PRESS STATEMENT By The People’s National Congress Reform To The Press Conference, Thursday, July 22, 2004 Hall of Heroes, Congress Place, Sophia




SUMMARY:
• The PNCR notes the slothful manner in which the issue of the Inquiry was and is being pursued.
• The PNCR welcomes the introduction of the Technical and Vocation Education and the National Accreditation Council Bills.
• The education ministry must have had the information which told them of the increased enrolments in the primary system and shortage of places available in the secondary system.
• The PNCR is concerned over the shortage of cement and its negative impact on our economy. We have been receiving many complaints from building contractors and consumers but more particularly first time home builders who cannot get cement or who have had to pay black market prices for this commodity.
• The PNCR notes that the threat posed to the sugar industry by the proposed changes to pricing policies in a paper being discussed in the European Union continues to cause anxiety in the minds of citizens.

THE COMMISSION OF INQUIRY INTO THE DEATH SQUAD ISSUE

As revelations continue to be made on the Death Squads and their escapades, and as relatives continue to bemoan the deaths of their loved ones at the hands of mysterious killers, the PNCR notes the slothful manner in which the issue of the Inquiry was and is being pursued. This can hardly lead to confidence in a process which Jagdeo reluctantly initiated to ‘prove the innocence of his Minister’ and which does not allow for the determination of the existence of death squads and the bringing to justice of those who may be associated with any such squad. Our skepticism has been further strengthened by remarks attributed to one Commissioner who has publicly commended Mr. Gajraj for the manner in which he handled the crime situation. While the PNCR’s position on the Inquiry is public knowledge, the Commissioners could best serve their own legitimate interest by getting on with the job as quickly as possible as well as ensuring that they create an environment that can enhance public confidence in them as a commission and as individuals.



THE TECHNICAL AND VOCATIONAL EDUCATION AND TRAINING BILL 2004 AND THE NATIONAL ACCREDITATION COUNCIL BILL 2004.

The PNCR welcomes the introduction of the Technical and Vocation Education and the National Accreditation Council Bills. In doing so, however, we must point out that the Government is only belatedly doing its duty in bringing these measures on board after over a decade of foot-dragging.

The retardation of Technical and Vocation Education in Guyana is a sad illustration of the backwardness and absence of any vision for the long term development of Guyana. It should have been evident to any enlightened Government that technical and vocational training is a vital need for modern skills development and a necessary requirement for Human Development.

Guyana was an innovator and leader in the Technical and Vocational Education and Training sector with a raft of pre-vocational, tech-voc and post secondary and apprenticeship training schemes. We were regarded as the front runner in these areas.

The PPP/C when it came to office seemed not to recognize the importance of the Technical and Vocation sector and dismantled the system they found in place in a misguided over emphasis on the formal academic stream in the education of children. As a result, whilst our Caricom sister countries were following along paths set by Guyana in technical and vocational training, we lost much ground. Consequently, Guyana is now one of the laggards in the field of technical and vocational training and many of the innovations now seen in Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago, for example, will put them in an even better competitive position, to attract the investments necessary for economic growth and development, than they are at the moment.

It is a fact that the level and quality of technical and vocational training is a key factor in the path to growth and human development in any country. We can only regret the fact that the Government of Guyana is only now taking this belated step to place some order and structure in a sector which could have happened a decade ago.

The Accreditation Council is also long overdue. Guyana, under the PNC, was an innovator in this sector and had in place an Equivalency Mechanism which was used as the basis for the development of assessment of qualifications and the generation of accreditation in the Caribbean.

The PPP/C government allowed the then existing machinery, for establishing the equivalency of qualifications, to fall into disuse and Guyanese are now in a situation where the Government is only establishing this Council because it has become an imperative as part of the institutional needs for the Caricom Single Market and Economy.

This is vital legislation in view of the importance of accreditation to facilitate the free movement of skills within Caricom. Guyana needs an acceptable and credible institutional mechanism to determine the equivalence of qualifications coming from the plethora of training institutions and the growth of distance education, virtual institutions and the pressure of our traditional institutions to obtain and maintain accreditation.

Guyana is now, unfortunately, well behind Jamaican in this regard even though we were the pioneers. However, better late than never, the establishment of the Council is nevertheless welcome.

The PNCR is compelled to state that it has a major reservation which applies to the structure of the Councils being created by both Bills. These councils which are to be established are, by and large, creatures of the Government and the responsible Minister and do not reflect the consensus on representation and inclusiveness.

The provisions in the tabled Bills, as is now the common practice, endow the Government with the ability and scope to undermine and ignore the genuine representatives of important stakeholders. For example, in 2(b) of the schedule of Bill No. 10/2004, there is the reference to persons “representing bodies established to promote the interests of members of the teaching profession” and 2(c) speaks of “persons representing bodies espousing the interests of employers” rather than naming the organizations which do exist and do represent such interest groups. This is clearly creating a pre-meditated opportunity for the Government and the Minister to discriminate against any organizations whose political support for the Government cannot be guaranteed.

THE CONTROVERSY OVER LACK OF AVAILABILITY OF SECONDARY SCHOOL PLACES IN 2004

The recent shambles connected with the allocation of children who have completed the SSEE examinations to secondary schools is an object lesson in the results of bad policies held with obstinacy. The PNCR has consistently advised the Government that its heavy emphasis on physical infrastructure was an inappropriate way of dealing with the crisis we face in basic education and literacy in this country. We have advised consistently that more resources should be allocated to teacher development, teacher welfare, and education software. The Government has notably ignored our point of view but from time to time even sought to scoff. As a result, at the end of the expenditure of billions of dollars over a decade, we have a combination of problems,

• The country has over capacity in primary school places
• The country has under capacity in secondary school places
• The students coming to the end of primary school in general have very poor results.

We should not let the result of a few very bright children blind us to the reality that our SSEE results remain very poor indeed. The overall result is that we have thousands of children who are very poorly educated, who are ill-equipped for secondary education, and who have no secondary school to attend even if they were ready. The Government should cease its constant warring and brawling with the teaching profession and recognize that it takes a committed teaching profession and a sound primary education policy to provide the foundation for growth and development in Guyana.

The education ministry must have had the information which told them of the increased enrolments in the primary system and shortage of places available in the secondary system. If the Minister did not have these figures or if he had them and did nothing about them, the incompetence of the Government is nevertheless clearly exposed.


THE RISING PRICE OF CEMENT

The PNCR is concerned over the shortage of cement and its negative impact on our economy. We have been receiving many complaints from building contractors and consumers but more particularly first time home builders who cannot get cement or who have had to pay black market prices for this commodity. While noting the Government’s comments on the matter, we are of the view that the administration has not been active enough in addressing this issue and is merely waiting for the establishment of the cement bagging facility to alleviate the problem. Our own investigation has shown that the Trinidad Cement Limited (TCL) group which enjoys a monopoly in the supply and distribution of cement in the Caribbean has not lived up to its commitment to ensure that there is an adequate supply for our construction industry and knowledgeable persons in the sector are of the view that the current shortage has been artificially engineered by the deliberate restriction of supplies to the distributors in Guyana.

THE CRISIS IN SUGAR

The PNCR notes that the threat posed to the sugar industry by the proposed changes to pricing policies in a paper being discussed in the European Union continues to cause anxiety in the minds of citizens. Like all other Guyanese, we are concerned about the threat posed to Guysuco and the national economy by this development and we are particularly concerned by the threats posed to the livelihoods of many communities in vulnerable estates. The PPP/C propaganda machine has tried to put a partisan spin on the issues but we in the PNCR believe that the matter is too important for us to allow our position to be misrepresented. We therefore wish to repeat the main points made on our press conference of July 15th out of an abundance of caution and for the avoidance of all doubt.

1. We believe that the AIP is in need further refinement in light of these new circumstances
2. We believe that there is no alternative to a policy of major diversification
3. We believe that the people of Guyana should be given realistic and truthful versions of the situation in and prospects for their situation
4. We publicly and unequivocally support the proposals of the ACP Sugar Supplying States
5. We remain hopeful that the EU will give full and serious consideration to the interests of the ACP states
6. We repeat our call for the PPPC to wake-up and do its job in the ineptest of the welfare of the hundreds of thousands of Guyanese directly or indirectly connected to the industry.

We are convinced that intemperate attacks on our donor and trading partners are a childish and useless response by the government. This is the time for sober and visionary thinking and bold truthful leadership.


People’s National Congress Reform
Congress Place, Sophia,
Georgetown, Guyana.
Thursday, July 22, 2004