PRESS STATEMENT By The People’s National Congress Reform To the Press Conference on Thursday, October 28, 2004, Hall of Heroes, Congress Place, Sophia




SUMMARY:
• The PNCR will have no part in the political slush fund being disguised as development investment.
• The PPP/C statement on the Elections Commission reveals that Party’s comfort with the flawed voter’s list.
• PNCR Leader receives warm welcome in East Berbice as residents complain of neglect.
• The statement by Rohee on marginalization reveals that discrimination is part of PPP/C public policy.
• MARK BENSCHOP’s trial to commence on Monday November 1, 2004 but conspiracy at work to deny him liberty.

THE INFRASTRUCTURE DEVELOPMENT FUND BILL; A POLITICAL SLUSH FUND

At the first sitting of the National Assembly on Thursday, 28th October, 2004, after the recess, the PPP/C Government insisted on using its majority in the National Assembly to pass a most frightening piece of legislation with far reaching damaging consequences for the supremacy of Parliament, the oversight functions of the National Assembly and Parliamentary transparency and accountability.

This piece of legislation was the Infrastructure Development Fund Bill.

The objective of the legislation is to produce a creature called the Infrastructure Development Fund. Monies to go into this fund are the identical monies currently paid into the consolidated fund with one exception and that is donations. This fund will, however, provide a legal nesting place for the Lotto funds which have up to now been illegally withheld from the Consolidated Fund notwithstanding the Auditor General’s annual upbraiding on the illegality.

The monies put into this fund through this piece of legislation will be used to finance capital works of various kinds, all of which would normally find themselves in the Capital Budget proposed by the Government and debated and approved by the National Assembly.

In the new dispensation brought into being by this monstrous piece of legislation, no longer will the National Assembly have within its direct purview the monies which should finance the capital budget, in whole or in part, according to the Government’s whim. Nor will the National Assembly have any role whatever in debating and approving the projects on which these funds are to be spent.

The functions of the National Assembly will, under the legislation, be usurped by a Board.

Under the scheme of the legislation this Board shall manage the Fund and shall comprise between 3 and 9 persons, all of whom shall be appointed by the Minister of Finance, without any reference whatever to the National Assembly or anyone else. Moreover, “The moneys in the Fund shall be applied . . . . in accordance with the directions of the Board . . . .”

As though this was not contemptuous enough, the legislation provides that at least one person nominated by the main opposition party shall be appointed a member of the board.

The PNCR wishes to state unequivocally that it will not be a party to the undermining of the role of the National Assembly.

Not only is the legislation abhorrent in itself but it is also unconstitutional.

Article 216 of the Constitution states that “all revenues or other moneys raised or received by Guyana . . . . shall be paid into and form one Consolidated Fund”. There are two exceptions. One is where the revenues or moneys are payable by or under an Act of Parliament, into some other fund established for any specific purpose. We would argue that the fund created by the legislation is not for a specific purpose.

The other exception is where under an Act of Parliament the revenues or moneys may be retained by the authority that received them for the purpose of defraying the expenses of that authority. This does not arise in the case of this legislation.

In summary, the PPP/C Government has very brazenly confirmed its utter contempt for the representatives of the people in the National Assembly, provided a pristine example of the meaning of democratic centralism, demonstrated the emptiness of its commitment to transparency at the level of the National Assembly and clearly signaled the death of accountability to the National Assembly in critical areas of the Government’s operations.

WHY DOES THE PPP/C LOVE A FLAWED ELECTIONS LIST?

The PNCR deems as wicked and mischievous propaganda, the recent statements from the PPP/C at its last Press Conference where PPP/C General Secretary, Ramotar unjustifiably attacked the PNCR for demanding a proper voters list and stated that the Database was a good foundation to begin preparations of the 2006 Elections. The citizens of Guyana who faced the many experiences of the last elections during which many could not vote, would recognize that the PPP/C is once again seeking to mislead the public
The PPP/C is well aware of the fact that it was the Elections Commission itself which has asked the PNCR and other political parties for suggestions as to how the electoral list can be improved. The PPP/C is also aware that the weaknesses which are being discussed were identified by the Elections Commission itself. The position of the PPP/C is therefore very sinister. Since the elections commission has been in discussion with all political parties about the problems with its data, why does the PPP/C try to give the impression that our discussions with the Commission is an attack?

The statement by Ramotar is nothing more than an attempt to mislead the public and to set the scene for imposing a flawed electoral process on the Guyanese people. . The PNCR will however not be distracted from ensuring that corrective action is undertaken by GECOM.

The truth is that the PPP/C is well aware that the PNCR, like all other political parties including the PPP/C has over recent months been having consultations with GECOM and has been asked by the Commission to make specific recommendations on several IT related and other issues. The PNCR has submitted its comments and recommendations. Ramotar also knows that in a study carried out by the Elections Commission on their computer systems, the weaknesses and faults in the system were clearly identified and support PNCR concerns about the database of the voters list.

There has never been an explanation for the number of persons who were dislocated and consequently disenfranchised because of the mysterious happenings with the computer generated final voters list for the 2001 elections. That reality, coupled with the findings of all of the experts that the database system at GECOM is not as secured as required and the Commission’s own admission that there is need for totally new computer software as a prerequisite for creating a secure and reliable system, has re-enforced the PNCR’s position that the present database cannot live up to the required scrutiny and must be replaced. No screaming from the roof by the PPP/C will change those facts. The PNCR is determined that the next general elections will be held with an accurate and transparent voters list. We will continue to take part in the discussions being held by the elections commission and to make constructive and level headed suggestions.

As for the electoral system, the PNCR`s position on the electoral system is the official position of the Constitutional Review process and there has been no deviation. It is well known by all stake holders, including the diplomatic community, that it was agreed during the constitution reform process that the electoral system used for the 2001 General and Regional Elections was to be reviewed for subsequent elections including the 2006 elections. For example, it was never intended that the regions would be the permanent constituencies and that 25 would be the final number of constituency seats. There is therefore no alternative to the convening of the Parliamentary Committee on Constitution Reform so that the agreed review could be expeditiously undertaken.
We take a principled position. There can be no election acceptable to the PNCR unless the preparation of the voters list adequately addresses the flaws in the system and the agreed review of the electoral formula is done.

PNCR LEADER RECEIVES WARM WELCOME IN EAST BERBICE: RESIDENTS COMPLAIN OF NEGLECT

Last week, Friday, October 22 to Sunday, October 24, 2004, a high level PNCR team led by the Leader of the People's National Congress Reform and the Parliamentary Opposition, Mr. Robert H O Corbin, MP made a three (3) day visit to East Berbice. Accompanying the Party Leader were the Party Chairman, Mr. Winston Murray, CCH, MP; Vice Chairman Mr. Basil Williams, MP, Ms. Amna Ally, MP and Mrs. Volda Lawrence, MP. Areas visited included Port Mourant, Williamsburg, Rose Hall, New Amsterdam and several villages on the East Bank of Berbice, including, Edingburgh, Sisters, Kortbradt, and Lighttown. In all the areas visited the Party delegation was warmly welcomed by residents who freely expressed their views and outlined the many problems being experienced by them.

A major issue at Williamsburg was, what residents referred to as, discrimination in the price of house lots. Residents were able to point to several examples where some persons paid $18,000 (eighteen thousand dollars) for a house lot while others were being asked to pay $72,000 (seventy two thousand dollars).

At Port Mourant, where the PNCR delegation received a rousing welcome, during their walk around the Community on Friday, several residents voiced their grave dissatisfaction with the PPP/C administration and the state of Guyana. At the Port Mourant market on Saturday, residents of various areas on the Corentyne also highlighted the neglect of infrastructure in their communities by the Government. Major concerns were the poor water supply and exorbitant electricity rates. The people of Port Mourant were pleased to have been visited by the Leader of the Opposition and his delegation and were very forthright in expressing their views on the difficult economic situation in the country.

On Saturday evening, the PNCR Leader and the Party Chairman were the main speakers at a well attended public meeting at Port Mourant. Despite efforts by PPP/C enforcers to dissuade persons from attending and threats to some who attended, the meeting was well attended and the people were brought up to date on the current situation in Guyana. PNCR will soon air the video tapes of the visit to East Berbice.

During the East Bank Berbice leg of the visit on Sunday, the residents of ‘Cracksville’ highlighted the sub-standard houses sold to them by the Ministry of Housing and the attempts by that Ministry to enforce the payment of unreasonable prices for the property. At Sister’s Village, residents were gravely concerned about the constant erosion of the river bank which had remained unattended to for some time despite their pleadings. This was compounded by severe flooding, resulting in loss of their crops and livestock and in their inability to access the backlands. Meanwhile, the residents of Kortbradt and Lighttown were deeply concerned about the lack of potable water in their community.

The PNCR will shortly publish a special report on the East Berbice visit and will be following up many issues raised by the residents during the visit..

The Party Leader also took time out to visit with several senior citizens in Rose Hall and the East Bank Berbice, including Madeline Benjamin of Sister’s Village who is 101 years old.

ROHEE CONCEDES PPP/C RACISM

The PNCR has noted the recent public revelations of the PPP/C policy on discrimination by PPP/C Central Executive Committee member and Minister of Foreign Trade and International Cooperation, Clement Rohee. Mr. Rohee, while appearing as a guest on the television talk show “Spot Light” where at in an attempt to justify the PPP/C record on discrimination and victimization, he stated that in any democracy there must be minorities and the marginalized.

When taken in context, Mr. Rohee’s comment is a clear statement of the PPP/C Government’s policy with regards to poor people of Guyana who have felt the impact of such policies over the past twelve years. According to the PPP/C policy, these groups must accept that discrimination and victimization are acceptable elements of the democratic process and that the PPP/C does not have to respond to their concerns.

Since 1992 the PNCR has been speaking out on the questionable manner in which the PPP/C addresses problems of infrastructural development, pure water supply, house lot distribution, squatter settlement regularization and development and employment in the Public Service and other Government Agencies. The PPP/C public denial of these charges was always facilitated by calls from some sections of the media for the PNCR to produce evidence. Everyone in Guyana knows, however, that the production of evidence is no guarantee of Government response. The death squad issue, the duty free car scam, the export of dolphins and the Ganga Persaud fiasco are only recent examples. Rohee’s revelations on Spotlight have validated the PNCR’s contention and the people of Guyana ought to take note.

The PNCR vehemently condemns this backward policy as anti-democratic, anti-nationalistic, racist and counter productive. In the democratic process the Government of the day is required to ensure that all groups are fairly treated. No special treatment must be reserved for members of any group because they are perceived as minorities. A policy of marginalization has no place in the democratic process. The social and political consequence of this misplaced policy will be very harmful to the well being of people, prevent the development of national cohesion and ultimately prevent economic growth. We note that to date, no one in the PPP/C Government has sought to deny Rohee’s admission or to make any serious attempt to clarify his statement. .

The PNCR offers Guyana a system of Government that ensures that all Guyanese are included, and indeed feel a part of, Nation building. This is the only way we can mobilize and harness the collective efforts of all our people to propel us on the road of development. Wide ranging and fundamental changes will have to be made to our system of governance to ensure that we achieve the National Comfort Zone that is conducive to development.

MARK BENSCHOP TRIAL FOR MONDAY NOVEMBER 1, 2004, BUT A CONSPIRACY IS AT WORK TO DENY HIM A FAIR HEARING

After more than two years in prison, political prisoner, Mark Benschop is finally about to get his day in Court, i.e. his Constitutional right to a fair trial within a reasonable time. It is now well known that the PPP/C Government had taken extreme measures to delay this trial by intervening in the judicial process. The result is that Benschop’s trial was delayed even though his deposition was ready and his case listed for trial several months ago.

His case is again listed for the present session of the Criminal Assizes. According to recent information, his case should begin on Monday next and the trial Judge is ready to commence his trial. The PNCR, however, understands that there are desperate moves being made by the Office of the President and others to further delay the commencement of this trial. It is hoped that the Judiciary will demonstrate their independence and ensure that justice is done. The PNCR will be monitoring this trial closely and urges all Guyanese to do so. We urge the Amnesty International and the Guyana Human Rights Association to have a presence at the trial from Monday November 1, 2004.


People’s National Congress Reform
Congress Place, Sophia,
Georgetown, Guyana.
Thursday, October 28, 2004