PRESS STATEMENT By People’s National Congress Reform Friday, November 24, 2006 Media Centre Congress Place, Sophia




SUMMARY:
• The NCW calls on the Government to let the words of this year’s theme for International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, “The Justice System must protect Women against Violence” become a reality;
• The General Council of the Party reaffirmed its confidence and support for the Leadership and more particularly the Leader of the Party, Mr. Robert H. O. Corbin;
• The PNCR calls for an immediate review of the National Forestry policy and the restriction on the exported logs while providing incentives to investors engaged in value-added operations in the forestry sector;
• The PNCR hopes that the new Minister of Human Services and Social Security will implement other suggestions made in the Parliament and move swiftly to eliminate the numerous problems faced by the elderly;
• The PNCR sponsored VAT symposium held at the Tower Hotel, last Tuesday, November 21st, 2006 was indeed a valuable learning opportunity for those in attendance including persons from the business community, Trade Unions and Consumer groups.

INTERNATIONAL DAY FOR THE ELIMINATION OF VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN

The National Congress of Women (NCW) joins with women the world over in recognising November 25, 2006 as International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.

Violence against women persists in every country in the world, and Guyana is no exception, as a pervasive violation of human rights and a major impediment to achieving gender equality. Such violence is unacceptable, whether perpetrated by family members or strangers, in the public or private sphere, in peacetime or in times of conflict.

At least one out of every three women around the world has been beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused in her lifetime, with the abuser usually being someone known to her. Violence against women and girls is a universal problem of epidemic proportions.

Women’s organisations have taken the lead in developing innovative efforts to tackle the issue, including providing services, drafting and lobbying for legislation, raising awareness through advocacy, education and training, and building national, regional and international end-violence networks.

Guyana has passed the Domestic Violence Act in Parliament, but there are many who have not respected that Act. Too many of our mothers, sisters and daughters – even the very young ones, have suffered at the hands of those who have no conscience. We call on the members of the Guyana Police Force to be the protectors of our womenfolk. We call on the Guyana Police Force to deal with cases reported to them in a professional and just manner.

As we observe International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women on Saturday, November 25, 2006, the National Congress of Women calls on the Government of Guyana to institute harsh penalties to the perpetrators of such crimes. We also call on the Government to let the words of this year’s theme “The Justice System must protect Women against Violence” become a reality.

PNCR GENERAL COUNCIL EXPRESSES CONFIDENCE IN LEADERSHIP AND APPROVES PROGRAMME

The Party at its General Council, held last Saturday, November 18th, reaffirmed its confidence and support for the Leadership and more particularly the Leader of the Party, Mr. Robert H. O. Corbin. The meeting also approved the proposed programme of work for the Party.

In his address to the General Council, the Leader of the Party examined several issues including, an analysis of the recent 2006 General and Regional Elections, the role of newly elected Members of Parliament and Regional Democratic Councilors, the vision of the Party for the future and the proposed programme of the Executive for the period ahead.

It was emphasized that Members of Parliament and Regional Democratic Councillors have a special responsibility to lead by example. They were urged not to assume that their new office is one of privilege without obligations. Among the many expectations of them outlined were,

• The duty to keep in touch with and represent the interests of those who demonstrated confidence in the Party during the elections;
• To meet regularly with Party members and the general public in the areas assigned so that they can be in touch with the concerns of the people and make the necessary representation;
• To be the catalyst for the Party’s reorganization in their respective areas, and,
• To behave with the highest integrity and avoid any embarrassment to the Party.

The General Council also reviewed the evaluation of the Election conducted by the Central Executive Committee for the purpose of strengthening the Party and improving its performance in the future. Among the decisions endorsed by the General Council after evaluation were that:

1. THE PARTY MUST design and implement a new and more effective approach to its organisation for the future; l
2. The Party must immediately begin the process of preparation for Local Government Elections including ensuring that a new voters List is prepared by Registration as recommended by the Commonwealth Observer Mission after the last Elections;
3. The Party must engage in serious reorganization to solidify its support base while seeking always to win new converts to the development of a modern Guyana; and that,
4. A major focus of Party work should be the economic empowerment of its support base.

Among the major tasks assigned to the leadership by the General Council were,

1. Re-organisation from the very basic unit, the party group including its youth arm;
2. Accelerating the programme of shared governance;
3. Preparation for the Local Government Elections; and
4. Vigorously representing and defending the interests of the people;

The General Council also mandated the Leadership of the Party to vigorously pursue with the GECOM the proper allocation of seats to the Parliament including the cases of the JFAP led by Mr. C. N. Sharma.

PNCR URGES THE GOVERNMENT TO RE-EXAMINE ITS FORESTRY POLICY AND REGULATE THE INDISCRIMINATE EXPORT OF LOGS

The PNCR has noted that, in a letter to the media defending the indiscriminate export of logs, an Official from the Forestry Commission has attempted to mislead the public by suggesting that the Government was bound by arrangements made with some Companies several years ago by the PNCR Administration. The public is aware that it was under the PNCR Administration that significant investments, foreign and local, were made in the Forestry sector. Indeed a major reason for some concessions to the Barama Company was their commitment to ensure a value-added approach to their operations in the Forestry sector. Regrettably, due to ineffective management by the present administration this Company was allowed to continually reduce its production of plywood while expanding its export of raw logs. There are also several reports that this and other Companies have been abusing their concessions with the full knowledge of Officials resulting in significant revenue loss to the country. Instead of providing political answers to the issues the Forestry Commission ought to be busily engaged in ensuring that the stated policy in all forestry policy documents is to encourage the local processing of forestry products to ensure more value-added benefits to Guyana. There is therefore an urgent need to review the present practice as it relates to the export of logs and speedily bring this to an end.

The PNCR is convinced that the local processing of forest products means more employment, a more skilled workforce, higher tax revenue and more economic multiplier effects in short significant added value. This position is endorsed in the National Development Strategy Document, the National Forest Policy, 1997, and the National Forest Plan, 2001.

Continued import of unskilled and semi-skilled foreign workers in the forestry and other sectors should only be permitted after independent verification that the same skills are not available in Guyana. Quotas on foreign workers in Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) arrangements should therefore be monitored especially in the context of recent reports that some foreign operators have been using this methodology to engage in human traffic to North America. The PNCR calls for an immediate investigation to verify whether the allegation that FDI quotas are being abused to secure Guyanese passports with the intention of fueling human trafficking into North America.

The use of equipment and consumables obtained with tax reductions under FDI arrangements outside the original scope of such arrangements should be stopped immediately and enterprises which have engaged in this abuse should be prosecuted or made to pay the relevant duty and taxes to the GRA.

Investment incentives provided by Cabinet and Go-Invest to the forestry sector should be thoroughly reviewed in an open and transparent manner. Incentives should be geared primarily to optimize value-addition, making use of the particular properties of the forest products of Guyana (as recommended repeatedly by specialists, including the ITTO Diagnostic Mission Report 2003).

Export taxes on unprocessed raw materials should be levied to capture the excess rent for Government revenue in accordance with conventional economic theory and the National Forest Policy (1997, part IV, A5(a)).

Retention of forest harvest licenses, by concession holders who do not operate these concessions themselves, is against the National Forest Policy (1997, part I, B3 (d)). The GFC should immediately rescind such abused concessions and return the forest areas to the pool available for reallocation under the Strategic Plan (National Forest Plan, 2001, NFP300) and National Forest Policy (1997, part III, B3).

The widespread practice of landlording forest harvesting concessions to foreign contractors makes nonsense of GFC strategic allocation of State Production Forests. The GFC should not be permitted to condone this practice which is against the law. (Forest Regulations 1953, Article 12) and specific clauses in the concession licenses (for example, TSA Clause 13). Such approval should be exceptional and subject to the explicit agreement of the GFC Board of Directors.

More significantly however is the need for the GFC to make special provisions for small operators in the regions where employment opportunities are scarce and where many unemployed can be encouraged to become involved in gainful employment as small producers.

The PNCR therefore calls for an immediate review of the National Forestry policy and the restriction on the exported logs while providing incentives to investors engaged in value-added operations in the forestry sector.

PNCR COMMENDS HUMAN SERVICES MINISTER AND URGES HER TO IMPLEMENT OTHER SUGGESTIONS

The PNCR notes with satisfaction that the distribution of old-age pension books for 2007 commenced over the last week and commends the Minister of Human Services and Social Security, Ms. Priya Manickchand for taking on board suggestions made since March, 2005 by PNCR Member of Parliament, Ms. Volda Lawrence. At the 21st Sitting of the National Assembly on March 2nd 2005 Ms. Lawrence had urged the then Minister to put a better system in place for the preparation and distribution of pension books. She stated, inter alia,

“Planning for the old-age pension books distribution should commence at least three months in advance. The timing of the present distribution system is totally unacceptable. As I speak today - 2 March, 2005, the shut-ins have not yet received their books. ” (Hansard dated Wednesday March 2, 2005).

Ms. Lawrence had also urged that the staff identified be properly trained in advance. She informed the Parliament that she had written the then Minister on the plight of pensioners in Micobie, Tumatumari, and Princeville in Region 8, who had to travel to Mahdia to receive their pensions but received no reply. She suggested that officers be sent to these communities to pay pensioners, since at that time the return cost of transportation to the Mahdia post office from Tumatumari was $3,000; from Micobie the cost was $4,000, and from Princeville, $2,400.

The PNCR hopes that the new Minister will implement the other suggestions and move swiftly to eliminate the numerous problems faced by the elderly.

PNCR CALLS ON GOVERNMENT TO ACT RESPONSIBLY IN THE IMPLEMENTATION OF VAT

The PNCR sponsored VAT symposium held at the Tower Hotel, last Tuesday, November 21st, 2006 was indeed a valuable learning opportunity for those in attendance including persons from the business community, Trade Unions and Consumer groups. It was, therefore, unfortunate that neither the Honourable Minister of Finance nor the Head of GRA, who were specially invited to participate did not make it possible to do so. One would have expected that the Government would wish to seize every opportunity that presents itself to clarify any issue of concern to citizens as well as to listen to other views on the subject. The PNCR also finds the refusal of the Minister to participate in direct contradiction to statements he made during his maiden speech to the National Assembly in the debate on the President’s Address and also the lofty ideals propounded by the President in his Address to the Ninth Parliament.

The presenters, Mr. Winston Murray, CCH, MP and Mr. Christopher Ram, Chartered Accountant clarified for all those present the provisions of the law and identified the many aspects which require adjustments; if unnecessary hardships on the most vulnerable sections of our society are to be avoided.

Among the many recommendations were:

1. Zero-rating of basic food items and educational materials including books and computers.
2. The treatment of items in stock at December 31st, 2006 which have already attracted one or more of the existing taxes regime.
3. Provision of basic information on the application of the VAT on items in the consumer’s basket, e.g., the method of calculation of the amount of VAT payable on each item in the basket.
4. Given the state of preparedness of the Government agency (GRA) for the implementation of the VAT effective January 1st, 2007and the need to better inform the public of essential details, it was recommended that its implementation should be spread over a one year period commencing January 1st, 2007 with a narrow range of goods and services and expanding on this as the authority acquires the necessary capacity.


People’s National Congress Reform
Congress Place, Sophia
Georgetown, Guyana
Friday, November 24, 2006