PRESS STATEMENT By The People’s National Congress Reform To The Press Conference, Thursday, April 15, 2004 Hall of Heroes, Congress Place, Sophia




SUMMARY:
• The Party has been encouraged by the feedback from a wide cross section of Guyanese citizens and groups, from the Leader’s address to the Nation on March 31, 2004.
• The lack-lustre debate in the National Assembly has fallen into the usual pattern of Ministers reading their prepared propaganda sheets.
• The PNCR is concerned that this reign of terror has resulted in persons in certain sections of the society being very fearful of expressing political views that are critical of the PPP/C.
• The PNCR is committed to the early holding of Local Government elections and has worked consistently in the task force to ensure that this objective is achieved.
• The PPP/C has taken hypocrisy and deceit to a new level with its contention that the PNCR’s only interest in shared-governance or a National Front Government is its desire to acquire power through the backdoor.

ENCOURAGING FEEDBACK FROM LEADER’S ADDRESS TO THE NATION

The Party has been encouraged by the feedback from a wide cross section of Guyanese citizens and groups, from the Leader’s address to the Nation on March 31, 2004. In that address Mr. Robert Corbin stated, inter alia, that the party would be adopting certain justified positions in light of the serious breakdown in the rule of law in Guyana today. Mr. Corbin emphasized that continuing in the old way is no longer an option for Guyana; that the country must move to a new form of governance before the next elections; that the preparations and conduct of elections must be timely and that Guyana must simultaneously address the serious issues that stand in the way of free and fair elections. It is clear that many Guyanese have made the same assessment of the situation and have arrived at the same conclusions.

The Party, acting on the address to the Nation has already launched a programme of activities to promote and share its views with the wider society. For example:

• On Thursday April 8th a delegation of the Party’s Leadership met with members of the Private Sector Commission and later this month will hold meetings with religious, professional, women and youth organizations.

• Leadership Teams have also gone out to talk with the people through fan-out exercises and public meetings. For example, the Party Leader will be speaking at Beterverwagting this evening, Thursday April 15th and at Vreed-en-Hoop tomorrow, Friday April 16th.

• In its on-going efforts to bring the entire party machinery fully in sync with the current situation, the issues covered in the Leader’s address will be the main agenda item at the party’s second General Council meeting which will be held on Saturday, April 24th 2004.

• We will continue to insist that the Parliamentary Committee on Constitutional Reform be activated. This committee, which is chaired by the PPP/C, has been as dormant as a doormat and has held only one meeting since its establishment. No doubt, this is a deliberate attempt on the part of the ruling party to stymie further changes to the Constitution. Our party’s position is that this all-important Parliamentary Committee on Constitutional Reform must begin its work without any further delay.

THE 2004 BUDGET DEBATE

After respectful consideration of the views expressed by Mr Christopher Ram and some members of Civil Society including the Private Sector Commission, that the PNCR should participate in the 2004 Budget Debate, the Party thought it prudent to maintain its position not to participate, thereby upholding its decision on selective non-participation in parliamentary affairs. The Party maintains the view that to participate at this time would send the wrong signals about governance in Guyana. For the PNCR, it cannot be business as usual.

How can it be, when the Government refuses to deal seriously and transparently with the threat to the democratic process, to good governance and to the breakdown of the Rule of Law as exemplified by the existence of Government sponsored and directed Death Squads?

As stated by our Leader, in his 2004 March 31st Address to the Nation,

“Consequently, as the PNCR has already stated, the Death Squad(s) issue goes to the core of good governance and must be addressed within that context. Unless the issue of good governance is addressed, the democratic process in Guyana will also be dead. The people of Guyana must now take a stand. We must say to Jagdeo and the Government: thus far and no farther. We must be prepared to struggle and fight with all the weapons at our disposal within the law and the constitution to protect our fundamental right to life.”

In the circumstances, the Party’s Parliamentary Team, has commenced its programme of presenting the Party’s views on, and analyses of, the 2004 National Budget directly to the people, in a series of Public Forums in all Regions of Guyana. The first of these Forums was held in the Auditorium of the National Library on Monday April 5, 2004 and was addressed by the Shadow Minister of Finance and Economic Development, Mr Winston S. Murray, CCH, MP.

As has become customary, the lack-lustre debate in the National Assembly is traversing its usual course with Ministers reading their prepared propaganda sheets. The country which they seek to describe in the debate exists only in their imagination and the Government speakers seem oblivious to the fact that no Guyanese takes their presentations seriously at this time.

The Party’s Leadership has explained publicly, on numerous occasions, that the National Assembly essentially functions as a “rubber stamp” for actions of the Executive. In the circumstances, representation by the Opposition, no matter how eminently sensible and useful, is routinely ignored. In the case of the Budget Debate, the Government’s dominance of the media ensures that the views of Government Ministers are fully reported, during prime viewing times, while those of the Opposition are only cursorily reported or presented, if at all, at the most inconvenient times of the night. Our non-participation is therefore of no great significance.

THE FURTHER DECLINE INTO LAWLESSNESS

Recent developments indicate that Guyana is once again rapidly descending into a state of lawlessness.

• Guns, lies and scandal

Time and time again, the PNCR has demanded a thorough investigation into the functioning of the Ministry of Home Affairs in general and, particularly, its procedures for the issuance of firearm licenses. Indeed, this matter featured prominently in the Party’s submissions to the Discipline Forces Commission and is also the first matter listed for the Inquiry in Mr. Corbin’s January 15, 2004 letter to President Jagdeo. Time and time again the government has refused to accept the need for this investigation choosing instead to accelerate the distribution of weapons into the hands of known felons, social misfits and psychopaths.

It is now beyond doubt that this is a deliberate policy. What other explanation can there be for the death squads, the Axel Williams’ and the Gopaul Chowties if not to further an evil design to terrorize the citizenry and to retain power by any means necessary? In such an environment, any exercise of freedoms, more so during elections, would naturally be highly restricted.

The fact that this government has issued over 6,000 licenses per year from October 1992 to December 1998 is staggering. A simple calculation will show that at the known rate of progression, the PPP/C and Ronald Gajraj have distributed in excess of 70,000 firearm licences within the last decade. This figure is a conservative estimate of the thousands of weapons in the hands of criminally minded citizens and foreigners and says nothing of the high caliber illegal weapons such as the AK- 47 that Gopaul Chowtie was apprehended with a few days ago. Guyana under the PPP/C regime has gained notoriety as a lawless and dangerous place. Is it far-fetched to conclude that very soon critics of the government, minorities and political adversaries could be targeted and exterminated as a deliberate policy?

The PNCR will persist with its demands for the holding of an independent inquiry into allegations of state sponsored terrorism and murder and the deliberate arming of known PPP/C thugs and terrorists. We note that despite the best efforts of Donald Ramotar and others to deny Gopaul Chowtie, a well-known insider has clearly established a definite and undeniable link between Chowtie and the PPP/C. The PPP/C must unequivocally reject crime, violence and terrorism. We the people must demand a more humane, law abiding and ethical administration by raising our voices for change and a new and higher standard of governance.

• Violent kidnapping of Iranian cleric

The PNCR has noted with great concern the recent violent abduction of Iranian Cleric, Mr. Mohamed Ibrahimi and the mysterious killing of Mohammed Shafeek on the Vigilance Foreshore. The party has not dismissed the strong possibility that the nature of these events fits the modus operandi of the Government-sponsored death squad. There is deepening alarm in the society that despite the fact that the death squad allegations are now public, killings and abductions are proceeding unabated.

The PNCR understands that very senior officials of the PPP/C regime had expressed concern over the activities of the Iranian Cleric, Mr. Mohamed Ibrahimi, which they felt were not in the PPP/C’s long-term interest. This definitely adds a new dark and dangerous dimension to the political landscape.

The PNCR calls on the Guyana Police Force to move with dispatch to solve the kidnapping of Mr. Mohamed Ibrahimi and to get to the bottom of this alarming issue. The spate of killings by the death squads and the PPP/C’s organized criminal activities on the East Coast confirm the entrenchment of terror politics in Guyana. It is clear that in this new environment no one is safe. The PNCR has noted that supporters of the PPP/C and Indo Guyanese in particular, who dare to show indications of changing their political alignment, are targeted for the most vicious treatment. Persons whose activities are deemed to be affecting the PPP/C support base are also targeted. The killing of ROAR activist on the Essequibo Coast, the verbal attacks on Ravi Dev and C.N. Sharma are matters, which have to be seriously addressed.

The PNCR is concerned that this reign of terror has resulted in persons in certain sections of the society being very fearful of expressing political views that are critical of the PPP/C. The PPP/C historical election tactic of coercing persons in rural communities has been reinforced. This has great implications for citizen’s right to freely support a political party of their choice. The fear that now pervades the political landscape has implications for the conduct of future elections. The PNCR is convinced that any election that is not free from fear cannot be ‘free and fair’.

The PNCR therefore reiterates its call for the PPP/C regime to commission an independent inquiry into the allegations of a state sponsored death squads and related activities. It is only after such an inquiry is held that the environment, for free participation in the democratic process, can be created.

The PNCR also wishes to reiterate its position that the present arrangements for the governance of the country have facilitated this abuse by the PPP/C. Consequently there is urgent need for the system of governance to be addressed.

LOCAL GOVERNMENT ELECTIONS

The Party has noted the publicized concern of the PPP/C to have Local Government elections this year even though its delaying tactics in the work of the Local Government task force seemed designed to achieve the opposite. Yet, in the 2004 National Budget presentation, the government once again articulated its intention to have local government elections in the current year. The PNCR would not wish to enter any controversy on this matter but would wish to repeat the following:

The PNCR is committed to the early holding of Local Government elections and has worked consistently in the Task Force to ensure that this objective is achieved. We therefore laud the objective of holding early Local Government Elections. We would, however, like to re-emphasize that the postponement of the Local Government elections over the years was intended to facilitate the reform and the revamping of the entire system including the electoral system. The PPP/C has a poor record at both of those tasks. It took the dialogue process and subsequently constructive engagement to advance the work on those fronts, when in fact the government, as a matter of course, should have forged ahead with the implementation of the provisions of the reformed constitution. In that context, and in view of the PPP/C’s poor record of implementation, the PNCR will not be lulled into a call for elections without ensuring the implementation of all elements of the reform package. In that regard no provisions have been made in the budget in anticipation of the reform process being proceeded with this year. Elections yes, but there must also be a comprehensive and time-tabled approach to the implementation of every aspect of the reform.

These reforms include:

• The establishment of the Local Government Commission
• The determination of the electoral system
• The determination of the formula for fiscal transfers to local organs

The Chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission has already stated that he would be unable to manage those elections this year. It is therefore hypocritical for the PPP/C to continue repeating what they already know is impossible only for political propaganda.

OUR CALL FOR A MULTI-PARTY GOVERNMENT IS NOT NEW

The PPP/C has taken hypocrisy and deceit to a new level with its contention that the PNCR’s only interest in shared-governance or a National Front Government is its desire to acquire power through the backdoor. The PNC`s engagement in the seventies (70’s) and the eighties (80’s), with the PPP/C, in search of a formula for the involvement of the PPP in the government, at the executive level, is ample evidence of the PNC’s age old recognition of the problem and the need to find a solution in the context of putting Guyana first over partisan political interest and power politics. That recognition coupled with our renewed commitment informs our present call. The search for a new and relevant form of governance has always gained our attention and, in our opinion, is needed now as much as was the case in the past. The PNCR will not be deterred by PPP/C propaganda and will press on in collaboration with all other like minded Guyanese organisations in the pursuit of solutions to Guyana’s problems.

People’s National Congress Reform
Congress Place, Sophia,
Georgetown, Guyana.
Thursday, April 15, 2004