PRESS STATEMENT By the People’s National Congress Reform To the Press Conference on Thursday August 7th, 2003 Hall of Heroes, Congress Place, Sophia



SUMMARY:
o The PNCR has highlighted six (6) specific areas where the draft legislation departs materially from the agreements in the joint committee on broadcasting,
o The PNCR intends to work relentlessly and to use every means at our disposal to secure the removal of those objectionable provisions contained in the Procurement Bill 2003, Bill No. 7 of 2003,
o Street Vending is an effort by persons in deprived economic circumstances to respond to the high level of unemployment in Guyana and which the national government should handle with compassion.

THE DRAFT BROADCAST LEGISLATION:
The PNCR has already made public its displeasure over, firstly, the manner in which the government released the draft broadcast legislation to the public and, secondly, over several aspects of the draft legislation itself. We must re-emphasize that the report of the joint committee, which the legislation was expected to capture faithfully, was fully adopted by the leaders of the two main parties, most recently in the joint communiqué, signed on 6th May 2003.

On the issue of the manner of release of the draft, this took place without any attempt being made to give the PNCR, a major stakeholder and participant in the process of drawing up a broadcast policy and legislation for Guyana, the opportunity to assess the document to assess whether it complied fully with the spirit and letter of the recommendations of the joint committee on Radio Monopoly, Non-partisan State Media Boards and Broadcasting Legislation. The party considers this move by the government as a demonstration of both its bad faith and manners.

On the issue of the substantive intentions of the legislation, the PNCR has noted that the government has responded through Robert Persaud, the government’s propaganda tsar. We nevertheless wish to reassert our position that several vital aspects of the draft legislation departs materially from the understandings agreed consensually in the joint committee. The PNCR will not be dragged into useless propaganda arguments on sweeping generalizations. Mr. Persaud obviously does not know what he is taking about. We have already identified specific areas where the draft legislation departs materially from the agreements in the committee’s report. These are:

1. Appointment of the Board of Commissioners of the National Broadcasting Authority (NBA).

The PNCR and the PPP/C agreed in the joint broadcast committee that the National Broadcasting Authority (NBA) be headed by a Board of Commissioners “comprising not less than 3 and no more than 5 members who would be selected by the Standing Parliamentary Committee on Appointments and appointed by the President. The chairperson of the Board of Commissioners will be elected by the Board at its first meeting.”

However, in blatant violation of this agreement, the draft bill states in Clause (1) to (5) of its Schedule that, among other things, the Chairman will be appointed by the President after consultation with the Leader of the Opposition and one member each will be nominated by consumer groups and the broadcasting community.

These provisions bear little resemblance to the agreements in the communiqué and are an attempt to give government the means to exercise control over the NBA. They have no place in the bill and must be removed.

2. Access to the State-owned media by political parties and the coverage of their political positions and activities.

No mention is made in the draft legislation of the specific agreements under this heading in the joint committee report. The PNCR believes this issue is of such critical importance that it must find reflection in letter and spirit of the proposed broadcast legislation. We do not believe its exclusion was an oversight.

3. Monopoly in broadcast and diversity of ownership.

The unanimous position of the parties on the issue of monopoly ownership and control of any part of the broadcast spectrum, and in particular that part that facilitates radio broadcast, is not adequately captured in clause 6 (a) of the draft bill, which reads: “while recognizing the special role of the State-owned media, the broadcast industry is nevertheless open to competition.”

The broadcast committee, in addition to the above wording, had emphasized in its broadcast policy framework that (i) all monopolies, whether private or state, should be removed or not be allowed; and (ii) commercial and community licences, taken as a whole, must be controlled by a diverse range of Guyanese persons or groups. Any dilution of these provisions by the PPP/C must also be seen as a breach of the spirit of the agreement.

4. Status of the National Frequency Management Unit (NFMU)

The Broadcast committee had agreed to present two options to the Leaders of the PNCR and PPP/C as regards the role of the NFMU in the broadcast licensing process: (i) Option I. NFMU continues to operate separately from the NBA, but an applicant for a broadcasting license submits his proposal with technical specifications directly to the NBA. The NFMU advises the NBA on the availability of frequency; and (ii) Option II. The NFMU transfers the management of the radio and TV broadcast frequencies to the NBA. The NFMU therefore retains control over frequency allocation and monitoring of the non-broadcast spectrum (communication in aircraft, ships, taxis etc.) Applications for broadcasting are therefore handled by one entity, the NBA.

The PNCR firmly believes that in any public consultation on the matter, the public must be objectively informed of these two positions. The legislation only contains one.

5. Independence of the National Broadcast Authority

In the joint committee the PPPC and PNCR representatives were unequivocal and unanimous that the National Broadcasting Authority (NBA) “must be independent and autonomous within the framework of the constitution, true to the spirit and letter of its establishing legislation, answerable only to the National Assembly and must serve the public interest and the national good.”

The PNCR therefore considers, as another demonstration of PPP/C bad faith, the several provisions in the draft broadcast legislation that seek to give the responsible minister the power to issue directions to the NBA. In particular, clause 24(3) gives the minister broad powers to instruct the Authority to direct licensees to refrain from including in their programming any matter or classes of matters.

The wording of this provision not only violates the agreement but also serves to give the government the authority to censor, a practice which directly contravenes the constitutional guarantee of freedom of expression.

6. System of penalties for infringement of broadcast regulations

The two main parties had agreed that the NBA should have the power “institute a hierarchy of penalties and sanctions for violations of broadcasting law and standards.” The PNCR therefore finds the several provisions in the draft legislation that impose specific penalties to be a deliberate attempt by the PPP/C to usurp the functions of the NBA in this respect

Against this background, we will shortly propose to the government that the joint committee on broadcasting should be reactivated to:

• Ensure that the draft legislation faithfully conforms to the recommendations of the committee on the issues of a national broadcast policy and broadcast authority, before the draft enters the public consultation process,

• Remove the internal inconsistencies and redundancies contained within the draft; and

• Act as the facilitators of the public consultation process and to therefore be responsible for presenting to the Leaders of the two parties those suggestions from the process that merit incorporation into the legislation.

The PNCR believes that with a show of good faith on the part of the PPP/C, this entire process should not unduly delay the enactment of the broadcast legislation. We stand ready to shoulder our responsibilities.

THE PROCUREMENT CONTROVERY: AN UPDATE

As we have said in previous Media Releases, the PNCR intends to work relentlessly and to use every means at our disposal to secure the removal of those objectionable provisions contained in the Procurement Bill 2003, Bill No. 7 of 2003, which the government railroaded through the National Assembly on June 19th, instead of referring it to a Special Select Committee as agreed by the Parliamentary Management Committee.

We have already informed the nation that the Leader of the PNCR had written to President Jagdeo on the issue in late June, and pointed out the serious threat the procurement issue poses to the stability of inter-party relations in Guyana. The party has also met and discussed the issue with the donor community at several meetings.

Within the last month, in further pursuit of its objective, the PNCR has done the following things:
(i) at the invitation of the donor community, the party submitted to the donors a document setting out the party’s detailed amendments to the procurement legislation. The party emphasized in its letter accompanying the document that:

“… our proposals recognize the critical role of government in the public procurement system, particularly through the selection of members of the National Board, the exercise of its right to reject all tenders and its responsibility to make regulations which give faithful regard to the provisions of the law.

However, taking account of the history and experiences of public procurement in Guyana, particularly the well documented abuses recorded annually in the Reports of the Auditor General, perpetrated through the exercise of ministerial discretionary powers and cabinet review, we propose the following measures as necessary checks and balances:

1) The removal of all provisions in the legislation that undermine the constitutional mandate of the Public Procurement Commission (PPC), in particular the hijacking of its functions by other entities;
2) Making the PPC the first stop in the bid review process;
3) Tempering the discretionary powers of procuring entities in the bid evaluation process;
4) Allowing Regional and District Boards to appoint the majority of members;
5) Expanding the list of specific records that procuring entities must prepare and make available to the public.

and (ii) On July 31st, the party submitted to the Speaker of the National Assembly a parliamentary motion calling for the Public Procurement Legislation of 2003 be sent to the Parliamentary committee for Economic Services to ensure that the legislation:

• can effectively fulfill its stated objectives as listed in its Whereas Clause;
• does not in any way undermine or violate the letter and spirit of the constitution;
• benefits from the input from members of the public, political parties and civil society organizations;
• benefits from the input of experts and from existing studies and reports;
• benefits from the best practices and experiences of other countries;
• is sensitive to the social and political realities in the country.

The PNCR is in no doubt that its positions on the procurement issue are principled and reasonable. We have made our specific objections known at parliamentary and other forums. We do not find it surprising that other local stakeholders share our positions on the flawed nature of the procurement legislation. History will judge the PPP/C very harshly unless it takes the necessary steps to secure a national consensus on this matter and it sticks to its unprincipled and outmoded positions.

THE GEORGETOWN VENDORS ISSUE:

The emergence of Street Vending as a major activity in the city of Georgetown is an important effort by persons in deprived economic circumstances to respond to the difficulties facing the national economy and the resulting rise in the level of unemployment in Guyana. In the circumstances, it is a phenomenon which aught to be of concern to the national government and handled with compassion and delicacy. An examination of the performance of the government over the last ten years with respect to the issue of street vending in the city of Georgetown leaves much to be desired.

Over the years the City Council has had to face the up hill task of treating with the proliferation of vendors who have flocked to the city in search of jobs in the wake of closures and retrenchment in the Forestry, Bauxite, Manufacturing and Commercial sectors. Faced with a multiplicity of problems created as a direct result of this phenomenon, the PNCR understands that the Georgetown Municipality has been appealing to the Central Government for support in dealing with this major problem. In addition it is the position of the PNCR that Central Government has a duty, in the circumstances, to play a meaningful role in facilitating these enterprising vendors who are seeking to pursue an honest livelihood for their families.

It is a matter of historical record that city council’s approach to Government for the Guyana Stores Bond was not facilitated and plans for a multi story shopping mall at this facility had to be shelved. As the problem grew worse with increasing numbers of vendors on the streets, the Government finally decided to compulsorily acquire the vacant Toolsie Persaud land in Water Street. Problems with occupancy however, persist due to the government’s failure to pay Toolsie Persaud fair and adequate compensation as determined by the Courts.

Meanwhile the Government has instructed the municipality to place vendors on the plot of land and is now seeking to execute a Memorandum of Understanding with the municipality, “on pains of being made liable for the expenditure incurred by the State in acquiring the Water Street Property”, (for which it has not yet paid,) “on the issue of preventing vendors on the streets of Georgetown subsequent to the provision of the property on Water Street”.

The People’s National Congress Reform calls on the government to immediately

i. Pay Toolsie Persaud the sum ordered by the Court, which decision the President informed the Deputy Mayor that his Government has accepted.

ii. Enter into discussion with the vendors and the Municipality with regard to the development of the area into a modern Shopping Mall to accommodate the vendors.



People’s National Congress Reform
Congress Place, Sophia,
Georgetown, Guyana.
Thursday August 7th, 2003