PRESS STATEMENT By Mr. Robert Corbin, MP Chairman of the People’s National Congress Reform To the Press Conference on Thursday 2002 February 28 Congress Place, Sophia



SUMMARY:

o GEORGETOWN PRISON TRADGEY
o THE MOTOR VEHICLES AND ROAD TRAFFIC (AMENDMENT) BILL 2002
o MASHRAMANI
o THE CONTINUING POWER CRISIS
o PENSIONS
o ADVANCES FOR FOREIGN TRAVEL

While most Guyanese were celebrating the anniversary of the republic, tragic events were taking place at the Georgetown prison. One officer Mr. Troy Williams was killed and another Mrs. Roxanne Winfield still remains in a critical condition from wounds received in that disaster. The PNCR wishes to express profound sympathy to the relatives, friends and colleagues of prison officer Troy Williams who was killed during the escape of five dangerous inmates from the Georgetown Prison. At the same time we pray earnestly for the full and speedy recovery of
Officer Winfield. Both Officers exemplify the very best of our uniformed men and women. It is our hope that the perpetrators will soon be caught and subjected to the full force of the law.

As Officer Winfield battles for her life, the PNCR must register its shock and concern that the initial efforts to ensure that she received urgent attention seem to have been left entirely to her family members. It is regrettable that the Minister of Home Affairs and the Government was so tardy in their response to the plight of this brave Officer.
We expect that now that the government has woken up to its responsibilities, the Minister of Home Affairs would be more pro-active and involved in securing the best possible medical expertise and care for this Officer who acted quite heroically in the line of duty. No stone must be left unturned, no avenue unexplored to facilitate her ultimate recovery.

Saturday's incident was a tragedy waiting to happen. It was triggered by a volatile combination of overcrowding, slow disposition of cases and under-staffing. The government needs to address these issues in a much more determined and expeditious manner than has been the case so far. Failing this, Prison Officers will continue to carry out their duties in constant fear of their lives and citizens will be perpetually on tenterhooks at the ever present possibility of dangerous criminals escaping into the community. It is our expectation that the proposed Commission of Inquiry will not only be required to expeditiously shed some light on the evident security, administrative and other systemic deficiencies which might have contributed to Saturday's escape, but should also be mandated to make concrete proposals for remedying the identified deficiencies.

We are surprised and disappointed to hear the responsible minister say only that he is convening a Commission of Enquiry. What we expected was his resignation for having overall responsibility for the prisons where time and time again, escapes, protests and intolerable conditions exist under his stewardship. A previous Commission of Inquiry had made certain recommendations which were kept secret but which we were led to believe were adequate to address the maladies of the prison system. This time around, a life has been lost and there has been no explanation as to how five prisoners considered extremely dangerous could have been together at the same time, outside their cells and under the control of a twenty-one year old officer. Whilst recognizing the bravery of this young officer, it is patently obvious that a more seasoned officer should have been in the general population area under the watchful eye of armed sentries. This is a national scandal, which cannot go unnoticed. The time for Commissions of Inquiry is over. This announcement is tantamount to bolting the proverbial stable door after the horse has fled. It is now timely to consider resignations and the utilization of persons who know and understand the forces and dynamics of crime and punishment. We will instead be treated to the usual promises, platitudes and predictions which all add up to a dismal situation such as obtains in every other area of PPP/C administration. In the meantime, the PPP/C’s continues its policy of masterly inactivity.

THE MOTOR VEHICLES AND ROAD TRAFFIC (AMENDMENT) BILL 2002

In the wake of mounting road deaths and intense criticism being levelled at the Government for its inaction and apparent inability to address the issue, we are presented with a bill intituled the Motor Vehicles and Road Traffic (Amendment) Bill 2002.

This Bill from all appearances is a complete import from another country and we see little evidence of any modification for the peculiarities of road use in Guyana. This Bill speaks of “anchorage points”, “child restraint systems”, “seat belt assembly” and similar matters. Apparently, the hapless Guyanese public is expected to accept these technical terms as proof that the root causes of road deaths are being addressed.

The most disappointing aspect of the legislation is not what is contained therein but rather, what is omitted from it. Being aware of the carnage on the roads, it is extremely disappointing that the PPP/C regime does not attempt in any comprehensive way to tackle the problem. We are left to believe that this is the full extent of the capability of the Minister of Home Affairs and the Government.

The PNCR is on record for having said in the past that the regulation of road traffic in Guyana has to be comprehensive, practical and decisive. There are too many areas of concern, which the mandatory use of seat belts alone does not address. What about ensuring that mini bus drivers are properly trained to handle the vehicles they have charge of; how and to what extent is music a factor in road accidents; what physical restraints can vehicles be equipped with to control speed; how can the work of the police traffic department be enhanced or augmented to enforce the rules and regulations of the road. These are but a few of the difficult but necessary questions that have to be answered if we are serious about grappling with these issues. The PNCR cannot in all good conscience lend support or appear to acquiesce to a piecemeal and apparent knee-jerk reaction to this problem

We therefore call on the PPP/C regime to come to the nation with solutions that are more imaginative, and comprehensive, if they are serious about tackling lawlessness on our roads. Too many of our people continue to lose their lives whilst the public awaits a comprehensive response from the authorities

MASHRAMANI

We have heard in recent days hypocritical voices, by PPP/C mouthpieces and those with shallow and short memories, questioning the rationale of the traditional celebrations organized by the PNCR, claiming that this is divisive. We wish to remind Guyanese that it was the provocative and brazenly declared policy of the PPP/C government since its accession to office to downplay and eventually destroy the Mashramani celebrations which prompted the PNCR to organise a rescue effort to save Mash. This view was clearly articulated by its ministers and widely publicized in the national press.

We wish to quote directly from the published statements by the relevant minister. In November 1994, the then Minister of Education and Minister responsible for Mashramani celebrations, Dr Dale Bisnauth, said

“Government does not want to be responsible for the organization of Mashramani. It is government’s intention to put the celebration into the hands of the people…. Government does not want to invest in the various programmes and prizes and will not be putting in money this year.”

“Mashramani was imposed on the people and is basically a Georgetown event. The event should be seen as a tourist attraction and a source of foreign exchange. Probably the Ministry of Trade and Tourism should take over its organization. Only one major ethnic group takes part in Mashramani and I personally would not look at Mashramani except in the capacity as a Minister. Mashramani was not a people’s activity, it started at the top”.

What poppycock!

Later in that same month, Dr Bisnauth said, and again we quote

“Mash coincides with the birth anniversary of former President Burnham”.

When asked if the change of government was responsible for change in support, he responded,

“Whether we like it or not, Mashramani celebration over the years have been perceived as an occasion for Afro Guyanese more than anything else”.

The PNC decided that despite the great inconvenience and expense that it implied, we would do everything to keep Mashramani alive and this we have done over the years. The harsh reality is that the PPP/C, having done all it could to destroy Mash and recognizing that its efforts had failed, has now expediently decided that “if you cannot
beat them then join them”. Contrary to the usual PPP/C propaganda, I challenge the government to produce any shred of evidence that it attempted to include the PNCR in any discussions aimed at securing our full participation in organizing national Mashramni celebrations. Having failed to destroy our celebrations, the PPP/C cannot expect us to pack up our tradition and go home. Minister Texeira’s foolish ramblings trying to explain why the flag raising ceremony was not held in Georgetown at midnight on 2002 February 22, whereas the ceremonies in the rest of Regions of Guyana were so held is most amusing to say the least. The PNCR would have welcomed any genuine invitation to ensure a successful and truly national event.

We find it both amazing and amusing that Minister Texeira is claiming that this was the biggest mash ever. It is obvious she never attended the magnificent parades during the stewardship of the PNC and along with leaders of her Party consistently boycotted the National celebrations for nearly 15 years. One costume band in our time was larger than all the revellers she could muster on Mash day.

THE CONTINUING POWER CRISIS

The PNCR has had reason to comment in recent weeks on the devaluation of the office of Prime Minister by its occupant Sam Hinds because of his weak and undignified behaviour. We very much regret that the President himself is now becoming infected with this virus in a major way. The President is reported in the Daily Chronicle of 2002 February 27 as saying that “he remains firm in his position that the government will not support any increase in electricity rates before the review of the efficiency of the Guyana Power and Light (GPL)”. Surely Mr. Jagdeo cannot be unaware that the power company has already implemented the power hike. Consumers who question the increase by the company are given short shrift. It is quite clear that the GPL has no respect for Mr. Jagdeo, his government or his decisions. We are fast approaching that state of governmental anarchy that is the ultimate destiny of the incompetent.

PENSIONS

We have in previous statements and releases to the Media commented on the sorry state of the administration of the Ministry of Human Services and in particular, the incompetent and corrupt implementation of the new pension book scheme. We are sorry to have to say that there has been no attempt to give a satisfactory explanation of the irregular arrangements for printing the pension books. There is still much misery and suffering on the apart of many pensioners around the country. In addition, the unsatisfactory arrangement where pension book distribution has been moved from government buildings to the homes of PPP/C activists has not been corrected.

ADVANCES FOR FOREIGN TRAVEL

We also note that since our revelations about the irregularity surrounding the failure to account for the inordinately large advances paid to minister Rohee since 1992, there has not yet been any satisfactorily explanation. According to our information, he still has still not yet accounted for the millions of taxpayers dollars spent on his travels abroad. Mr. Rohee and other officals of the PPP/C must immediately put themselves in order and show their respect for the well-established rules for the proper accounting and clearing of Advances to public officials. Would the sanctions recently approved by Cabinet in respect to Mr. Ganga be applicable to Mr. Rohee?


PNC Reform
Congress Place, Sophia
February 28th, 2002