PRESS STATEMENT By the People’s National Congress Reform For the Press Conference on Thursday June 19, 2003 In the Hall of Heroes, Congress Place, Sophia.



COURT WORKERS STILL NOT IN RECEIPT OF SALARIES: It is now 14 months since the Registrar of the Supreme Court, Ms. Sita Ramlall, unilaterally terminated the employment of 14 Public Servants attached to the Supreme Court. On the 26th day of August 2002 Her Honour Justice Cummings held that the purported dismissal of the 14 workers was unlawful and the Judge ordered that the 14 workers be immediately reinstated. Despite the fact that the 14 returned to their jobs immediately as per the Court's Order, Ms Ramlall, with the silent but strong support of this uncaring Government, refused to pay the workers.

On the 19th day of December 2002, her Honour Justice Gregory-Barnes made an Order compelling the Registrar to, inter alia, pay the 14 workers. To the disbelief of all right thinking Guyanese the Registrar again with the support of this shameless Government opted to appeal the Orders of both Justice Cummings and Justice Barnes rather than pay the workers.

We have been reliably informed that despite an undertaking by both sides to expedite the hearing of these appeals, the Registrar, represented by Mr Ashton Chase S.C., has, by her foot dragging, delayed the start of the Hearing of the appeal against Justice Cummings’ Orders. In response to this breach of faith, the Guyana Public Service Union did, on Tuesday 17th June 2003, stage a picketing exercise outside of the Court of Appeal. Yesterday, Wednesday18th June 2003, they staged a picket outside of the Ministry of Finance.

The PNCR fully supports the workers and their Union in this long and hard struggle and we call on the President to intervene in this matter with the view to bringing an end to this outrage.

MAYOR INFLICTS MORE MISERY ON THE VENDORS:

About one hundred and twenty (120) Water Street Vendors visited the Leader of the PNCR at Congress Place, on Friday 2003 June 13, seeking his assistance against the latest onslaught from the Mayor of Georgetown.

The Mayor and Georgetown City Council have stated that their actions are authorized by the ruling of the Court of Appeal. However, this does not require them to be insensitive and unconscionable action against the Vendors, at a time when the prevailing economic conditions in Guyana are unfavorable and these small entrepreneurs have used their initiative to become financially independent rather than depend on the State.

The Vendors have justifiably complained that, since 2001, the President gave them firm assurances that they would be permitted to carry on their businesses without interruption until suitable alternative accommodation and facilities are provided. This promise has not been kept and the Vendors have expressed their disappointment that the promises and assurances of the Head of State cannot be relied on.

The Leader of the PNCR, in accordance with his promise to the Vendors, brought the plight of the Vendors to the attention of the President. Firstly, by his letter to the President on 2003 June 17 and, personally, during his meeting with the President yesterday, 2003 June 18. The President has undertaken to speak with the Mayor.

FOLLOW UP AGREEMENT TO THE COMMUNIQUE:

Since the signing of the Communiqué, on Tuesday 2003 May 6, Mr. Robert Corbin, MP, Leader of the PNCR and of the Opposition, held two (2) follow-up meetings with President Bharrat Jagdeo, on Thursday 2003 June 12 and on Wednesday June 18. The outcomes of those meetings are contained in the Annexed document entitled Follow up Agreement.

The discussions covered the following:

 Review of progress on Issues arising from work of Bi-Partisan Committees.
 Appointment of the Disciplined Forces Commission.
 The National Development Strategy.
 Establishment of Office of the Leader of the Opposition.
 Establishment of the Committee to Prepare a Comprehensive Development Programme for Region #10.
 Review of Arrangements for the Effective Functioning of the Parliamentary Committees.
 Establishment of Mechanism for Supervising Implementation and Monitoring the Matters Agreed in the Communiqué.
 Remuneration for Members of Constitutional Commissions.

In addition, The President and the Leader of the Opposition agreed that the following matters would be the subject of further consultations:

 The legislation on the Crossing of the Floor by Members of Parliament.
 The legislation establishing a permanent Elections Commission.
 Ensuring that the spirit of the Constitution is not breached in the appointment of members of the Constitutional Commissions

Unfortunately, they have not yet been able to agree on the composition of the Disciplined Forces Commission which is expected to begin its work on Tuesday 2003 July 1.

THE PUBLIC PROCUREMENT BILL:

The PNCR considers it its duty to bring to the public’s attention another shameless attempt by the PPP/C to foist on the Guyanese people another act of bad governance that could further wreck the fabric of this society. We refer to the proposed Public Procurement bill, which has been placed on the Order Paper for today’s (Thursday’s) parliamentary session. Public procurement or public tendering lies at the heart of the corruption, discrimination and executive lawlessness so prevalent in Guyana over these last ten years. The tens of billions of dollars each year spent on construction works (such as roads, schools, sea defence), on government purchases of goods and services (such as medical drugs and equipment, construction materials, agriculture equipment and supplies) and on consultancies are all supposed to be subject to an open, transparent fair and competitive public tendering process. As Guyanese are aware, many painfully so, the Government has long spread its corrupting tentacles throughout the entire public tendering system for its narrow and immoral political ends. Many competent Guyanese engineers, contractors, suppliers, and consultants have been denied their due rights because of the unjust and discriminatory practices perpetuated by this government.

In its attempt to hoodwink the World Bank into releasing funds, the government is moving with indecent haste to enact a new Public Procurement Bill. The contents of this bill clearly demonstrate that the PPP/C still intends to exercise ministerial and cabinet stranglehold over the tendering system, while undermining the letter and spirit of the constitution and the recent communiqué, and denying many Guyanese a fair and equitable chance to earn a living. These attempts blatantly disregard the legitimate demands of the financial donors and, more importantly, of the Guyanese people. For public funds (money that belongs to all citizens) to be used for such openly partisan ends is a travesty that must now cease.

What are the offensive provisions we wish to bring to the nation’s urgent attention?

LACK OF PROPER PRIOR CONSULTATION:

Many foreign loans to the Guyana government are conditional on it holding proper and genuine public consultations with various stakeholders in society. The PPP/C over the years has employed all manner of stratagems to circumvent and disrespect this conditionality. On this occasion, the PPP/C hurriedly invited some political parties and the Building Forum to separate meetings on Monday last, 16th June 2003. The PNCR attended the meeting in good faith to seek clarification with respect to the government’s intention to widen the consultative process by sending the Bill to a Special Select Committee. We can report that the absolute need for the Bill to be sent to a Special Select Committee was made abundantly evident, as the government representatives were unable to adequately answer many of the questions posed to them. They did not have a clear understanding of some of the constitutional and other issues contained in the Bill.

At the conclusion of the meeting the Minister of Finance, Mr. Kowlessar, agreed to send the Bill to a Select Committee and promised to contact Minister of Parliamentary Affairs, Mr. Reepu Daman Persaud on the matter. Against this background, the PNCR finds the article carried in Daily Chronicle on Wednesday June 18, 2003 extremely mischievous. The article is a clear misrepresentation of what transpired. It appears to be an attempt by the government to renege on the commitment made for proper consultation and is yet another example of the PPP/C’s bad faith.


The PNCR will insist that the Procurement Bill be sent to a Special Select Committee under which auspices proper and public nation-wide consultation must be held to allow a broad cross-section of Guyanese to participate in the shaping of this important piece of legislation.

MINISTERIAL/ CABINET CONTROL:

One of the bitter complaints about the public tendering system is the limitless powers the Government has arrogated to itself the right to overturn decisions of tender boards and illegally award contracts to its cronies. The World Bank and our own Auditor General have expressed displeasure with this practice and have repeatedly recommended appropriate reform. Nonetheless, in the present draft Procurement Bill, the PPP/C intends to continue unashamedly with this unacceptable practice. The manner of appointment of all the Public Tender Boards (from National down to the NDC level) leaves no doubt that the government, through the Minister of Finance, intends to retain its iron grip over the system. For the proposed National Tender Board, for example, the Minister intends to appoint all seven members as he alone deems fit. The National Board in turn will appoint the majority of members on the regional tender boards. These in turn will appoint the majority of members on the district tender boards. As if this was not enough, the bill makes provisions for the National Procurement and Tender Administration to report only to the Minister of Finance and to carry out the Minister’s “general and specific directions.”

Likewise, the PNCR has noted that the Cabinet still remains involved in the contact award process, despite the pretenses in the Bill of reducing its control and influence. Section 54 of the Bill stipulates that once the Cabinet objects to the award of a contract, the matter must be returned to the board of the procuring entity. The Bill is deafeningly silent on what happens next, should, for instance, the procuring entity stand by its initial decision. The PNCR believes that these clauses have been left deliberately vague to fool the public and to allow the Cabinet to undermine the system.

The PNCR will demand that ministerial control be removed from the decision-making process of all public Tender Boards. The Government’s efforts could be best directed to ensuring the system works in a transparent and effective manner. It can make use of the mechanisms under the Public Procurement Commission (PPC) to raise any concern it may have with any contract award and allow the PPC to independently make its determination according to its own rules.

UNDERMINING OF THE CONSTITUTIONAL PROVISIONS ON THE PUBLIC PROCUREMENT COMMISSION (PPC):

The Public Procurement Commission is one of recommendations that were overwhelmingly supported by the people of Guyana during the public consultation phase of the constitution reform process of 1999. Its main function under the constitution is to supervise the operations of all Public Tender Boards to ensure they operate fairly, equitably and transparently. Importantly, the PPC will also serve as a complaint authority; accessible to any aggrieved bidder who may feel his/her tender has been improperly considered by any Public Tender Board.

The proposed Public Procurement Bill attempts to undermine the authority, independence and scope of the Public Procurement Commission. Several clauses, such as clause 54 (1), violate the constitution requirement that constitutional commissions ought to be independent of any organ of the state.

The PNCR will demand that the Public Procurement Commission be properly established and functioning before the passage of any new legislation on procurement. We expect that all political stakeholders respect the mandate and powers of the new Commission.

SPECIAL CONCERNS:

The PNCR takes this opportunity to inform the general public that it will be placing on the national agenda several other critical issues surrounding the public tendering process in Guyana. We strongly believe that:

(i) measures must be put in place to reverse the effects of the last 10 years of discrimination against particular groups of contractors/suppliers. These Guyanese must be afforded special consideration in the tendering process until a level playing field, free of discrimination, has been established. There are several countries from which we can draw experience in this regard, and

(ii) bidders for contracts above a specified amount must include, as one of the qualifications for evaluation, measures they intend to implement to observe the legal requirement of non-discrimination (especially based on race, political affiliation and gender) in their employment and sub-contracting practices. This is done in Canada, South Africa and the European Union. Compliance will be monitored by the Public Procurement Commission, the Ethnic Relations Commission and other appropriate constitution commission. We advance these issues not to deny anyone their rightful entitlements. On the contrary, we are only interested in ensuring that Guyanese from all groups are fairly and equitable treated as provided for in our constitution.

Guyanese need to be made aware that the World Bank has set the enactment of proper procurement legislation as their precondition for the release of US$30 million. The PNCR has written and has asked to meet, the World Bank and other international donors to make the case that without a transparent and impartial public tendering system, as well as a robust independent mechanism and well-staffed Auditor General Office, foreign credit will be wasted, as has happened repeatedly in the past. The poor people of this country have gained little from all the previous financial flows. The Procurement Bill in its current form will only perpetuate this national disgrace. We expect the international donors will take heed of our legitimate concerns and use their influence to get the government to allow the democratic processes enshrined in our constitution and in the recent communiqué to work on behalf of the people.

The PNCR stands ready to work with all stakeholders to ensure our country’s public procurement system attains international standards of impartiality, fairness and independence.


PPP/C’S ATTEMPTS TO SHIFT BLAME FOR THE PROBLEMS OF REGION 7
The recent outburst by long serving member of the PPP/C, Minister Clinton Collymore, attacking the leadership of the People’s National Congress Reform, specifically Members of Parliament Mr. Abdul Kadir and Mrs. Judith David, must be seen as a carefully crafted plot to provoke a confrontation.
We will not be duped by such strategy nor are interested in playing political games with matters that affect the health and well-being of citizens.
The PPP/C and Mr. Collymore are aware that the people of the Essequibo region have been involved in a court action against OMAI for damages suffered as a result of the pollution of the rivers in Essequibo by a breach in the tailing pond contained cyanide.
This action started some three years ago, by a group of citizens including two leading members of the PPP/C in Region 7, Mr. Richard Bowen of Bartica and Lilamattie of Monkey Jump. These two PPP/C party activists have put aside partisan politics and are fighting a civil action which is now before the courts.
The statement by Minister Collymore is therefore nothing more than political propaganda intended to cause distraction from the real issues, which are the PPP/C’s incompetent management of the affairs of this region. These include problems of potable water, badly damaged and poorly repaired roads and massive unemployment.
Therefore is it mischievous of the PPP/C and Minister Collymore to attempt to tarnish the good reputation and image of the two PNCR members of parliament.
It is no secret that this propaganda hype comes at the heels of the government attempt to hoodwinks, the International Financial Institutions into believing that they are serious about transparency and good governance to gain sizeable assistance. To suggest that somehow the PNC/R is not encouraging investment is nothing more than outrageous, as our record stands unchallenged in this regard.
For the record, the PNCR wishes to state that as apolitical party it will support the right of all citizens to engage in legitimate protest as guaranteed by the constitution of the Republic of Guyana.


People’s National Congress Reform
Congress Place, Sophia,
Georgetown, Guyana.
June 19, 2003