PRESS STATEMENT By Mr. Hugh Desmond Hoyte, S.C., M.P. Leader of the People’s National Congress Leader of the Opposition To the Press Conference on Friday December 21, 2001 Hall of Heroes, Congress Place, Sophia
In the wake of the March 19, 2001 elections, People's National Congress Reform (PNCR) took a deliberate decision to engage the PPP/C government in a dialogue. We were of the view then, and are still of the view, that the deep-seated and apparently intractable problems which have been bedeviling our country for so long would only be solved when there is a national consensus on the principles and practice of good governance, a consensus which derives from the meeting of minds of the various political Parties and representative organs of civil society. To this end, PNCR embarked on such a process with the PPP/C. We saw it as eventually embracing all the stake holding interests in our country.
It was self-evident from the outset that dialogue could only be sustained and fruitful if it was buttressed by good faith on the part of the principals. PNCR hoped that such good faith would prevail. In a national television broadcast on 30th March, 2001, the Leader of PNCR discussed the necessity for such a dialogue and outlined seventeen areas which could form the nucleus of the agenda. This list was not exhaustive, it was illustrative; for ultimately, all issues that could affect our society or country for good or ill, would be matters which could fall within the purview of the dialogue.
President Jagdeo and the PNCR Leader, Mr. Hugh Desmond Hoyte, met on 24th April, 2001 and launched the dialogue between the two Parties. Inevitably, there were some skeptics but, on the other hand, many people were relieved at this development and wished it well. The first decisions coming out of the process were heartening and, to many people, signalled the start of a new era of sophisticated and constructive engagement between the major political Parties on the question of the governance of this country.
Now, eight months later, the initial expectations of the dialogue have not been fulfilled. Unfortunately, the PPP/C seems unable to rise above its culture of deceit, deviousness and dishonesty. Its distasteful approach has engendered an inertia in the process, dismayed its supporters and given comfort to the skeptics. More and more people are now, not without some justification, questioning its usefulness.
What have been the problems?
It seems as if Mr. Jagdeo has not got the political clout to deliver on commitments made, or is involved in a devious and dangerous game that smacks of bad faith. Very often clear decisions are taken at the level of himself and the PNCR Leader, but these decisions are ignored, circumvented or frustrated by PPP/C functionaries who may have some responsibility for implementing them.
The best evidence of this weird behaviour has been provided by Prime Minister Sam Hinds, who seems to have his own agenda to frustrate the dialogue process. As Minister responsible for the electricity sector, he was of little help in ensuring that the depressed communities identified for urgent attention received the electricity supply which they deemed to be a priority. He completely ignored the existence, the terms of reference and mandate of the Bauxite Resuscitation Committee, ran parallel negotiations and discussions outside its ambit and effectively undermined its usefulness. He went to great lengths to vilify the Committee and its mandate, falsely describing it in a letter to a potential European company as an entity set up “to listen to proposals”. In the end, he seemed to have achieved his ambition to kill the industry and become its undertaker.
Again, Mr. Sam Hinds deliberately interfered with the work of the Radio Monopoly and Non-Partisan Boards Committee (the Media Committee). Even as the Committee was meeting, he promulgated regulations to deal with the very issues that formed part of its terms of reference. He signalled very clearly, even contemptuously, that he was not constrained by any agreement President Jagdeo might have made on any issue on the dialogue agenda. In short, he has been behaving like the proverbial bull in a China shop. His interference with the work of the Media
Committee has been both disgusting and dishonourable. He did not faithfully implement either the recommendations of the Media Committee on the establishment of the Advisory Committee or the contents of the Memorandum of Understanding, but reduced the Advisory Committee to the status of a mere monitor of the content of broadcast programmes. Perhaps, he regarded this shameful behaviour as being clever!
But that was not all. Mr. Hinds has now administered the final blow by telling the Advisory Committee, which wanted to start its work on December 3, that the government had no money to fund their operations and that he was approaching the Canadians to provide the money! It is regrettable that Mr. Jagdeo should have gone on record publicly as saying that Mr. Sam Hinds had been “misunderstood”. That is not an appropriate word to describe deviousness and bad faith.
The distribution of land and house lots remains one of the most politically sensitive issues in
our country. Regrettably, the Committee set up to deal with the matter has gone no place. It has
ended its work without agreement on anything. Minister Shaik Baksh, from the outset, had
absolutely no intention of complying with the terms of reference of the Committee or changing the existing, corrupt and inequitable system of distribution; he has not shown the slightest interest in putting in place transparent and equitable arrangements to regulate the exercise. However he has persisted in doing two things: one, distributing house lots and land under the current corrupt and inequitable system of political bias; and, two, improving infrastructure in existing housing areas with the same political motivation. PNC/R deems his behaviour to be intolerable and reserves the right to take countervailing measures, as maybe advised.
All of the obnoxious characteristics of the PPP/C have combined in its public pronouncements and representations about the various Parliamentary Committees which should be established in terms of the Constitutional Reform Commission’s recommendations and the amendments to the Constitution approved by the Parliament. The PPP/C regime has not hesitated to use the state-owned media to peddle the most atrocious lies about the position of the Opposition on this issue. The state-owned TV station, Channel 11, in its newscast on Wednesday 19, 2001,
reached a new low in spewing out these disgusting falsehoods. This amply illustrates the depths to which the regime would go in its campaign of disinformation. In this matter, unfortunately, President Bharrat Jagdeo is far from innocent. He has a peculiar problem: he continually grapples with truth - and consistently loses the contest!
These Parliamentary Committees are not the result of any concessions made by Mr. Jagdeo or the PPP/C, (as Mr. Jagdeo asserts); they are the recommendations of the Constitution Reform Commission (CRC), which in turn were adopted by the Parliament by way of constitutional amendments. The CRC was a Guyanese instrument which proposed mechanisms and procedures to deal with peculiarly Guyanese problems of governance. It is therefore useless to pray in aid what happens in the Congress of the United States of America or other foreign countries, or to indulge in spurious analogy. We have to fashion systems that are appropriate to our conditions and circumstances.
On the issue of the Parliamentary Committees, the position of the combined Opposition is clear. We insist that no Minister should sit on them, much less chair them; that, at the very minimum, the Chairmanship of the Committees should be rotated. So long as the principle of collective Cabinet responsibility for government’s policies, programmes and projects exist, it would be farcical for a Minister to sit on a Parliamentary Committee to review and scrutinise the policies, programmes and projects of government ministries. We cannot require a minister to pronounce in the Parliament on the efficiency or otherwise with which a colleague minister has been carrying his ministerial functions. We are firm in our position, and we hope that the PPP/C understands that the mandate of these Parliamentary Committees is not dependent on PPP/C grace and favour but is a matter of constitutional right.
It was agreed on all sides that the Joint Committee on Local Government Reform was extremely important. It seemed to get off to a good start and to have planned its work in a logical way. However, a most serious problem has now arisen.
In May this year, the National Democratic Institute (NDI) wrote the Committee offering assistance, as might be needed. At the instance of the Committee, there were meetings with the
NDI to identify areas of assistance. On December 7, Minister Collymore, Co-Chairman of the
Committee, wrote NDI confirming that the Committee had chosen a Professor Reynolds as the
expert to advise on the electoral system for the Local Government arrangement. He also asked
NDI to convey the decision to Professor Reynolds and to the other consultants who had expressed an interest. NDI proceeded as requested and, on December 11, wrote the Minister asking for details such as the timing of Professor Reynolds’ visit and other relevant information.
On December 17, Mr. Collymore wrote NDI stating that “his superiors’ had given him new instructions on the issue of an electoral expert, and that the decision on Professor Reynolds had thus been revoked. Now, we suppose that the superiors to whom Collymore referred are his masters at Freedom House. The Joint Committee, however, is not a creature Freedom House or amenable to its instructions or manipulation. Collymore was presumptuous in writing unilaterally, rudely and brazenly such a letter to NDI. We wish to make it very clear to Minister Collymore, there can be no question of the Joint Committee’s decisions being revoked by Freedom House.
Judging from what we have said above about the functioning of the various Joint Committees established under the Hoyte/Jagdeo dialogue, PNCR considers this to be a good time for stocktaking. The process started out well, but is now bogged down as a result of the bad faith of the PPP/C regime. PNCR, therefore, has to consider whether any useful purpose can be served by continuing what is more and more becoming an exercise in futility. The Bauxite Committee has virtually collapsed; the Distribution of Land and House Lots Committee has gone nowhere; and Prime Minister Hinds has consistently interfered with the work of the Radio Monopoly and Non-Partisan Boards Committee and seems bent on frustrating its recommendations. The PPP/C is now making efforts to hijack the Local Government Reform Committee and manipulate its decisions.
PNCR has no obligation to co-operate with the PPP/C regime. It has no duty to make the regime’s life comfortable. Its obligation and its duty is to the people of Guyana and it will consult their best interests, as usual. PNCR has not failed to note the daily escalation in the misuse of the state-owned media to launch vicious and sustained attacks on it. We have also been perturbed by the rise in the number of letters emanating from Freedom House (of course, under various fictitious names), which have been appearing in the media, all calculated to raise ethnic tensions. In the circumstances, PNC/R will be refining its political strategy to guide its activities in the New Year.
The PPP/C regime evidently has no intention to desist from unfair partisan practices which impact adversely on large sections of our society. On Thursday December 13, members of the PNCR executive visited the MMA Scheme at the request of several farmers. They brought to our attention the blatant discriminatory practices that are being perpetrated in the administration of the Scheme.
We clearly saw that on the northern side of the main access dam, both the high and low level canals were free of all vegetation and siltation, while on the southern side, the canals were overtaken by dense vegetation and were completely silted up. Unfortunately, the farmers leasing lands on the northern side were of one ethnic group, whilst the farmers on the southern side were of another ethnic group.
The farmers on the southern side cannot utilize their land and cannot earn income. These farmers made written complaints to the MMA authority during 1997 pointing out their inability to cultivate the lands due to the lack of proper drainage and irrigation, but received no response. They subsequently wrote the President during October of this year and received only a letter of acknowledgement.
In the meantime, the MMA authorities have given notices via the ‘Chronicle’ newspapers to the members in default of paying the leasing fees, that they are proceeding to cancel their Leases.
PNCR will be taking all these acts of injustice into account as it engages the PPP/C in the New Year!
December 21st, 2001
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