PRESS STATEMENTBy Mr. Hugh Desmond Hoyte, S.C., M.P. Leader of the People’s National Congress, and Leader of the Opposition To the Press Conference on Thursday November 1, 2001 Hall of Heroes, Congress Place, Sophia
THE ECONOMY: The country has for some time now been in the throes of an economic crisis. This has worsened severely compounded as it is, by a crisis of governance. Every sector of the economy is experiencing a sharp downturn and is in serious trouble; and current negative trends in the world economy will deepen the recession in Guyana. While the impact of some external factors cannot be denied, the fact remains that the situation has been exacerbated by stubborn mismanagement, corruption and incompetence. Neither the economy nor the government administration is being skillfully managed and the country is in a state of drift.
Remarkably enough, the PPP/C regime does not seem to understand the seriousness of the problem. Indeed, it denies that there is any problem at all and has therefore not devised a game plan to deal with it. In any case, it is incapable of devising such a plan. The rice and forestry sectors are in a state of distress, without any life-line being thrown to them. The sugar industry has forecast a $2.0 billion deficit for this year – it is going to be bigger - and the officials of GAWU, now unabashedly a Company Union, are busy touring the Estates advising the sugar workers to return to or establish cash crop farms in anticipation of a loss or reduction of employment. Bauxite has for years now been a disaster area.
THE BAUXITE SECTOR
In the circumstances, the regime’s approach in dealing with the Bauxite Sector is quite inexplicable - unless we make allowances for self-interest and corruption. Acknowledging its parlous state, the Jagdeo/Hoyte dialogue rightly placed its resuscitation high on the agenda and appointed a Joint Committee, co-chaired by Dr. Clive Thomas and Mr. Robeson Benn, to examine the industry and recommend the best options for rescuing it from the doldrums and setting it on a recovery path. In this connection, the regime requested that the Committee should examine, as a matter of urgency, a Concept Paper submitted by Alcoa for the continued operations of the allegedly loss-making Aroaima Bauxite Company.
The Committee duly handed in its initial report on the Concept paper and was then given the mandate to negotiate with all interested parties (including Alcoa) arrangements for their involvement in the Berbice end of the industry. It was then that two intractable problems reared their ugly heads. The first had to do with Mr. Robeson Benn, Co-chair of the Committee. Mr. Benn was clearly in a multiple conflict of interests situation. He was the government’s director on the Board of Aroaima Bauxite Co. Ltd., (ABC) and its Vice President. He was also the government’s director on the Board of the Aroaima Mining Company (AMC) of which ABC was the subsidiary. He was also a Consultant to AMC in relation to the identification of viable bauxite ore reserves. He was, at the same time, Chairman of the Geology and Mines Commission. (He has since been appointed Commissioner of Geology and Mines!) And he was the Agent for Abel Inc. a Florida-based company, which bought materials from Linmine – and for at least one other overseas company.
It is said that no man could serve two masters, but Mr. Robeson Benn attempted the extraordinary feat of serving several masters – including himself – all having conflicting interests. Given his multiple conflict of interests there was no way in which his obligations to the Committee, the government, to ABC, to AMC and to the Guyanese public were not going to collide. In this connection we would draw attention to a letter of complaint dated 9th February, 2001 from Mr. Peter Rajkumar, who stated as follows: We have a situation where Mr. Abel and Mr. Robeson Benn have samples out in the market . . . additionally, they are offering products at US$30 per metric ton loaded Guyana from end March, 2001 . . Mr. Abel is soliciting sales from everyone”. Mr. Rajkumar was in the business of selling Chemical Grade Bauxite from Linmine. Additionally, there is a letter dated March 29, 2001 from Mr. Peter E. D’Amico of Bulk Materials International Co., a purchaser of Bauxite product, naming Mr Robeson Benn as his Agent!
The second problem arose from the extraordinary behaviour of Prime Minister Samuel Hinds. Either President Jagdeo was acting in bad faith when he agreed to the establishment of the Bauxite Committee and to its mandate or Mr. Samuel Hinds is a law unto himself, bent on challenging the Presidential authority and pursuing his own agenda. In either case, the end result for the Committee was disastrous. From the outset, the Prime Minister refused to acknowledge the existence of the Committee or its terms of reference and pursued a parallel activity with respect to the future of the industry, including separate negotiations with potential investors. It soon became clear that Alcoa was being encouraged by the Prime Minister to ignore the Committee. In his parallel and separate negotiations, the Prime Minister was supported by Mr. Robeson Benn. The Committee nevertheless submitted its follow-up Report on the Alcoa Concept Paper on 28 August, 2001. Since then the Committee has been unable to meet! Its work seems to have been terminated.
In the meantime, the Prime Minister complicated matters by issuing Press Releases on the future of the Berbice section of the industry, by writing voluminous and misleading letters to the press, and by talking and attempting to negotiate directly with the workers – to the exclusion of their unions. Evidently, a scenario was being carefully prepared to negate the possibility of any arrangement with Alcoa that would be in the best interest of the industry and the Guyanese people.
For reasons best known to himself, the Prime Minister has been not only a strong, but an aggressive and passionate advocate for the acceptance of the Alcoa Concept. The Committee had rejected this Concept, as presented, because it would have resulted in the unjustified destruction of Bermine. The Committee proposed instead to negotiate on principles that would result in the continued sustainable operations of both ABC and Bermine.
Judging from media reports, it would appear that the Prime Minister and the regime are determined to destroy Bermine. The following is the evidence which seems amply to justifying this conclusion.
1. The Prime Minister has been consistently “bad mouthing” BERMINE on every available public occasion, despite the fact that it has a better track record of profitability and contributions to the Nation’s Treasury than ABC.
2. The regime has deliberately withheld critical capital from BERMINE, which the management demonstrated that they would be able to repay! It was asked to facilitate the granting a short-term loan of US$6.0Mn to ensure the calciner capacity to produce 100,000mt/AAC per year - to meet demands of the Proppants and Fused Aluminium Oxide Industries – and to provide some mining equipment and working capital. It grudgingly and belatedly provided a US$1.0Mn Bank Overdraft and a Ministry of Finance loan of US$0.35Mn both over 18 months at 15% interest!
3. The Prime Minister’s Team, currently in the USA, has been approaching BERMINE’s traditional Customers for CGB and MAZ with offers of lower prices and other inducements to switch to ABC/BPU-Reynolds. (It is reported to be trying to sell 300,000mt of CGB which they are receiving at US$35.00 metric ton to a World market which totals about 250,000mt).
4. There is also information that, apart from the activities of the Prime Minister’s Team which is actively courting known BERMINE Customers, Mr. Peter Rajkumar of JP Imports & Exports Inc. is offering 25,000mt of LINMINE CGB which is being sold to him at US$30.00mt.
5. The Prime Minister’s proposal involves the confiscation of BERMINE’s current operating mines at Kwakwani to give them to ABC. These are mines which have been developed through the use of the financial and technical resources of BERMINE (a nationally owned company)!
The intention is to make Bermine dependent on ABC for its supplies of mined bauxite.
A short while ago, Alcoa suddenly announced that it would sell its interest to the regime for a dollar - and walk away. Mr. Hinds’ bubble had burst, leaving a situation that was both uncertain and confusing. At this point, Mr. Hinds got another brain wave, he organised a team, led by Mr. Robeson Benn, to go to the USA to submit to Alcoa certain so far undisclosed proposals to encourage Alcoa to remain in Guyana. This approach is not only absurd, undignified and unbusinesslike, but it raises questions about self-interest and personal integrity.
Why the regime is investing so much time and energy to promote Alcoa’s interests to the country’s disadvantage is an intriguing question.
PUBLIC SECURITY AND HUMAN RIGHTS
All these confusing, illogical and harmful activities provide compelling evidence of the shambles which is passing for government. If there were any lingering doubts about the competence of the government to manage the country’s affairs, these have by now disappeared. Public confidence and morale have reached the lowest ebb. The regime seems to have abdicated its responsibility for ensuring the safety of citizens, and the feeling of insecurity is pervasive. Notwithstanding continuing public outrage, state-sponsored police violence against citizens and other persons, as exemplified by extra-judicial killings, continues unchecked; and the morale of those decent, professional members of the Police Force – the overwhelming majority - is in steep decline. When the regime has the effrontery to nominate Senior Superintendent Steven Merai of the notorious “Black Clothes Police” or “Death Squad” for a course of overseas training, it has abandoned all pretence to public rectitude.
As a result of the regime’s outlandish behaviour the country continues to suffer great indignity. Only last week the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights admitted a complaint against it in the matter of the violation of the human rights of Franz Britton, also known as Collie Wills, who disappeared while in police custody. The persons named in the report are Mr. Bharrat Jagdeo, President of Guyana; Mr. Ronald Gajraj, Minister of Home Affairs, Mr. Laurie Lewis, former Commissioner of Police; and Superintendent Leon Fraser of the ‘Black Clothes Police’ or the ‘Death Squad’.
We could not be happy over this state of affairs where the government has failed to reply to the Commission, has treated it with contempt and obviously considers the disappearance of a citizen while in police custody to be a matter of no moment at all. The regime was given every opportunity to respond to the complaint, but did not deign to reply to letters from the Commission dated April 4, 2000; April 5, 2000; August 24, 2000, and February 8, 2001. Guyana cannot afford to claim membership of international and regional organisations and at the same time elect to treat them with disdain and disrespect. Because of the regime’s crude and irresponsible behaviour, Guyana is fast gaining the reputation of a rogue state.
THE DEPORTEE QUESTION
The recent decision of the United States Department of Justice to impose a ban on the issuance of visas to government officials and their immediate families could have done nothing to bolster our national self-esteem. Moreover, we could hardly feel comfortable at the threat to extend this ban to other categories of citizens unless the regime acts in a reasonable way in fulfilling its international obligations. The US authorities claim that there are over 300 persons awaiting deportation to Guyana under US laws. Such a large number of persons could not have been identified for deportation overnight. Clearly, this matter must have been developing well over a year. The fact that it has reached a crisis is cogent evidence of the incompetence, cynicism and frivolity of the regime and its responsible ministers and other functionaries. Yet, what is alarming is that its spokespersons tend to aggravate the situation and make the country look ridiculous by their inane and ill-informed statements. We do not blame the present Minister of Foreign Affairs for this debacle; he would have inherited the mess from his predecessor; but he cannot now escape the responsibility for taking vigorous, intelligent and decisive action to resolve the problem and restore a befitting relationship between Guyana and the United States.
All of these problems derive from bad governance. Essential elements of good governance are good faith and credibility. These, unfortunately, have been absent from the PPP/C administration. Undertakings publicly given are not being fulfilled. The instances are numerous but, for present purposes, we would just cite some of them having to do with security and justice. To assuage public indignation, the President promised to mount an inquiry into the disturbances at Albion in June, 2001; this is yet to happen. He promised an inquiry into the Law Revision Printing Contract; nothing has happened. He promised an inquiry into the incidents on the Corentyne in August, 2001 which resulted in the deaths of seven persons, the public is still waiting. And so the story goes: promises, promises, promises, with no intention of fulfilling them. In the circumstances, it is idle to talk about good governance.
It is a quite sad, however, that the opportunities for improved governance are not being grasped but are being allowed to slip away. The Jagdeo/Hoyte dialogue did raise some expectations but, unfortunately, it seems to have lost momentum. It is in grave danger of being stymied by the actions and statements of some PPP/C functionaries who are apparently opposed to it; who are obviously bent on challenging the authority of the President; and who vainly believe that they can drag out the process indefinitely to gain a political advantage of reducing tensions without improving the mechanisms for participatory democracy and redressing real grievances in the society. These people are in for a rude awakening.
During the course of next week, I hope to speak nationally on the state and prospects of the dialogue about which many citizens have been rightly asking questions and expressing anxieties.
Congress Place, Sophia
November 1st, 2001
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