PRESS STATEMENT By The People’s National Congress Reform To The Press Conference, Thursday, April 1, 2004 Hall of Heroes, Congress Place, Sophia




SUMMARY:

• The Leader of the PNCR, in his Address to the Nation, presented an analysis of the fundamental causes of the country’s problems and offered his views and that of his Party on the way forward.

• Every year in the lead up to the “Budget” the ritual of ‘consultations’ takes place with stakeholders, including the private sector organizations and this is usually trumpeted as an act of achievement even though from all accounts precious few, if any, of the suggestions are incorporated within the budget.

OPPOSITION LEADER’S ADDRESS TO THE NATION

Yesterday, March 31st, Mr. Robert Corbin, Leader of the PNCR and of the Parliamentary opposition, addressed the nation. As Guyana falls deeper into crisis, Mr. Corbin’s decision to come before the Guyanese people stemmed from his deep personal concern and sense of moral and constitutional responsibility over the situation. In his 36-minute address, the Leader presented an analysis of the fundamental causes of the country’s problems and offered his views and that of his Party on the way forward.

We take this opportunity to re-emphasize some of Mr. Corbin’s main pronouncements.

• What the Guyanese people want and must get: Irrespective of our race, religion or social class, all Guyanese yearn for a society, in which we can live together in peace and harmony eschewing racial prejudices and conflicts; where we have a strong and sustainable economy that encourages wealth-creating processes, develops the skills of our youth and works to the benefit of all, justly distributing the rewards of success; where the system of governance guarantees equal opportunity for all our citizens to improve the quality of their lives; where jobs, job opportunities and services can be available to all without discrimination or corruption; where all forms of corruption, entrenched privilege and inequity are eliminated; where crime would be minimal; and, where our environment facilitates peaceful and harmonious living.

• Our main failure as a nation: We have failed as a people, after nearly fifty years, to find political consensus or a system of governance that is more accountable and responsive to the popular will and which can deliver to the Guyanese people their just demands.

• What the government’ attitude on constructive engagement amounts to: President Jagdeo by his behaviour, Luncheon by his pronouncements and the government by its slack performance have already constructively disengaged the PNCR and brought the constructive engagement process to an end. That a Government can be allowed to behave this way indicates that unless the Governance issue is settled Guyana will be moving towards anarchy and decay.

• A new format for national consultation: The only reasonable course of action is to search for new ways of working together to identify problems, to examine options, to take decisions about agreed solutions and to monitor performance in the best interests of all of Guyana’s citizens. For the future then, we will NOT engage President Jagdeo in any further bi-lateral discussions save and except those required under the constitution. The plight of our country can no longer be addressed only by the leadership of the ruling party, the government and the Opposition. Future discussions of urgent and critically important national issues must also engage the parliamentary political parties and civil society organizations. We will not engage with the President on the same basis as before.

• The Gajraj Affair: A basic tenet of democracy, ‘the right to life' is being routinely and systematically violated by the PPP/C Government and Jagdeo considers it a “tiny” issue. Guyanese must now judge the value which the President places on the life of each citizen. It is, therefore, not surprising that the perpetrators of these crimes feel comfortable with the beastly process of recruiting young men who are victims of Guyana’s economic circumstances, turning them into killers, and finally eliminating them when they have served their purpose. The fact that we must picket and march to get the state to address the issue of organized murder is a clear indication of the state of our democracy. There could be no doubt that the scourge of death squads in Guyana has undermined the democratic process and the social contract with the people fundamentally breached. The government’s legitimacy can therefore be called into question.

The death squad(s) issue goes to the core of governance and must be addressed within that context. Unless the issue of governance is addressed, the democratic process in Guyana will also be dead.

• The PNCR’s creed: the PNCR rejects all forms of prejudice and discrimination based on race, colour, gender, religion, age or disability. As such, we promote and continue to promote respect for basic human rights. We must condemn all violence whether economically or racially inspired and we must resist all attempts to promote ethnic conflict. Ethnic and racial conflict is neither in the best interest of the PNCR nor Guyana. For the PNCR, our mission is to continuously reach out to all Guyanese irrespective of ethnic origin and we have a special responsibility to protect all those who at this time are bold enough to venture out of the old mould.

• Our line in the sand: The PNCR will continue its selective and gradual non-participation in the national assembly, other parliamentary processes and state-sponsored activities.

At this juncture we wish to state very categorically that Gajraj has lost any authority to be recognized not only by our Party but also by the citizens of Guyana. The response from the government will determine our continued tactic of further de-recognition. We hope it does not reach the point of de-recognition of the entire government.

• The way forward: Guyana needs a fundamental change in the system of governance if we are to survive and move on. Change in the political process to ensure inclusivity and the genuine feeling of participation by all Guyanese is now an unconditional demand of the PNCR. Our duty to the people of Guyana, but more so to the young people and to future generations, dictates no other course. The time for change is now

Shared governance or a government of national reconciliation and reconstruction must now take its rightful place in Guyana. Political parties must prepare themselves to work together for the greater good of Guyana in collaboration with civil society and ordinary citizens.

We remain firmly committed to these positions and will intensify the campaign to ensure that a fundamentally new system of governance is in place in time for the next elections.

• The time for action is now: History will judge us unkindly if we fail to join in the noble struggle for the restoration of morality, decency and the Rule of Law in our land.

THE NATIONAL BUDGET 2004

On Monday, 5th April, the PNCR will be holding a public forum to present its overall assessment of the 2004 National Budget. Members of the media have already been invited to the event, which starts at 4:30 pm in the National Library Auditorium. The feature speaker will be PNCR Shadow Minister of Finance and Economic Development, Mr. Winston Murray, MP.

At today’s press conference, however, we present only brief comments on the budget of 2004 and on the economic mismanagement of the country.

Using the numbers generated by the Budget speeches over the last four years, i.e., 2000 to 2003 the economy of Guyana grew at an average of 0.4% per annum over that period. This stands in stark contrast to growth rates of between 6% and 8.5% during much of the 1990’s fuelled by the Hoyte Economic Recovery Programme embarked upon in 1989.

It is absolutely clear that whereas the Hoyte administration understood that a structural adjustment framework only bought time and opportunity for the necessary focused policies and measures to be put in place and assiduously pursued, the PPP/C administration is clinging to the structural adjustment process and attendant resources as the Alpha and Omega of its economic policies. This must be a great worry for all Guyanese who are concerned about the future of our country.

Notwithstanding the most positive utterances by Government Ministers, the fact is that, at best, there is but a trickle of private investment to and in Guyana, compared with the vastness of our resource base and our immense potential for economic growth. Within the Caribbean we are consistently lagging behind in economic development and, at the wider international level, serious and large investors are not looking in the direction of Guyana.

Every year in the lead up to the budget the ritual of ‘consultations’ takes place with stakeholders, including the private sector organizations and this is usually trumpeted as an act of achievement even though, from all accounts, precious few, if any, of the suggestions are incorporated within the budget.

The failure to convince private capital (both local and foreign) that it is truly welcome on a level playing field is the major bottleneck in both broadening the base of the economy as well as in bringing about the needed strategic alliances for backward and forward industrial linkages. The Government must give up its insatiable appetite for control and leverage. It must also remove the red tape and bureaucracy that stifles the effort to bring any investment on stream. Many foreign nationals and Guyanese expatriates recall the horrors of trying to bring investments to fruition.

The abysmal failure to pursue serious and focused policies with commitment to attract private sector investment denies Guyana an exit strategy from Structural Adjustment Programmes.

What is disheartening is that the Government attempts to conceal its failure by touting our current condition as sound. It is a fad in Government circles to speak of the soundness of our macro economic fundamentals such as inflation, monetary aggregates, reserves and exchange rate but the Government needs to be reminded that in a stagnant or contracting economy that is of little relevance.

In two of the last four years the economy contracted and over the four-year period grew an average at 0.4% per annum. Specifically last year the economy contracted by 0.6%. This occurred when, in 2003, world output expanded by 2.5% and world trade increased by 4.7%. We submit that a projection of 2.5% real growth in GDP in 2004 is most unrealistic.

In assessing performance in 2003 the Minister of Finance took us on an excursion into social sector and infrastructure spending, that is, spending in Housing, Education, Health and Water and Roads and Draining and Irrigation, and highlighted for us the percentage of GDP being spent on Health and Education. While such expenditure is welcome it should be clearly understood that under HIPC arrangements there are specific identified percentage targets for expenditure in Health and Education so in at least one sense the level of expenditure spring from a conditionality for resource access. The other point of note is that most of the expenditure in the social sectors is based on borrowings from the IFIs which create debt to be serviced by the citizens of Guyana. The Government has already borrowed more than US$800 million or approximately G$160,000 million or G$160 billion. Thus each citizen’s burden for this debt is more than $200,000.

Added to this is the fact that instances abound where many projects were, and are being, executed with substandard specifications, substandard materials and in some cases, with no materials at all. Yet the full sums for the projects are disbursed. But that is a debt that has to be paid by the people of Guyana. Yet in the budget speech for 2004 the word corruption was not once mentioned even though it is obvious to everyone that this is a major concern in Guyana.

It must also not escape notice that the Minister of Finance projects that there will be an overall deficit on the Central Government accounts of $25.9 billion in 2004 which means that the Government would be spending $25,900 million dollars more that it expects to receive in revenues in 2004.

When one looks at the picture overall one sees a country with no or very low economic growth, borrowing heavily to sustain some level of programmed activity, largely in the infrastructure and social areas while very little is being demonstrated by way of vision based policies to put the economy back on a sustained path of strong economic growth. This position is untenable in the medium term.

As mentioned earlier, a more in-depth presentation, incorporating more statistics and economic analysis, will be presented on Monday, April 5, 2004, at the National Library Auditorium.

LEADER’S VISIT TO REGION 1

Leader of the People’s National Congress Reform, Mr. Robert H. O. Corbin, M.P., paid a visit to the North West District, Region 1 last weekend. He was accompanied by Central Executive Committee Member, Dr. George Norton, M.P. and Mr. Chris Jones, Executive Member of the Guyana Youth and Students Movement (G.Y.S.M.).

The team held meetings at Barabina, Hosororo and Bumbury Hill thereafter the Leader proceeded on a meet-the-people tour of the Mabaruma District during which he visited the Mabaruma Secondary School and addressed the students. Dr. George Norton and Chris Jones visited the riverain areas on Sunday and Monday and met with the residents who complained of the neglect of the Government and the decline in Agriculture.

People’s National Congress Reform
Congress Place, Sophia,
Georgetown, Guyana.
Thursday, April 1, 2004