PRESS STATEMENT By the People’s National Congress Reform To The Press Conference on Thursday April 3, 2003 In the Hall of Heroes, Congress Place, Sophia.
The Statement by the Office of the President, dated 2003 April 1, indicating that the Government was moving unilaterally to appoint the Constitutional Service Commissions, represents a very sinister plot by the Government to renege on the decisions already made regarding the establishment of the Parliamentary Standing Committees. It further illustrates the continuous trend of non-implementation of decisions which caused the breach in its relationship with the Parliamentary Opposition. It seems that this administration has great difficulty sustaining any relationship based on good faith and trustworthiness.
In its usual approach, the statement is riddled with half-truths and downright misrepresentation of the facts. The Administration’s deceit and mendacity makes the path of constructive engagement difficult if not hazardous as it is evident that they are unwilling to address the issues outstanding for resolution.
The Leadership of the PNCR had already expressed its reservations that the appointment of the enhanced team, of Ministers Henry Jeffrey and Gail Texiera, together with Dr Roger Luncheon to join Minister Reepu Daman Persaud, was a ploy to avoid implementation of decisions, but Roger Luncheon hurriedly informed the Nation that the expansion of the team was an indication of the Administration’s serious commitment to accelerate preparations for the meeting between President Jagdeo and the Leader of the PNCR, Mr Robert Corbin. Guyanese can now judge from the facts.
The expanded team appointed since March 21st last is not yet available to meet with Mr. Carberry to deal with the Agenda. It is significant that despite Mr. Carberry’s written request it was only around 10:30 AM yesterday, Wednesday April 2, after the Government’s announced unilateral decision on the Service Commissions that a letter, dated to March 31st arrived at Congress Place suggesting that the expanded Presidential team meet with Mr. Carberry on Monday 7th April. The claims by Luncheon are therefore at best mischievous since it appears that the entire episode was an elaborate ruse to deceive the country and, perhaps, the IFIs and the Diplomatic Community.
It is because of the said unprincipled behaviour of the Administration which has steadfastly resisted the implementation of the agreed Parliamentary and Constitutional Reforms, as well as the decisions arrived at in good faith in the Dialogue between President Jagdeo and the late Leader of the Opposition, Mr. Hoyte, that the PNCR had boycotted the Sittings of the National Assembly since 2002 March 15.
It is therefore disingenuous for the Office of the President to be now claiming that the “The PNCR’s abandonment of Parliament and failure to appoint a Leader of the Opposition have prevented those categories from being appointed.” They are conveniently ignoring the fact that:
• the late Mr. Hoyte was Leader of the Opposition until his death on December 22, 2002;
• Mr. Hoyte had repeatedly expressed concerns publicly over the protracted delay in the establishment of the Ethnic Relations Commissiom while President Jagdeo gave frivolous excuses;
• Mr. Hoyte had willingly consulted at the invitation of the President since April 2002 (during the period of the impasse), and had agreed to the appointment of Mr. Felix as Commissioner of Police, but immediately thereafter President Jagdeo announced that Felix would not have been appointed until January, 2003;
• in refusing to appoint Felix immediately, President Jagdeo had again breached his commitments to the British Government and to Mr. Hoyte.
It was evident that the Government did not want to appoint Felix and was deliberately procrastinating. Recognising that they cannot avoid the reality, the Government now seeks to find a scape goat for their inaction for nearly one year.
Throughout this period the Government also failed to honour their obligations for the implementation of the Parliamentary and Constitutional measures necessary to ensure the appointment of the “Standing Committee to address matters relating to appointment of members of Commissions established under the Constitution” as specified in Article 119C. That act of good faith and decency would have enabled the completion of the process for the appointment of the Service Commissions, viz. The Commissions for the Public Service, the Police Service, the Judicial Service and the Teaching Service. Instead, the Government engaged in a sustained and sadistic series of propaganda manoeuvres to mislead and deceive the nation and to inflict punishment on employees in these services. Now it is the same Government that is shedding crocodile tears and pretending to care for these deprived workers. Yet they fail to address the problems of our teachers. The workers are not deceived!
The election of the Leader of the Opposition is a matter solely for and the responsibility of the Parliamentary Opposition Parties and this has never been an issue. The Leader of the PNCR had repeatedly stated that he would only consider taking up the appointment when there was work for him to do. Only when the Parliamentary and Constitution reforms are implemented will the functioning of the Leader of the Opposition be meaningful.
It is noteworthy that, since Dr Luncheon’s letter of 2003 March 21 confirmed that the President had enhanced his team for the preparation of the Agenda for the meeting with the Leader of the PNCR, Mr E. Lance Carberry, by letter of 2003 March 24, responded to Mr Reepu Daman Persaud’s letter of 2003 March 14. This letter was copied to Ministers Jeffrey and Texiera as well as Dr Luncheon. However, it was only yesterday, Wednesday 2003 April 2, that a response was received from President Jagdeo’s team! Rather than commit their resources to accelerating the preparations for the Jagdeo-Corbin meeting, the Administration has unnecessarily resorted to high-handed, confrontational and provocative manoeuvres. Is this another of their notorious diversionary tactics?
The Opposition Chief Whip met with the Speaker of the National Assembly and the Minister of Parliamentary Affairs on Friday 2003 March 21 and no mention was made of the intention to convene a meeting of the Committee of Selection. However, the normal procedure in cases of urgency is for the Minister of Parliamentary Affairs to call the Chief Whip and inform him of the desire to hold such a meeting. In such a case, consultation would result in the meeting being held on a mutually convenient day. In this case, a Notice for a meeting of the Committee of Selection was sent to the Opposition Chief Whip on the night of Tuesday 2003 March 25 for the meeting on Thursday 2003 March 27 at 11:30hrs, the well known time of the PNCR’s weekly Press Conference.
PNCR, Chief Whip was still courteous enough to respond by letter to the Speaker, dated 2003 March 26, requesting that the meeting be postponed to give the PNCR time to, among other things, replace Mr. Robert Corbin as a member by virtue of his having been elected Leader of the PNCR. The PPP/C nevertheless arrogantly and arbitrarily insisted on going ahead with that meeting with the obvious intention to present the PNCR with a fiat accompli.
There could have been no doubt about the intentions of the PNCR. In the said letter Mr. Carberry stated,
“In addition, we assumed, perhaps mistakenly, that the strengthening and the expansion of the President’s representatives for the preparation of the agenda for the proposed Jagdeo-Corbin talks was an indication that rapid progress will be made for the resolution of all Parliamentary and Constitutional issues, including the appointment of all the constitutionally mandated Standing Committees, the Rights Commissions and the Public Procurement Commission.”
“You should be aware that the resolution of these matters, particularly the removal of all obstacles preventing the early constitution of the Service Commissions, is of highest priority for the PNCR. I am, therefore, very surprised that, at a time when it appeared that matters were advancing to resolve the Parliamentary impasse, that the appointment of only some of the Constitution Commissions appear to be singled out to be proceeded with separately and in an ill prepared and hasty manner.”
The intentions of the PNCR are clear and it should be obvious that we will not sit idly and allow the Government to manipulate Constitutional Bodies for partisan political objectives. We will therefore take the necessary action to foil their plans.
THE 2003 NATIONAL BUDGET:
The general context in which the 2003 Budget is cast suggests an utter lack of recognition and or understanding of the critical condition of the economy.
Part of the theme of the budget is "Staying On Course For A Prosperous Guyana." This is followed up by a statement, on page2 of the budget speech, to the effect that the government is fortified in the knowledge that it is doing what is right for the people of this country. By the Government's own admission in the budget speech the following occurred in 2002:
Rice production declined by 10.7%
The mining and quarrying sector declined by 6.9% and within that sector for the second successive year bauxite production contracted by 18.9%
Engineering and construction declined by 4% Due in part to the general inactivity of the private sector.
While sugar production increased in 2002 the more relevant fact is the G$2.0Bn loss which the industry aggregated in 2000 and 2001, although the sugar levy was completely waived. The issue, therefore, is not production but the profitability of the industry.
The sombre projections for 2003 are as follows:
Mining and quarrying sector is projected to fall by a further 7.1%. This would mean a cumulative fall in production over the two years of 14%.
Rice is projected to recover by 3% which effectively means that production in 2003 is projected to be some 7.7% lower than in than in 2001.
While sugar production is projected to increase by 2.9% in 2003 the question of the industry's profitability continues to loom large.
The balance of payments Current Account deficit is expected to worsen from US$106.7Mn in 2002 to US$154.3Mn in 2003 and the overall deficit is expected to worsen from US$25Mn in 2002 to US$64m in 2003. The deficit would more than double.
The most obvious manifestation of the crisis is the fact that the average rate of growth of the economy over the four year period 2000 to 2003 (assuming that the projection for next year is not overstated as was the case for 2002) would be 1.1%. This is the essential basis on which the government is fortified in the knowledge that it is doing what is right for the people of this country and that is the course on which the government wants to stay for a prosperous Guyana!
The Minister of Finance, at page 2 of the budget speech, drew attention to the fact that the government had already developed the plans and programmes to make the vision of a prosperous Guyana a reality and we were referred to, among other things, the Poverty Reduction Strategy paper (PRSP) and the National development Strategy (NDS).
A cursory examination of those two documents reveals the following:
The economy was projected to grow at an average rate of 4% between 2000 and 2005 (see P.38 of the PRSP). Even that rate would have had to be augmented with prudent fiscal and other policies if the poverty reduction strategy was to be a success.
The NDS projected that; "at the very worst" the average GDP growth would be of the order of 6% per annum during the strategy period i.e. between 2001 and 2010.
It is instructive to note that the NDS makes it clear that “even if that rate of growth were achieved Guyana could not by any means be described as an affluent society. Indeed, we would still be far from the forefront of even the developing countries." It goes on to say that " we would have become, or be in the process of becoming, a self reliant society: a society which was no longer dependent upon overseas governments and international agencies for its very existence. Indeed we would have become more private sector oriented, and would have built up a significant number of successful entrepreneurs, of all races, and in a variety of fields. Moreover, we would be more comfortable with ourselves as a nation and, would, in large measure, have been relieved of the social tensions which now so oppressively overwhelm us."
Thus, according to the documents which the Government claims elaborate their plans and programmes, a growth rate of between 4 and 6% is necessary if the people of Guyana are to make some progress economically and socially. Yet the Government tells us we are on course for a prosperous Guyana with a 1% growth rate!
Government’s Ideological Ambivalence to Private Investment:
The hard fact of life is that the economic base of Guyana needs to be expanded and diversified. Realistically, this can only be achieved by large injections of private capital. If the fullest possible use is to be made of the resources we possess then foreign private investment has to play a prominent role. The problem is that recent budgets, including this one, have failed to address this issue in a frontal and forthright manner. The government has also signally failed to make good ambassadors of those foreign investors who have invested in Guyana.
The draft Investment Bill which was so viciously degutted must be restored with its original contents, and brought back to the Table for debate in the National Assembly for approval by consensus. This would be a first step in the right direction.
The government must also send unequivocally clear signals that its political philosophy is consistent with the private sector having primacy of place in economic development.
Recently private investors in Guyana have been expressing very uncomplimentary views about the government's record in keeping faith with undertakings solemnly made and about its sloth in making decisions. Three recent examples of expressions of such views have come from CDC, the managing partner of the Berbice River Bridge Committee (BRBC) and the chairman of GT&T.
Wages and Salaries Of Public Servants:
Here the government tried to trick the people. It headlined the item " Increase in salaries of public servants". But there was in fact no increase forthcoming in the budget. We believe that an increase could and should have been announced as an interim measure without prejudice to any negotiations with the unions.
Government’s Refusal and Resistance of Arbitration:
There has been a most worrying development recently; and that is the reluctance if not downright refusal of the government to agree to arbitration when it is quite clear that negotiations have broken down. We will continue to monitor developments in this area.
Income Tax Threshold:
While the increase is welcome it is difficult to understand why the threshold was not lifted to at least the level of the minimum wage. The whole rationale of the concept of a minimum wage is that it is the barest minimum a person needs to eke out a living. If that is so then wherein lies the logic to tax it. We call upon the government to lift the threshold to the level of the minimum wage. In addition there should be an announcement before the budget is passed committing the government to the principle of an income tax threshold not ever being less than the level of the minimum wage.
The PNCR supports, in principle, the introduction of VAT and we expect that the announcement of a date for its introduction is based on a realistic road map and time-frame as to the steps and measures to be taken and put in place to ensure its attainment.
Relations With The IFI'S:
The Government needs to be more forthcoming about these relationships. What, for example, are the problems with meeting the completion point for benefiting from EHIPC?
The propensity for corruption by Ministers and Government functionaries at all levels is already at epidemic levels and has become the single most important barrier for the development of the Guyana economy. Even the timid IFIs and the Diplomatic Community are being forced to admit its cancerous negative impact.
Many of the man-induced catastrophes which continue to be visited on the nation, eg. The impending flood-water threat from the collapsed dams of the East Demerara Water Conservancy, are attributable directly to the open and contemptuous encouragement of corruption by the Jagdeo Administration.
People’s National Congress Reform
Congress Place, Sophia,
Thursday April 03, 2003
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