PRESS STATEMENT By People’s National Congress Reform Thursday, April 26, 2007 Media Centre Congress Place, Sophia




SUMMARY:
• Mark Benschop has been a political prisoner for nearly five years. He is entitled to an immediate retrial or his unconditional freedom;
• The recent grandstanding by President Jagdeo and the Press Statement of the PPP cannot change a decision already taken by GECOM to have House to House Registration before Local Government Elections. What is required is the resolve by all parties to complete the legislative arrangements to implement the agreed Local Government Reform and allocate the resources to ensure House to House Registration is a reality;
• Urgent and drastic action is required in the Water sector as the Health and welfare of citizens in many communities are at risk. The case of the Sophia Housing area, so close to the center of Administration, is an example of GWI’s incompetence, ineffectiveness or deliberate neglect;
• The raging fire at the Mandela Dump site poses a serious threat to the health and safety of the citizens of Georgetown. Government must act with the same haste that they demonstrated in unilaterally removing vendors from the Stabroek Market area for World Cup cricket.

JUSTICE DEMANDS THAT MARK BENSCHOP RECEIVES AN IMMEDIATE RETRIAL OR BE RELEASED UNCONDITIONALLY

The retrial of political prisoner Mark Benschop has been again listed for hearing in the current session of the Demerara Criminal Assizes. This, however, gives no reason for expectation that the judicial system or the political administration intends that he would have his day in Court now. He is listed at number thirteen (13) on the list of thirty one cases slated to be heard by Justice W. Ramlall, but, as is already known, the assizes began with the hearing of the last listed case, number 31, last week. This action by the Justice system forced Benschop to begin a hunger strike until he knows the date of his trial.

The inference is very clear: Place Benschop case on the list, but procrastinate and hold no trial. This was the situation on two previous occasions that his retrial was listed and not heard. Guyanese are aware of similar attempts by the PPP/C Administration to delay his first trial, including retention of Lawyers to have other prisoners file actions to have their cases heard before his. His original trial was therefore delayed. When he finally had his day in Court a lone juror ensured that there was a hung jury guaranteeing Benschop’s continued incarceration. The widely held view by Guyanese is that there was jury tampering and this view was reinforced when that lone juror left the High Court in company with one of the prosecuting Attorneys. The rest is now history. Since that day, more than two years ago, Benschop has been unable to have his retrial. The long delay gives rise to the belief that the DPP would have decided not to proceed with the second trial, in keeping with her discretionary powers, and give Benschop his liberty. This was no wild expectation as the trial Judge in summing up the case for the Jury had expressed the view that the evidence produced in court was flimsy, albeit he failed to uphold a no-case submission by defense Attorneys.

Justice delayed is justice denied and the continued imprisonment of Benschop is a reflection of the warped judicial system that exists in Guyana. The consciences of the judicial authorities and of those who head the political administration, however, appear untouched by this glaring case of injustice. It is, therefore, left to the people of Guyana to determine whether we will continue to accept and tolerate this sordid state of injustice. The PNCR believes that irrespective of personal views of Mark Benschop his case cries out for justice now. We call on all peace loving organizations to speak out in the name of justice and more importantly be prepared to act to ensure that Mark Benschop is FREED NOW.

THE TASK FORCE ON LOCAL GOVERNMENT MUST NOW COMPLETE ITS MANDATE FOR LOCAL GOVERNMENT REFORM: HOUSE TO HOUSE REGISTRATION IN A NON ISSUE AS GECOM HAS ALREADY DECIDED TO PROCEED WITH IT

One week ago the PNCR highlighted the need for the completion of the Constitutional Mandate for Local Government Reform and publicised the decision by GECOM to hold House to House Registration before those Elections. Both President Jagdeo and the PPP/C seem to have been driven into panic mode. The President signaled his intention to deprive GECOM of the necessary funds to implement their decision while the PPP/C has pursued a wicked campaign of misinformation to deceive Guyanese that the conduct of House to House registration will result in a delay in the holding of those Elections. The fact is that the project document produced by GECOM nails the lies being peddled by the PPP/C in their Press Statement. It is also well-known by the PPP/C, and particularly its General Secretary, that the greatest threat to timely elections is the agreement on, and passage of, the necessary legislation to give reality to the recommendations of the Task Force and the Education process that will be required to inform citizens of the new system of Local Government when the legislation is passed.

For example it has been agreed that the new electoral system will include fifty per-cent of the candidates being elected to represent constituencies while fifty per-cent will be elected on the old List system , using the PR system overall. It is evident that in addition to the passage of new Legislation each local government area will have to be subdivided into constituencies and the residents educated on the areas of demarcation that their constituency candidate will represent. The tasks required to implement this singular recommendation of the task force are instructive. There are, however, many others which require similar attention.

The reform also provides for the system under which the local authorities will be allotted resources by the central government and their scope to raise revenues locally. What will newly elected bodies do differently to the present tattering bodies if they are not properly resourced? The reform also provides for the freeing up of the local authorities from the iron-clad hands of the Minister and the creation of a Local Government Commission to regulate the work of local government bodies.

It is the recognition of these realities that the President and the Leader of the Opposition agreed on the immediate reactivation of the task force to complete its original mandate. This reactivation should be completed before the end of this week and it is to be hoped that there is no breach of faith in this early stage of the Local Government Reform. Among the terms of reference of the original task force established by then Leader of the Opposition, Mr. HD Hoyte and the President were:

 “to ensure the conclusion of the Constitutional reform process and give effect to the Constitutional provisions regarding local democracy.” and

 “to monitor and guide the drafting, passing and implementation of legislation to give greater autonomy to local government bodies.”

After prolonged discussions and procrastination the task force’s recommendations are now almost complete. It should be noted, however, that there are many details of the electoral system and the system of fiscal transfers still to be ironed out. It is therefore very questionable why the PPP, after postponing elections for nine consecutive years, would at this stage want to proceed into these elections before the reforms are completed. The present system is a disaster. It is acknowledged that the reforms are essential to give effect to local democracy. To attempt to proceed into LG Elections without the reforms will be a most retrograde step that the PNCR will not condone.

During the period of the task force’s existence, the PPP/C used every delaying tactic to hold up the reform. The latest was to halt the work of the Local Government Task Force for two years prior to the 2006 elections by simply not informing the Task Force of its position on the electoral system. Now they are parading themselves as paragons of virtue urging the need for local government elections at all cost. It is apparent that Jagdeo`s preference is to continue by-passing local government bodies and doling out resources to communities at his whim and fancy.

The high, mighty and righteous AFC tells the nation that the PNCR and the PPP/C are in collusion to leave them out of the process. However the AFC should be reminded that it was their unprincipled behaviour which undermined the united opposition parties’ fight for verification before the last elections.

The PNCR therefore maintains its position that the Task Force should be reactivated to continue its work and the Elections Commission should be allowed to implement its decisions on house-to-house registration. It is time that the PPP/C stops propagandizing national issues and allow decisions to which they were party to be implemented.

The PNCR had already put the nation on alert that this mischief was afoot.

URGENT AND DRASTIC ACTION IS REQUIRED IN THE WATER SECTOR AS THE HEALTH AND WELFARE OF CITIZENS IN MANY COMMUNITIES ARE AT RISK

The People’s National Congress Reform notes with alarm the continuing deterioration in the potable water supply situation in numerous communities across the country. The situation in Sophia, so close to the center of GWI’s Administration, is typical of the state of potable water supply around Guyana.

During a visit to the Sophia community on Tuesday, April 24, 2007, the PNCR-1G Shadow Minister responsible for Housing and Water, Mr. Keith Scott observed the shocking and unsanitary means by which residents were forced to obtain water.

Water was only available at subsoil level and then only directly from the main pipe line. The few stand pipes are no longer delivering any water. Residents have to walk long distances to the main pipe line to get water. The main drawers and transporters of this water are women and children who consequently are late for school.

It is apparent that Guyana Water Incorporated has pushed the plight of the Sophia residents on the back burner and there is no clear timetable for the rectification of this problem. In addition GWI is doing nothing to provide urgent relief to the Sophia residents.

Similar situations exist in other communities such as Bartica, La Grange-Nismes, Meten-Meer-Zorg and De Kendren Neighbourhood Democratic Councils.

It is unacceptable that GWI has been unable to rectify the problem with the wells in these areas; however while the supply of water via trailer delivery cannot replace the delivery of water through the pipe main lines, it does provide some relief.

The PNCR is calling on the GWI to implement the system of water delivery in Sophia, as is being done elsewhere, until they can effectively deliver water through the water mains.

The PNCR is aware that similar poor potable water situations obtain across the country and is in the process of gathering information to make a comprehensive statement on the national water supply situation and the performance of the Guyana Water Inc.

THE RAGING FIRE AT THE MANDELA DUMP SITE POSES A SERIOUS THREAT TO THE HEALTH AND SAFETY OF THE CITIZENS OF GEORGETOWN

The recent fire at the Mandela Landfill Site is cause for serious concern. The PNCR understands that it is possible that this fire has resulted in the release of a number of pollutants into the environment. These pollutants include chlorinated dioxins and furans, nitrogen oxide, volatile organic compounds and carbon monoxide. These pollutants have been linked to numerous adverse health effects such as cancer, weakened immune system, reproductive disorders, allergies, asthma, skin diseases, etc.

This means that the residents of sections of South Georgetown are exposed to a serious public heath situation. However, there have been no public announcements advising residents of the health risks they are exposed to. The Government’s nonchalant approach to the problem was revealed when the Local Government Minister stated that he is prepared to help but he was waiting to be asked.

The PNCR is aware of the numerous occasions on which the Government intervened unnecessarily and unsatisfactorily in the affairs of the Municipality for issues that were far less serious. A recent example is the intervention of the Minister of Public Works to effect the removal of the Stabroek Market Vendors in direct contravention of a decision of the City Council. The PNCR, therefore, calls on the PPP/C Government to explain its lack of a positive response when it became aware that residents were exposed to a serious public health threat.

The PNCR also call on the PPP/C Government to accelerate the closure of the Mandela Landfill Site and to institute the necessary remedial measures to ensure the site is made safe. The PNCR is aware that since 2001 the Mandela Landfill Site was declared a public health hazard. In 2004 the IDB approved a loan of US $9.5 M for the construction of a state-of-the-art landfill at Haags Bosch, East Bank Demerara so that Mandela could be closed. However it was only in February of 2007 that the Government signed the loan contract with the IDB.

It is clear that the PPP/C Government’s incompetence and negligence have allowed a very hazardous situation to continue. The PPP/C must therefore take full blame for the public health threats created by the fire at the Mandela Landfill Site.


People's National Congress Reform
Congress Place, Sophia,
Georgetown, Guyana.
Thursday, April 26, 2007