PRESS STATEMENT By The People’s National Congress Reform To the Press Conference on Thursday, October 7, 2004 Hall of Heroes, Congress Place, Sophia




SUMMARY:
• PNCR has over the last year requested, from GECOM, responses to its concerns.
• The PNCR made a written submission on the proposal for a local government electoral system
• It took the PPP/C eighteen months to respond to the PNCR’s initial proposal on local government elections
• The Jagdeo government continues to pump large sums of taxpayers’ money into expanding the services of its mouth piece, the state-owned NCN.
• The Jagdeo regime is yet again demonstrating its disregard for the basic principles of good and decent governance
• President Jagdeo and the PPP/C Administration have continued on a course of conduct designed to undermine the statutory bodies of Linden in the hope of partisan political benefits. This policy has not helped to develop the mining town of Linden but has further contributed to its decline and social conflict.

GECOM’S PREPAREDNESS IS ESSENTIAL TO THE HOLDING OF ELECTIONS

The records would attest to the fact that the PNCR has, over the years, communicated its concerns, to GECOM, about the various aspects of GECOM’s operations, which would require rectification as a prerequisite for the conduct of elections of an acceptable standard. The PNCR raised its concerns early enough to allow GECOM and other stakeholders time to prevent delay and confusion over the next general elections. The records would also reveal that the PNCR has over the last year requested, from GECOM, responses to its concerns. More recently, the PNCR met with GECOM to be brought up to date about the Commission’s state of preparedness for elections and more particularly its responses to the numerous concerns which the PNCR has brought to GECOM’s attention over the years. The PNCR can now report that two such meetings have been held on September 10 & 24, 2004.

Unfortunately, a similar report cannot be made about the Task Force on local government reform. When the Task Force last met on August 11, 2004, the PNCR made a written submission on the proposal for a local government electoral system. In so doing the PNCR made it clear that its proposals were negotiable. The response from the government has been statements in the press from Collymore, Ramotar and Luncheon to the effect that there is nothing to be discussed by the Task Force. The PNC had proposed that the PPP/C’s response to its proposal should not be the sole determinant of when the Task Force should hold its next meeting, since the working group on fiscal transfer should be asked to report on the progress of its work and the legal draftsman should be asked to do likewise. None of this has happened. Nevertheless, according to Luncheon and other PPP/C propagandists the local government elections will be postponed because of PNCR foot dragging. There could hardly be a situation more ridiculous than this. On one occasion it took the PPP/C eighteen months to respond to the PNCR’s initial proposal on local government elections; on another occasion it took a meeting with the donor community for Collymore to convey to Jagdeo the PNCR’s compromise proposal which had been tabled some months before that meeting; and most recently, it took a letter from the PNCR before the PPP/C conceded to a meeting of the Task Force with the expert on electoral system, whose visit had been financed at the request of the Task Force. The Guyanese public can judge for itself who the real foot draggers are.

The PNCR meetings with the Elections Commission have been informative. PNCR concerns about an accurate voters list to avoid reputation of previous fiascos have been vindicated and GECOM remains challenged to correct the major deficiencies and to re-establish stakeholders’ confidence.

The PNCR has agreed in principle to continuous registration and has requested from GECOM a copy of its concept paper on these matters. This is still to be received. It was also agreed that new elements of biometrics will also be instituted before the next elections. Here again GECOM is still to come up with concrete proposals. It is essential that a system of biometrics be put in place to prevent multiple registration and other irregularities.

The most significant revelation during the meetings was the Commission’s admission that it has to create an entirely new information technology environment in which to store and process its data. The environment, which was used for the 2001 elections, has proven, according to GECOM, to be porous, unreliable, insecure and inadequate for producing ID cards and the various reports including the voters’ list. The PNCR concerns about the database and related matters have been vindicated. Experts have come and have gone. They have sought to assuage us on the basis that they have found no fault with the stored data. But no one has yet been able to explain the problems and irregularities which plague our voter’s lists. They have however all admitted that there are problems with the environment, that is, the security features and software which are intended to secure and process that data. It is this reality that explains how the data could withstand scrutiny but at the same time the system has produced voters list that have distortions such as those on the 2001 voters list which displaced persons, omitted persons and produced multiple identification cards for one and the same person under different names.

It is in this context that the Information Technology Manager of GECOM reported: “The ITD will endeavour to solve the problems that have surfaced and to complete the exercise of producing outstanding ID cards. The Commission however needs to carefully address the issue of the existing IT resource and the role that should be given to them in the upcoming general and regional elections scheduled for 2006. That errors exist in the database content is indisputable. What is not known in their full nature and extent. Options to be considered would include:

• an exercise aimed at total verification of the data content of the MRDB
• house to house registration and recreation of the MRDB”

The PNCR has been requested by GECOM, to offer its comment, “on how an exercise aimed at total verification of the data content of the existing Master Registration Database (MRDB) could be carried out.”

The options presented by GECOM for comments are: (i) “Verification of the data content of the existing MRDB.” This is centered on inviting “Registrants to Authenticate Data at Registration Centres”; (ii) “Verification of the Data by house-to-house exercise”; and (iii) treating “with New Registrants and File Changes only.” The first two options can facilitate the implementation of biometrics, while the third is not biometric friendly.

The PNCR has since responded to the Commission indicating that it cannot make any responsible comments unless and until previously requested information such as the Concept paper on continuous registration is made available. The PNCR has made it clear that the third option could not be acceptable since it does not facilitate the implementation of biometrics. It should be noted that GECOM’s original report stated:

“The Guyana Elections Commission has taken the decision to implement a regime of continuous registration of registrants in time for the next scheduled elections exercise. There is a well articulated view that an exercise of house-to-house registration and the creation of a new database resource should be a precondition to the implementation of any system of continuous registration. Indeed it is claimed that empirical evidence indicates that all countries to date that have introduced this registration system, have taken precisely such a step.”

The PNCR will therefore not be distracted by the present PPP/C propaganda campaign but stands ready to make its contribution towards the realization of a free, fair, and transparent election in time for the 2006 deadline. This includes the implementation of the Mc Dermot report, which speaks to the issue of the computer applications and security aspect of the database and the Mike James report, which speaks to efficient and effective determination, and transmission of the results of elections. The PNCR used the opportunity of the meetings with GECOM to convey its position on these matters.

EXPOSING THE JAGDEO GOVERNMENT’S ATTEMPTS TO MONOPOLISE THE AIRWAVES

The Jagdeo government continues to pump large sums of taxpayers’ money into expanding the services of its mouth piece, the state-owned NCN. By this move, the Jagdeo regime is yet again demonstrating its disregard for the basic principles of good and decent governance. It is yet again demonstrating its disdain for signed agreements. The government continues to deny the opposition parties and other national stakeholder’s fair access to the state media, and continues to deny privately-owned media houses, such as those owned by CN Sharma and Tony Vieira, permission to expand their services to reach wider audiences. Prime Minister Sam Hinds was quoted recently in the press as trying to justify the government’s actions by saying that the two major political parties had agreed during the constructive engagement process that no new licenses would be granted until broadcast legislation was enacted and the proposed National Broadcasting Authority established. He was reported as stating further that this moratorium on licenses could not have applied to the state-owned media, given their mandate to keep the people informed.

To recognise the deceitfulness of the government on this matter and to avoid being misled, the Guyanese public need only be reminded of the following three points:

(i) Progress towards the enactment of broadcast legislation and the establishment of a National Broadcasting Authority was severely frustrated by the ruling party itself. The two parties had agreed during the Hoyte/Jagdeo dialogue of 2001 that the report of the Joint Committee on RADIO MONOPOLY, NON-PARTISAN BOARDS and BROADCASTING LEGISLATION would serve as the sole basis of new legislation on broadcasting in Guyana. Eighteen months after this report was submitted to the two leaders, the Jagdeo PPP/C came out with a broadcast bill that significantly departed from the committee report in several critical instances. It wasn’t difficult to conclude that the government had decided to give precedence to its narrow partisan interests over those of the wider nation. Subsequent efforts by the two parties to reconcile the two documents failed as the Jagdeo government stubbornly refused to fully honour the detailed recommendations in the report of the joint committee on broadcasting.

(ii) The agreement between the PPP/C and the PNCR on the question of new licenses only speaks about a moratorium on the granting of new licenses; it does not speak about denying existing licencees the permission to expand or upgrade their services. In fact, the exact wording in the communiqué on May 6, 2003, reads “There would be a freeze on the granting of all new commercial frequencies for television and radio by NFMU until such time as the new broadcasting legislation comes into effect.”

The government’s refusal, therefore, to allow media owners, such as Sharma and Vieira, to transmit their signals to other parts of the country is a decision based solely on its own monopolistic instincts and not on any communiqué agreement.

(iii) Further to this, the report of the joint committee on broadcasting is emphatically clear in its recommendation that the Guyanese public must have access to a diverse range of news and views. The report states, for example, that one of the objectives of the broadcast policy for Guyana must be “To promote the growth of Guyanese expression through diversified programming that reflects Guyanese rich cultural diversity, traditions, history, attitudes, opinions, ideas, beliefs and values, and to provide a reasonable opportunity for the public to be exposed to the expression of differing views on matters of public concern.” Against this background, the efforts to expand the reach of NCN smacks of bad faith and deceit.

This and other detailed recommendations in the broadcast report were agreed to by President Jagdeo. Nothing stands in the way of his government in honoring this agreement by allowing opposition parties and other national stakeholder’s access to the state media and by granting private media stations the opportunity to expand their services on their already-allotted frequencies. The government has failed to realize that the efforts to expand the reach of NCN would bear little fruit, as the Guyanese public is continuing to register their disgust by voting with their remote TV controls.

GOVERNMENT CONTINUES TO UNDERMINE LOCAL GOVERNMENT BODIES FOR PARTISAN POLITICAL BENEFIT

After more than one week of discussions between the Leader of the People's National Congress Reform and various interest groups, including the Regional Democratic Council (RDC) and the Interim Management Committee (IMC) of the Linden Municipality, the PNCR remains convinced that only a comprehensive regional development plan which takes into account, both human and natural resources, can guarantee the revitalization of Region #10, particularly Linden, and save it from the impending catastrophe.

Regrettably, President Jagdeo and the PPP/C Administration have continued on a course of conduct designed to undermine the statutory bodies of Linden in the hope of partisan political benefits. This policy has not helped to develop the mining town of Linden but has further contributed to its decline and social conflict. Commencing with the manipulation of some specially formed CDC groups, the government has continued to bypass the Regional Democratic Council and the overall effect has been the demoralization of the Councilors, who now recognise that they have great responsibility without the requisite authority to enforce their decisions. This situation was emphasized by Councilors of the RDC when the Leader of the PNCR met with the Council at its statutory meeting on Thursday last (September 30).

Members of the Council expressed their frustrations to Mr. Corbin and urged that Local Government reform be expedited to ensure that the authority to plan and execute developmental works in the respective Regions is truly vested in the statutory bodies.

Members of the Council also explained that despite great publicity given to the role that LEAP and LEAF would play in revitalizing the Region, they are yet to see any benefit to the Region. The Councilors were convinced that the much heralded support for entrepreneurs would be of no real benefit to them if interest rates for loans from the new LEAF programme are the same as commercial banks. Meanwhile, most residents of Linden are mystified because of lack of knowledge about the future of the bauxite industry and Linden generally.

People’s National Congress Reform
Congress Place, Sophia,
Georgetown, Guyana.
Thursday, October 07, 2004