PRESS STATEMENT By Mr. Jerome Khan, M.P. Press Conference on Thursday January 24, 2002 Congress Place, Sophia, Georgetown

PNCR deplores and condemns the brutal assault on Mr. C. N. Sharma, popular television Talk Show Host, Managing Director of CNS Channel 6 television station and Leader of the Justice For All Party. On 20th January, 2002, Mr. Sharma was at Meten-Meer-Zorg Village on the West Coast of Demerara, pursuing a news story. He was accompanied by his cameramen who had in their possession expensive camera equipment. He was set upon by well-known PPP/C thugs and enforcers who were armed with knives and a gun. They beat him severely and all the evidence suggests that their intention was to kill him.

Mr. Sharma had to be hospitalised as a result of his injuries. It is not surprising that Mr. Sharma should have been the victim of an attack by PPP/C thugs. The persistent demonizing of him by PPP/C leaders, the state-owned Channel 11 television station; the PPP/C’s newspaper, the Mirror; and PPP/C associated television stations such as Channel 65 and Channel 69 would certainly encourage the kind of physical attack to which he was subjected.

Unfortunately, this is not the first time that Mr. Sharma has been assaulted and battered by PPP/C thugs, but he has refused to be intimidated and back away from exposing the corruption, the violence, the lies and the misgovernment of the PPP/C regime. PNCR applauds his courage and urges him to remain steadfast.

It is unfortunate that the Police should give the impression that they are subject to political directions from the PPP/C. They acted promptly in arresting two of the culprits but, apparently on the instructions of Freedom House, they have released these men. The beating up of Mr. Sharma is the latest PPP/C onslaught on freedom of the press and freedom of expression in this country. We note that it has been condemned by the Press Association and the Private Sector Commission - and rightly so. We are still waiting on other organs of civil society to find their voice and express their outrage at the PPP/C regime’s continuing campaign to suppress the constitutional freedoms, rights and privileges of those individuals and groups whom it believes it can assail with impunity. We specifically call on religious and business leaders to publicly express their concern.

The latest development in this unsavoury event is that the Police, in the shameless pursuit of a policy of harassment, yesterday descended on the Davis Memorial Hospital where Mr. Sharma is a patient and served a summons on him. The Summons requires him to appear in a Magistrate’s Court on Friday January 25, 2002 to answer a trivial Summary Jurisdiction charge about alleged non-compliance with the terms of permission granted him to use a noisy instrument at the funeral of Brian King on Thursday January 11, 2002. King was a victim of police brutality and extra-judicial killing. It is difficult to envisage a meaner and more obscene act than this.

The Sharma incident needs careful attention since it might be an indication that the PPP/C is trying to raise tensions in the society once again in the belief that it has some political benefit to derive from confrontation and violence. The Leader of PNCR earlier this week had cause to write Mr. Sam Hinds, in his capacity as the acting President of the Republic, drawing his attention to renewed Police provocation in the village of Buxton. In his letter he made the point that it appears as if there are some people who have a vested interest in promoting tensions and public unrest. Regrettably, in response to the allegation of insensitivity and indisciplined behaviour by the Black Clothes Police, the Police Public Relations Department put out a statement which bears no relationship to the truth and which, among other things, contained the gross lie that the Buxton villagers had exchanged gunfire with the Police. By these actions, the managers of the Force are continuing to tarnish the image of the Force and damage its reputation. It is absolutely important for public stability, economic development and the emergence of a well ordered society that the Police Force should be reformed and its image, reputation and professionalism restored to high standards. We are not only a far way from approaching this ideal; we seem to be retreating from it.

By their words and deeds the PPP/C regime continues to give members of the Police Force the belief that they, the Police, are above the law of the land that they can trample on the constitutional and civil rights and the liberties of citizens and murder them with impunity. By now it should be clear to everybody that the various inquiries promised by the Commissioner of Police and President Jagdeo are just meant as a sop to the public outrage and will never take place. No independent public inquiry into the BASS killings on the Corentyne between 14-16 August, 2001, as Mr. Jagdeo has solemnly promised, has yet taken place or will ever take place. This holds good for promises into the unlawful killings of so many other citizens, and the brutal shooting of 12-year old Vincent Griffith who lost his leg as a result of his injuries. It is scandalous that the relatives of victims have had to incur heavy expenses to apply to the High Court for orders to compel the Commissioner of Police to do what the law requires him to do in the first place, that is, to investigate and make a report on these unnatural deaths and submit it to the Coroner so that an inquest could be held.

In yesterday’s newspaper (SN Wednesday 23 January, 2002) there is a report that a High Court Judge has ordered the Commissioner of Police to investigate and make the required report to the Coroner so that an Inquest could be held into the death of Steven Angel who was killed in the BASS shootings on the Corentyne. What kind of society are we living in when a Commissioner of Police will not do his duty unless the Court directs him to do it? And civil society remains silent in the face of such cynicism and nonfeasance!

In the meantime corruption, gross impropriety and malfeasance in the administration of the financial affairs of this country by the PPP/C and its functionaries continue to do immense harm to the country. The cavalier way in which the regime disposes of the country’s assets to enrich its cronies is a continuing scandal.

The recently announced sale of government’s 30% shareholding interest in the privatised Guyana Pharmaceutical Corporation, now New GPC, again raises grave questions about the operations of the Privatisation Unit and the PPP/C regime. It may be recalled that at the time GPC was privatised with Queens Atlantic being sold 60% of the company, the government had stated that it was happy to retain a 30% shareholding interest in the company, as it wanted to ensure that the Guyanese taxpayers’ and the general public’s welfare was protected.

To this end, the government ensured that government-run hospitals bought many of GPC’s products. The government as a 30% shareholder was instrumental in helping the New GPC obtain a much-coveted approval to manufacture the HIV/AIDS drugs in Guyana. This is indeed a singular achievement of regional distinction and positions the New GPC to supply not only the local market, but regional and extra-regional markets as well.

Correspondingly this has raised the profile and value of the New GPC substantially, and, by extension, the value of the government’s shares.

It is strange therefore that the Bharrat Jagdeo administration would now give away this 30% of shareholding for a ridiculously low amount of GY$200 million. How did the Privatisation Unit, The Ministry of Finance and the Jagdeo Cabinet arrive at this mystery figure?

The true value of those 30% shares can only be determined on the open market and therefore ought to have been offered to the general public for public bidding. This approach would have given other Guyanese an equal opportunity to invest in a Guyanese entity instead of looking at ways and means of moving their monies out of Guyana. Additionally, it would have assisted the government’s declared intention to establish a securities market and send a strong signal that it was serious about the establishing of a capital market.

Given the fact that there is a lot of cash floating around and the government has been forced to sterilize some of the liquidity in the system through the issue of Treasury Bills, it is very likely that the government would have received substantially more and perhaps twice as much for its 30% shareholding interest, than the GY$200 million.

As it is, the entire transaction lacks transparency, and reinforces public cynicism and speculation that it is another backroom envelope deal.

Moreover, by government selling out its entire interest to one group, it has created a virtual monopoly, after providing carefully directed government intervention and assistance. It also removes from the New GPC, government’s influence on pricing, particularly on the HIV/AIDS drugs, which the Georgetown Hospital has already begun to purchase.

Effectively what the government has created is a virtual cash cow which it has successfully sold to another group of perceived PPP/C Party supporters, at the expense of the Guyanese taxpayers.

It seems as if no agency at all of the government is exempt from the oppressive yolk of corrupt and irregular dealings with taxpayer’s money. In his 1999 report on the Public Utilities Commission, the Auditor General disclosed that $3.4 million was expended on materials, equipment and supplies but the Commission kept no record to evidence the receipt of these items alleged to have been purchased, or their utilisation. Moreover, the Commission alleged that it paid $16 million to a consulting firm for advisory services. There was no contract evidencing this arrangement, nor was it awarded on the basis of the usual Tender Board procedures. The lame and totally unacceptable explanation given was that the firm had been recruited on the recommendation of the Minister of Trade! The Auditor General also reported that the Commission was holding huge sums in seven (7) different special bank accounts. From these accounts, the Commission paid expenses related to advertisements, overseas conferences and purchase of miscellaneous assets for the Commission. At the time of the 1999 Audit the special accounts had balances totalling $73 million. The entire financial operations of the Commission are irregular and in breach of the law.

The Commission has a duty to ensure, among other things, proper fiscal discipline and accountability on the part of public utilities. It cannot honestly do so unless it puts its own house in order first. We note that, while the Commission has, rightly or wrongly, been hammering GT&T in connection with advisory services fees that it is paying to its parent company ATN and calling for documentation to justify these fees, the Commission itself is paying out large sums for advisory services without formal evidential documentation.

One of the worst problems that militate against fiscal discipline and propriety is the arbitrary discretion vested in some governmental functionaries to remit taxes. The exercise of this discretion is a source of much unfairness, corruption and losses of public revenues. In his 1999 report the Auditor General drew attention to this problem. The following table illustrates it in stark terms, showing as it does, the steep progression in the remission of duties granted to various sectors:

1998 4,649
1999 7,537

The Auditor General points out that the percentage of these remissions to actual collection by the Department for the years 1996, 1997, 1998 was 31.56%, 39% and 31% respectively, but in 1999 it sky-rocketed to 45.69%.

But let us continue the table of remissions:

Year Amount
2000 $9.0
2001 20.0 !

Of the $20 billion in duties remitted in 2001, $4 billion represents remissions on motor vehicles granted on instructions coming directly from the Office of the President.

How does the regime account for this steep increase in remissions in the absence of new investment and a shrinking economy?

Given this callous giveaway of public revenues to political and other cronies, it hardly lies in the mouth of the government to say that it cannot find money to pay public servants, nurses and teachers decent levels of salaries.

The Ministry of Agriculture, as far as the utilisation of monies allocated to it by the Parliament is concerned, seems to be a lawless Republic. In relation to 16 separate projects totalling $750 million administered by the Ministry, the Auditor General repeated this refrain in every one of them: “The basis of the award (of the contract) could not be determined because the related records kept at the Central Tender Board were not presented for Audit examination. In addition, as in 1998, there was no evidence that approval was granted for a change in the programme to undertake these works” In other words, not only did the Auditor General complain that he was unable to verify the expenditure, but pointed out that the sums allocated by the Parliament had been spent on entirely different projects without lawful authority!
The scope for theft, corruption and all manner of skulduggery in such a situation is therefore enormous. The evidence is clear. The PPP/C regime is plundering and facilitating the plundering of public revenues for its own nefarious ends.

PNC Reform
Congress Place, Sophia
January 24th, 2002