PRESS STATEMENT By Mr. Robert Corbin, MP Chairman of the People’s National Congress Reform At a Press Conference held on July 4, 2002 Hall of Heroes, Congress Place, Sophia


* Events of Yesterday (Wednesday July 3, 2002)

* Now to the future

* Important questions to be answered for the future include

* Our political agenda is clear

Ladies and gentlemen of the media let me welcome you to this press conference by the People’s National Congress/ Reform. In particular, I wish to say a special word of welcome to those members of the press who are in Guyana on the occasion of the 23rd meeting of the Conference of Heads of Government of Caricom. The People’s National Congress/ Reform holds the progress and success of the integration movement very dear to its heart, having been so closely identified with the Founding Fathers of the Movement and with its development during our years in government. We remain firmly and resolutely committed to the Caricom ideals.

We note with some satisfaction that the meeting of heads was preceded by an encounter of Caribbean civil society and social partners. This is a commendable and useful innovation. It is long overdue for the fresh air of the non-governmental and non-state perspectives to blow through the corridors of political power lest those in political office become insensitive to other voices. The inclusion of the civil society perspective in the making of policy and the shaping of regional and national agendas can only improve our systems of governance and our economic
and social development strategies.

The PNC/R supports the process of dialogue between civil society and government not only because of its intrinsic merits but also because we believe in the process of dialogue as a matter of principle and party philosophy. It should be recalled for example that when, in the wake of the disputed elections of March 2001, Guyana was threatened with social disorder and political chaos, we initiated a process of dialogue with the governing Party aimed at making fundamental changes to our system of governance and the creation of a mechanism for the resolution of urgent national problems in a constructive and consensual manner. It is perhaps appropriate that I remind members of the press of the list of some of the issues which we raised at that time.

 We proposed a joint programme for the resuscitation of the bauxite industry and the communities which are dependent on the industry. The work of the joint committee on bauxite has been frustrated and negated at every turn by the government and the destruction and humiliation of the bauxite communities is proceeding apace as we speak to you today.

 We proposed an immediate inquiry into the operation of the Guyana Police Force, including concerns about police brutality and extra judicial killings. Our proposal also called for recommendations for corrective action , as well as for the strengthening and modernisation of the police force. Nothing has been achieved in this regard. Instead, the morale of the police force and the internal security of Guyana have never been so fragile or confused. All levels and classes of society are traumatised by the reign of terror, murder and mayhem which exist in Guyana today.

 We proposed an equitable and transparent programme of land and house lots allocation and distribution, as well as the tabling in the National Assembly of the government’s policy paper , as was required by the recommendations of the Constitutional reform Commission and due since 2000 December . The government side in the negotiations has successfully scuppered that initiative.

 We proposed the implementation of all agreed constitutional reforms which were derived through the Herdmanston and the Constitutional processes approved by all the political parties including the government. Those processes have also ground to a halt. One casualty is the new constitutional arrangements for the Parliament because of government’s unwillingness to deal in good faith with the Opposition Parties.

We are convinced that the process of dialogue is getting nowhere and have taken a position of active non-cooperation with the government and the cessation of the dialogue process until such time as we have clear evidence of the willingness and capacity of the government to deal with us in a constructive manner. I wish to repeat the statement made by me on 2002 June 23.

“The PNC/R wishes to state categorically that the Government has failed to satisfy the necessary conditions for the resumption of the Dialogue. Dialogue which does not result in a resolution of crucial issues or which leaves large sections of the population frustrated and marginalized is useless and dangerous”

The issues which worry us about the state of Guyana are many and varied. The PPP actions and the Government’s management of the economy and the society are characterized by intransigence, corruption, dishonesty, and incompetence. There is a complete absence of any capacity, much less capability, to articulate a strategy that will provide a safe, stable and secure future for ALL members of society, whatever their race, gender, religious belief or physical or other incapacity. That, we believe, is the fundamental responsibility of every Government.

We are deeply concerned about the continued irregularity and corruption in the award of contracts and the management of capital works programmes, including those that are funded by donor agencies. The reports of the Auditor General and the reports of Commissions of Enquiry into these matters in Guyana make alarming reading. We have for example contractors who are awarded substantial contracts and fail to fulfill the terms of the work and are nevertheless awarded new contracts by the government and its friends in the donor community.

In many cases, the poor work results in flooding and destruction of land and property and severe losses to farmers and householders.

The award of tenders in the governmental system is neither transparent nor professional. It is quite clear that there is a conscious effort to reward a small number of persons supportive of the governing party whether or not there is wastage of funds and danger to the life of the people. The sad fact is that irregularity pervades the government
system and there is no effort by the government to clean up its act or to move to a transparent system of tendering and procurement.

Our parliamentary system is but a sham, summoned at the whim and fancy of the governing party on very rare occasions. Opposition questions are rarely if ever tabled, members days are not held, and the proposals to establish seven new standing committees, including the Herdmanston/ St Lucia Statement recommendation for
the early establishment of a Parliamentary Management Committee and the constitutional reform proposals for the establishment of four sector committees to scrutinise all sectors of government, have been frustrated in an attempt to ensure that the parliament is not strengthened and allowed to do its work effectively. It is ironic that the PNCR is agitating for parliamentary procedures which are the norm in every other Caricom territory as of right and where such violations are indeed unthinkable.

The politicisation and denuding of the public service and the collapse of the system of public administration is another sad evidence of the poor state of governance in Guyana. We in the Peoples National Congress believe that no serious developmental progress can be made without a functioning and positively motivated public service.
We also believe that this cannot be possible when the de-facto head of the public service is the Head of the Presidential Secretariat, who is also a candidate and member of the central executive of the ruling party and who is probably the least restrained of his party's public speakers where issues of decorum and civility are concerned.

The most topical and perhaps most urgent of the issues which face Guyana at this time is the breakdown of internal security. We had warned the government for some years of the dangers of allowing the police force to harbour in its ranks a new manifestation of 'tonton macoute' in the form of the notorious Target Special Squad, popularly known as the black clothes squad which has brought to Guyana a reign of terror in the form of a large number of extra-judicial murders, communal harassment and corruption. This gang has demoralised the rest of the Police Force, the vast majority of whom are anxious to do their duty in a professional manner and has contributed in no small measure to the current reign of lawlessness in the country. Unfortunately, the government has not been able to conceive of or implement any effective response. Not only has this placed Guyana as a notorious violator of Human Rights within the hemisphere but it has also brought us notoriety when it was revealed in the courts of the United States that a corrupt Consular official of the US government used the 'black clothes' squad as his enforcers and hit men.

Our deep regret in the PNC/R is the fact that some of the issues which we proposed for consensual treatment and resolution have been ignored or frustrated by the government resulting in the undermining of the governmental process and the continuation of pervasive bad governance. We are satisfied that a consensual solution which took on board our sincere and thoughtful proposals and recommendations may well have helped Guyana avoid some of the pitfalls in which we are now engulfed.

The list of the Government’s incompetence is as endless, as the evidence is overwhelming. We do not need to regurgitate the complete list here. Every Guyanese knows of what we speak. For us, the central issue is the future.

For the future, if the past provides any evidence, there is unlikely to be any change in the PPP and their approach to governance. Their primary responsibility is to create an atmosphere that will provide for a unified society that realizes the full potential of our vast country and all its peoples. That is the challenge we face in a future that is becoming more and more uncertain.

We believe that the PPP subscribes to a concept, and a definition of democracy, that NEVER and CANNOT include participation, involvement and inclusion. These are concepts that were dealt with by most of the Caribbean Heads of Government who are our guests for the next few days. We hope that their deliberations will be successful and that our people will soon reap the practical benefits of integration.

The Caribbean leaders must however, acknowledge that they have come to visit a seriously divided and troubled nation. No amount of streetlights, cleaning of drains, raising of flags and other cosmetic activities can hide the fact that our troubles are multiplying and escalating in the face of an incompetent, ineffectual and bungling government.

Several of our distinguished Caribbean brothers spoke about the critical importance of applying the concepts of participation, involvement and inclusion in order to guarantee a peaceful and productive future for the region. We know that as far as our Government was concerned, their concerns fell on deaf ears. For our part, we fully endorse the sentiments.

Events of Yesterday (Wednesday July 3, 2002)
Notwithstanding the fact that our people are hurting, we cannot condone the death and destruction that took place yesterday. We wish to convey our deepest sympathy to the families of those who were killed, those who were injured, those who were beaten and those whose businesses were looted and destroyed.

We, however understand the bitterness, the frustrations and the anger of people who have lost all hope for a better future. The dilemma for Guyana is that there can be no order without justice and no justice without order. However, as far as we are concerned, there are no limits to peaceful protest. No matter how difficult, such protest must always be undertaken within the confines of the law. We will therefore continue to work with the people of this country until we can achieve justice and fair play in this society and when all Guyanese can feel that this country is truly theirs. We feel it unnecessary to respond to the several foolish observations, including those which suggest that the PNC is a terrorist organisation. Everyone knows that such statements are an integral part of the PPP propaganda..

Now to the future
We challenge the PPP to demonstrate in practical terms that they are serious about the future of Guyana by implementing the many decisions made in the past dialogue process. This would provide the atmosphere for all Parties, including the political Parties in opposition and members of civil society to undertake the task of drawing up an agenda for the future. The Party and its Leader have already set out in simple terms the requirements for the resumption of the dialogue.

Once an agenda is agreed we challenge the PPP to participate with us and the other stakeholders in selecting a full-time Task Force whose work would aim to permanently service a renewed dialogue and report within a specified time-frame.

Important questions to be answered for the future include:

1. What is the best way of creating a society in which EVERY Guyanese is confident that the rule of law applies to everyone irrespective of race, social status, religious belief, gender, physical or other disability?

2. How best to achieve a future in which EVERY Guyanese feels safe and is secure in the knowledge that everyone is provided with an equal opportunity to be involved and to participate in activities that affect their livelihoods and the lives of their families?

Our political agenda is clear:

 We are convinced that there is need for a radical reform of our system of governance

 We are convinced that there is need to rescue and revitalise key national institutions

 We are convinced that the reduction of the causes of ethnic grievances and perceptions of injustice and insecurity are vital for progress in Guyana.

We believe that the implementation of the above would give Guyana the needed chance of reversing the downward slide and we will work assiduously to achieve these objectives.

Ladies and gentlemen of the Press, thank you for your patience. I look forward to your questions.

People’s National Congress Reform
Congress Place, Sophia.
July 04. 2002