PRESS STATEMENT By The People’s National Congress Reform To The Press Conference, Thursday, July 29, 2004 Hall of Heroes, Congress Place, Sophia
• The PNCR looks forward to positive results from the visit of the Secretary-General of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, the Hon. Dennis Marshall, QSO.
• PNCR and Opposition Leader, Mr. Robert H O Corbin, MP, returned to Guyana, last Thursday, July 22, 2004 after completing successful outreach programmes in Antigua and the UK.
• The PNCR has been consistent in its criticisms of the ineffectiveness of the National Assembly as the watchdog on behalf of the People of Guyana.
• The PNCR considers the matters of the Commission of Inquiry to be of grave importance and not withstanding the fact that it has not changed its publicly stated position on the type of the Commission required, will shortly make its views known to the Commission.
• The PNCR joins all other Guyanese in observing the 166th Anniversary of the Emancipation of Slaves, as it marks a moment in our history of unsurpassed significance and impact.
• The Party’s platform for the future will be finalized at our Congress in August and the details presented to the nation.
PNCR WELCOMES THE SECRETARY GENERAL OF THE COMMONWEALTH PARLIAMENTARY ASSOCIATION TO GUYANA
The PNCR extends a cordial welcome to the Hon. Dennis Marshall QSO, Secretary-General of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association. Mr. Marshall is on a four-day visit to Guyana to discuss Branch matters and how the CPA might be able to offer support to the Parliament of Guyana. The Secretary-General will pay a courtesy call on Opposition Leader, Mr. Robert Corbin at Congress Place Sophia tomorrow, Friday July 30, 2004 and will meet with all PNCR Members of Parliament from 10 am to 12 Noon at the Ocean View Convention Centre. The PNCR looks forward to positive results from the visit of the Secretary-General.
PNCR LEADER RETURNS FROM OUTREACH VISITS OVERSEAS
PNCR and Opposition Leader, Mr. Robert H O Corbin, MP, returned to Guyana, last Thursday, July 22, 2004 after completing successful outreach programmes in Antigua and the UK. The PNCR Leader had been invited by the Guyana / Antigua Association, “The El Dorado Club”, to
participate in its 10th Anniversary Programme on July 9th and 10th. He later proceeded to the UK on July 17th to participate in a programme facilitated by the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office and another organized by the UK Southern Region of the PNCR.
On Friday, July 9, 2004, the PNCR Leader addressed a massive gathering of [over two-hundred] Guyanese in Antigua on the political and economic situation in Guyana. Participants at that meeting were deeply concerned about developments in their homeland and troubled over the many issues which had sullied Guyana’s name internationally. Many of the questions raised after the Opposition Leader’s address related to the failure of the Jagdeo Administration to take serious action on the Death Squad and the involvement of Minister on leave, Ronald Gajraj; the continuous reports of corruption including, the latest wild life fiasco over the export of Dolphins; the continuous decline in Guyana’s overall economic performance; the future prospects for political stability and the need for positive change in Guyana. It was evident that, while many Guyanese were temporarily resident in Antigua, they remained deeply concerned with developments in their homeland as most of them still had definite plans of returning to Guyana in the not too distant future. The Opposition Leader assured them that all was not lost and outlined the plans of the PNCR for the reconstruction of Guyana.
On Saturday, July 10th, the Opposition Leader was the guest speaker at the 10th Anniversary Dinner and delivered an address entitled, “Regional Integration-Assessing the Past and Looking to the Future”.
In his address Mr. Corbin reviewed the Caribbean Integration movement from the time of the failed West Indian Federation, the Dickenson Bay Agreement, the establishment of CARIFTA and the most recent developments in CARICOM including, the Caricom Single Market and Economy and the Caribbean Court of Justice. He opined that the major motivation for Caribbean integration remained an economic one and the desire to improve the quality of life of the people of the region. Consequently, recent developments in CARICOM were essential to continued success. However, the integration movement could falter if more effort was not made to have the people of the region more intimately involved in these developments. Mr. Corbin’s address will shortly be posted on the Party’s web site, www.guyanapnc.org.
In the United Kingdom, the Opposition Leader held discussions with several senior functionaries including, the Hon. Dennis Marshall, Secretary General of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association; the Rt. Hon. Mr. Donald Mc Kinnon, Secretary-General, Commonwealth; Mr. Roger Sands, and the Rt. Hon. Sir. Alan Haselhurst, MP Clerk and Deputy Speaker of the House Of Commons respectively; Mr. Garett Thomas, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State; Mr. Bill Rammell, MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs; the Rt. Hon the Baroness Amos, Leader of the House of Lords; and, Ms. Diane Abbott MP, Chairman of the ALL-Party Parliamentary Caribbean Group. Mr. Corbin was accompanied by Mr. Winston Murray MP and Executive member, Mr. Hamley Case.
Discussions with functionaries in the UK were in relation to the economic and political situation in Guyana, the Death Squad allegations, the functioning of the Guyana Parliament and the status of decisions made in the Communiqué signed between President Jagdeo and the Leader of the Opposition on May 6, 2003. In his discussion with the British Under Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Mr. Corbin raised the PNCR’s concern about the future of Guyana’s sugar market as a result of the recent decisions of the EEC and the potentially serious financial losses to our economy. He urged the British Government to be in the forefront of initiating a proper programme of relief to ease the financial dislocations that were bound to result from the recent decisions on sugar.
The PNCR Delegation also visited the House Of Commons, held discussions and working lunches with Conservative and Liberal Democrat members of Parliament including, Mr. Nigel Evans, MP, Conservative Member of Parliament for Ribble Valley and Mr. Matthew Taylor, MP, Chair, Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Party.
The PNCR wishes to publicly express its sincere thanks to the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the British High Commissioner to Guyana, Mr. Steve Hiscock and his staff for facilitating the visit of the Leader of the Parliamentary Opposition of Guyana to the UK. The Party also expresses its thanks to all the British and Commonwealth Officials who made themselves available to the visiting delegation in the UK.
The PNCR Southern Region also arranged a programme for the Party Leader while in the UK which included a Public Forum on Wednesday July 21, 2004. The venue was inadequate to comfortably accommodate more than two hundred Guyanese who turned up to be informed of the political and economic situation in Guyana. Despite the inadequacy of the seating accommodation, however, the invitees remained throughout the three –hour session. Like the meeting in Antigua a week earlier, Guyanese in the UK were deeply concerned about developments in the land of their birth. The lively question and answer session which followed the address by Mr. Corbin included questions posed by PPP/C representatives who had been invited and attended the meeting. Mr. Winston Murray MP, and Mr. Hamley Case also addressed the meeting and the invitees acknowledged that the meeting was both informative and educational.
The PNCR wishes to express thanks to the Officers and members of the PNCR UK Southern Region and to the El Dorado Club of Antigua for the excellent arrangements made for the PNCR Leader during his visit abroad.
During his visit abroad Mr. Corbin also made a private visit to Taiwan to observe developments there. He had the opportunity to learn more about a country which was until recently wholly dependent on rice and sugar but which had been transformed into one of the fastest growing economies of the world, lessons which may be useful for Guyana.
SELECTIVE PARTICIPATION IN THE NATIONAL ASSEMBLY
President Jagdeo and his cohorts in the PPP/C regime need to be reminded that the policy of Selective Participation in the work of the National Assembly was implemented by the PNCR primarily because of:
The President’s consistent and persistent failure to keep his commitments to implement the matters agreed with the Leader of the Opposition during the Constructive Engagement process; and
The President’s refusal to have a credible Commission of Inquiry into the alleged existence of State-sponsored Death Squads under the direction of the Minister of Home Affairs.
As is usual with the PPP/C, whenever they are confronted with truths that cause them to be uncomfortable, they resort to a propaganda blitz which is intended to distract attention from their misdeeds and scant regards for the basic norms of good governance. That the National Television Station can be used for this propaganda purpose while the Government flagrantly breaches the Agreement in the May 6th Communiqué with respect to equitable time for Parliamentary Parties on the State media is truly amazing but not surprising conduct on the part of the PPP/C Administration.
Our policy of Selective Participation did not prevent the representatives of the PNCR from actively participating in the work of the Public Accounts Committee. However, this is conveniently overlooked by those who have mastered the arts of public deception by lies and distortions.
The PNCR has been consistent in its criticisms of the ineffectiveness of the National Assembly as the watchdog on behalf of the People of Guyana. Despite the parliamentary and constitutional reforms which have been agreed, the PPP/C Administration has persisted in its policy of Executive control of the National Assembly.
Therefore, although the Parliamentary Management Committee is charged with the responsibility to consider and decide on matters relating to the business of the National Assembly the Budget for the National Assembly was not determined or approved by the PMC but imposed by the Office of the President. The PMC, since its establishment, has tried to rationalize the scheduling of the Sittings of the National Assembly to avoid the incidence of 5-minute and other short-duration Sittings. Accordingly, the PMC requested that the Minister of Parliamentary Affairs should submit his quarterly projection of Government legislation which he expects to Table in the National Assembly. Needless to say, this has never been done.
The PMC agreed that any complex and/or controversial Bill should automatically be sent to a Special Select Committee immediately after its Second Reading. Again, this has been ignored by the PPP/C Administration which has a track record of seeking to foist such Bills on the National Assembly at short notice and under the pretext that the Government’s access to IMF or World Bank funds would be jeopardised if the Bill is not rushed through the National Assembly.
It is instructive to note that the first Sitting of the National Assembly for 2004 was held on March 15, 2004. At that Sitting, the Leader of the Opposition requested leave to move the adjournment of the Assembly on a definite matter of urgent public importance in order to have the Death Squads issue debated by the National Assembly. It is a matter of history that the Speaker turned down this request and the subsequent requests to have the matter placed on the Order Paper. Curiously, however, the Speaker allowed the Minister of Home Affairs to make an inappropriate and highly emotional and inflammatory speech on this matter during the debate of the 2004 National Budget.
There were 12 Sittings of the National Assembly for 2004 of which 6 were devoted to the 2004 Budget Debate which was Read to the Assembly on March 29, 2004. It is note worthy that on July 22, 2004, the Administration, as is now their usual practice, in response to the imperatives of the Caricom Single Market and Economy, rather than being motivated to correct the effects of their own self-serving backwardness in abandoning the inherited PNC Administration programmes which promoted the development of Technical and Vocational Education and instituting mechanisms for establishing the Equivalence of National Qualifications to similar qualifications in Caricom and internationally.
THE GAJRAJ COMMISSION
The PNCR has observed that since its last statements on the non-functioning of the Commission of Inquiry there appears to be some show of life. The recent publication by the Commission, however, has only confirmed the earlier reservations expressed by the PNCR on this matter. On Sunday July 25th last, readers of the newspapers would have observed proposed procedures published to give effect to the singular term of reference of the Commission. It is perhaps too soon to make any statement on the Commission’s awakening and what we can expect in the near future except to say that we have observed that there appears to be some potential dangers in the way in which the commission intends to proceed.
Firstly, it is counter-productive and perhaps naïve for the commission to request written statements to be submitted by potential witnesses and moreover to require the names and addresses of those persons. The Commission needs to be reminded that this is not an Inquiry into a floating wharf or a breached conservancy dam or the duty-free vehicles scam or the export of dolphins, but one which carries a possible death sentence for those involved. The Commission cannot on one hand recognize the danger to potential witnesses with the promise of protection while on the other hand ask the same witnesses to provide their names and addresses before a guarantee of protection. It is also interesting that these statements will be forwarded to Mr. Gajraj before the witnesses are summoned to testify.
What this Commission has to do as a matter of urgency, if it is serious about fulfilling its mandate in a transparent manner, is to assure potential witnesses that their identities will not be disclosed and that protection will as a matter of course and not discretion, be offered. Secondly, the PNCR is of the considered opinion that the requirement of fairness will become unbalanced if it proposes to provide Gajraj, in advance, with copies of statements including the names and addresses of witnesses. Thirdly, against the backdrop of the Commissioner of Police’s own statements made earlier in the year as to the force’s difficulties with providing witness protection in Guyana, we are unaware that the situation has improved, and that any promise of protection made by the Commissioners, if they feel so inclined, will be fulfilled by the Guyana Police Force. Fourthly, despite the statements of the President as to the liberal approach expected to be taken by the Commission notwithstanding the stunted term of reference, the Commission has ruled otherwise. Many will recall President Jagdeo saying that despite the term of reference, the Commission had power to enquire into the causes and effects of crime in 2002-2003 and beyond. Unfortunately, the Commission itself has put paid to those proclamations by stating in its July 25th publication “The Commission shall conduct the Inquiry strictly within and in accordance with the terms of reference.” Once again the nation is is not surprised by another broken Jagdeo promise but the tragedy is that the victims of months of crime are left without answers and closure.
The Commission has thus far displayed a certain naivety in addressing what is an obviously sensitive and dangerous issue. What the nation needs is a display of courage and initiative, so that it could generate the confidence necessary for their mandate to be carried out. The PNCR considers these matters to be of grave importance and not withstanding the fact that it has not changed its publicly stated position on the type of Commission required, will shortly make its views known to the Commission.
The Party held a session of its General Council last Saturday, July 24th here at Sophia. This is our last General Council before we assemble for our 14th Biennial Congress on August 27th. The main emphasis in our discussions was preparation for the conference the theme of which will be “Building a Platform for Peace National Cohesion and Reconstruction” The stress was on building a platform upon which we can carry Guyana forward out of the present morass of conflict, economic stagnation and dependency. The party discussed the imperative of forging alliances with persons and organizations whose convictions are similar to those of the PNCR. The Council spent considerable time discussing in-depth the way forward on such issues as the future governance of Guyana, strategies for reviving the national economy, the changes needed in our social and human development polices and the changes required to modernise the party’s constitution. In his address, the Party Leader, Mr. Robert Corbin emphasized the importance of focusing the energy of the Party on winning the forthcoming General Elections by developing the platform on which to win that election and ensure the needed turn around in Guyana’s fortunes. He emphasized that unless there was a change in the country to bring about a peaceful and constructive environment, the hopes of the Guyanese people for prosperity and opportunity will not be realized. The Party’s platform for the future will be finalized at our Congress in August and the details presented to the nation.
EMANCIPATION OF SLAVES IN GUYANA – 166 YEARS ON
On Sunday, August 1, 2004, the Guyanese nation will commemorate the 166th Anniversary of the Emancipation of Slaves. The PNCR joins all other Guyanese in observing this event, as it marks a moment in our history of unsurpassed significance and impact.
The abolition of slavery in 1838 meant the transformation of slaves into free men. Africans were now freed from being the property of others, freed from living at the total mercy and caprice of others, and freed from unparalleled dehumanization. Liberation was not, however, absolute. Freed Africans were still the victims of economic, political, social and mental bondage. Economic bondage as their agricultural lands and villages were deliberately flooded and as the discriminatory taxation system limited their scope (and hope) for improvement. Political bondage, as their right to elect and to be elected was denied them for decades and as the political system was rigged to promote the sugar interests above all else. Social bondage, as freed Africans were treated as lesser citizens and mortals, and as government expenditures on social services for their villages remained pitiful. Mental bondage, as they had lost much of their original culture and were forced, through necessity and indoctrination, to adopt the styles and habits of the white society.
Emancipation therefore did not mean total liberation. And as African-Guyanese take stock of themselves 166 years later, they must measure their progress not only by how much they have unshackled themselves and have moved on, but by how much more remains to be accomplished. They must appreciate that emancipation never was an end in itself. It only provided, and provides, the necessary foundation to allow Africans to realize their life goals as individuals, as families, as communities, and as a distinctive people.
Against this background, African-Guyanese can be justifiably proud of their enormous efforts and achievements towards building this nation. These inputs have been in all fields of human endeavor including academia, public service, business, politics, diplomacy, arts and culture, sports, and community development. African Guyanese have been integral in setting our national agendas, in our fostering national pride and dignity, in guarding and protecting our national patrimony and in fashioning our national character.
The PNCR shares the view, that for the future, African-Guyanese must purposefully build on this record. They must strive to achieve a level of political, economic and social deliverance that would facilitate the attainment of high self-esteem, the growth of their minds, and the realization of their true potentials and aspirations. Through it all, African-Guyanese must continue to increase their understanding of and respect for other groups and must continue to interface and collaborate with them in all endeavours of nation-building. Only through mutual respect, equality of treatment, and collaboration of efforts among all Guyanese can Guyana hope to move upward.
In shaping this message, the PNCR wholly embraces the notion that outside of national issues (those that impact on the lives of all Guyanese across the board); there exist concerns and affect one ethnic group more than they do others. While, therefore, Amerindians, Africans, Indians, Portuguese, Chinese and others face situations that affect them collectively as Guyanese citizens, it must be recognized that there are matters which more selectively affect one particular ethnic group. These matters, the PNCR is persuaded, must be confronted boldly in their trueness as ethnic-specific issues. The PNCR feels comfortable in addressing the specific problems of any one group because it is no less involved in seeking solutions to the problems that confront other groups. We believe that Guyana’s ethnic diversity has to be acknowledged and catered for. Far from distracting from the broader national agenda, the resolution of specific ethnic concerns is an essential prerequisite to the successful achievement of national goals. Our collective well-being hinges on the well-being of our distinctive parts. Our unity depends on how we face up to our diversity. The PNCR remains committed to this reality of our society, as we continue to advance our broad national agenda for the benefit of all Guyanese irrespective of race, religion, political affiliation or gender.
People’s National Congress Reform
Congress Place, Sophia,
Thursday, July 29, 2004
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