PRESS STATEMENT By People’s National Congress Reform Thursday, May 24, 2007 Media Centre Congress Place, Sophia




SUMMARY:
• The People’s National Congress Reform greets all of the people of this, our dear land, and extends our best wishes on the occasion of the 41st anniversary of our independence;
• The continuing protests by the residents of Fyrish, Courtland and Gibralter villages on the Corentyne, Berbice is the result of the continuous neglect and the discriminatory practices by the PPP/C Administration at both the Regional and National Levels;
• The People's National Congress Reform has noted that the Fyrish/Courtland/Gibraltar Development Incorporation, a Non-Governmental Organisation, is calling for the disbandment of the Fyrish/Gibraltar Neighbourhood Development Council (NDC) and for its replacement by an Interim Management Committee;
• The people of Guyana were appalled that, after all the assurances by the Agricultural Minister of the readiness of the country for the rainy season, the rainfall on Tuesday last alone has led to flooding in the capital city and several other parts of the country;
• The PNCR calls upon the Jagdeo administration to immediately suspend this devious operation clearly intended to dispossess poor people of their land and hand over the land to PPP/C supporters. The pursuit of this policy will certainly lead to confrontation and conflict which Guyana can ill afford at this time.

41ST ANNIVERSARY OF INDEPENDENCE

The People's National Congress Reform joins the rest of the nation in celebrating the 41st Anniversary of Independence. It is the judgment of our Party that these celebrations should also be the occasion for serious soul searching as to where this nation is today and what we must do if it is to survive as a cohesive, unified and prosperous country. As a People, we must ask ourselves whether, after 41 years of independence, we have been successful in nation building and whether the economic plans and programs, over the past 14 years, have helped to spread prosperity equitably throughout the nation and resolved our deep seated ethnic and social problems.

In particular, the PNCR is convinced that, as a nation, we must not accommodate or accept the insidious drug culture which continues to destroy the social fiber of this nation. Equally, we must recognize that our existing political culture cannot unlock the talent and genius with which this nation is endowed. We must look to a system of shared governance as a means of achieving that state of unity and prosperity which to date have sadly evaded us.

As the Party which took this country into Independence 41 years ago, the PNCR has a vested interest in ensuring the success of this journey that we started so long ago. Our nation cannot afford to squander the gains we have made in the political, economic, social and cultural areas of development.

It was during these 41 years that we put an end to the legacy of colonialism and prepared the way for true development as a united people. Along that journey too we instituted successful economic policies which saw the economy grow and attract massive foreign investment and provide new employment opportunities. The PNCR believes that we must act with dispatch to reverse the evident erosion of that foundation over the last 14 years

Our Party is confident that if this nation can build a truly inclusive political culture in which all the stakeholders are allowed to play a meaningful role and which can create the enabling environment for the orderly development of the nation, we can look forward to a future that is politically successful, economically self sustaining and culturally rewarding. It is the confirmed opinion of this Party that the people of Guyana, who have borne the burdens of the struggle for Independence and the creation of the Republic, deserve a future commensurate with the sacrifices they have already made.

It is with these reflections that the People’s National Congress Reform greets all of the people of this, our dear land, and extends our best wishes on the occasion of the 41st anniversary of our independence.

CONSULTATION ON CONSTITUTIONAL COMMISSIONS: MEETING BETWEEN THE LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION AND PRESIDENT JAGDEO

Leader of the Opposition, Mr. Robert H. O. Corbin, MP and President Jagdeo commenced meaningful consultations yesterday (May 23, 2007) on the composition of the Public Service Commission, the Teaching Service Commission and the Judicial Service Commission as required under Articles 200, 207 and 198 of the Constitution.

Under the Constitution the process of meaningful consultation is defined as follows:

“The person or entity responsible for seeking consultation shall:

(a) identify the persons or entities to be consulted and specify to them in writing the subject of the consultation and an intended date for the decision on the subject of consultation;

(b) ensure that each person or entity to be consulted is afforded a reasonable opportunity to express a considered opinion on the subject of the consultation; and

(c) cause to be prepared and archived a written record of the consultation and circulate the decision to each of the persons or entities consulted..”

At this first meeting the principles that the parties will use to identify the nominees were agreed upon and during the next few days the names identified with the relevant bio-data will be exchanged. The parties will meet again shortly to continue consultation on the Commissions.

The opportunity was taken during the meeting to raise the proposed amendment to the Recall Bill which the PNCR proposes to make. As a result the Recall Bill will not be taken through the Second Reading at today’s Sitting of the National Assembly. The Leader of the Opposition also raised the concerns of the PNCR that the Constitution should also be amended to insert a time limit for serving members of the Guyana Elections Commission as with the case of the other Constitutional Commissions. Mr. Corbin also raised the concern over the failure of the President to complete the meaningful consultation process with respect to the appointment of a Chancellor of the Judiciary which is essential for the proper constitution of the Judicial Service Commission. These matters will be pursued at the next meeting of the two parties.

DISCRIMINATION AND NEGLECT ARE THE CAUSE FOR CONTINUING PROTESTS BY THE PEOPLE OF FYRISH/COUTLAND/GIBRALTER

The continuing protests by the residents of Fyrish, Courtland and Gibralter villages on the Corentyne, Berbice is the result of the continuous neglect and the discriminatory practices by the PPP/C Administration at both the Regional and National Levels. For several years the people have had to resort to protest action in order to attract the attention of the Administration to the dilapidated state of their infrastructure and social facilities. It took protest action and several petitions for the villages to obtain telephones in their communities but one year later than the newly developed section of Fyrish on the Northern section of the public Road. It took protest action for the Regional Administration to address the serious flooding problem experienced by the residents for several years. To date the piecemeal approach by the Government to the flooding problem has led to the recurrence of this situation yearly. The state of the roads is no different, yet residents are able to compare their neglect with the massive infrastructure development in several other nearby communities supportive of the present PPP administration. Such blatant discrimination cannot contribute to the molding of a cohesive society, so necessary for stability and development. The Government would do well if it is interested in stability to address these serious problems which exist. Failure to do so can only result in the present simmering discontent escalating to an undesirable National explosion.

PNCR SUPPORTS NGO CALLS FOR ESTABLISHMENT OF AN IMC AT FYRISH/GIBRALTAR NDC ON PRINCIPLES APPLIED AT ROSE HALL AND LINDEN

The People's National Congress Reform has noted that the Fyrish/Courtland/Gibraltar Development Incorporation, a Non-Governmental Organisation, is calling for the disbandment of the Fyrish/Gibraltar Neighbourhood Development Council (NDC) and for its replacement by an Interim Management Committee. To this end it has written President Jagdeo, Minister of Local Government, Mr. Kellawan Lall, the Regional Chairman, Mr. Zulfikar Mustafa, and the Leader of the PNCR, Mr. Robert Corbin.

The Fyrish/Courtland/Gibraltar Development Inc. has been constrained to take this course of action because of a number of serious problems which are affecting the community and which the existing NDC has not been able to address or resolve over a number of years. These include the improper spending of funds and the use of the Hymac, allegedly for personal ends; the continued deplorable state of the roads; the lack of proper drainage facilities and most of all the lack of a proper community center. As a result of the latter situation the young people of the community have had to go to Rose Hall and Albion to participate in games, including cricket. The group has alleged that one particular concern is a five year contract to dig sand from the Sea Defence area of the village, awarded to one Chris Jagdeo, which the group is convinced would likely to lead to more serious flooding. The group is also concerned that the lands purchased by members of the community have been sold without their knowledge and they are asking for an audit of the relevant records of the NDC office.

The PNCR recognizes that many of these problems are the result of the delayed local Government elections but supports the call of the residents for an IMC providing that the Community is given the final determination on the identification of the members to comprise the new IMC along the principles applied at Rose Hall and Linden Town Councils. The PNCR will be following up these matters in the interest of the citizens of these communities

FLOODING IN THE COUNTRY

The people of Guyana were appalled that, after all the assurances by the Agricultural Minister of the readiness of the country for the rainy season, the rainfall on Tuesday, May 22nd last alone has led to flooding in the capital city and several other parts of the country. The searing experience of the floods of 2005, when most of our coastal population were traumatized and Guyanese suffered tremendous personal losses as well as loss of their means of livelihood in addition to facing serious health problems, is still a haunting memory for many Guyanese who have not yet recovered from the losses they suffered. Consequently, the Peoples National Congress Reform demands that the Government makes an unambiguous and truthful statement about the relevant infrastructure for coping with the rainy season which is upon us. General statements will not suffice. We demand specific answers to the following questions:

• The level of the conservancy canal;
• The operational condition and status of the kokers and sluices in the relevant areas of the country;
• What measures the Ministry of Agriculture has taken to protect the farmers on the East Coast and other parts of the country?
• What measures the Drainage and Irrigation Board has taken to ensure that the drainage system in Georgetown and other parts of the country are in a position to cope with any possible flooding?
• Whether the Ministry of Health has been mobilised and is in possession of the relevant medicines in the event that there is an outbreak of any water borne disease;
• Has the Civil Defence Commission and other relevant agencies been alerted to be in a state of readiness for any possible emergencies;
• Has the international community been alerted to the possibility of flooding;
• Whether any special funding has been set aside to cope with the fallout from a flood situation.

The Nation deserves the answers to these questions rather than the propagandist approach of the Minister of Agriculture who was on television assuring citizens that all was well while citizens in several areas of Essequibo, West Demerara, East Coast Demerara and Greater Georgetown were struggling to protect their household items as water gushed into their homes on Tuesday last. This experience has exposed the misrepresentation to the Nation by Minister Robert Persaud who must be held accountable for the losses they suffered from Tuesday’s rainfall as a result of the false assurances he gave to citizens.



PPP/C SEEKS TO TAKE AWAY LAND FROM POOR FARMERS AT MMA; WHAT IS NEEDED IS A COMPLETE DEBT WRITE OFF

The direction by the PPP/C to the MMA authority to dispossess farmers who are occupying land at the MMA scheme must be roundly condemned and fought against.

This Mahaica/Mahaicony/Abary Drainage and Irrigation Scheme was built under the Forbes Burnham’s PNC Administration to provide the necessary infrastructure to boost agricultural development in Guyana. Prime Minister, Mr. Forbes Burnham had seen this scheme as essential to his objective of making Guyana the rice bowl of the Caribbean. This scheme visualized small scale farmers occupying most of the land in plots of around 30 acres who because of their poverty, would be helped by the MMA authority with machines to plough, reap and maintain the infrastructure for their crops. In return the farmers would pay a reasonable fee as leases to offset the cost of operating and maintaining the system of drainage and irrigation canals, the dams and the conservancy in the scheme.

Over the years this simple plan went completely awry, since, due to mismanagement and theft, the MMA no longer has the equipment necessary to maintain the scheme’s infrastructure at a level which can allow the farmers there to grow anything economically on such a large scale today, nor does it have any of the equipment it had in the past to help the farmers to plough their lands and to reap their crops. The farmers in the MMA are today therefore very much on their own without any of the support promised when the scheme was started.

One can reasonably ask what has happened to all of the poverty alleviation money the country has received from the donor community. Surely these poor farmers who have been contributing to the economy of Guyana should have benefited from it but they definitely have not!

It is evident that the Authority has not demonstrated any capability of maintaining this complicated system, the size of Barbados, at any functional level, much less bring it back to something to even remotely resembling a properly functioning system which can operate at a level for the people of the Region to become successful farmers.

Recently, amidst claims that the farmers were not paying their rates to the MMA authority for a number of years, the authority by edict, have announced that any farmer who cannot pay their outstanding rates within 7 days or around the 15th May 2007 will have to vacate the land which the MMA authority will repossess and lease to any person who is capable of paying the back rates that are owed. The inherent unfairness and injustice in this decision is clear and must be tested in the Court. There is little confidence, however, in our Judicial system and the overwhelming belief is that the farmers will be dead before their grievances are settled by the Court. An urgent political solution is therefore necessary.

The outstanding amounts claimed by MMA from these farmers are substantial. In a meeting with farmers of this region on Saturday last at the No 28 Village, West Coast Berbice, the leader of the Opposition, Mr. Robert Corbin, MP, PNCR Shadow Minister of Agriculture, Mr. Anthony Vieira, MP and Regional Member of Parliament, Jennifer Wade were fully briefed by farmers on this troubling development. For example, in one case the amount owing to the MMA is nearly G$400,000 on a piece of land which is only 30 acres.

The year 2001 was a defining year for the MMA scheme. Prior to 2001 the MMA lease required that the farmer pay the MMA the sum of approximately G$3,500 per acre/per annum. Having paid this fee, the farmer would have been entitled to the following amenities:

1. Proper drainage trenches.
2. Proper irrigation canals.
3. Properly maintained access dams.

In 2001 the MMA authorities, acknowledging that they were unable to keep these commitments, in other words acknowledging that they had repudiated the original contract for the lease of lands in the MMA scheme, informed the farmers that they will lower the lease fee to G$1600 dollars per acre per year. They reduced the lease price to less than 50% of what it used to be.

Although the MMA publicly acknowledged that they had repudiated the terms of the lease, they did not concede that they should have written off all amounts owed by the farmers up to that time in 2001, or reduce it to some other reasonable and agreed amount. They simply denied their responsibility, reduced the rate and maintained that, notwithstanding the fact that they did not maintain the infrastructure in the manner prescribed by the original agreement; the farmers owed them $3500 per acre/per annum for the entire period prior to 2001. During that time the conditions in the MMA were so bad that some farmers had actually deserted the land. In fact it was probably this large scale migration from the land which prompted the MMA authorities to lower the rate in 2001 to attract the farmers back to the land.

A further development materialised which complicated the matter even further; in 2001 when they dropped the rate per acre/per year to G$ 1600. The MMA authorities promised that before the new rate became effective they would clean and repair the entire scheme and hand over a completely functional and clean system to the farmers who would be responsible to maintain it in that condition thereafter; but the MMA authorities never did rehabilitate the system and so to this day they never really handed it over formally to the farmers. This is a highlight of everything we have learnt about the MMA in our investigations so far, but nothing is recorded in writing and the mysterious fire at the Head Office of the scheme put paid to any chance of finding the original documents! Most of the communication with farmers by the MMA is done by word of mouth, by edict, so it is difficult for the farmers to provide written evidence of what has been going on between themselves and the authority. Consequently, they are left in a state of confusion as to the manner in which they can pursue their legitimate claims against the MMA authority.

The PNCR is convinced that the MMA authority, having repudiated the contract in 2001, should not now be asking for retroactive amounts prior to 2001. We are also pursuing the possibility of a lawyer being retained on behalf of the farmers immediately to file an injunction stopping the MMA authorities from taking away land from these farmers under these suspicious and probably unlawful conditions. We would have already done so, but getting up the documentation to prove this situation in a Court of law is proving to be difficult since finding anything that is in writing from the MMA authority is very difficult. Perhaps that was the plan all along to take advantage of poor people by not recording the atrocities being perpetrated against them.

We have however advised the farmers that they should not vacate this land at this time and resist any attempts by the PPP to deprive them of their property since it appears to us that the laws of natural justice are being violated.

There have in fact already been accusations that this recovery of money may not in fact be even handed and that it might be a ploy to take land away from the Afro Guyanese farmers. We are investigating these allegations. What was explained by the farmers was that the few persons who have been paying off the old rate arrears and taking possession of the land are mostly Indo Guyanese. Whether the allegations of the farmers are true or not, it does not make much political sense to allow such a situation to perpetuate itself, since it can lead to some very serous consequences especially in the circumstance of the philosophy behind the building of the MMA, i.e. to help the poor farmers in this country.

The changed policy of the MMA from a poor small farmer operation to a large scale farming scheme where some farmers may be cultivating as much as 1000 acres of land instead of the original 30 acres per farmer the scheme visualised, has not been the subject of any debate in this country. It is also alleged that some of these large scale farmers, some occupying senior constitutional positions in the society are also indebted to the MMA in substantial amounts which run in excess of sixty million dollars but no effort has been made to collect these outstanding sums. The PNCR therefore contends that the MMA authority cannot now be changing a fundamental policy on which the MMA project was built by this nation without there being a national dialogue on the matter.

We, therefore, call upon the Jagdeo administration to immediately suspend this devious operation clearly intended to dispossess poor people of their land and hand over the land to PPP/C supporters. The pursuit of this policy will certainly lead to confrontation and conflict which Guyana can ill afford at this time.

We call upon the Government to have a complete write of the debts owed by these farmers similar to the huge debt write offs which the Nation of Guyana has benefited from. The President constantly boasts of these write off as significant achievement of the PPP/C. Should the people of Guyana not benefit similarly?

People's National Congress Reform
Congress Place, Sophia,
Georgetown, Guyana.
Thursday, May 24, 2007