PRESS STATEMENT By the People's National Congress Reform To the Press Conference on Thursday, August 11, 2005 Hall of Heroes, Congress Place, Sophia




SUMMARY:

• The PNCR condemns the intemperate language and tone of the PRS Progress Report and distances itself from such conduct and behavior;
• Guyanese at home and abroad have been involved in ceremonies to commemorate the life of Linden Forbes Sampson Burnham - Guyana became highly respected during his life time for its forward looking foreign policy and various internal arrangements which sought to remedy the regime of inequality which characterized the social scene when Guyana was under British tutelage and place it on the road to genuine economic development.
• The present proposal by the PNCR only seeks to update this system by digital capturing of the very finger print and storing those prints as part of the electronic record for cross referencing and checking later. The PNCR will be pursuing this matter of misrepresentation with the GECOM.

THE POVERTY REDUCTION STRATEGY PROGRESS REPORT

The PNCR rejects outright the Government of Guyana’s Final Draft Poverty Reduction Strategy Progress Report that was presented to Members of Parliament on August 9, 2005.

It is the PNCR’s view that the document is riddled with inaccuracies, laced with polemics, and devoid of any acceptable strategy to shift Guyana away from the dependency syndrome of donor support.

In the very first page of the executive summary the report admits that “after three years of implementation, PRSP has become established as the overall framework for sector strategies, and has increasingly been used to focus partners’ contributions around government policies”.

Placing high emphasis on donor financing the document took a huge broadside against Guyana’s donors stating that “donors pledges made at the time of the elaboration of the Poverty Strategy Paper in 2001, continues to lag behind”.

The PNCR finds it totally unacceptable that the Government of Guyana would chide the international community and our donor partners who have over the past 10 years facilitated the write off of a significant part of our external debts and at the same time extended loans and grants in excess of US$ 1 billion.

What is very evident is that the PPP/C administration is devoid of any plans for development of this country, having abandoned the National Development Strategy, and has now found itself in a vortex of dependency on loans and grants and preferential arrangements from which it is incapable of escaping. It is not surprising to the PNCR that the PPP/C government would throw temper tantrums and berate our bilateral and multilateral partners when they (the PPP/C) do not have it their way.

The PNCR therefore condemns the intemperate language and tone of the Progress Report and distances itself from such conduct and behavior. Moreover, we call on the PPP/C administration to do the decent thing and expunge from the records such blatantly untrue statements as they could do irreparable harm to the cordial relationships the PNCR has helped to incubate, birthed and nurtured over the past several decades with the international community.

The PNCR also questions the methodology used for the determination of the poverty level in Guyana. The period under review is 2001 to 2004, yet the government went to great lengths to establish reference points of 2 decades earlier. But using these very same reference points, the government has revealed that poverty in Guyana has not been significantly reduced, despite the inflow of over US$2 billion to our economy over the past 10 years.

The Report stated that the World Bank Living Standards Measurement Survey conducted in 1993 showed that about 43% of the population was found to live below the poverty line. And in 1999 the UNDP Living Conditions Survey placed the population of persons living under absolute poverty at 38%.

During this period Guyana was the beneficiary of massive debt relief and write offs as well as the recipient of hundreds of millions of dollars of loans, huge inflows from rice and sugar, a stable price in fossil fuel, hundreds of millions of dollars of remittance transfers and an unknown but suspected huge inflow of hard currency associated with the underground economy.

It is obvious therefore that there ought to have been a more sizeable decrease in the poverty level, and this confirms that the PPP/C administration have squandered away hundreds of millions of US dollars while the poor continue to live in abject poverty.

The PNCR also note the attempt by the PPP/C administration to lay blame on the private sector for lack of economic growth, including the report that the “private sector has not responded in a way that will boost the economy and create jobs that will reduce the prevalence of poverty”.

In its Editorial today, August 11, 2005, the Government owned and PPP/C controlled, ‘Guyana Chronicle’ addressed the issue of the recent parliamentary discussion on the Poverty Reduction Strategy Progress Report 2005. In its usual politically biased and dishonest approach, the Guyana Chronicle report has attempted to dismiss the many legitimate concerns of the PNCR over the numerous and glaring short comings of the Poverty Reduction Strategy Progress Report 2005.

At the Tuesday August 9, 2005 special consultation for Parliamentarians at the Public Building, Georgetown, the PNCR MPs pointed the many inaccuracies, omissions of the report.

The most glaring omission is the fact that the report does not address any specific strategy to fight poverty but is a mere report of Government’s budgetary spending. The report also fails to should how the money spent has impacted on poverty.

The Guyana Chronicle has taken the dishonesty of the PRSP to another level. In its editorial today it claims that poverty in 1992 was at 80% of the population yet the Government’s own PRSP report states that poverty in 1993 was at 43%.

The PRS Progress Report also dishonestly cites political instability as a reason for poor performance of the economy when in 1994 there were no political activities that could be cited as disruptive to economic activity. The PNCR has asked for this misrepresentation to be removed from the report. The report also mentions the so called political impasse between the two major parties; however, no measures for dealing with this problem have been addressed. The PNCR has asked for this to be addressed or if not for the statement to be removed since to leave it as is amounts to mere politicking which has no place in a report of this nature.

The PNCR also highlighted the fact that the report fails to address the impact of the recent flood on the poverty level. The PNCR is convinced that the effects of the flood have brought a larger number of persons below the poverty line. If the PRS Progress Report does not acknowledge this then it can be concluded that there are no plans for special interventions to deal with this situation. This omission is so glaring that one is forced to wonder about the real purpose of the so called Poverty Reduction Strategy. Certainly it cannot be about addressing poverty.

The PNCR has also called for disaster preparedness to be included as an area of focus. The potential of natural disaster to render large sections of the population poor cannot be overstated. In the short term, it is probably the greatest threat to the poverty reduction effort.

The PNCR now awaits the government’s response to its many constructive comments on the PRS Progress Report 2005.

The PNCR believes however, that all is not lost and when it regains power intends to adopt several different strategies to dramatically improve the lives of the poor and disadvantaged and reduce poverty, among which are:

 immediately introducing amendments to the investment act and remove the wide discretionary power of the ministers, laying the foundation for massive foreign and local investments;
 embracing appropriate representation by genuine private sector organizations on all advisory and statutory investment bodies and agencies;
 revamping the existing One Stop Agency – GOINVEST; this organization must be staffed by professionals and not party hacks and must not operate as an extension of any political party;
 embarking on a rapid programme to attract investors to diversify our economy, shifting the reliance and dependence on our traditional sectors;
 institutionalizing stakeholders sharing to ensure that all sectors of our society benefit from the patrimony of the state;
 strengthening our foreign missions with suitably qualified Guyanese to market our country as a special place to be and do business;
 providing greater autonomy to local government organizations so that they can effectively service the needs of their communities;
 ensuring that there is equitable distribution of resources so that poverty is tackled in a holistic manner among several other initiatives.

BURNHAM’S 20TH DEATH ANNIVERSARY

While others are trying to vilify the name of the late, great Linden Forbes Sampson Burnham, the PNCR and the Guyanese at home and abroad have been involved in ceremonies to commemorate his life.

The activities in Guyana commenced with a Vigil at the Square of the Revolution which was organized by the GYSM, the youth arm of the People's National Congress Reform. The audience at the vigil was able to recapture many significant moments in the life of Burnham – the Patriot and Visionary. The playing of speeches of Burnham, the showing of his funeral and the viewing of one of his last Press Conferences adequately portrayed the quality of the man Forbes Burnham. This Vigil provided the young people, in particular, with the opportunity to be acquainted with the Party’s Founder Leader and the public in general with reminisces of Linden Forbes Sampson Burnham and the quality of leadership, which he gave to this country. Other activities held were the Laying of Floral Tributes at the Mausoleum, and an Occasion of Oral, Musical and Floral Tributes at the Bust of the Founder, Public Road Kitty, organized by the National Congress of Women. All of these activities created a sense of euphoria among those in attendance and a call for education about and information on Burnham to become a permanent feature of our national life.

Nine days have been set aside for commemorative activities to highlight the ideas, work and life of the Founder Leader. Still to come are:

 Friday, August 12th – Public Symposium at National Library Conference Facility, 17:00 hrs;
 Saturday, August 13th – Cycle Road Race from the National Cultural Centre to Belfield and back, 15:00 hrs;
Evening of Poetry and Songs at the Upscale Restaurant, Hincks Street, Georgetown, 20:00 hrs;
 Sunday, August 14th – Memorial Church Service at St. Peter’s AME Church, Almond & New Garden Streets, Queenstown, 10:00 hrs;
 Open Air Concert at the Botanical Gardens Band Stand, 15:30 hrs.

Burnham was a truly multi-faceted person. The commemorations are intended to be a tribute to a true son of the soil but more importantly they are intended to engender patriotism and to share a common vision for the good of Guyana. To this end television programmes have also been aired, in which Burnham either has been the subject of scrutiny or portrayed as a patriot or visionary.

At this time in our history when Guyana is at its lowest ebb these activities can only serve to give direction to our people and to instill a sense of hope in them.

BURNHAM’S VISION

Burnham’s approach to politics was under girded by a particular vision: a vision in which Guyana would be a nation respected internationally and regionally and populated by an economically self-reliant and confident people; stable, united and prosperous. In social terms, he sought to bring equity in the treatment of the various ethnic groups comprising the nation, equality between the sexes, free education for all from nursery to university, culture as a tool for forging harmony among the races, respect for the religion of all ethnic groups, and the utilisation of the nation’s resources for real development.

Accordingly, he set about, along with his political colleagues, to capture this vision through foreign policy programmes, economic policies and measures and legislative Acts of Parliament. And he was quite successful in doing so. Guyana became highly respected during his life time for its forward looking foreign policy and various internal arrangements which sought to remedy the regime of inequality which characterized the social scene when Guyana was under British tutelage and placed it on the road to genuine economic development.

The People's National Congress Reform will be pursuing with the owner and the editor of Kaieteur News constant use of that newspaper to vilify the late President Forbes Burnham. It is an insult to both the Burnham family and the wider family of the PNCR. This bashing of President Burnham must stop. The PNCR will not sit idly by and allow his tremendous contributions to the development of Guyana to be misrepresented.

MOTION AND MOU RAILROADED THROUGH PARLIAMENT DESPITE OPPOSITION CONCERNS

The manner in which the PPP/C Administration used its slim majority of four (4) seats in the Parliament to pass a motion on August 4, 2005 last, which, inter alia, called for members of the National Assembly to state their agreement and support for a Memorandum of Understanding, (MOU), signed on July 20, 2005 by GECOM, the Govt. of Guyana and the Donor Community, is a most dangerous development in the context of the said MOU that calls for,

“the fostering of broad public confidence in the Electoral Process, with the intention of promoting the acceptance by all of the results such elections”

Developments since then, including the alleged commencement by GECOM of Training of Officials, to begin the process of Continuous Registration, without the knowledge or involvement of the Contesting Political parties and without the passage in Parliament of the Rules and Regulations to govern the Registration, have justified the position taken by all Opposition Parties in the Parliament.

It is mind boggling that anyone could come to the conclusion that public confidence could be established in a society when the Government, which has only thirty-four (34) elected seats in the sixty-five (65) member Parliament, totally disregards the concerns of thirty (30) elected members of the said Parliament. The situation becomes more ridiculous when the motion that the members of Parliament were expected to pass is examined.

First, the motion called on all members of the National Assembly to accept that,

“the Government of Guyana is committed to democracy and to free fair and transparent Elections in Guyana”

It is amazing that the Donor Community would expect the Opposition Members of Parliament to accept this proposition in the context of the gross disregard by the Government of the Parliament, their refusal to accept, much more agree to implement, the recommendations in the Sir Michael Davies Report and their resistance to any measure aimed at verification of the Voters List of 2001, (OLE), that will be used as the basis for Continuous Registration. The Government’s further refusal to consider any of the proposed amendments to the motion by the Leader of the Opposition, that would have made it acceptable to all members of the National Assembly, is a further demonstration of the continued unilateral undemocratic actions by the Government and their lack of desire to achieve consensus.

The Leader of the Opposition had moved that this clause be deleted and replaced by a non objectionable clause,

“Whereas there is general stakeholders concern over the arrangements and preparation for General Elections in 2006”

This amendment would have accurately reflected the situation in Guyana today as assessed by the Parliamentary Opposition Parties after a series of meetings they had held with various stakeholders in Guyana over the past three months. Perhaps it was too much to expect that the PPP would be interested in the concerns of civil society.

The motion further called on the Members of the National Assembly to state their,

“agreement with and support for the undertakings, obligations, and commitments entered into by the parties that are signatories to the Memorandum (already signed on July 20, 2005) which we endorse with its annexes, and our individual and collective agreement with its implementation”

AND TO

“pledge to work individually and collectively towards free fair and transparent elections in 2006 by supporting the enactment of legislation in a timely manner, by taking action to maintain the desired electoral climate, by contributing to confidence building measures.”

Among the amendments moved by the Leader of the Opposition was to suspend the Support for the memorandum until GECOM attached certain documents to it, including,

“(a) An annex dealing with GECOM’s time bound implementation plan for the holding of free fair and transparent elections;

(b) A list of the recommendations contained in the Needs Assessment Annex 2 of the MOU that have been, “mutually agreed”; and,

(c) The submission to the National Assembly subsidiary legislation of the rules and regulations for the conduct of continuous registration in Guyana.”

It is difficult to understand how the highest forum of the land was expected to endorse a document and commit itself to support its implementation without the relevant information upon which success depends.
For example,

- the MOU requires the Government to enact Legislation in a timely manner. How is this to be determined in the absence of a time bound plan from GECOM?

- The MOU requires GECOM to, “facilitate agreement on the appropriate arrangements for equitable and free access to the state media by the political parties during the campaign period”. It is a mystery how GECOM will achieve this having regard to the denial by Government of access to the State media by Parliamentary Opposition Parties. It is well known that the Government remains adamant on this matter notwithstanding the fact that President Jagdeo committed himself to ensuring equitable access to State media since June 6th 2003 when he signed the Communiqué with the Leader of the Opposition. It is also ironic that no such obligation is placed on the Government by the MOU. How does the Donor Community expect that Government would comply?

- The MOU requires the Donor Community to provide assistance in accordance with terms of individual agreements to be made in the future as well as based on “the mutually agreed recommendations in the Needs Assessment (Annex2) of the MOU”. Why should the Parliament not be entitled to demand that those “mutually agreed recommendations” be made known to it before supporting the motion?

- The MOU gives authority to the Donor Community through their Joint International Technical Assessor(s) to “at any time” inform the GECOM, the Govt. of Guyana and the National Assembly that “any benchmark” has not been met. However, no information is presented to the Parliament on what these benchmarks would be. This is a very serious issue since the Joint Assessor could recommend that standards have been met even in the face of overwhelming lack of confidence in the process or, on the other hand, recommend the postponement of Elections if these benchmarks are not met. Finally,

- The Annex to the MOU contains a “Suggested Project Plan with Timelines for Task Completion” This plan states that Continuous registration should proceed, 70 weeks before Election Day. That would mean that GECOM is already 18 weeks or four months and two weeks behind schedule, if the Constitutional deadline for the holding of Elections in 2006 is applied and the Registration Exercise has not yet begun. Will this mean that the JITA will consider a benchmark not met and suggest a postponement of elections by at least 18weeks?

The Government, however, proceeded to use their slender majority to pass the resolution despite these and other matters of concern were brought to the attention of the National Assembly by Opposition Members of Parliament. It is difficult to appreciate how such an important step in the building of confidence could be so easily eroded.

The PNCR will not be deflected from its objective to ensure that there is a level playing field for all contesting political parties and the stated preconditions for free fair and transparent elections are met.

TRAINING WITHOUT RULES BEING PRESENTED TO PARLIAMENT AND NON INVOLVEMENT OF POLITICAL PARTIES

The commencement of training of Registration staff by GECOM without the rules and regulations that would govern this exercise being presented to the Parliament is a matter of grave concern. Of equal concern is the fact that this training commenced without the knowledge or involvement of contesting political parties unlike the precedent set in 2001.

This unsavoury development is illustrative of the disregard, which GECOM appears to be developing for the Opposition parties in Guyana and Justifies the decision of the Opposition parties in Parliament to withhold support for the MOU until the Rules and Regulations for Continuous Registration are presented to that body.

The Stabroek News reported on the commencement of the training exercise last Monday and quoted extensively from the opening remarks of the Chairman if GECOM. The PNCR learnt of this exercise from the media and on enquiry was able to confirm that the rules and regulations had not yet been approved by the Commission. The Party is therefore amazed that training has begun before the rules have been approved. The only other conclusion is that the Chairman of GECOM has unilaterally settled the rules and has approved of them being taught to potential registration Staff. In previous Elections political parties were always invited to send observers to these training sessions as it facilitated a greater understanding of and support for the process. It was also found necessary to ensure that party scrutineers understood the tasks of the Registration Staff in the field that they were expected to monitor and observe. This total disregard for the participants in the Elections at this early stage of the process is a serious matter, which will not be allowed to continue. The PNCR has therefore already taken steps to deal with this matter.



PNCR AND OPPOSITION PARTIES VIEWS ON BIOMETRIC BEING MISREPRESENTED BY SOME AT GECOM

The PNCR will be following up with GECOM an apparent misrepresentation of the position of the Opposition Parties on the question of biometrics as a means to curb multiple registrations. The PNCR understands that during discussions on this matter a paper presented on this issue assumed that the PNCR’s request was for an AFIS (Automated Fingerprint Identification System) to prevent multiple registration of any registrant at the time of Registration. Such a proposal would require a very elaborate IT environment as well as heavy IT Infrastructure at all Registration points and had never been proposed by the PNCR or the parliamentary Opposition.

Another misrepresentation is that the proposal of the PNCR is to prevent multiple voting through fingerprint biometrics at the place of poll. Again this has never been the proposal by the PNCR since even Jamaica which example we are advocating has only implemented this aspect at two Parish elections and will be fully implementing this advance system at all polling places at their next elections.

The PNCR has always stated that the use of biometrics will provide the basis to check on persons who have registered more than once thus eliminating double and multiple registrations. It would also provide an opportunity to successfully prosecute those persons who indulged in this illegal practice. The PNCR’s proposal could, therefore, not be as costly as claimed by those seeking to avoid any checks on the voters list. In any event it should be emphasised that the necessity for fingerprinting is already provided for in our laws since 1964. The only difference is that the fingerprints were taken manually and stored on a Master registration Card. The present proposal by the PNCR only seeks to update this system by digital capturing of the very finger print and storing those prints as part of the electronic record for cross referencing and checking later. The PNCR will be pursuing this matter of misrepresentation with the GECOM.

The PNCR repeats its reasonable expectations, which are very simple and clear.

1. Elections must be held by the constitutionally due time.
2. Elections must be held with a thoroughly cleansed voter’s list achieved through house to house verification.
3. There must be introduced a proper system of biometrics using digital capturing of fingerprints.
4. There must be equitable use of the state media: on this matter the recently held General Council of the PNCR gave specific directives which the Party Leadership will be resolutely implementing.
5. The government and GECOM will be held accountable if these conditions are not met.



People's National Congress Reform
Congress Place, Sophia,
Georgetown, Guyana.
Thursday, August 11, 2005