PRESS STATEMENT By People’s National Congress Reform Thursday 10 January 2008 Media Centre Congress Place, Sophia




SUMMARY:
• The PNCR hopes that, in the current year: active measures would be taken to put Guyana on a sustainable path for growth and development which would improve the economic circumstances and conditions endured by the people; heal racial divisions; and improve the regime of governance;
• The Party notes that both the Commissioner of Police and the Commodore of the GDF have denied engaging in the practice of torture against the two individuals identified. Only an independent investigation will establish the truth of this situation;
• The attempt to publicly humiliate the judiciary is disrespectful and will contribute to the further erosion of the esteem and respect by the public of this August institution;
• The PNCR calls on all Guyanese to take this process seriously and actively participate in the House-to-House Registration exercise to ensure that it is a success;
• The public should also be aware that no money is provided in any block allocation to the PNCR to pay scrutineers in advance of registration.

THE NEW YEAR 2008:

2007 was a challenging year for the Guyanese people. The Party wishes to highlight some of the rather unhealthy developments during this year.

In economic terms, the rising cost of living played havoc with the lives of the Guyanese people. The primary reason for the spike in the cost of living was the imposition of the excessive 16% VAT. The Party, once more, calls on the Jagdeo Administration to immediately reduce the VAT rate to no more than 8%, so that the New Year can see some measure of relief for the Guyanese people.

The reduction of VAT must, however, be part of a wider taxation reform programme which would encompass an overhaul of the tax system so that the Guyanese people would be less burdened by tax impositions than they now are. When would the Jagdeo Administration honour its commitment to undertake these reforms?

The raising of the tax threshold to $35,000, in the judgement of the PNCR, is unlikely to bring much relief to the Guyanese people. In any case, the raising of the threshold will affect an insignificant number of the working poor population who desperately need a greater amount of disposable income.

The economic condition of the country had the most devastating effect on the elderly and pensioners and those who generally are compelled to live on fixed incomes. The plight of this category of citizens appeared to be of no immediate interest to the Jagdeo PPP/C Administration. Belatedly, the Administration has announced a special fund for single parents and the vulnerable to enable them to cope with the rising cost of living. From a policy point of view, the PNCR has no difficulty with the establishment of such a fund provided it is administered in a fair and impartial way and used to ensure that the benefits are spread, in a non discriminatory manner, to all members of our society, regardless of colour, race, religion or creed.

The economic conditions which were visited on the Guyanese people, by the Jagdeo PPP/C Administration, in 2007, were particularly harsh and increasingly punished the large proportion of the population that were already poor, including the working poor, and suffering.

The woes befalling the population were compounded by the alarming developments in the area of public security. Crime continued to spiral out of control with the PPP/C Government being unable to take credible and effective measures to contain it or significantly reduce its incidence. Most of the crimes committed in Guyana are fuelled by organised criminal enterprises associated with the drug trade, with the unsavoury developments associated with their nefarious activities.

In addition, the public conduct and performance of top officials of the PPP/C Administration was manifestly inconsistent with the tenets of decency and appropriate behaviour.

The PNCR hopes that, in the current year: active measures would be taken to put Guyana on a sustainable path for growth and development which would improve the economic circumstances and conditions endured by the people; heal racial divisions; and improve the regime of governance.

ROHEE’S STATEMENT ON TORTURE:

The PNCR and the Guyanese public have grown accustomed to the nonsense mouthed by Clement Rohee over the years. His recent offering that the Guyanese people are more interested in food than torture is both appalling and insensitive. Here it is that the man who is in charge of the internal security of this nation delivers himself of one of the most inane uttering ever made by a politician in this country.

What exactly does Mr. Rohee mean?

Is it that Mr. Rohee is saying that once the material needs of the Guyanese people are met, then they can afford to turn their back on instances of torture? If this is Mr. Rohee’s intended meaning then the PNCR rejects it out of hand.

What is also most alarming is that Mr. Rohee seems to imply that the citizens of this Republic are prepared to condone torture, by the PPP/C Administration, as long as their bellies are full. The PNCR hopes that the Jagdeo Administration will have the decency to reject Mr. Rohee’s remarkable statement.

It is worthy of note that the attitude and utterances Mr. Rohee is matched by the arrogance and contempt with which President Jagdeo dismissed questions, by the media, on the issue of the use of torture by the disciplined forces. Alarmingly, the President considers these questions to represent a waste if his time!

Because the PNCR rejects Mr. Rohee’s statement, and the general dismissive attitude of the Administration, we repeat our call for an independent investigation into the allegations of the torture of Patrick Sumner and Victor Jones by the disciplined forces. It is time that such an investigation is held to remove the widely held belief that the PPP/C Administration is engaging in torture as a matter of policy.

The Party notes that both the Commissioner of Police and the Commodore of the GDF have denied engaging in the practice of torture against the two individuals identified. Only an independent investigation will establish the truth of this situation.

The need for an independent investigation is all the more urgent with the revelation that army personnel, Michael Dunn, Alvin Wilson and Sharth Robertson, have alleged that they were tortured by senior officer elements within the Guyana Defence Force.

INTIMIDATION OF THE JUDICIARY:

It seems to be the practice of the President to criticize each decision of the courts. He did so after Justice Ramlall upheld the view that one person could not hold both the position of Chancellor and Chief Justice. Now, the Head of State has taken issue with the court for deciding that monies should be allocated equitably to the political parties for the conduct of House-to-House Registration.

These attacks can only have an adverse impact on public confidence in the judicial system, since they seem to indicate that the Head of State is intent on intimidating members of the Judiciary to tailor their decisions to suit him.

The attempt to publicly humiliate the judiciary is disrespectful and will contribute to the further erosion of the esteem and respect by the public of this August institution. Most importantly, these attacks seem directed at undermining the independence of the Guyana Judiciary.

The acting Chancellor, the acting Chief Justice and the Bar Association must speak up in defence of all Judges.

A robust defence of the Judges would ensure some restraint on the reprehensible behaviour of President Bharrat Jagdeo.

SCRUTINEERING THE HOUSE TO HOUSE REGISTRATION:

House-to-House Registration officially began on Monday 7 January 2008. This is a vital step on the way to the holding of the long overdue Local Government Elections.

These elections are an important element in the democratic process. The holding of Local Government elections, under a reformed Local Government system, which satisfy internationally acceptable conditions for free and fair elections, would be a major step in entrenching a culture of local democracy in Guyana.

The PNCR, therefore, calls on all Guyanese to take this process seriously and actively participate in the House-to-House Registration exercise to ensure that it is a success.

The PNCR wishes to clarify its position with respect to the appointment and payment of Scrutineers to monitor the House-to-House Registration exercise now in progress.

All Political parties interested in the process can, by law, appoint Scrutineers to monitor the current House-to-House Registration and the Elections Commission is obligated to accredit them. This is the same principle that is applied to the appointment of polling agents, by all political parties, to monitor the National, Regional and Local Government Election. This right of the political parties remains the law. Therefore, it is left to the political parties to determine whether they would exercise those rights.

The PNCR has always appointed Scrutineers and Polling Agents throughout the country, over the years, without payment by the Government or the Elections Commission, and will continue to do so irrespective of whether payment is received from the Government or GECOM. It should be noted, however, that the issue of payment for Opposition Scrutineers, was only agreed in 2000 and for Polling Agents, in 2006.

The PNCR had advocated, for several years, that these Scrutineers and Polling Agents were integral to the transparency and integrity of the Registration and Electoral processes and, consequently, they should be equally remunerated as the Election Commission Registration/Elections staff. After years of advocacy by the PNCR, the Government finally recognized the validity of our arguments and agreed to provide for the payment of an allowance to Party Scrutineers, during the Registration process, from 2000. By the 2006 Elections, the Government finally agreed to the proposal, from the PNC, that Party Polling Agents also be paid an allowance.

It should be emphasized that the amount approved could not be considered payment. It was an allowance to enable the appointed persons to offset certain expenses they would have incurred to attend at their appointed places. For example, the amount approved for Polling Agents, on Election Day in 2006, was three thousand dollars ($3,000.00) while the lowest paid GECOM Election Day Staff received forty five thousand dollars ($45,000.00). The amounts approved for Scrutineers is less than half of what the lowest paid GECOM staff receives, although Party Scrutineers are required to spend the same hours as GECOM staff in the field.

It should, therefore, be emphasized that Scrutineers now are not paid a salary but provided with an allowance to offset some of their expenses.

The PNCR believes that it was in the best interest of Opposition Parties to work together on issues such as Registration and Elections and, over the years, has sought to do so with all Opposition Parties. We cannot dictate the tactics and strategy of other Parties but, our position and willingness to co-operate with them is well known.

In recent times, we have invited the AFC and GAP/ROAR and had discussions with them on the issues of Registration and Elections. The joint Opposition Parties also held joint meetings with Opposition nominated Commissioners and with GECOM. This commitment, of the PNCR, to work with, and collaborate with, all Opposition Parties will remain an important strategy of our political work in Guyana.

At the last meeting of the joint Opposition Parties, held on 15 November 2007, the issue of appointment of Scrutineers for the House-to-House Registration was fully discussed. The PNCR position, and its willingness to collaborate in the sharing of Scrutineers among Opposition Parties, was explained fully by the Leader of the PNCR.

The AFC expressed a desire to have GECOM deal with separate allocations to political parties. The PNCR was of the view that if this approach increased the resources available to Opposition Parties we would not object to the AFC initiative, but we remained ready to discuss the manner in which we would deal with the allocation of resources for the Opposition.

The basic principle proposed at the meeting, for the allocation of Scrutineers would be a percentage based on seats in Parliament. The meeting agreed that a small team, from the parties, would meet later to work out the details and that the Leader of the AFC would contact the General Secretary of the PNCR to agree the timings and venue, etc. Before the close of that meeting, the AFC indicated that, without prejudice to their discussions with us, they still proposed to take legal action to force GECOM to make the allocation of payment for Scrutineers to individual Parties. The PNCR noted the position of the AFC and decided that, to avoid any show of disunity among Opposition Parties, we would not enter appearance in the matter brought by the AFC before the Court.

The decision of the Court and subsequent development are well known.

The PNCR wishes to make it clear that it has never changed its position on the issue but, despite reminders by the General Secretary to the Leader of the AFC to conclude those discussions, which the Parties agreed, since 15 November 2007, would be held prior to the commencement of the House-to-House Registration exercise, the AFC failed to agree when such a meeting would be held.

The public should also be aware that no money is provided in any block allocation to the PNCR to pay Scrutineers, in advance of registration. All political Parties are required to submit the names of their Scrutineers, for the various areas, to the Commissioner of Registration for accreditation. Upon accreditation, the Scrutineers are required to work and, at the end of the month, after returns are made, the Commissioner of Registration/Chief Election Officer prepares the necessary documents, for those Scrutineers identified as representing the Government as well as those Scrutineers identified as representing the Opposition. At a subsequent date, those amounts are made available to the respective Chief Scrutineers for payment to the Party Scrutineers. The PNCR is aware that the entire process was explained to all parties by GECOM, at meetings attended by representatives of all the Political Parties.

The PNCR, as a responsible Party, however, will not allow the House-to-House Registration process to proceed unmonitored and, as usual, we have submitted our full quota of Scrutineers countrywide to ensure that this is done.

The Party does not wish to be drawn into any controversy on this matter but believe that every Party has the right to determine its own strategy in these matters.

People’s National Congress Reform
Congress Place, Sophia
Georgetown, Guyana.
Thursday 10 January 2008