PRESS STATEMENT By People’s National Congress Reform Thursday, February 22, 2007 Media Centre Congress Place, Sophia




SUMMARY:
• The achievement of Republican status was the next logical political step after the attainment of political Independence since it provided the opportunity for the Guyanese people to mould their own destiny and to chart their own course of economic and social progress;
• During the Budget debate, by and large, the PPP/C Members of Parliament refused or were unable to respond to the issues raised by the PNCR-1G members and the questions raised by the Opposition were for the most part left unanswered;
• The PNCR-1G believes it is fair to say that the Government MPs felt that they were being unduly delayed by a process they were in a hurry to conclude. On the other hand the PNCR-1G believes the Budget debate should represent a genuine opportunity for Members of Parliament to bring to the attention of the Government and the nation their concerns and their proposals for addressing those concerns. The constituencies they represent have a right to expect no less from them;
• Inquires have so far revealed that the instructions to the Town Constabulary to remove these vendors came from the government acting through the Minister of Works, Mr. Robeson Benn, MP. This information has now been confirmed at a Press Conference held by the Head of the Presidential Secretariat, Minister of Local Government and the Minister of Works yesterday (February 21st). It is clear that the attempt to evict these small vendors without notices is in breach of the rules of natural justice.

HAPPY MASHRAMANI TO ALL GUYANESE

On the occasion of the 37th Anniversary of our achievement of Republican status, the People's National Congress Reform salutes the Guyanese people and joins in the celebration of this important national event.

The achievement of Republican status was the next logical political step after the attainment of political Independence since it provided the opportunity for the Guyanese people to mould their own destiny and to chart their own course of economic and social progress.

Genuine Independence is only achieved when we the Guyanese people recognise that, ultimately, success as a nation depends on our working together, playing together, utilising all our skills and ingenuity to take Guyana forward. In short, progress would only come if we as Guyanese are a disciplined and hardworking people who understand and practice the virtues of tolerance and honesty.

While we celebrate our anniversary, we must never the less be on guard, as we deal with bureaucratic insensitivity, political arrogance and a rapidly growing disrespect for law, order and constitutionality; as we come face to face with the return of polecat intolerance for criticism and disregard for the freedom of the press; as we see demonstrated disregard and intolerance of the views of our religious community on important matters of state and policy; and as armed and dangerous criminals continue with their unchecked activities across the country.

As we celebrate the anniversary of the Republic, we must at the same time renew our determination to fight corruption and bureaucratic lawlessness in high places. Guyana remains a poor country, stagnating under uninspired leadership and unimaginative economic policies. The level of unemployment and despair in many communities, the level of poverty and deprivation, the level of exclusion and discrimination gives us no comfort. The Republic will only be secure as we make inroads into these and other pressing issues.

Even as we celebrate another anniversary of Republican status, let us take time out to reflect on the road we have travelled so far, noting our successes and failures and let us resolve to struggle for those necessary changes both attitudinal and otherwise which would redound to the improvement to the state of affairs in our country.

The PNCR invites all to its “Family Fun Day” on Saturday, February 24th and the “Soca Last Lap” competition on Sunday, February 25th on the lawns of Congress Place, Sophia; a grand time awaits you.

Happy Mash 2007!

ANALYSIS OF BUDGET DEBATE AND CONSIDERATION OF THE ESTIMATES FOR 2007

Last Tuesday, February 20th, the Budget for 2007 was passed clearing the way for the Government to undertake its revenue and expenditure programme for the year. As expected, it did not matter what anyone on the Opposition benches said, the Budget was passed without a single change in any proposed revenue or expenditure programme.

During the Budget debate, by and large, the PPP/C Members of Parliament refused or were unable to respond to the issues raised by the PNCR-1G members and the questions raised by the Opposition were for the most part left unanswered. It was difficult not to get the feeling that the PPP/C Members of Parliament were either deaf or could not care less about the views being expressed. Speaker after speaker on the Government’s side stuck to his or her script which largely consisted of the recitation of a litany of things proposed to be done and/or a list of purported achievements by the respective agencies.

FINANCE MINISTER’S RESPONSE TO BUDGET DISAPPOINTING AND UNPROFESSIONAL

The greatest disappointment of all, however, came in the winding up presentation of the Minister of Finance. Since he was the one with overall responsibility for the Budget, and since he was supposedly a sound technician, one looked forward with some hope that at least he would have offered proper responses to some of the major issues raised or, at minimum, commented on them. Instead, he swung into high gear as a PPP/C politician, eschewing logic and reason. He not only seized upon relatively minor points for effervescent histrionics but imputed sinister motives on the part of Opposition contributors to deceive the Guyanese people. He then advanced the absurd argument that these minor points, which he classified as “errors he discovered”, were enough and clear evidence that the entire presentations were unworthy of comment. Consequently, he too failed as a technician to respond in a responsible manner to serious issues affecting the people of Guyana; so much for technical soundness.

It was under such cloudy cover that the Minister of Finance made no comment on the following issues:

- continued constitutional violation of not paying the lotto funds in to the Consolidated Fund;
- the breach of law by failing to provide, in 2005 and 2006, a half yearly report to the National Assembly on the performance of the Budget;
- the arbitrary removal from the Estimates of the column showing the number of authorized positions in each budget agency;
- the continued absence from the Estimates of a breakdown of ‘contracted employees’ showing their positions in each budget agency together with the emoluments being paid to each category of such contracted employees;
- the projected profitability of the Skeldon sugar expansion project;
- the future role of the International Monetary Fund in Guyana especially since the last programme came to an end in September, 2006;
- the proposal to report in the Budget, not only the amount of money being spent on projects, but even more important, to report on the unit cost of projects since the amount of money spent does not, of and by itself, tell the Guyanese people whether they are getting value for money;
- what is proposed to be done to curb the endemic corruption taking place in projects in the public sector;
- failure to implement any of the 26 measures proposed in the 2006 Budget by the PNCR and accepted by the then Minister of Home Affairs as useful to improve the security situation;
- the proposal of the PNCR for increases in basic wages and salary for public service workers including policemen and nurses;
- The raising of the income tax threshold to a higher level than that proposed;
- The adoption of the PNCR’s Youth Empowerment Scheme (YES) and the reintroduction, on a completely voluntary basis of the Guyana National Service;
- Measures to address the root causes of our high crime rate which include poverty; moral decay; hopelessness; unemployment/underemployment and discrimination;
- perceptions of discrimination by the Government in the allocation of resources for development of various communities in Guyana;
- the weakness in the Government’s data gathering capacity which makes it difficult to measure the impact of billions of dollars in donor money on poverty levels and progresses with respect to the Millennium Developments Goals;
- the expenditure of in excess of $2.7B on the construction of roads and bridges in 2006 without the implementation of a concomitant weight control programme that would ensure these roads and bridges are not overloaded albeit, $60M was provided for this purpose in the 2006 Budget;
- The need for an investigation into the Berbice River Bridge, particularly, the processes and procedures leading to the decision to build a steel floating bridge between D’Edward and Crab Island;

The PNCR-1G believes it is fair to say that the Government MPs felt that they were being unduly delayed by a process they were in a hurry to conclude. On the other hand the PNCR-1G believes the Budget debate should represent a genuine opportunity for Members of Parliament to bring to the attention of the Government and the nation their concerns and their proposals for addressing those concerns. The constituencies they represent have a right to expect no less from them.

The Government’s treatment of the Budget debate as an irritant which delays them in getting on with their expenditures, in particular, has not escaped the notice of many Guyanese who wryly observe that “you all only wasting you time talking to them people. They don’t listen to anything you say.”

PPP/C RESPONSE: VAGUENESS AND EVASION

With few exceptions the examination of the Estimates is treated by the Government Ministers as an exercise in evasion. While their supposed mantra is transparency and accountability they practised, with deftness, the art of answering questions with vagueness and even emptiness.

Throughout the exercise the Government benches felt we were asking for too many details and in too much detail about amounts of money proposed for expenditure. Their overwhelming desire was to get out of the National Assembly as early as possible each night and after as few days as possible. They were presumptuous to the point of bringing officials one day ahead of their scheduled day in an effort to force the pace of consideration of the Budget Estimates. The PNCR-1G believes, however, that we owe it to the people of Guyana to be thorough in our examination of the Estimates so that, irrespective of the Government’s response, the issues that may otherwise not be known at all to the public can be brought to their attention.

MILLIONS PLACED IN SLUSH FUNDS

For example, the searching and piercing approach of the PNCR-1G was able to expose, that the Budget has slush funds in excess of $1,395 million dollars which are, for all practical purposes, in the total and utter discretion of the President and/or some Minister to be doled out as they deem fit. The project profiles for all of these monies are empty of content and meaning. There is no information as to criteria to be used or how choices are to be made from among competing persons or institutions equally eligible. This kind of vagueness must lead to dark suspicions of partisanship and nepotism.

Interestingly, of the sum of $1,395 million, $75M are directly in the Office of the President under his sole control to dispense of as he, in his own wisdom, deems fit. The remainder is in the Ministry of Finance but with the Minister being reluctant or unable to say who gives the instructions to spend.

The examination of the various sums for Contract Employees shows that such persons are hired for positions which are identical to those in the Public Service but are paid much higher emoluments. When questioned on this, the Minister of Finance spoke of such persons being required to have other qualifications and duties. The PNCR-1G ventures to suggest that these other qualifications and duties could only be political.

Against this background it is not difficult to understand why, throughout the process, the Government seemed very impatient with our scrutiny of the estimates.

Their preference is to avoid addressing serious issues during the Budget debate and to maximize evasiveness during the examination of the Estimates. Surely the Guyanese population deserves more openness from the Government and the PNCR-1G will continue to do its best to secure this.

TREATMENT OF STABROEK MARKET VENDORS INHUMANE, UNCONSCIONABLE AND IN BREACH OF THE RULES OF NATURAL JUSTICE

The People’s National Congress Reform condemns the inhumane, brutal and unjust treatment of small vendors in the vicinity of the Stabroek market by the Government, acting through the Town Clerk of the City Council of Georgetown. It is hoped that good sense will prevail and that the economic lives of hundreds of citizens would not be ruined by this irresponsible action.

The vendor issue in Georgetown has been an ongoing one for several years which involved the intervention of the High Court. The current issue of the vendors around the Stabroek Market, however, should not be confused with the wider vending issue in Georgetown.

The Stabroek Market vendors can be broadly fitted into two (2) categories:

• Those that were allowed to build permanent structures; and
• Those that have temporary movable structures and are allowed to ply their trade from 6:00 am – 6 pm daily.

In the first category, the Georgetown City Council permitted these structures to be erected and has for more than thirty (30) years been collecting rates and taxes from the proprietors. After such a long period, the City council purported to issue notices to the proprietors to dismantle their structures and remove from the location within seven (7) days. However, these proprietors have sought the intervention of the courts to have a determination of this matter.

The other category of vendors received absolutely no notice. In fact, they were assured by officials of the City Council that they would be able to ply their trade during and after the World Cup Cricket. The facts are that on Saturday, February 17, 2007 vendors were informed by City Council officials that they could not set up set up their stalls on Sunday 18 February as it was proposed to resurface the road on that day. They complied with the instructions. However, on Monday morning when they assembled to begin their trading operations they found the area cordoned off by City Constables who then informed them that they could no longer carry on their trade at that location. The explanation given is that the area needed to be spruced up for Cricket World Cup 2007. Some of the vendors who had arrived early in the morning and had set up their booths were humiliated when their stalls were dismantled and goods seized by the constabulary. They were subsequently told that to retrieve their property they would have to pay a fine of $5,000 (five thousand dollars).

It should be noted that in a formal meeting with the City Council in November 2006 the vendors were advised that they needed to spruce up their stalls to enhance the area for World Cup activities. As a result of those discussions the City Council encouraged them to incur expenditure of over $30,000 (thirty thousand dollars) each to provide uniformity during the period of the World Cup. This project which had the endorsement of the City Council Enhancement Committee was completed in December 2006. The vendors were therefore led to believe that after expending their resources they would be free to ply their trade unmolested at the said venue.

Inquires have so far revealed that the instructions to the Town Constabulary to remove these vendors came from the government acting through the Minister of Works, Mr. Robeson Benn, MP. This information has now been confirmed at a Press Conference held by the Head of the Presidential Secretariat, Minister of Local Government and the Minister of Works yesterday (February 21st). It is clear that the attempt to evict these small vendors without notices is in breach of the rules of natural justice.

It is significant that the PPP/C Members of Parliament made disparaging remarks of these vendors and spurned all attempts made by the Opposition Leader, Mr. Robert Corbin to have this matter discussed in Parliament on Tuesday last. It is also significant that the Georgetown City Council, which has overall responsibility for the City, revealed in a meeting with the PNCR Leader that they issued no instructions nor made any decision to remove these small vendors. In fact the Councillors confirmed that they had expressly approved of the vendors plying their trade at that site during this period.

There is therefore no doubt that it is the uncaring PPP/C Administration that has absolutely no regard for the hundreds of children who are dependent upon these vendors for survival and the many other Guyanese who find employment as a result their trade.

The PNCR wishes to make it clear that they would not stand idly by while the rights of these vendors are trampled upon.


People's National Congress Reform
Congress Place, Sophia,
Georgetown, Guyana.
Thursday, February 22, 2007