PRESS STATEMENT By People’s National Congress Reform Thursday, April 19, 2007 Media Centre Congress Place, Sophia




SUMMARY:
• The same energy utilized by President Jagdeo for the holding of the CWC in Guyana must now be used to deal with the rising levels of poverty, escalating crime, Press freedom and the introduction of Broadcast Legislation;
• The completion of Local Government Reform is an absolute prerequisite for the holding of Local Government Elections;
• The President has no authority to seek to change the decisions of the Elections Commission to proceed with house to house registration;
• It is time for the unwarranted incarceration of Mark Benschop to end now.

WORLD CUP HAS ENDED IN GUYANA: TIME TO DEAL WITH URGENT PROBLEMS

The massive level of activity surrounding the preparations for hosting the Super Eight matches of the CWC, including the focus of the State Media, created a façade which clouded the realities of the situation in Guyana. The rising levels of poverty, spiraling crime across all areas of Guyana, the continued assault on press freedom and the lack of progress in equitable access to the state media are only a few examples.

The PNCR took a principled position in supporting the ICC Cricket World Cup 2007 activities in Guyana and, while there has been no acknowledgement or recognition of its role, the achievements which the Government boasts about would not have been possible without Parliamentary support for the requisite legislation and our full participation in the LOC from the time it was established and commenced work. Now that the World Cup matches in Guyana are over, PNCR expects full accountability by the Government for its stewardship, including the manner in which the huge sums of money were expended and the discrimination in the award of contracts at the stadium site. The PNCR intends to vigorously pursue these matters.

The hype in the publicity surrounding the World Cup activities could be considered a well calculated decision to cloud the rising poverty being experienced all over Guyana, especially since the introduction of the 16% VAT. It also clouded the failure of the Jagdeo Administration to implement the many recommendations to reduce the spiraling crime situation, including the President’s personal refusal to accept an offer of assistance from the British Government made more than a year ago. The folly of Jagdeo’s appointment of Bernard Kerik as security advisor is now evident. He had stubbornly proceeded to appoint Kerik in spite of revelations made known to him prior to the last Elections. President Jagdeo should be made to refund the money paid to Kerik from the public purse. Meanwhile the crime situation continues to spiral out of control.

The programming by the State Media during this period also clouded the Government’s withdrawal of advertisement from the Stabroek News and their failure to advance the issue of equitable access to the State Media. The Government is however put on notice that these matters must be placed on the front burner and will be pursued vigorously by the PNCR in and out of Parliament in the period ahead. The PNCR expects therefore that the same vigor applied to the World Cup preparations will be demonstrated in the manner in which the Government pursues the resolution of these and other outstanding matters on the agenda, including the expeditious passage of Broadcast legislation, in keeping with the recommendations of the Task Force, made several years ago. Most important however is the issue of shared Governance which must now assume top priority on the Agenda of items to be pursued.

LOCAL GOVERNMENT REFORM IS AN ABSOLUTE PREREQUISITE FOR LOCAL GOVERNMENT ELECTIONS

The continuous postponement of Local Government Elections which have been deferred for nine consecutive years was predicated on one main reason: an acceptance by all of the need to complete local government reform in accordance with the mandate of the revised Guyana Constitution. It should be obvious that the Elections cannot be held unless and until the recommendations of the Task Force set up for this purpose are fully implemented.

The 1997 Local Government Elections were first postponed to give way to national elections. Subsequently, the elections were postponed in anticipation of the recommendations on local government from the constitutional reform process. During this process there was clear consensus by all that reform of the Local Government system was essential not only to promote democracy but for the acceleration of development. Consequently, the elections have been postponed since 2001 to facilitate the implementation of the recommended reforms including the reform of the electoral system. The reform under articles 72-79 of the Constitution provides for:-

• a new electoral system
• autonomy for local government
• the establishment of a local government commission
• an objective system for fiscal transfers and revenue garnering
• re introduction of village/community councils
• a system of lower ties representation on higher tiers
• a system of recall for malfunctioning councilors

To give effect to this constitutional mandate a Task Force was established and a draft report was produced albeit some issues such as the Electoral system and the system of fiscal transfers to Local Government bodies were not settled at the time that draft report was prepared. This notwithstanding, the report has several recommendations which must now be the subject of legislative action. In addition while there has been some general agreement on the electoral system being one of fifty percent constituency representation and fifty percent list representation both under a system of proportional representation, there are many details still to be settled. The Government has however begun to behave as though the details are unimportant and has been reluctant to re-establish the Task Force which also has as its mandate the supervision of the draft legislation. Instead, former Co-Chairman of the task force, Mr. Collymore, has unilaterally sent the uncompleted report to the Attorney General Chambers for the preparation of draft legislation. It is however obvious that for the reform process to be completed favorably and expeditiously, there is urgent need for the re-establishment of the Task Force to complete its terms of reference. The PNCR has already raised this matter with the PPP Administration but puts the Nation on alert of these outstanding matters.

Many in the Government have voiced their full agreement and support of these recommendations and it is therefore difficult to appreciate why the impression is being conveyed by the President that elections can proceed without the implementation of these important reforms.

Why would the President want to have elections without the reform when it is clear that the old system was not working and cannot work? For any elections to be meaningful the new councils and councilors must have an environment that the reforms will provide. Any attempt to hold the elections without the implementation of these reforms would therefore make nonsense of all of those years for which the nation has tolerated postponement of the elections in the name of the reform process. In addition, history has taught us that many undertakings given by the government fall by the wayside once elections are over.

The PNCR is putting the nation on alert to the mischief that appears to be afoot.

THE PRESIDENT HAS NO AUTHORITY TO CHANGE DECISIONS OF GECOM

It is now well known that the Elections Commission has unanimously agreed that house-to-house registration must be immediately carried out and has already received a report from the CEO on the implementation of this project. This decision is clearly in keeping with the recommendations of the major Observer groups in their reports on the 2006 Elections. The PNCR believed that this contentious matter had been put to rest once GECOM made its decision, but the President has shown his hand. Recent statements by him to the effect that Elections can be held in 2007 without the creation of a new voters list and without the registration process already decided upon by GECOM, is a clear attempt to interfere with the work of this Constitutional Body.

The Nation recalls Jagdeo’s protestations prior to the last elections in 2006 that he had no authority to interfere with the work of GECOM. What then has changed? In 2006 he argued that time was inadequate. Now in 2007 with GECOM trying to make it possible he seeks to use executive power to hinder GECOM’s endeavours by indicating that there is no budgetary provision. We heard no complaint of shortage of money for any matter related to World Cup Cricket, including the doling out of money from the public purse to build hotels, without the prior knowledge and consent of the Parliament. GECOM must be allowed to do its work. It must be remembered that the 2005 allocation for house-to-house registration was returned to the Treasury. It is also significant that the EAB, the Carter Centre, the OAS and the Commonwealth teams agree that house-to-house registration is now absolutely essential.

Guyanese must accept nothing less for the promotion of democracy in our country. The nation ought to be alerted to these veiled threats by President Jagdeo to the Elections Commission and be prepared to resist any assault on the functioning of that body.

MARK BENSCHOP MUST BE FREED

The continued incarceration of Mark Benschop is a disgrace and this Government should hang its head in shame.

After FOUR years of being wrongfully imprisoned on a trumped up charge of treason, Mark Benschop should not have been subjected to another trial. It should be remembered that the PPP spent years campaigning for the release of treason accused Arnold Rampersaud and, on their ascension to Office, promptly pardoned other persons accused of treason, one of whom is now a senior officer in the Guyana Police Force. The PNCR expected that, with the euphoria of the World Cup in Guyana and President Jagdeo’s boasting of the new national spirit, that he would have seized the moment to heal wounds which still exist in Guyana and ensure that Mark Benschop was released from prison. It is evident that by the listing of Mark Benschop’s trial in the Criminal Assizes for this session, that the PPP Administration is bent on promoting confrontation rather than fostering harmony. The people of Guyana must therefore respond accordingly. It is time for the unwarranted incarceration of Mark Benschop to end now and the PNCR will no longer allow this matter to drift, as it did, although listed for hearing in the last two Assizes.

People's National Congress Reform
Congress Place, Sophia,
Georgetown, Guyana.
Thursday, April 19, 2007