PRESS STATEMENT By People’s National Congress Reform Thursday, January 25, 2007 Media Centre Congress Place, Sophia




SUMMARY:
• The Guyana Revenue Authority was obviously ill prepared, and the exorbitant rate of VAT has caused the cost of living to sky-rocket;
• Given the strength of the case against Casino Gambling it was expected that the PPP/C Government would have at least delayed the passage of the Bill to allow for wider consultations and to allay the fears of wide cross sections of the society;
• Under the proposed Health Facilities Licensing Act the PPP/C Government is seeking to abrogate onto itself the right to seize private property without compensation;
• The Rice Factories Amendment Act establishes a number of unrealistic bench marks for millers to achieve, failing which they must seek Government’s approval to buy paddy and/or face disqualification;
• The PNCR condemns the vicious attack on Stabroek News by the Jagdeo Administration and calls upon all Guyanese to take note of these serious developing trends;
• The PNCR supports and has always supported the building of a Bridge across the Berbice River.


The People’s National Congress Reform has noted, with concern, a dangerous deterioration in governance in recent months. Examination of the actions of the Bharrat Jagdeo Government establishes that there exists in Guyana today a tyranny of the majority rather than the consultative approach to Governance, as promised by the PPP/C. The Government’s actions with respect to the following issues clearly establish this trend:

1. Value Added Tax (VAT)
2. Casino Gambling
3. Health Facilities Act
4. Rice Factories Amendment Act
5. The withdrawal of advertisements from Stabroek News
6. Berbice River Bridge Motion.

Value Added Tax
When the PPP/C Government introduced the Value Added Tax Bill into the last Parliament, despite support in principle for the Tax, the PNCR voiced serious objections to the manner of its proposed implementation. As a result the Bill was sent to Select Committee where the PNCR advised the Government that the VAT rate was too high, that there was need to zero rate food items, particularly those that related to the basket of items used by the working poor, and that more time was needed for smooth and effective implementation. It was stressed that public education was essential both for the business community and consumers. The PPP/C Government finally committed to zero rating of food items, but failed to identify those items to the Select Committee.

The PPP/C Government then proceeded to ignore all of the concerns raised and used its majority to pass the Bill, against all reason. The consequence was that the implementation of VAT has been a national disaster. The Guyana Revenue Authority was obviously ill prepared, and the exorbitant rate has caused the cost of living to sky-rocket. It is now clear that the intentions of the PPP/C Government were always to use VAT to secure a windfall in revenue on the backs of poor people.

The national outcry and public demonstrations against the implementation of VAT have forced the PPP/C Government to return to Parliament. However, once again the tyrannical attitude of the Bharrat Jagdeo Government surfaced.

The PPP/C Government took an amendment to the Parliament that sought to give the Minister of Finance wide ranging powers with respect to the items that are deemed zero rated and exempt, without any indication of the items that would be so treated. The PNCR called upon the PPP/C Government to present to the Parliament the list of items to be zero rated and exempted so that the entire process can be transparent. The PNCR was concerned that the power the PPP/C Government was seeking to give to the Minister, under the guise that it will be used to ease the burden of VAT, could also be used in the near future to increase the VAT burden by reducing the number of items that are exempted or zero rated. The passage of the legislation has made the VAT regime very volatile since the Minister can, with the stroke of a pen and with no reference to Parliament, increase the tax burden on the backs of the poor people of Guyana.

In any democracy Governments are prepared to subject themselves to the scrutiny of Parliament. However, the tyrannical PPP/C Government seeks to pass legislation which excludes essential details from the scrutiny of Parliament.

Casino Gambling
The introduction of the Casino Gambling Bill resulted in significant public outcry. It was evident that there existed in the society a critical mass that was opposed to the introduction of this menace into our society. The numerous ills, including the moral decay of society, the increase in organized crime, money laundering and prostitution were all cited as cause for serious concern. This was compounded by the fact that the public institutions that would be required to regulate casino gambling, as is the case with respect to the introduction of VAT, are weak and ill prepared to treat with the societal demons that would be unleashed on this nation by the implementation of Casino Gambling.

Given the strength of the case against Casino Gambling it was expected that the PPP/C Government would have at least delayed the passage of the Bill to allow for wider consultations and to allay the fears of wide cross sections of the society. However, once again the tyrannical nature of the Bharrat Jagdeo Government came to the fore.

PPP/C Government Ministers Clement Rohee and Desiree Fox launched an unprecedented and scathing attack on the Church because of the Churches’ opposition to the introduction of Casino Gambling. Such was the intensity of the venomous attack that the possibility of the persecution under this Bharrat Jagdeo Government if the Church continues to oppose the policies of the Government is now a stark possibility.

The PNCR vehemently condemns this dangerous development and will be steadfast in its opposition to any such attempts at persecution. The Government must be made to understand that the persecution of the religious community and its leaders will not be tolerated in Guyana.

Health Facilities Licensing Bill
Recently, the PPP/C Government quietly introduced the Health Facilities Licensing Bill into the National Assembly under the pretext that it was intended to regulate hospitals and other medical facilities. However, closer examination of the Bill established that it is a “poison” piece that is intended to set the stage for communist policies with respect to property ownership. Under the proposed Health Facilities Licensing Act the PPP/C Government is seeking to abrogate onto itself the right to seize private property without compensation.

This blatant assault on the basic right to own property is in keeping with communist policies that the PPP/C Government has championed since its formation. The PNCR take this opportunity to put the Nation on notice that the PPP/C Government is seeking to erode fundamental rights.

The PNCR expects that the PPP/C Government will once again attempt to use its tyrannical majority to pass this Bill that undermines the right to own property and expose medical practitioners to political domination. The PNCR will vehemently oppose any and all attempts by the Bharrat Jagdeo Government to undermine the rights of the Guyanese people.

Rice Factories Amendment Act
The Rice Factories Amendment Bill, recently passed in similar fashion to the Casino Gambling Bill, was purported to ensure that rice farmers are paid in a timely manner by rice millers. However, close examination of the provisions of the Act reveal a totally different situation. The Act establishes a number of unrealistic bench marks for millers to achieve, failing which they must seek Government’s approval to buy paddy and/or face disqualification

This is clearly an attempt by the PPP/C Government to control who can do business in the rice industry. All millers who are out of favour or are deemed to be non-supporters of the PPP/C Government could find that they are unable to operate their businesses. New persons attempting to enter into the industry will find partisan political agendas at work.

This is a dangerous development that has a direct impact on the freedom of Guyanese to become involved in the businesses of their choice. During the debate in the National Assembly the PNCR pointed out the draconian and communist aspects of the Bill and asked for the Bill to be sent to a Select Committee. However, once again the tyrannical majority was at work.

For the records the PNCR wishes to state that it supports the right of rice farmers to be paid promptly. However, it cannot accept a situation where the PPP/C Government uses the plight of rice farmers as a smoke screen to decide which Guyanese can do business in the industry and which Guyanese cannot. The PNCR will be monitoring the implementation of this Act in order to expose every action of the government that violates the rights of Guyanese.

Withdrawal of Advertisements from Stabroek News
The PPP/C Government continued with its communist manifestations by the vicious attack on Stabroek News and subsequently withdrawing of advertisements from this widely circulated newspaper. Despite the criticisms of the PNCR in Government, it should be remembered that it was under the PNCR’s Administration that Stabroek News came into existence. Instead of fulfilling its commitment to an open democracy the PPP/C Government, in addition to controlling the State media now moves to control the private media. The PNCR condemns this vicious attack on the press by the Jagdeo Administration and calls upon all Guyanese to take note of these serious developing trends.


Berbice River Bridge
The PNCR supports and has always supported the building of a Bridge across the Berbice river. Over the last decade, the PPP/C Government failed miserably in this regard and was engaged in several failed attempts to make this a reality. After a number of stuttered starts, the Government finally announced that it was proceeding with the construction of a bridge between D’Edward Village and Crab Island. When objections were raised over the fact that such a location would have a negative economic impact on New Amsterdam and Canje, the Government responded by saying that a steel floating bridge between D’Edward Village and Crab Island was the most economical option, based on a feasibility study conducted by the Louis Berger Group Inc.

Louis Berger in his report stated that the floating bridge between D’Edward and Crab Island was the only option that had an economic internal rate of return greater than 12%. However, the PNCR has learnt that the Feasibility Study Report by the Louis Berger Group Inc. was reviewed by Patricio Millan Development Consultants Inc. In his report Patricio Millan provided independent estimates of cost that established that the Louis Berger Group grossly underestimated the cost of construction and maintenance of a steel floating bridge. Millan found that a bridge between D’Edward and Crab Island was not the most economical option. A pre-stressed concrete bridge between Providence and Augsburg was found to the most economical option.

However, the PPP/C Government rejected the Millan report by stating that regardless of the financial viability it intended to build a steel floating bridge between D’Edward Village and Crab Island. The Government thereafter established a special purpose company, the Berbice Bridge Company Inc., and has since been proceeding with arrangements for the construction of the bridge.

On Tuesday 21st January the PNCR took a motion to parliament seeking a bipartisan review of the processes and procedures that led to the decision to build a steel floating bridge between Providence and Augsburg. This motion was prompted by two considerations:

1. The insistence by some officials that a steel floating bridge must be built regardless of the economic viability smacks of corruption since at all material times a floating bridge could only have been bought from one supplier, Mabey and Johnson.
2. The insistence that the bridge must be built between D’Edward and Crab Island, despite the socio economic benefits that will be derived from opening lands on the west bank and east bank of the river if the bridge is built at Providence-Augsburg, suggests institutionalized discrimination.


Conclusion
The PNCR demands that the PPP Government, in keeping with its claims of being a working class Government, immediately:

- Pay to public servants one month’s salary for the month of January as a cost of living allowance to cushion the effects of their incompetent implementation of VAT. These funds can be taken from the Lottery Funds that have been continuously misused and abused by the Office of the President;
- Increase wages and salaries of public servants for 2007 by at least 16%;
- Raise the income tax threshold to remove the burden from the working poor who now pay more than one-third of their salaries and wages in taxes;
- Reduce the level of Corporate taxes, and;
- Zero rate all food items that are contained in the basket of the working poor, including, chicken, beef, margarine, parboiled rice, pastries, school uniform material and bicycles.

When all of these issues are taken together there is cause for great concern. It is clear that the PPP/C Government is bent on using its majority in the Parliament to erode fundamental rights, undermine democratic institutions and rubber stamp corruption and discrimination. The PNCR calls on all Guyanese to resist these attempts by the Bharrat Jagdeo Government to entrench an electoral dictatorship in Guyana. The PNCR stands ready to vigorously resist these efforts, since no electoral mandate gives a Government the right to undermine fundamental rights and to sanction corruption and discrimination.

The PNCR calls on Guyanese to stand ready for a long, but glorious battle to protect freedom and dignity in our country.


People's National Congress Reform
Congress Place, Sophia,
Georgetown, Guyana.
Thursday, January 25, 2007