What it takes to tap into $8b Green Fund

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

A rufous-tailed jacamar keenly eyes its surroundings while perched on a branch in the rainforest in Tobago. –

NON-GOVERNMENTAL Organisations (NGO) and community groups are all too familiar with the challenges associated with attracting and achieving corporate sponsorship.

With a well-equipped proposal, however, projects geared towards protecting the environment, conservation, public awareness, or practically anything within the realm, can receive considerable financing through the Green Fund.

The Green Fund, also known as the National Environmental Fund, was established under the Finance Act of 2000, introducing a levy on for-profit of 0.1 per cent, which was later increased to 0.3 per cent.

Proceeds of the fund are made available to local registered organisations and community groups, whose activities are related to one or more of four focal areas, including remediation, reforestation, environmental education of environmental issues; and conservation of the environment.

The Green Fund has accumulated a balance nearing $8 billion, which some might assume means it is being underutilised.

However, as evidenced by reports from organisations and groups it takes effort, time, and a significant degree of accountability to access funding and execute the respective project.

Sunday Newsday spoke with Leslie-Ann Dillon, community liaison officer at the Green Fund Executing Unit, and asked if she, too, believes the current balance reflects an under-utilisation of the resources.

She responded, “We receive applications from varying organisations… However, many have not fulfilled all the necessary criteria.”

Those that have received project financing, she added, have gone on to execute successfully.

“Those that have…have made quite an impact on the environment at the community and national level, as well as contributing to the achievement of the objectives of our National Environmental Policy, our various local policies, such as our Climate Change Policy and our Waste Recycling Policy, as well as numerous regional and international multilateral environmental agreements.”

The NGOs and groups are always expected to achieve the goals outlined in their proposals given the tedious nature of the process and almost exhausting criteria required to be satisfied before funds are released. Even when funds are released, they are expected to hold on to any and all receipts associated with expenditure from those funds.

The actual balance of the Green Fund, reported in the Auditor General’s report at September 30, 2020, stood at approximately $7.6 billion, up from $6.946 at the same point in 2019.

The executing unit told Sunday Newsday that, to date, some 29 projects have been certified by the respective minister responsible for the environment, at an approximate value of $408 million.

Recently, the unit has faced challenges, Dillon said, relating to the covid19 pandemic.

In this file photo, student of the Final Generation Mission Academy learn about the manicou at the Fondes Amandes Community Reforestation Project’s annual Gayap in St Ann’s. –

However, in light of the removal of restrictions, she said the unit intends on pursuing a number of outreach initiatives in an attempt to reach potential applicants and increase the Green Fund’s portfolio.

“In the future, we are certain that more organisations will be forthcoming in their application to the fund in an effort to achieve environmental sustainability,” she said.

Organisations eligible for financing must be a body incorporated by statute other than the Companies Act; a non-profit registered under the Companies Act, a non-profit, unincorporated body, which is registered as an NGO with the Ministry of Planning and Development, or the Tobago House of Assembly.

The NGO or community group must submit an application to the executing unit, which will then be reviewed and a site visit conducted. The application will then go to the Green Fund Advisory Committee, which advises the line minister.

Once certified, a memorandum of agreement is signed between the organisation and the ministry of Finance for the release of the first tranche of funding, which is disbursed to the orgnisation for the commencement and implementation of the proposed activities.

Dillon explained some of the challenges being faced by the unit, including the alignment of environmental policies to the proposed initiative, the lack of stakeholder engagement, poor or sub-standard management structure within the organisation, a lack of experience of the orgnisation in executing and implementing initiatives, a lack of community involvement or impact on the community, a lack of comprehensive methodology of the stated activities, a duplication of efforts across organisations, and an actual lack of commitment to the process.

“However,” Dillon added, “once approved, (a) provision is made in the Gree Fund Regulations which is used as a guide for successful applicants in executing initiatives.

“In addition to this, the project team of the Green Fund Executing Unit, inclusive of the project support officers, as well as the accounting unit, monitor the certified activities in order to achieve compliance and ensure that the said activities are being executed as agreed under the memorandum of agreement.

Dillon said applications submitted by groups and NGOs tend to have interests in a number of the main focal areas concerning the environment.

“Applicants generally seek funding to address particular persistent concerns which may be affecting their local communities or those at the national level.

“This being said, while we have had projects spanning all of the four focal areas, we have found that the majority of the applications received and approved have fallen under the focal area of conservation.

These projects, she said, primarily include: solar panel installation, eco-tourism, pollution impacts, green expos, turtle conservation, biological data collection, management of invasive species, waste oil management systems, water quality initiatives, recycling initiatives and energy audits.

She said the focal area which is most under-utilised is of reforestation.

Deryck Dhanie, director of The Ambiance Project (TAP), a conservation group that has done many clean-up activities nationwide on a volunteer basis, has also applied for funding and said he is now “seeing some light” after a couple of years of back-and-forth with the Executing Unit, “They are very specific in the way they want the information and what you have to do.”

Just two weeks ago, TAP’s proposal was accepted but just for consideration.

“The Green Fund Executing Unit is very specific about what the funds are to be used for,” he said.

“There is a line item in the budget which is to be catered for and you cannot go outside those bounds. We still have a long ways to go,” Dhanie said.

While TAP’s activities have centred largely on clean-up activities, Dhanie has his eyes set on plastic recycling and mangrove reforestation as the organisation’s next major areas of focus.

Perhaps better known than TAP, the Fondes Amandes Reforestation Project and Nature Seekers, have both obtained financing for specific projects under the Green Fund.

The Green Fund, Dillon says, is committed to sustainability. It will not fund annual or repetitive projects but rather work with the organisation or group to ensure it can sustain future similar projects by means of a strong foundation and without the need for funding.