PRESS STATEMENT By the People’s National Congress Reform To Press Conference on Thursday, February 9, 2006 Hall of Heroes, Congress Place, Sophia




SUMMARY:
 PNCR says final farewell to Mr. Muntaz Ali, a former Party stalwart and Business Executive, who died last Sunday, February 5, 2006, following a heart attack;
 The PNCR calls attention to the incident of unwarranted and reckless shooting by riot Police of innocent citizens of Mahaicony and also calls on the Police Force as a whole to exercise both discretion and sensitivity and act in professional manner so that the communities can have confidence in them;
 The PNCR reiterates its support for all unions to carry out their mandate and work for the rights and conditions of their members within the law;
 The PNCR Government intends to tackle the problem of witness intimidation in serious and organised crime cases;
 The conclusions of the National Youth Consultations will help the Party to reflect the concerns of young people in the crafting of national policy;
 The decision to verify the 2001 OLE rather than undertake a new registration was the PNCR’s compromise position in the face of the practice of having new registration at the commencement of continuous registration.

MUNTAZ ALI LAID TO REST
At a moving ceremony held at his Rosignol, West Coast Berbice home, the PNCR Leadership joined with the family and a multitude of friends in saying a final farewell to Mr. Muntaz Ali, a former Party stalwart and Business Executive, who died last Sunday, February 5, 2006 following a heart attack.

The country-wide representation at his funeral was ample evidence of his standing in the Guyanese Community which he served with distinction. We will all surely miss him.

We again extend our condolences to his bereaved family and many friends.

PNCR CONDEMNS THE INDISCRIMINATE SHOOTING OF PEACEFUL CITIZENS BY RIOT POLICE AT CALCUTTA, MAHAICONY, FEBRUARY 3, 2006

The People’s National Congress Reform condemns the unwarranted and reckless shooting by riot police of innocent citizens of Mahaicony who were engaged in a peaceful protest to draw the attention of the authorities to their serious flooding situation that was posing a threat to life in their community.

The incident occurred at Calcutta, Mahaicony on Friday, February 3, 2006 during which several persons were shot and received pellet wounds. Of the eight persons who were hospitalised, two remained in a serious condition for several days. Leader of the People’s National Congress Reform, Mr. Robert Corbin, MP, accompanied by Regional Member of Parliament, Amna Ally MP, visited the area where tension was still high on Sunday, February 5, 2006 and spoke with the residents who were still very irate at the actions of the Police.

More disturbing, however, was that until Sunday evening, while Mr. Corbin was visiting the Community, the Police were still engaged in provocative action designed to evoke a response from persons in the area. The constant patrol by a vehicle with heavily armed police men taunting residents as they drive through any community cannot be condoned as acceptable for a Police Force that is expected to provide service and protection to the citizens of Guyana.

On Friday, February 3, 2006, according to the residents of Catherine/Calcutta, they decided to take protest action to draw attention to the flooding that was taking place in the northern section of the village. The residents, who had been experiencing serious consequences from the flooding and who had received no attention from the Government, were angry at being ignored despite the fact that several reports had been made to the authorities. In particular, they were incensed that while they were bypassed in the distribution of flood relief, the neighboring village of Dundee had benefited. They believed that the most effective means of gaining the attention of the Government was to block the main access road and, sure enough, the Minister of Agriculture, Mr. Satyadeow Sawh, soon after visited the area. The Minister discussed their problems and promised immediate relief. He arranged for a Hymac which arrived later in the village to begin the relief works.

The riot Police also arrived in large numbers. At this time, however, the residents were gathered by the side of the main road and the cross street to Burma while others had accompanied the Hymac to assist in the effort to save the village from further flooding. According to the residents, the hostile approach of the Police on their arrival suggested that they were ready and anxious for action. The atmosphere which had already been diffused by the arrival of the Hymac became tense again but there was no incident.

The Police later proceeded to dismantle the barriers erected by the residents. In the process one policeman accidentally knocked to the ground an old woman. No assistance was rendered to the old woman who all residents knew was handicapped after suffering from a stroke some time before. Some persons rushed over to provide assistance to the old woman while others hurled insults at the irresponsible attitude of the police in not attending to the woman, Florence David, who later had to be rushed to the hospital.

The Police immediately, on the order of an officer, took twenty paces back and without warning started firing in the direction of persons who had gone to rescue the old woman. Tear gas was also discharged into the crowd which caused pandemonium. Several persons fell to the ground after receiving pellet wounds from the first volley of shots. Others rushed to the assistance of those who fell but the police continued firing in the direction of those persons and in the crowd as well.

Several persons, including children, were injured. Eight residents were seriously injured and had to be rushed to the Georgetown hospital while many more with pellet wounds had to seek attention from nearby health facilities. Those seriously injured and taken to hospital were Philip Casey and Rawle Byass who were critical, Shawn Mc Kenzie, Stephen Duke, Babinton Hinds, Vincent Crossman, Dexter James and Sharon Alfred. It is significant that most of these persons were not involved in the protest activity. Four of them were returning from work with the Hymac to obtain some refreshment. Others were mere passers-by.

In general, the residents painted a picture of crude and callous ranks of the Police Force who would either threaten them with their weapons or issue threats to harm them in the future. Quite a few of the residents felt these ranks of the Police Force had acted unprofessionally and indicated that they had intended to resist them.

There are standard procedures worldwide for the police to follow in such situations. It is known that the Police have a responsibility to first warn citizens before resorting to such extreme measures. It is doubtful if a loud hailer is even included in the kit of the Guyana riot Police. In any event none was used on Friday, February 3rd at Mahaicony.

The absence of any warning before the indiscriminate shooting of peaceful citizens and the absence of any compelling circumstances necessitating shooting raise questions about the legality of the police actions at Mahaicony. The PNCR therefore demands that there be an enquiry into this most dangerous development and recommends that the ranks involved are interdicted from duty until the conclusion of this investigation. The PNCR also understands that the residents have filed a complaint demanding an investigation into this incident. The GPF cannot enjoy the confidence and the support of citizens if they behave in such a callous and irresponsible manner.

The PNCR, therefore, calls attention to this incident and also calls on the Police Force as a whole to exercise both discretion and sensitivity and act in professional manner so that the communities can have confidence in them. These are very difficult times when the stability of the Nation is paramount.

GOVERNMENT AND THE PUBLIC SECTOR UNIONS

In a series of paid advertisements, the Government and its spokespersons, including the Permanent Secretary to the Public Service Ministry, have been attempting to deflect attention from the State’s mistreatment of workers and their union representatives. The teachers and public servants represented by their unions, the Guyana Teachers Union and the Guyana Public Service Union, have been addressing their genuine grievances which include:

 the failure of wages , salaries and conditions to keep pace with the cost of living;
 the deteriorating conditions of life resulting from the stagnant economy in the country;
 The failure of government to honour agreements with the unions and to follow time honoured practices and good faith in dealing with disputes.

In our view, the PPP/C government has badly mishandled the situation by its callous indifference to the plight of the workers in the State sector and by its unilateral imposition of a wage settlement. The Government only has itself to blame for the deteriorating industrial climate and the plummeting morale in the Teaching and Public Services. Instead of treating with the workers’ grievances, the State has been active in the use of threats and intimidation, including the use of Police visits to schools, in obvious efforts to undermine the activities of the unions concerned. The Government is the author of its own difficulties and it will not succeed in allocating blame to the PNCR or to anyone one else for its problems. The Government does not seem to recognise that its trumpeted policies of reform of the Public Service and the education system will continue to fall to the ground if it cannot respect the professionals who are supposed to implement them.

Our Party regards with derision the statement by the Permanent Secretary, Gopaul in which he alleges that the reference to governance issues in the GPSU list of grievances was somehow inappropriate. Members of unions are citizens with every right to comment on such issues, a right protected by the constitution. But it should occur to the Government that the Public Service Union which represents the workers who carry out Government policy and observe their effects are highly qualified to comment on issues of Governance which affect their welfare, since they see these matters at first hand.

The PNCR reiterates its support for all unions to carry out their mandate and work for the rights and conditions of their members within the law.

PNCR TO INTRODUCE WITNESS PROTECTION AND OTHER NEW MEASURES TO PROTECT INTIMIDATED AND VULNERABLE WITNESSES AND TO ESTABLISH A VICTIMS FUND

The events of the last week clearly demonstrate that the Government has lost control of what was once a potentially containable crime situation. The reason it has lost control betrays the deep-seated, structural malfunctions of the PPP/C Government that now urgently need to be addressed.

There are well-publicised excuses for this disastrous situation. It is said that technology and science, now available to the criminal underworld, are breaking such terrifyingly new ground that it is unreasonable to hold Government accountable for developments not anticipated at the time decisions to marginalise the Police were taken. The type of sophisticated weaponry being used today with accessories which include strobe lights, shell catching bags, night vision, laser sights and computerised communication intercepting devises suggest a criminal presence that is better organised and equipped than our own Police Force.

Ronald Waddell’s murder was carried out with such professionalism and deadly determination that it may not have been prevented however well equipped and vigilant the Guyana Police Force may have been. At the margins however, a more effective intelligence capability and network could have indicated that Waddell was being targeted and by whom. Precise information, however, on the timing of the dastardly act would have been hard to come by. This would be true of any Police Force.

There are new levels of threat with which we are forced to live. Yet while these realities are valid they do not counter the case for long awaited reform in our criminal justice system; rather they reinforce it. Surely the time is now ripe for Government to fully implement all 164 recommendations contained in the Disciplined Forces Commission (DFC) Report of May 2004. It must begin with increased remuneration for our grossly underpaid and demoralised Police men and women.

The heinous act that brought Waddell’s life to an untimely end reminds us all of our own vulnerability. We may all be in danger. But, increased danger is an occasion to strengthen society’s defences. From the earliest moments of the 2002 jail break when several hardened criminals unleashed a reign of terror that brought Guyana to the brink of mayhem, to the unwillingness, now apparent, to use all means necessary (and within the law) to bring the situation under control, we have watched Guyana’s dysfunctional, incompetent system of executive government at work, or rather, not at work.

The obligation to maintain law and order - the doctrine of Ministerial responsibility, the role of the judiciary as an independent custodian of the public interest and even the tradition of non – interference in police operational matters have all been gradually whittled away since the PPP/C took office in 1992.

Minister Gail Teixeira may be confident that Waddell’s murder will be solved, but the track record of the Police in so many past murders gives no such assurance. The ability of any police force to solve crimes like the murder of Ronald Waddell depends on the willingness of witnesses and observers to come forward. Naturally this may be considered a high risk exercise. The solving of Waddell’s murder, as well as others, is essential for the creation of a stable security environment so necessary for the development of Guyana. The creation of such an environment, however, may have to await the PNCR accession to office later this year.

The PNCR had called for a Witness Protection programme to be introduced at the time of the most inadequate Inquiry into the involvement of Minister Ronald Gajraj with Death Squads, but the Government adamantly refused to consider its viability.

The PNCR Government, however, intends to tackle the problem of witness intimidation in serious and organised crime cases. We recognise that witnesses facing serious threat need a much greater level of protection to make sure that they are able to give the best evidence without putting themselves, family or loved ones in danger.

The call for a proper witness protection programme is not new. Witnesses need to be relocated or their identity even changed. We think this is so important that we will enshrine in law what witness protection should be made available and who is eligible for it. The PNCR will also establish reciprocal witness protection arrangements with friendly countries. We will create a new offence preventing disclosure of information about protected witnesses and witness protection programmes. Immediately we take political office we will review whether setting up a National Witness Protection Agency would be the best way to coordinate protection for these witnesses across all law enforcement agencies and will make a decision before the end of 2006. For a wider category of intimidated witnesses, we will put in place a Witness Mobility Scheme designed to help re –house them either temporarily or permanently in or out of Guyana.

The PNCR will also introduce a Victims Fund which will pay for better support services for the dependents of murder victims who require such help. The Fund will be boosted by enforcing legislation to provide tough new measures for the police and CANU to investigate and seize the money that criminals make from, and intend to use in, criminal activity.



NATIONAL YOUTH CONSULTATIONS

The People’s National Congress Reform and its youth arm, the Guyana Youth and Student Movement (GYSM) held a National Youth Consultation and Reception on Saturday, February 4, 2006 at the King’s Plaza Hotel on Main Street, Georgetown. The Consultation was attended by some 400 youths from most of the 10 Regions of the country. The proceedings were chaired by Ms. Supriya Singh, member of the Central Executive Committee and Director of the Public Relations Department of the Party. Presentations were made by the Chairman of the Party, Mr. Winston Murray, CCH, MP, Mr. Ronald Austin Jr, and the Leader of the People's National Congress Reform, Mr. Robert Corbin MP.

Although this event was sponsored by the PNCR, it was open to young professionals and other youths regardless of their political affiliation. It is envisaged that this is the first of several consultations to be held throughout the country. The conclusions of these events will help the Party to reflect the concerns of young people in the crafting of national policy.

Two of the speakers, Mr. Winston Murray CCH, MP, Chairman of the Party and Ronald Austin Jr., referred to the importance of young people to national development and further creation of circumstances in which their views can be reflected in the Nation’s affairs. The latter addressed the question of young people in the 21st Century and posited that there was an obvious need for a new political culture and the creation of more jobs.

The PNCR Leader, Mr. Robert Corbin MP made a number of policy pronouncements in his main address. A new PNCR Government would create a vibrant economy through substantial investment to prevent a flight of skills on the part of young people from the country. The poor state of the current economy had generated a high level of unemployment and this is of particular concern to the Party. A PNCR Government will also re-establish a cadre of trained professionals who would play a role in the resolution of national problems. The right to University education will not be denied to the poor.

Equally, a new Government will be open and amenable to the widest cross section of views and “eager to embrace those ideas and recommendations that are deserving of consideration. It did not matter from what political quarters those ideas came.” Urging the young people to discharge their duty, the PNCR Leader said that his Party is ready to discharge its duty to the young men and women of this country.

ELECTIONS UPDATE

GECOM remains silent as matters of matters of grave concern continue to be undecided even as time quickly slips by.

While GECOM reported its acceptance of the proposal by the Electoral Office of Jamaica (EOJ) for the implementation of a system of cross referencing of the finger prints on the National Register of Registrants (NRR), it is still to conclude the contractual arrangements for its implementation and more critically, it is still to commence work related to cross referencing. Even more critical is GECOM’s apparent inability to decide on an approach to the verification of the OLE, the verification of which is a prerequisite for its merging with the list of new registrants to form a new register of registrants.

The decision to verify the 2001 OLE rather than undertake a new registration was the PNCR’s compromise position in the face of the practice of having new registration at the commencement of continuous registration. That apart from the use of the 2000 OLE is problematic given the need for its sanitisation.

This need has been accentuated by the various reports which have identified difficulties related to the production of multiple ID cards, inconsistencies with the information on the ID card system and the National Register of Registrants and a host of IT related problems for which GECOM has provided no evidence that these are being fixed, notwithstanding numerous acknowledgements and undertakings.

It is against this background that the PNCR calls upon GECOM to get its act together. Time is no longer on our side, but time can be no excuse since GECOM has virtually had years to get it right and has received the cooperation of the PNCR and the Joint Parliamentary Opposition over the years in the quest for getting it right. The fact that it ignored the numerous proposals of its own staff and the concurrence of others lays the responsibility squarely at the feet of the Commission for doing all that is required by the deadline, or reporting to the stakeholders its inabilities. Producing an election of an unacceptable standard cannot be an option.


People's National Congress Reform
Congress Place, Sophia,
Georgetown, Guyana.
Monday, February 9, 2006