PRESS STATEMENT By the People's National Congress Reform To the Press Conference on Thursday, November 24, 2005 Hall of Heroes, Congress Place, Sophia




SUMMARY:
• The PNCR congratulates Professor Clive Thomas on his preferment as the first Distinguished Professor of the University of Guyana;
• The PNCR has consulted a number of legal luminaries who have all confirmed that this High Court (Amendment) Bill 2005 is a “back door” attempt to undermine the provisions of the Constitution and poses a serious threat to the independence of the Judiciary;
• The PNCR calls on GECOM to state why the names of the many thousands of deceased persons still appears on the 2001 OLE that is been used in the Continuous Registration exercise and why has GECOM failed to inform stakeholders that it did not delete the names of the deceased from the OLE and addenda.

CONGRATUALTIONS TO PROFESSOR CLIVE THOMAS

The People's National Congress Reform congratulates Professor Clive Thomas on his preferment as the first Distinguished Professor of the University of Guyana.

Like most Guyanese, we have followed with keen interest the seminal works which he has produced in different areas of political economy of the English speaking Caribbean. Such work was conceived and carried out in the context of giving the region an authentic and independent voice in the study of economics. The Guyanese people I am sure will forever remember him as one member of that remarkable group of young West Indian economists who in the sixties sought to grapple with the unique problems of the Region from a West Indian perspective. In this fertile environment, such figures as George Beckford, Havelock Brewster, Alister Mc Intyre, and Lloyd Best, to name a few, virtually created a school of West Indian economics.

His commitment to Caribbean Integration and forging a Caribbean identity is evidenced by that classic on Caribbean Integration, “The Dynamics of West Indian Integration” crafted by him and Professor Havelock Brewster. That he maintained the belief in the necessity for Caribbean Integration over the years can only be to the benefit of the Caribbean Region.

As you all know Professor Thomas has not only made significant contributions in the field of economics but has also been in the forefront of the struggle for justice and has made significant contributions to the Trade Union movement in Guyana and indeed workers welfare generally.

We believe that his preferment by the University of Guyana to this honour as its first Distinguished Professor is entirely due to his indefatigable and consistently profound contributions in his chosen field of scholarship and we are also confident that he will be a good role model and fulfill his role with distinction and honour.

And so the PNCR adds our words of congratulations to him.

PRESIDENTIAL ATTACK ON THE RULE OF LAW

Respect for the Rule of law and confidence in the System of Justice are necessary requirements for the orderly conduct of public affairs in any functioning democracy. Whenever confidence in the System of Justice is eroded, for whatever reason, there follows a consequential breakdown of the Rule of Law and chaos and disorder become the order of the day.

It is, therefore, a matter of grave national concern that President Jagdeo should choose this time, when public confidence in the System of Justice is already at a low ebb, to mount yet another attack on the independence of the Judiciary. If this Bill is passed into law by the National Assembly no public servant, nurse, teacher, sugar worker or housewife will be guaranteed justice in this country.

The controversial High Court (Amendment) Bill 2005 is clearly intended to emasculate the Office of Chief Justice in order to enhance the functions of the Chancellor for the sole purpose of ensuring that the candidate, who is favoured by the President, if appointed, would exercise dominion over the Chief Justice. This cynical presidential initiative betrays the Government’s utter contempt for the Rule of Law and the System of Justice in Guyana.

The PNCR has consulted a number of legal luminaries who have all confirmed that this Bill is a “back door” attempt to undermine the provisions of the Constitution and poses a serious threat to the independence of the Judiciary. The PNCR is extremely alarmed by the possible control and manipulation of the courts that this Bill places in the hands of the Executive.

It is now clear that the democratic process in Guyana is in difficulty and under direct
assault by an autocratic and power crazy PPP/C Government. It is also common knowledge that the ages old principles of adherence to the Rule of Law, predictability and fairness in the administration of Justice, and constitutional probity are all being tampered with.

The duplicity of the PPP/C in this matter is glaring. An examination of previous events shows clearly that the Government always intended to tamper with our legal framework so as to undermine the separation of the powers of the Legislature, Judiciary and the Executive.

On April 20, 2005 President Bharrat Jagdeo invited the Leader of the Parliamentary Opposition, Mr. Robert Corbin, for the constitutionally mandated consultations on the appointment of a Chancellor. This invitation was in keeping with the constitutional requirement that there must be agreement between the President and the Leader of the Parliamentary Opposition before an appointment can be made. At this meeting, President Bharrat Jagdeo nominated Chief Justice Carl Singh and Mr. Corbin nominated Justice Claudette Singh as possible candidates. There was no agreement on a candidate and the President proposed that they should meet the following week to continue their consultation. Despite several enquiries by Mr. Corbin, President Jagdeo never convened another meeting in order to arrive at an agreement on who should be appointed Chancellor. Instead, Mr. Jagdeo announced that he had established a Search Committee to identify a Chancellor in clear violation of the constitution. He also proceeded to appoint Mr. Carl Singh to act as Chancellor.

Now that the High Court (Amendment) Bill 2005 has been introduced, in the National Assembly, it has become clear that President Jagdeo never intended to proceed as stipulated by the constitution. His intentions were always to achieve political control of the Judiciary. This he hopes to achieve by having an acting Chancellor who is politically pliant. Once such a Chancellor is in place and the administrative functions of the Chief Justice are transferred to that office the Executive will be enabled to manipulate the Judiciary and violate the cardinal separation of powers. The entire democratic process become subordinate to the whims of the Government and true justice will recede into the realms of the obscure. This cannot be allowed to happen.

This country needs a strong and independent Judiciary. This is imperative because of the institutionalized corruption and officially sanctioned narco-trafficking. It is the Police and the Courts that must eventually bring errant officials to account.

Of even greater significance are the recent death squad murders and the ever rampant extra judicial killings. It is now a trend for civilians and rogue Policemen, accused of death squad related and extra judicial murders, to be set free. A worrying fact is the apparent connection of the Government to these activities. In such a case it is frightening to have a pliant Judiciary. Human life would lose all value in this country as the Courts would have no power to penalize government protected executioners

It is a matter of public record that President Bharrat Jagdeo has accused the Police of being afraid to kill people. The general policy of the Government is that everyone killed by a Police bullet is a criminal. Therefore, all Policemen involved in extra judicial killings are within the law and the persons deserved to die.

A case in point is the recent killing of Carl Abrams at Nabaclis, East Coast Demerara. No action was taken by the Police in relation to this matter until residents mounted a protest. Despite this, the Government’s representative at the funeral, Minister Jennifer Westford, had the temerity to tell mourners that the young man had a shady past, thereby implying that it was only time before the Police killed him. The sad thing is that this young man was a decent law abiding citizen whose only crime was to resist extortion. However, this is of no importance to the government, he was killed by a Police bullet and that makes him a criminal.

The Government's unconstitutional manoeuver to transfer the Chief Justice's administrative duties to the Chancellor is an attack on our democracy and must be vigorously resisted. The PNCR sees this development as yet another attempt by a callous, uncaring PPP/C to subvert the rule of law and establish control of the Judiciary by imposing a crude dictatorship. Down this road lies the total devaluation of our democratic norms and a further distancing from the recognized principles of good governance. This will have serious economic implications since an independent judiciary is necessary for encouraging a favourable investment climate. This will lead to reduced investment and a further slowing down of the economy. As a result salaried workers, public servants, nurses, teachers and sugar workers will all be made to suffer since a slowing down of the economy will reduce the ability to move towards a living wage.

The PNCR calls on President Bharrat Jagdeo to let good sense prevail and withdraw this Bill. The PNCR is encouraged by the spontaneous expressions of concern and opposition, of a wide range of stakeholders, to this Bill and will continue to work with stakeholders to ensure that the Government does not succeed in this; its latest initiative to undermine the Rule of Law.

The Leader of the PNCR and of the Parliamentary Opposition, Mr. Robert Corbin, has written to President Jagdeo requesting that the Bill be withdrawn pending resolution of the issues which are of concern to all stakeholders.

The Opposition Chief Whip, Mr. E. Lance Carberry, has also written to the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Mr. Doodnauth Singh, requesting that he should not proceed with the Bill at today’s Sitting of the National Assembly, pending the President responding to the concerns expressed in the letter from Mr. Corbin.

We await the response from the Government.

ELECTIONS UPDATE

The PNCR has been receiving complaints from many citizens that their names were not on the Voters List posted by GECOM at public places in their Polling divisions, even though they are in possession of National Identification Cards and had voted at the 2001 Elections. Further these citizens have noted that the names of many deceased persons are still on these divisional lists.

At the last meeting the Joint Parliamentary Opposition Parties (JPOP) had with the Chairman and Commissioners of GECOM, the team representing the JPOP was advised by GECOM that before the commencement of the Continuous Registration exercise all the names of deceased persons would have been deleted from the 2001 OLE and its addenda. These names are on the several lists which GECOM had received from the General Registrars Office of persons who had died since 2001. The number of deceased persons, at that time, was estimated to be in excess of seventeen thousand (17,000).

The PNCR calls on GECOM to inform the nation:

• Why the names of deceased persons still appear on the 2001 OLE that is being used in the Continuous Registration exercise? and
• Why GECOM has failed to inform stakeholders that it did not delete the names of the deceased from the OLE and its addenda?

Compounding the woes of citizens is the non-existent Public Education Program to inform citizens of all the ramifications of the Continuous Registration exercise, and the burden placed on citizens by the inadequacy and inconvenient location of Registration Centres.

The PNCR has noted some movement by GECOM to implement methodologies for the cross-referencing of fingerprints as a security tool in the Registration and Electoral process. This would provide GECOM with the capability to detect and prevent the multiple registrations of persons. We hope GECOM will act expeditiously on this matter, after they receive from the Election Office of Jamaica (EOJ) the proposals for implementing these methodologies.

Whilst the PNCR takes note of the movement on this matter we are concerned that GECOM is yet to make a decision on the methodologies to be utilized for the verification of the existence of the persons remaining on the 2001 OLE and its Addenda, after the names of the deceased have been removed. The PNCR is aware that several months ago, the Chief Elections Officer presented a proposal on this matter to the Commission and most recently, September 13, 2005, the IT Manager also presented a proposal to the Commission on a way forward to implement this prerequisite.

The PNCR urges GECOM to:

1. Urgently implement the long overdue Public Education Programmme on Continuous Registration.
2. Take steps to increase the number of Registration Centres.
3. Inform the nation of the methodology it has adopted to verify the 2001 OLE and its Addenda after the names of the deceased have been removed and to state publicly when this exercise will commence.


People's National Congress Reform
Congress Place, Sophia,
Greater Georgetown, Guyana
Thursday, November 24, 2005