PRESS STATEMENT By Dr. Faith Harding To a Press Conference on Thursday January 31st, 2002, Congress Place, Sophia, Georgetown

On Friday 25th of January, over 16,000 Guyanese joined in a march of protest and solidarity in Georgetown to deplore the alarming rise of police brutality, extra judicial killings and the brutal assault on the popular television talk show host Mr C.N.Sharma. The PNCR was pleased to be associated with this highly successful event and noted the wide cross section of concerned and outraged citizens who followed their consciences and registered their disquiet and dissatisfaction with the decay of the moral fabric in our society which manifests itself in these brutal and illegal activities. We are convinced that the tide of moral outrage in our society is rising and that the PPP/C will be forced to recognise that the people of Guyana will not tolerate these outrages indefinitely.

We expect the protest activity to increase in frequency and numbers and our Party will give full support to this movement. At the same time, we note that there are still several prominent organisations in civil society who have not yet made their voices heard on these important matters. We believe that it is essential to the health of our society and the credibility of these social, economic and religious organisations that they register their outrage at the behaviour of the police, that they condemn unequivocally, the orchestrated assault on freedom and that they place themselves squarely on the side of the rule of law, justice and fairplay. The murder of people without fair trial as an instrument of government policy is an abomination and it must be condemned and ultimately eradicated from our society.

At our last press briefing on Thursday January 24th, we brought to attention the irregularities concerning the disposal of the government shares in the New GPC and the clear evidence that the shares were sold at a ridiculously low price in complete violation of all the principles of good business and good governance. We alleged that this was a device through which the government further enriched its cronies in light of the monopoly in the production of HIV/AIDS drugs awarded to that entity. We have heard no credible attempt to deny these charges or to refute these allegations to this scandalous situation. The nation awaits an explanation of this scandalous state of affairs.

The evidence of government malfeasance and corruption continues to reach new depths. For example, the incompetence of the Ministry of Labour and Human Services in the organisation of the distribution of pension books to our senior citizens is not only a sorry record of incompetence and callousness, but also a further chapter in the PPP/C’s record of corruption. A letter from the former Permanent Secretary of that Ministry, Mr Roopnarine Khadoo, was quite instructive. He made it clear that there were systems in place to properly deal with the issue of the distribution of pension books. The spectacle of our old and infirm citizens running from pillar to post and waiting in some cases for entire days in the sun and rain in hope of receiving their pension books is a painful and unnecessary blight on our society. No greater injustice can be conceived. Any pretence that the PPP/C may have had to being a caring and concerned regime has been completely destroyed. There is no doubt that the entire saga is one of chaos generated by incompetence and political interference in the proper functioning of the governmental machinery. What is even worse, however, is that our investigations have unearthed two scandalous aspects of this debacle. First, that in many Regions, the distribution centres have been removed from public facilities and offices to the homes of known PPP/C activists and organisers, an obvious and unnecessary violation of good governance. That this is an abuse of political patronage is obvious and glaring. Why, however, should the Government choose to victimise the poor and aged is beyond comprehension. In many cases, the new locations are not only inappropriate but also far less accessible and convenient for our senior citizens and the Minister’s conscience should be awakened.

Second, it has been admitted that the production of pension books was removed from a government corporation and handed to a private printery with no regard for due process. The PNCR is reliably informed that the person awarded this contract without proper tendering procedures is in fact related to the Junior Minister thus making this episode an even more corrupt and irregular transaction. It would appear that the speed with which the Minister concerned has acquired the practice of irregularity and shady dealings is truly remarkable. The silence of the substantive Minister, Dr Dale Bisnauth, is deafening. In any government with a sense of decency, both Ministers would have demitted office in disgrace. They should also take the Minister of Amerindian Affairs with them. The PNCR was alarmed to note in the Stabroek News of Friday January 25th a report that two Amerindian women with a baby in Georgetown for medical treatment were forced to beg for food because, by admission of the Administrator of the Amerindian hostel, the food supplies were depleted. The Ministry has not to our knowledge issued any explanation or assurances on this matter. Why does the PPP/C pick on the poor and vulnerable?

The PNCR notes that Mr. Jagdeo has returned from his Washington visit battered and confused. We understand that he had a very cold reception in his meetings with the International Financial Institutions where the shortcomings of his administration and the harsh realities facing his government were clearly outlined to him. For that reason, the President has been making many wild and foolish allegations designed to detract attention from difficulties which, the PPP/C refuse to recognise, are of their own making. The President is also engaged in major attempts at spin doctoring designed to deceive the Guyanese people about the gravity and impact of the fact that he has effectively agreed to a reduction of the work force in the sugar industry by almost 8000 employees. He has been trying to obfuscate with such phrases as, his intention to improve ‘overall efficiency, and using scientific and advanced cultivation methods to improve the overall productivity of Guysuco’. By this evasion, he is refusing to admit that these plans call for down sizing or the work force. In fact, Mr Jagdeo is claiming that the modernisation of Guysuco will in fact create more jobs in the industry and that these changes will make Guysuco competitive
overnight. Mr Jagdeo knows that he is misleading the people of this country.

An interesting aspect of Mr Jagdeo’s spin on our problems is the assertion that part of the cost cutting at Guysuco will be the removal of wasteful expenditure. This is an interesting confession; for the President is clearly admitting that the operations of Guysuco under the guidance of its Board was in fact condoning and benefiting from waste and inefficiency. Citizens are asked to note that this Board which is now being accused of waste is a roll call of PPP/C stalwarts such as Donald Ramotar, Vic Ouditt, Ronald Ally and Hubert Rodney. The truth is that the Board of Guysuco was negligent in its stewardship of the industry’s affairs. Whilst they were fiddling with dependency upon protected markets in Europe, they ignored the market opportunities for markets in the region, the necessity to invest in downstream products and the urgent task of modernising and retooling the industry. The time of reckoning has now come. It is time for Mr Jagdeo to tell the people the truth.

The PNCR wishes to refer to an article in the Chronicle of January 20th dealing with the approach of the international aid donor community on Poverty Reduction Strategy Programmes. We note that among other things, they refer to the importance of issues of consultation and good governance in the local situation as a basis for success in programmes for dealing with poverty and development. We wish to highlight in particular their assertion that ‘good policies begin at home, including a serious effort to address governance issues’. We hope the financial institutions are true to their professional and international responsibilities. We hope the PPP/C will take note. The PNCR on behalf of the people of Guyana will be paying careful attention to ensure that good governance remains high on our agenda.

Finally, the PNCR has rejected a request by the PPP/C administration for its participation in an audit of the Supreme Court Registry, as inappropriate. Our position is that an audit is a professional matter and should be undertaken by a reputable professional outfit. Moreover, it is our view that the way forward in dealing with the problems of the Supreme Court Registry is to mount a Public Inquiry in order to provide an opportunity for aggrieved citizens to give evidence and to supply information which would likely assist a professional audit.

PNC Reform
Congress Place, Sophia
January 31st, 2002