should be finding long-term solutions for recreational, educational and cultural needs.

As noble as the Youth Choice Initiative is, the government has to address legitimate concerns over the management and use of the lotto funds.

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