On 8 May 2015, the Government of Guyana put out a press release announcing that Norway had agreed a further US$40 million “for maintaining low deforestation rates and improving forest governance”.
The timing could not have been better for the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C), the country’s ruling party for the past 23 years. Norway’s generosity was announced just three days before Guyana’s general election.
President Donald Ramotar was quick to cash in on the opportunity. On 7 May 2015, he gave a televised statement:
“All Guyanese should feel proud of the vote in confidence expressed by Norway in announcing that they are willing to pursue a second agreement up to 2020, a policy that only the PPP/C supports in Guyana. And all Guyanese should feel proud that we have earned the most money from a forest partnership in the world, after Brazil, money that is being directly spent on the people.”
On 9 May 2015, a full-page advert appeared in both the Stabroek News and the Kaieteur News (APNU-AFC is the opposition coalition, A Partnership for National Unity and Alliance For Change):
In November 2014, President Ramotar suspended parliament in order to avoid MPs passing a no-confidence vote against his government. He did so using a constitutional technique called “proroguing” to suspend parliament for up to six months. The opposition controlled parliament before Ramotar suspended it. Among the opposition’s demands are more transparent accounting of government spending.
So the last two agreements of payments from Norway to Guyana took place with a suspended parliament in Guyana. These payments included an US$80 million payment to the Inter-American Development Bank for the hugely controversial Amaila Falls hydropower dam.
Into this political imbroglio comes a Washington DC-based PR company called Outreach Strategies. The company’s website tells us that,
“We are a mission-driven communications and public affairs firm that designs and promotes positive change on large-scale environmental and natural resource challenges.”
Previous clients of Outreach Strategies include Environmental Defense Fund, the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (project goal: “to raise the profile of WBCSD and the role of business at Rio+20”), KPMG, and the US Climate Action Partnership (which features planet savers like AES, Alcoa, Chrysler, Dow Chemicals, Rio Tinto, and Shell).
On 8 May 2015, I received a tweet featuring a lovely info-graphic about REDD+ in Guyana. It came from Katie Sarro who recently moved from the World Business Council for Sustainable Development to Outreach Strategies.
I asked her who is paying Outreach Strategies for their PR work on behalf of the Government of Guyana. “That info is public domain per gov requirement,” she replied. As that’s not an answer to the question, I asked again. Sarro sent a link to politico.com – here’s the statement in full:
The Office of Climate Change in Guyana has brought on Outreach Strategies to develop a communications strategy “to build a better global understanding of Guyana’s low-carbon development” efforts.
So far, Sarro has not responded to my question about whether Norway is paying Outreach Strategies for its PR work on behalf of Guyana’s 23-year ruling party.
Here’s the conversation:
PHOTO Credit: Pete Oxford.