PRESS STATEMENT People’s National Congress Reform To the Press Conference on Thursday November 6, 2003 Hall of Heroes, Congress Place, Sophia



THE PNCR WALKOUT OF PARLIAMENT: We have noted that in the recent days, the PPP/Civic pit bull Mr. Donald Ramotar has been instructed to launch an attack in the media against the PNCR and its leadership. His presentations are loaded with old style invective and typical Freedom House misinformation and plain common and garden lies. We interpret the Ramotar assault as an attempt by the hard liners and recidivists in the PPP/Civic to further derail the process of constructive engagement. We in the PNC Reform will not respond in kind but merely state the facts on the issues concerned and leave the Guyanese people to judge for themselves.

On Thursday 23rd October, 2003 the Members of Parliament of the PNCR proudly and unapologetically did their duty to the people of Guyana by refusing to be part of an illegality which was about to take place in the National Assembly of the Republic. This illegality was the confirmation of a Customs Order despite the fact that it was not lodged with the Clerk of the National Assembly within the stipulated time.

Since then two indisputable facts have surfaced

1. The Minister of Finance has admitted that he did not conform to the legal requirement
2. At the time when the National Assembly purported to have confirmed the Customs Order that order had already expired and the act of confirmation was therefore a nullity.

The PNCR did its best to prevent the illegality from occurring but was not listened to by the government. Well before the day of the Sitting PNCR MP Mr. Winston Murray requested from the Clerk of the National Assembly the correspondence from the Minister lodging the documents with him. After a few days, the Clerk informed Mr. Murray that the Speaker had advised that the correspondence was private and therefore could not be given to him. Since the request was being viewed as an intrusion into a private matter the MP was left with no alternative but to fulfill his obligation to the people of Guyana by raising the matter in the National Assembly when the issue came up for debate.

The facts are that the Government was properly informed about the illegality. It was therefore a simple matter for the Government to accept the breach and defer the matter for another Sitting, but this was not to be. Indeed, the Speaker of the National Assembly who we would have expected to be the guardian of the law challenged the PNCR to take the matter to court and thereafter allowed the National Assembly to indulge in this illegality.

The Minister of Finance has since admitted that the confirmation of the Customs Order by the National Assembly was in fact an illegal act. The PNCR is aware that the Minister received no new information on this matter after the illegality was committed; consequently, this admission is a confirmation that the PPP/C was fully aware that the law was being breached by the confirmation of the order. The Minister’s meek but belated acceptance of the illegality cannot absolve the PPP/C of the breach that they knowingly committed. The people of this country are therefore entitled to conclude that if the PPP/C is prepared to break the law merely to avoid embarrassment, what else would they not break the law for?”

The PNCR has also noted that the General Secretary of the PPP/C has accused the PNCR of not seeking to raise the matter prior to the Sitting of the National Assembly. He further suggested that if the matter were drawn to the attention of the Speaker prior to the Sitting, it would have been called off thereby saving a lot of money. Mr. Ramotar is fully aware of the fact that the Government was most anxious to have the amendments to the Guyana Revenue Act taken through all its stages at that sitting of the House so much so that it placed a Motion on the Order Paper to suspend the Standing Orders of the House for that purpose. To seek to blame the PNCR is nothing short of deceitfulness and dishonesty.

In the course of his confession the Minister of Finance promised that he “will take necessary steps to address this situation shortly.” More than a week has since elapsed and there has been no visible action in that direction. In the meantime an order that is admitted to be null and void remains in force. We hope that the Minister’s confession is not merely a smoke screen to take the heat off of the Government for its flagrant violation of the law in the National Assembly. He surely does not aspire to join the less honorable colleagues in the Cabinet.

The PPP/C has got to realize that a fundamental principle of governance in a democracy is the Rule of Law and that it comes with a price. It is not cheap! The PPP/C continuous unlawful acts, started with the writ over Janet’s shoulder, Doodnauth Singh “That is good”, and the refusal of the government to pay the court workers in the face of a court order to do so have and will continue to cost this nation. The most recent illegal act is the appointment of Dr. Prem Misir and others to the Council of the University as Chancellor nominees even though everyone knows that there has been no Chancellor in place to make any such appointments.

Additionally, PPP/C General Secretary, Ramotar raised the issue of PNCR’s continued principled approach in its pursuance of transparency and accountability at the Guyana Elections Commission. The PNCR sought without fanfare to pursue our concerns at the institutional level with a view to finding answers to the real problems which have bedeviled the work of the Commission and created a lack of public confidence as manifested in 1997 and 2001. The PNCR will at an appropriate time brief the media on this issue.

POLICE INABILITY TO ADDRESS CRIME:

As the bodies of murdered persons continue to pile up, the PNCR is reliably informed that Senior Police Officers are themselves disillusioned about the recent crime wave and have expressed an inability to deal with it. In a travel advisory released on Monday, November 3, 2003 and circulating within the diplomatic and international commercial community it is stated that since August more than two dozen persons have died and their deaths have baffled the police. The advisory goes on to quote a senior Police Officer as saying “We are not sure what exactly is going on”. Guyana has already surpassed the record set in 2002 of 150 persons killed with the figure to date standing at 176. The Officer cited an ongoing drug war as the reasons for the killings since last year and not political terrorism as misrepresented by the PPP/C regime and its apologists. If the cause is the drug trade then the fight has to be taken to the drug lords or have they become too powerful to be suppressed. Last week the PNCR opined that we had become a narco-state and the recent pronouncements of the Crime Chief and others confirm this opinion. Something has to be done about it other than mere talking.

The bodies of dead persons continue to crop up in various parts of the country and the Guyana Police Force is obviously unable to solve even one of these murders; or what is worse, are aware of who the killers are but are afraid or reluctant to apprehend them. The Police Force is in danger of losing its legitimacy as the agency to enforce law and order in Guyana, unless it demonstrates its ability to deal with this current spate of crimes. The situation is obviously more serious than first thought and calls for a comprehensive response, which involves all stakeholders, as we are all victims in one way or the other. The Police Force cannot simply disassociate itself from the abductions and killings and absolve itself of the responsibility of providing safety and security to the citizens of Guyana. The Police Force needs a shake up now. Tomorrow will be too late.

ECONOMY IN CRISIS:

Over the last few years Guyana has seen a large clutch of well established businesses go to the wall. In the last 21 months no less than 38 companies have gone into receivership – a record for a country with no more than 8,000 active registered commercial companies. Among these are a considerable number of well known, previously well established companies like Caribbean Rice Industry (Guyana) Inc., Kayman Sankar and Company Ltd, Kayman Sankar Investments Ltd, Letter ‘T’ Estates Ltd., IDI Engineering Inc, Caribbean Molasses Co. Inc, Perreira Agricultural Co. Ltd, Supreme Seafoods Guyana Inc, Vinelli Industries Ltd, Willems Timbers and Trading Co, Mazaruni Granite Ltd, Roraima Mining Co Ltd, Linden Power Co. Ltd. and a host of other small, medium and large firms employing thousands of Guyanese many of whom have been forced to join the burgeoning ranks of the unemployed and underemployed. As the pro-business party the PNCR has been deeply offended by government’s demonstrated indifference to the plight of these businesses and by its churlish tendency to lay all the blame on the lifestyles of our hardworking entrepreneurial class.

Government’s hostility to private sector investment in Guyana and the debilitating structure of the economy are not independent phenomena. They are interlocked and the significance of the plethora of bankruptcies and the prospect of the economic crisis continuing throughout the PPP/C’s term in office is that the chickens are coming home to roost. Eleven years of neglect and policies slyly directed at disempowering the private sector have taken their toll. High unemployment, under-employment, layoffs, downsizing and a general contraction of business activity are the order of the day. Add to this the new dimension of relocation overseas as in the case of Guyana Stockfeeds Inc. and the picture of a Guyana at the brink of economic disintegration becomes clear. The government is still anchored in an ideology that advocates state control. Unwarranted government intervention when it happens tends to be ham-fisted and often degenerates into political interference. In every sector of the economy government has failed miserably to exploit or build on the economic momentum created during the last PNC administration. It is this failure to uphold the primacy of economic expansion and diversification that has rendered the economy comatose and unable to generate the levels of commercial activity needed for viable enterprise and sustainable business growth.

The collapse of the rice industry; stagnation in the forestry sector; the aborted BOT Berbice bridge project; the relocation to other neighbouring countries by companies like Guyana Stockfeeds Inc, Palm Court and the Merchant Bank; bankruptcies and business failures at the rate of 2 every month, are all products of an ailing economy. Though these occurrences may seem disparate universes they are profoundly linked. The same culture and value system so hostile to private sector development and investment in general is fostered and nurtured by PPP/C governing structures whose priorities are the exercise of discretionary powers, corrupt deal making and the suppression of productive capacity when and where it does not suit them.

The Commercial Banks’ pro business approach to their bad-debt portfolios is one government could learn from. We refer to the recent initiative by some Banks to restructure the loan portfolios of a number of companies in distress. We urge others in the banking system to also take an enlightened approach to debt recovery and whenever possible put owners back in control of their businesses. Government, instead of continuing to articulate their empty mantra of the private sector being the engine of growth while burying one dead company after another, could introduce pro-life policies aimed at resuscitating the economy and breathing life into the business sector.

The moment of truth may be arriving more quickly than anyone can guess. It is not merely that the demise of our private sector is gaining momentum but the paucity of new investments and government’s lack of vision in this regard now threaten the sustainability of what’s left of an economy already in tatters.

THE CESIUM UNITS:

The PNCR has noted the recent statements by the Minister of Health, Dr. Leslie Ramsammy in relation to the ill-fated Cesium – 137 Units that have been languishing in crates in the compound of Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation and else where for over four years. The Minister in his statement dismissed the damaging report submitted by Ms. Petal Surujpaul claiming that she is inexperienced and that the units are not leaking any radioactive material. Twenty-two days after the submission of Ms. Surujpaul’s report, GPHC Director of Medical and Professional Services, Dr. Madan Rambarran, report to the board that,

“ concerns were expressed that this piece of radioactive equipment was leaking, persons were moving about within its range. Due to the highest measurement of radioactivity, steps should be taken to seek expert advice on removing the equipment from the compound.”

It is therefore interesting to hear Mr. Michael Khan, in an attempt to extricate the Minister from his ‘Cesium mess’ state that “ …the units were stored in a safe and relatively remote location.”

The PNCR is alarmed by the cavalier approach being adopted by the Minister. Dr. Ramsammy is no physicist and is therefore not competent to pronounce on this matter. The dismissal of Ms. Surujpaul’s report by Dr. Ramsammy, apparently without the benefit of expert advice, is a clear indication of his jaundiced approach to public health management in Guyana.

The PNCR wishes to assert that radiation exposure is a serious matter that neither Ramsammy nor Khan are competent to pronounce on. The health of staff members and that of the general public are at risk. The PNCR calls on the GPHC to make public all reports on the issue of radiation exposure submitted subsequent to Ms. Surujpaul’s report. The GPHC should also inform the Guyanese public of the steps taken subsequent to Ms. Surujpaul’s report, including the dates of the actions, to reduce exposure to possible radiation.

It is noteworthy that in his statement on the Cesium Affair, Dr. Ramsammy fails to provide an adequate explanation of why the Cesium Units, which were urgently needed to save the lives of Guyanese women, were left in crates for over four years. The PNCR therefore calls for an urgent independent enquiry into this matter to determine the circumstances surrounding the purchase, movement, storage and present status of the Cesium Units. Clearly, Dr. Ramsammy is a liability and should be removed in the interest of the nation.


People’s National Congress Reform
Congress Place, Sophia,
Georgetown, Guyana.
Thursday, November 6, 2003