PRESS STATEMENT By People’s National Congress Reform Thursday, November 16, 2006 Media Centre Congress Place, Sophia




SUMMARY:
• The People's National Congress Reform will hold its last General Council meeting for the year on Saturday November 18, 2006 at which the work of the Party over the last four months will be reviewed and the Party’s programme for the new year 2007 discussed;
• The National Conversation being organized by the ERC will be meaningless unless the identified issues affecting social cohesion are positively addressed by the Government and the ERC itself reviews its role as an independent body promoting harmonious ethnic relations in Guyana;
• The unilateral announcement by President Jagdeo of plans to legalize casino gambling is yet another example of the failure of the PPP/C Administration to honour its pledge to have consultation with stakeholders;
• The GRA appears to have resorted to threats to the business sector rather than insisting that the Government make available to the public the list of food items that would be zero rated under the VAT regime, intensifying its public education programme and providing adequate answers to the justifiable concerns of the business sector. The PNCR’s VAT symposium scheduled for Tuesday November 21, 2006 at the Rupununi Room at the Tower Hotel from 4:30 pm will address these and other matters;
• The delay and procrastination in the administering of the Oath of Office to all the newly elected Chairmen and Vice Chairmen of the ten Regional Democratic Councils is a reflection of the attitude of the administration to Local Government Reform.

PNCR GENERAL COUNCIL SCHEDULED FOR SATURDAY NOVEMBER 18, 2006

The People's National Congress Reform will hold its last General Council meeting for the year on Saturday November 18, 2006 at which the work of the Party over the last four months will be reviewed. Among the items on the Agenda for discussion are the report of the Central Executive Committee on the 2006 General and Regional Elections, the Party’s programme of re-organisation and the programme of work for the year 2007. Participation is expected from representatives of all ten Regions. The General Council is the highest forum of the Party in the absence of Biennial Congress.

THE ETHNIC RELATIONS COMMISSION

A delegation from the PNCR is participating in the National Stakeholders Conversation organized by the ERC on 15-16 November, 2006 under the theme, “Enhancing Social Cohesion and deepening participatory democracy through dialogue”. This programme follows several Multi Stakeholder Forums with Women, Religious Organisations, Youth and regional consultations in the ten regions of the country.

During these consultations several issues of concerns were raised by the various interest groups. For example,
- The National Conversation with Women held August 9th 2006 addressed issues such as, Women and violence; Women involvement in decision making; Women and education and training; and, Women and poverty.
- The National Conversation with Youth held on August 10th 2006 revealed that young people were concerned about, Unemployment, education and skills training, substance abuse, HIV Aids, teenage pregnancy, inadequate health facilities, culture and recreation, youth leadership, crime and violence, exploitation of children and the need for more skills training in schools.
- Religious Organisations called for better moral conduct, introduction of spiritual education in schools and condemned immoral activities and public vulgarity.
- Concerns expressed at all the Regional Multi Stakeholder Forums included, the need for locals to get contracts and employment, the need for Guyana to develop its hydro power potential, re-establishing a National Service Scheme, the need for fair and equal distribution of land, the sub-standard infrastructure works in Regions, corruption, the need for foreign companies to contribute to the communities in which they operate, crime and security, unemployment and the improvement of health facilities.

PNCR Position
The PNCR believes that social cohesion has to be built on a strong economy, a system of shared governance, with minimum social dislocation and with social equality and justice. In this context the ERC has to perform the role of an impartial body that creates the hope and trust necessary for social cohesion, while working to remove ethnic discrimination from the society.

The building social cohesion, therefore, has to be addressed at the political, economic and social levels.
At the political level there is need to change the system of governance to end the winner-take-all and exclusion that characterize the present system and the introduction of a system of shared governance based on executive power sharing. Such a system will include all political and other stakeholders and will reduce marginalization and discrimination. Such a system will make all Guyanese feel they have a stake in the national economic and political pie. Such a system must be just and based on the rule of law.

At the economic level there is need to create a strong and vibrant economy in which ordinary Guyanese have a wide array of choices to improve their earning power and have more and better paying jobs. This will aid the reduction of poverty and ensure that Guyanese from all walks of life enjoy a better quality of life.

There is also the need to acknowledge that religious and good family values play an important role in development

The PNCR believes that there is, and will be no social cohesion if the following are not changed:
• The unjust manner in which contracts are awarded.
• The unjust manner in which people are employed in the private and public sectors.
• The unjust manner in which social and infrastructural services are provided.
• The unjust manner in which house lots are distributed.
• The unjust manner in which communities for development works are identified.

The solution to the problem of discrimination in resource allocation lies in the development of a just system for the allocation of state resources and the active implementation of local government reform.

The National Conversation being organized by the ERC, therefore, will be meaningless unless the identified issues affecting social cohesion are positively addressed by the Government and the ERC itself reviews its role as an independent body to remove ethnic discrimination from our society and promoting harmonious ethnic relations in Guyana.

CASINO GAMBLING

The unilateral announcement by President Jagdeo of plans to legalize casino gambling is yet another example of the failure of the PPP/C Administration to honour its pledge to have consultation with stakeholders.

In a Press Statement issued on February 22nd this year, the PNCR revealed that the Jagdeo administration had already secretly committed itself to grant casino licences to a number of Hoteliers. The government and President Jagdeo remained mum as they prepared for an election campaign during which, despite voiced concerns of the religious community, they failed to mention that the issue of casino licences was part of their post election programme. The accuracy of the PNCR’s statement is now obvious. In that statement the PNCR stated that:

“THE UNGODLY PPP/C GOVERNMENT IS BENT ON CRIMINALIZING THE ECONOMY AND MAKING THE ENTIRE COUNTRY DEPENDENT ON SHADY MONEY AND PEOPLE”

The release further stated that,

“The PNCR is concerned that government has taken a unilateral decision to allow casino gambling. This arbitrary and unilateral action puts into perspective the pretence that Consultative Democracy exists in Guyana and puts a lie to the PPP/C’s claims of Inclusive Governance. The corrupt Jagdeo Regime’s haste and over-riding concern is the granting of favours that will enrich themselves and their cohorts while, at the same time, fill its war chest and, thereby, providing the means to buy votes and pay for dubious services in the run-up to the 2006 National and Regional Elections.

“For despite the talk of stakeholder participation and transparency, this PPP/C Administration continues to operate like a thief in the night, restlessly searching for opportunities to enrich themselves and prolong their survival.

“The PNCR will hold itself ready to engage in full consultations on casino gambling with all stakeholders when it forms the next government later this year. This process will include consultation with religious organizations, women’s organizations, organizations representing youth and the indigenous communities, the private sector, civil society and other stakeholders.

“Government may have already committed to grant casino licences to a number of Hoteliers, though cognizant of the fact that throughout the world casinos attract some of the most deviant and violent criminal minds. Casinos are often used as prime conduits to launder money and as places for narco-criminals to cluster and transact their drug business. Casinos are also notorious, in the developing world, for encouraging and fostering prostitution and a range of abuses directed primarily at women, children, indigenous people and vulnerable communities….

“On all the fronts that characterise the right environment mentioned above the PPP/C administration has failed to put in place the systems and capability to protect Guyanese, particularly the most vulnerable, from exploitation by unscrupulous criminal minds. It is as though a conspiracy exists between government and the underworld to impoverish, marginalize and criminalize the Guyanese people and economy.

‘At present our country is experiencing some of the most heinous and brutal manifestations of runaway crime. All this is happening against the background of a dying economy which can no longer deliver basic needs to the vast majority of its citizens.

“Casinos require strict regulation and an integrity of relationship between the owners, the operators, the work force, the financiers, government and the law. The recent spate of crimes highlights what we all know that Guyana‘s stock of social capital is rapidly diminishing and unless it is replenished there will be an acceleration in the country’s decline.

“Given that Guyana is now rated as one of the most corrupt countries on earth none of us can be assured that all rules to protect Guyanese from the addictive influence of routine gambling will be not be bent and flouted for a few dollars more in the hands of the very people appointed to protect us……..”.

The PNCR remains committed to its earlier stated position and will be resolute in opposing these unilateral actions by the government.

VALUE ADDED TAX

Since the PNCR’s last Press Conference, which examined the proposed introduction of Value Added Tax in Guyana, the Guyana Revenue Authority appears to have resorted to threats to the business sector rather than insisting that the Government make available to the public the list of food items that would be zero rated and intensifying its public education programme and providing adequate answers to the justifiable concerns of the business sector.

The PNCR had stated that while it was not opposed in principle to the introduction of VAT, the proposed VAT scheme, contrary to Government’s representation, was not revenue neutral. Several concerns raised by the PNCR in the National Assembly, including the zero rating of food items, remain unaddressed. The PNCR had also called for the VAT rate to be less than 16%, if revenue neutrality was truly the objective, and the zero rating of educational materials.

The PNCR again calls upon the Government to honour the undertaking given by its representatives in the Select Committee and delay the implementation date of the VAT until all outstanding matters are settled. The Party also calls on the GRA to improve their public awareness and information programme and advise businessmen on the treatment of stocks on hand at December 31, 2006 which would have already been subject to one or more of the taxes now existing.

The PNCR’s VAT symposium scheduled for Tuesday November 21, 2006 at the Rupununi Room at the Tower Hotel from 4:30 pm will address these and other matters.

IS THE PPP/C BENT ON UNDERMINING LOCAL DEMOCRACY?
The unexplained and unprecedented delay in the administering of the Oath of Office to the newly elected Chairmen and Vice-Chairmen of the Regional Democratic Councils raise serious questions about the Government’s seriousness in implementing agreed Local Government Reform. Neither the Ministry of Local Government nor the Office of the President could provide any justifiable reason for the absence of the elected Officials from Regions 1, 7, and 8, at the swearing-in ceremony at the Office of the President yesterday.
The explanation given by the President, that the decision to hold the ceremony was taken too late to have all present, is quite questionable given the fact that the elected Officials of Region 9 could have been flown to Georgetown. Not only were there no efforts to contact the elected officials of Region 7, but the elected Regional Chairman was in Georgetown attending the ERC’s National Conversation. This information could not be unknown to the Ministry of Local Government. The only inference that could therefore be drawn is that the PPP/C Administration has begun its manipulation of the system of Local Democracy. This view is reinforced by the activities of the Public Service Minister, Jennifer Westford, who has vowed to make the newly elected Officials of Region 7 ineffective. The PNCR will be closely monitoring these developments to see whether the date announced by the President for the swearing-in ceremony of the remaining officials will take place.
The PNCR calls on the PPP/C to honour its own commitments on the issue of Local Government Reform.

People’s National Congress Reform
Congress Place, Sophia
Georgetown, Guyana
Thursday, November 16, 2006