PRESS STATEMENT People’s National Congress Reform To the Press Conference on Thursday October 30, 2003 Hall of Heroes, Congress Place, Sophia
• We would like to take this opportunity to thank all those persons and organisations that assisted in making the events of Mrs. Viola Burnham memorials successful.
• The PNCR views the situation surrounding the Cesium-137 Units as a national disgrace that must not be swept aside.
• The PNCR reiterates its support for the law enforcement agencies and for the growing numbers of victims of crime.
• The people of Guyana who elected the parliament expect it to observe the Constitution and make laws for the peace order and good governance of Guyana.
TRIBUTES TO MRS VIOLA BURNHAM:
The remains of Mrs. Viola Burnham returned to Guyana on Friday, October 24th accompanied by her children and close relatives. She now rests ‘where the sweet flowers bloom’. Her memory was celebrated by a memorial service on Sunday, October 26th and a cultural production on Monday, October 27th. Both events were extremely successful and extremely well supported. This served to emphasise the high esteem in which this patriot was held. These events were appropriate and moving tributes to this great lady. We would like to take this opportunity to thank all those persons and organisations that assisted in making these successful. We also wish to acknowledge with gratitude the many persons who attended these memorials, who signed the book of condolence or participated in any other way. The Party has resolved to ensure that her dreams of patriotism and self-reliance will endure.
THE HEALTH SECTOR:
In recent years the PNCR had repeatedly lamented the incompetent and cavalier manner in which the PPP/C has been managing the Health Sector. The PNCR had warned that PPP/C’s incompetent and indifferent management of the sector has significantly reduced health care delivery and exposed numerous Guyanese to life threatening situations. For example, we have noted the inadequate response to the malaria outbreak in Region No. 1 which led to the death of a number of persons. To date the Ministry of Health has not informed the nation of its policy with regard to vector control within this region.
Today the PNCR wishes to highlight another frightening and dangerous situation in the health sector that has resulted solely from the lack of accountability, corruption, mismanagement and callousness that currently permeates the system.
Over the last few days the media has exposed the disgraceful situation that surrounds the Cesium-137 Unit donated by the Central Islamic Organisation of Guyana to the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation nearly four years ago. This piece of equipment that was urgently needed for the treatment of cervical cancer patients, many of whom have since died, has been lying in craters in the GPHC compound since 2000.
Physicist, Petal Surujpaul, by report dated March 3, 2003 to Dr. Madam Rambarran, highlighted the potential public health crisis that was created by the improper storage of the Cesium-137 Unit. Ms. Surujpaul reported of constant exposure of visiting members of the public and staff members of the hospital to harmful radiation that could eventual lead to death. She highlighted the total lack of information and safety gear and associated equipment that would ensure safe use of the equipment by the hospital staff.
At a meeting of the Board of Directors of the GPHC held on March 26, 2003, Dr. Madan Rambarran informed the Board of the situation surrounding the Cesium-137 Unit. It is alarming that Dr. Rambarran reduced the matter to the absence of delivery records and packaging list. Consequently this matter was not treated in the proper manner by the Board. In fact, the major concern expressed at the meeting was whether the CIOG would make claims on the equipment when it started working. No investigation was launched to determine the extent of public exposure to radiation; the number of deaths due to cervical cancer as a result of non use of the equipment; or who was responsible for this maladministration.
There have been a number of recommendations since the discovery of radiation leak from the CESIUM 137 Units.
The GPHC administration was required to put in place caution tapes and signs warning of possible radiation exposure as well as to demarcate a boundary range of no less than 15 feet from the Units. It is unclear whether the above measures have been put in place to date. Its current location, i.e., the old Paediatric Ward, is an unacceptable storage location since people traverse this restricted area on a daily basis without knowledge of any distance restrictions. We wish to know whether staffs of the hospital were aware of these Units being stored in the hospital compound. We also wish to know how many of the staff and other persons who frequent the GPHC and those occupying the Eastern side of the GPHC compound, where the greatest source of radiation was found, have been exposed
Ultimately, whoever else the Minister of Health seeks to blame, the responsibility is with him. The PNCR calls on the Health Minister to answer the following questions:
1. What steps were and are taken to contain this leaking radioactive material while this unit continues to be stored in the GPHC compound?
2. What efforts were made to prevent exposure to this radioactive material by passers-by, i.e., staff, patients, etc. of the hospital?
3. Why this matter was kept a secret when the lives of many Guyanese have been put in danger because of Health Care Officials’ negligence in dealing with these Units?
4. Was there any circulated information to staff and daily users of the Hospital to the effect that the Caution Tape and signs indicating boundaries of radioactive activity? If so, when?
The PNCR views the situation surrounding the Cesium-137 Units as a national disgrace that must not be swept aside. The health of the Nation is too important. We have on more than one occasion advised the President that he should dismiss his Minister of Health in the national interest. We repeat that recommendation.
THE CRIME SITUATION
Unchanged circumstances compel the PNCR to once again voice its grave concern about the crippling state of crime that is wreaking havoc in our society. It now appears that Guyana has become a narco-state, as the primary law enforcement agency, the Guyana Police Force, appears helpless to arrest the fragmentation of our once orderly society. Lawlessness rules the day as we are involuntarily subjected to scenes of murders, kidnappings, violent attacks, and rapes on a daily basis.
Time and time again the Party has pleaded with the PPP/C regime to put aside petty partisan politics and pay careful attention to changing trends in crime and the obvious asymmetry being the Guyana Police Force and the organized crime syndicates it is meant to confront. Not a day goes by without a report of another dead body being discovered shot or beaten to death or of an abduction of unsuspecting persons by those who everyone describes as policemen, or of someone shooting or maiming a spouse or friend in a drunken rage.
The PNCR felt nothing but sympathy for the Police Force recently as it was forced to issue a statement distancing itself from the recent spate of abductions made to resemble police arrests. The stark reality is that the monster that Roger Luncheon referred to as the “Phantom Force” has wholly infiltrated the GPF and is now apparently uncontrollable as it deviates from whatever was its intended role. The monster has become the master and with the help of the PPP/C regime, the Guyana Police Force and sister organizations are meant to do its bidding. We are reliably advised that certain members of the Police Force have been instructed to work along with well-armed irregulars who have no law-abiding role or interest. A case in point was that of Black Clothes officer Constable Benfield whose defence to being caught in the infamous “Good Hope” encounter with unlicensed sophisticated weapons was that he was carrying out the instructions of his superior officer at the time of his arrest.
The PNCR feels strongly that in addition to issuing a disclaimer the Police High Command should say to the nation what steps it is taking to bring a quick end to these atrocities. The Guyana Police Force must be helped to find its feet quickly if we are to stand a chance in staving off the deluge that is rapidly descending. The PNCR reiterates its support for the law enforcement agencies and for the growing numbers of victims of crime.
LAWLESSNESS IN THE PARLIAMENT
On Thursday, October 23, 2003, the nation had the latest example of lawlessness at the highest level of the land.
The PNCR Members of the Parliament were forced to withdraw from further participation after the government insisted on proceeding with the consideration for a Motion to confirm the Customs Duties Amendment Order moved by the Minister of Finance although the Order had expired. The Order under the Customs Act Section 9:1 was not lodged with the Clerk of the National Assembly within 10 days of its publication in the Official Gazette as specified. In the circumstances, PNCR Member of Parliament Mr. Winston Murray requested an adjournment to verify whether the legal procedure was complied with. After a prolonged adjournment the document subsequently shown was a compliment slip from the Ministry of Finance which purported to show that the Clerk of the National Assembly received the Motion and a copy of the Order on October 10, 2003, in excess of one month after the publication in the Official Gazette (September 1, 2003).
On resumption, instead of correcting this situation or giving a ruling, the Speaker totally ignored the issue raised by the PNCR M.P. and invited the continuation of the Debate. The PPP/C Members of Parliament then proceeded to pass the motion in the absence of PNCR members.
One would have expected that after the illegality had been exposed, any decent Government would have withdrawn the expired Order and make diligent effort to correct the illegality. This was of course too much to expect from the present administration. The people of Guyana have by now become accustomed to the blatant breaches in the Law at the level of the Executive.
The tossing of a Court writ over the shoulder, refusal to obey Orders of Court to pay Supreme Court workers and the Television show by the Minister of Health promising to continue to break the rules are only a few examples which we have recently witnessed. Never in our wildest dreams, however did we anticipate that this lawlessness would have moved to the Legislature, the Highest Court of the Land. That the Government would now use the Parliament to perpetuate illegality is a most dangerous development that cannot be taken lightly by the citizens of Guyana.
The people of Guyana who elected the Parliament expect it to observe the Constitution and make laws for the peace, order and good governance of Guyana. Further, each Member of Parliament subscribes to an oath on entry into Parliament to be truthful and to observe the Laws of Guyana. The question that the Nation is now forced to ask is where can justice be found if the highest forum of the land breaches the law?
The refusal of the Speaker to rule on the matter is of great concern and the recent belated admission by the Minister of Finance that he laboured under a misunderstanding is remarkable. Is it that the Speaker and the Minister had total disregard for the issue raised by Mr. Murray for the House to be adjourned for the express purpose of checking on the legality of the Order made by the Minister under the Customs Act? How could the Speaker, the relevant Minister and Minister Reepu Daman Persaud, the experienced Member of Parliament of more than 30 years experience, who is Leader of Government Business in the House and Minister of Parliamentary Affairs not have discovered this illegality after the House was adjourned for an extended period to, among other matters, check on this issue. Regrettably, the only possible conclusion is that the contribution of the Opposition members of Parliament mean absolutely nothing in the Parliament and the Government is prepared to continue to use this hallowed institution as a rubber stamp to perpetuate executive lawlessness.
Of what benefit therefore are the recent Parliamentary Reforms? We have already seen the use of the Parliament to foist a Government sponsored Union, the senior Public Service Staff Association, with the special objective of manipulating the Public Service Commission. We have seen the same attitude to the establishment of the Public Procurement Commission and one must seriously question whether the Government is really serious about progress in Guyana.
The PNCR will not sit idly and allow this administration to further trample on the rights of the people of Guyana. We warn the PPP/C Government that they are travelling dangerously on the edge of civility and ought to be aware from bitter past experience that the people of Guyana will determine when enough is enough.
People’s National Congress Reform
Congress Place, Sophia,
Thursday, October 30, 2003
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