PRESS STATEMENT By The People’s National Congress Reform To The Press Conference, Thursday, May 27, 2004 Hall of Heroes, Congress Place, Sophia




SUMMARY:

• The People's National Congress is proud of the central role it played in achieving political independence for Guyana in 1966. The PNCR commends CLICO for sponsoring the fantastic fireworks display to celebrate our 38th Anniversary of Independence.
• The PNCR urges GECOM to officially release the report so that we can benefit from the responses of all stakeholders
• The Inquiry proposed by Mr. Jagdeo has several fatal flaws, the most important of which is that it palpably fails to meet the requirement that the conduct of the Inquiry should be effective, impartial, transparent and independent so that it could ferret out the truth in the eyes of those families and communities which have been the victims of extra judicial murders and the crime wave.
• The adverse social and economic impacts of high fuel prices must be one of the most important areas of concern for any responsible government.

FIREWORKS ALONE CANNOT SAVE GUYANA

The PNCR commends CLICO for sponsoring the fantastic fireworks display to celebrate our 38th Anniversary of Independence. The Government was happy to use the publicity for this event to attract persons to the National Park for the flag raising ceremony, but it was evident that those who attended did not go to hear President Jagdeo. The school children were excellent in their performance and matched the brilliance of the fireworks displays. The dullest moment, however, was the lacklustre rushed address by President Jagdeo who seemed out of his depth on that historic occasion. Perhaps President Jagdeo’s speech writer was offering him free advice when he wrote about maturity in Guyana’s political affairs.

Instead of bemoaning the state of dialogue, Jagdeo may do well to re-examine his own performance and credibility which is the bases for any mature engagement. But perhaps Guyana is expecting too much because the President confessed publicly that he had no obligation to consult with anybody in Guyana and had only set up the Commission of Inquiry in response to foreign concerns. In simple language, the President has declared that the entire Opposition and other stakeholders in Guyana are irrelevant.

THE MIKE JAMES REPORT

The PNCR has noted with some concern an article in Stabroek News of Monday, May 24, 2004, purportedly based on a report commissioned by GECOM and authored by Mr. Mike James, the report captioned, “Sacrifice Accuracy for Timelier Elections – study suggests”. The PNCR’s position on this matter was made public more than a year ago, but the Party will defer any comment until it receives from GECOM the official report of Mr. James.

Mr. James had met with the PNCR a few months ago to solicit our views on ways to improve GECOM’s “close-of-poll” procedures. The PNCR gave a comprehensive account of its concerns to Mr. James. Since then, the Party has not heard a word from GECOM on the status of the report.

If the document quoted in the Stabroek News is indeed the Mike James report, then the PNCR urges GECOM to officially release the report so that we can benefit from the responses of all stakeholders

THE JAGDEO COMMISSION OF INQUIRY

A view has emerged in some quarters, in the discussions on the way forward for dealing with the Death Squad issue, that the call from the PMJ and the Parliamentary Opposition Parties was a call for a Commission of Inquiry under the Commissions of Inquiry Act. This view is very convenient as a means of allowing the issues surrounding the operation of death squads to be quietly swept under the carpet and facilitate the whitewash of Mr. Gajraj and any other officials who may or may not have been complicit in this disgraceful affair. It also allows the apologists and spin doctors who write on behalf of Mr. Jagdeo to allege that the Government has acceded to the requests of concerned citizens and that continued campaigning for an effective inquiry is somehow unreasonable.

The Inquiry proposed by Mr. Jagdeo has several fatal flaws, the most important of which is that it palpably fails to meet the requirement that the conduct of the Inquiry should be effective, impartial, transparent and independent so that it could ferret out the truth in the eyes of those families and communities which have been the victims of extra judicial murders and the crime wave.

If the communities which have been victims of these atrocities find that the mechanism which has been established does not effectively pursue the truth and identify wrong doers, it will lead to a further diminution of respect for the rule of law and increase the disaffection of those and other communities from the formal process of normal governance. We are convinced that a badly thought out and implemented Inquiry will ultimately jeopardize the stability of the state.

The primary aim of all citizens, whether they be members of the Government, the Opposition, Civil Society or the Diplomatic Community, must be to ensure that there is an impartial and independent Inquiry which is genuinely empowered and equipped for finding out the full and unadulterated truth about the existence and functioning of Death Squads under the purported direction of the political directorate.

For the People’s National Congress Reform, the restoration of respect for law and the prevention of a slide into anarchy are more important than finding mechanisms for letting the Government off the horns of any dilemmas which members of their team may have created for themselves and the country.

The positions of the PMJ and the Opposition Parties are very clear in terms of setting out what should reasonably be expected of an inquiry at this stage. The PNCR fully endorses the positions which have been taken by those groups and we stand resolutely with them. Those positions include the requirement that:

• Mr. Ronald Gajraj, the Minister of Home Affairs, should be removed from executive authority. There can be no objective investigation of allegations against Mr. Gajraj if he remains the duly appointed minister responsible for Home Affairs. It is unreasonable to expect that persons having evidence to give who work under his direction would feel comfortable in doing so;
• The Inquiry must be conducted by highly-regarded and respected persons of unblemished integrity and acceptable to major stakeholders in Guyana. The claim which has been peddled by the Government that it is not necessary to secure stakeholder support for the membership of such an important Inquiry is obviously flawed. A Commission which lacks credibility from its inception is unlikely to generate widespread acceptance of its conclusions and recommendations. If the Government only needs to satisfy the views of and perceptions of its own membership in constituting such an important inquiry and the views of major stakeholders do not matter in this constitution, then the Government presumably does not care about other stakeholder views of the results such an inquiry might produce.
• The Inquiry must be accompanied by a credible and secure witness protection program. Many persons who might wish to give evidence in such an inquiry have reasonable and well founded reasons to fear for their lives. Without such protection, the Inquiry is doomed to be nothing but a whitewash.
• There should be a role for Caricom and other international organizations. Only a Government with something to hide could find such a proposal objectionable.
• The Inquiry should have the power to take evidence in camera as well as in public and have the authority and resources to take evidence both inside and outside of Guyana. These are important conditions for ferreting out the truth.
• The Commission should have the authority to receive information and memoranda from foreign governments, agencies, and individuals.
• The Commission should have the power to grant/accord amnesty and/or immunity from prosecution for specified witnesses/informants on matters which are the subject of the inquiry.
• The Commission should make recommendations for the course of action to be taken against any person found responsible or involved in murder, extortion, kidnapping and abduction and the protection and perpetuation of organized crime.
• The Commission should be empowered to subpoena persons to give evidence under oath when, it is determined by the Commission, that such persons have been, or are likely to have been, in a position to have knowledge of events pertaining to the matters which are the subject of the Commission of Inquiry.

We must create the conditions in the conduct of the Inquiry that will, as far as practicable, encourage all persons or organisations with any relevant information to come forth before the Commission. Anything less could be reasonably interpreted as complicity to withhold information vital for full exposure of all the facts. This would qualitatively adversely affect the Commission's findings.

If it requires specific legislative changes or even constitutional amendments to pave the way for a truly independent and impartial Inquiry the PNCR reaffirms its commitment to assist in every way to expedite the Parliamentary process.

In the public discussions about the Death Squad issue, much is being made of whether or not the Commission of Inquiry Act does or does not require the President to consult with the Opposition or other stakeholders. It appears that there is a new and self–serving interpretation of good governance which holds that the Head of Government should avoid consultation with stakeholders and the Opposition Parties unless it is strictly commanded in the law. The absurdity of this position is palpable. Firstly, we take the view that the requirement of consultation, as specified in the Constitution, is determined by, among other considerations, the matters at stake. Secondly, the position of the Government is instructive as an illustration of the lack of sincerity of its participation in consultation and dialogue and a true reflection of its lack of commitment to provide good governance.

The PPP/C position appears to be that on issues affecting the whole nation and which imperil the state, sole discretion lies in the bosom of the President. This dangerous view, unless it is changed, may lead to a high cost which the entire nation will be forced to pay.

GOVERNMENT’S BAND AID APPROACH TO FUEL PRICES

It is evident to all that the Guyana economy is heavily dependent on the use of imported petroleum fuels for its energy supplies. The foreign exchange costs, as well as the likely destabilising and devastating consequences of high fuel import prices, from this high dependence on imported fuels, has been there as an ever threatening hazard for the development of our economy. Therefore, the adverse social and economic impacts of high fuel prices must be one of the most important areas of concern for any responsible government. The PPP/C Government should have seen this and sought to understand its ramifications since its accession to office in 1992.

The regime inherited the institutional mechanism of the Guyana National Energy Authority (now renamed the Guyana Energy Agency) for the planned, structured and rational dealing with the problem in its medium to long-term context. The adverse energy problem, exposed by high fuel prices, must be managed and the Government is responsible for doing so.

Sadly and painfully the Government seem to be averse to a pro-active management approach. It has, therefore, resorted to reactive short-term, band aid and seat-of-its-pants, remedies. The Prime Minister, who is the Minister responsible for Energy, is reported in the Stabroek News of May 24, 2004 as telling the people that the Government, of which he has been a constant since 1992, is conscious of the upward movement of fuel prices over the past 10 years and the impact this has on a fuel import dependent economy, such as ours, but has done nothing to deal with the problem in a structured and rational manner.

Why does the Government retain the Guyana Energy Agency? Is it only as a marker of fuel and the recorder of the c.i.f. price of imported petroleum to enable the Ministry of Finance to grab its unconscionable 50% Consumption tax?

Even the Prime Minister must recognise that the Toyota example, which he referred to, is a condemnation of the Government’s neglectful and passive attitude. The Toyota company, aided and encouraged pro-actively by the Government of Japan, devoted resources to manage the problem of increasing the efficiency of the use of energy – in other words, getting more output from the use of each unit of energy. The Prime Minister’s only lame advice to Guyanese is curtail the use of fuel by the negative approach of reducing production. How sad!

When is the Government going to stop sitting on its hands and develop a pro-active Energy Policy with components for increasing the efficiency of use of energy, as well as the substitution of imported energy by the development and use of our considerable and diverse indigenous sources of alternative energy? Is this beyond the capacity of this corrupt and incompetent Government of which the Prime Minister is a key player?


People’s National Congress Reform
Congress Place, Sophia,
Georgetown, Guyana.
Thursday, May 27, 2004