Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Corruption at Customs is nothing new, it never seems to change

Corruption at Customs is nothing new, it never seems to change
Stabroek News letter, Friday 18 April 2008

Dear Editor,
I have noted the recent corruption probe at Customs House, and I am
quite surprised at the news it is generating. Everyone in Guyana is
aware that there is corruption at the GRA. This is no surprise or
ground shattering revelation, in fact I am quite surprised that the
media is actually bothering to report on it.
A cursory glance at the assets acquired by these public servants, the
vehicles they drive, their lifestyles would have told any idiot with
an IQ of -2.6, that exact tale. But the Management, which should bear
full responsibility, time and time again, choose always to ignore. The
usual mantra taken out of the President's Hand Book? 'Show us the
evidence!' said in unison. Evidence which even the blind can see.
What is quite surprising is that it is the President, no less, who has
to initiate the probe. This is a serious indictment on the people who
run the GRA. But then again, hardly surprising, when not so recently
the GPOC attempted to place cameras in the Customs designated area of
the GPOC, designed to root out the established drug network, they met
with the full resistance of the GRA.
So I guess the President will once again supposed-ly have to
personally run down the culprits at the GRA, that all and sundry are
fully aware of. But like the duty free, dolphin and milk scam issues,
when anointed people are involved, events will be caught up in the
myriad of court issues, poor inexperienced prosecutions, union issues,
eventual governmental complacency, supervening events ie Carifesta
(where we will celebrate our glorious mediocrity), dogs biting people,
Ignition Concert, local cricket at the Bourda sward, and inevitably
will die its predictable wasted and natural death. A few people will
be dispatched via their luxury rides to their luxury homes, to live in
peace and harmony with their corrupt nouveau riche neighbours, go to
church on Sundays and prepare for the hereafter, and the big ones will
continue to nest at Customs House, at the usual expense of the
Guyanese overburdened tax payers.
The end result? Millions of hard earned taxpayers monies will be
churned into investigations, meetings, superficial re-workings of the
existing system and high paid consultants who will repeat what has
been said over and over before. The real end result? - Brisk business
as usual at Customs House.
No wonder Naipaul is so caustic on us in the Caribbean.

Yours faithfully,
I Persaud

Sunday, April 27, 2008

A survey launch would allow monitoring of coastal erosion

A survey launch would allow monitoring of coastal erosion -engineer Philip Allsopp says in letter
Stabroek News article. April 27, 2008

Engineer Philip Allsopp says he does not believe that impending doom lurks on the coast of Guyana in terms of rising seas and erosion if coastal management is tackled intelligently and continuously and he pointed to the need for a survey launch so hydrographic surveys could be done.
In an April 6 letter to the Stabroek News, Allsopp said that there was a cycle of erosion and accretion along the Guyana coast whereby there were zones of erosion alternating with zones of accretion (ie sling mud) and the whole pattern moving from east to west at a speed of approximately three quarters of a mile per year.
Allsopp explained that there were protective mud bands (sling mud) alternating with troughs of erosion (lowered foreshores) moving steadily westwards. He said that the studies indicated that every section of the sea defences was exposed to erosion about three times a century.
“It is wrong to state that the cycle of erosion is now starting – it has been going on as long as the Amazon discharged mud into the Atlantic, and it is wrong to state that the cycle is 40 years – it is closer to 33 years,” Allsopp wrote.
He said that this pattern had first been observed by a Director of Public Works (then called the Colonial Engineer) around 1920 and confirmed and quantified by the Delft Hydraulics team in 1960-61. “I have records to prove this. If this pattern is identified and studied then it is possible to predict where and when erosion will occur and plan your maintenance accordingly. This was done in the 1960s very effectively,” Allsopp said.
He said that at that time the ministry had had a hydrographic survey launch and two excellent hydrographic surveyors in the persons of ‘Sammy’ Luck and Paul Kranenburg who had surveyed the coast continuously and reported their foreshore measurements to the Sea Defence Board and to Barry Manson Hing, the Executive Engineer on a monthly basis. “This practice ceased some years ago; there is no survey launch and it has not been possible to monitor the areas of erosion to permit of forward planning by the Sea Defence Board. In the present age of satellite scanning this should be achievable,” he said.
Allsopp said that overtopping of the walls is not an unusual occurrence, but it would happen only in the zones of erosion such as Montrose, during the high tides which were aggravated by an unusual swell in the Atlantic coupled with high winds.
He said that a similar case was that of Canvey Island in the Thames estuary, “which I observed as a research student in 1953.” He went on to say: “It was made inhabitable.
It should not be difficult to repair the washed out portions of the embankment on the back slopes of the walls, but this must be done immediately or the unsupported walls would collapse. The important point here is that this condition could have been anticipated if proper hydrographic surveys had been in effect. At least one hydrographic survey launch is necessary for effective coastal management.”
But in a letter on April 11, 2008 in response, Charles Sohan said that the scant data available made it difficult to predict accurately when and where erosion would affect the sea defences, since this depended on a number of unknown variables such as the width of the tidal flats, the type of material making up the foreshore, the intensity of wave action and the direction of wave attacks.
He said moreover that the general pattern was disturbed near the mouths of the rivers by local currents and by local deposition of riverain silt and sand.
“Similarly, man made (Demerara Harbour Bridge) or natural obstructions to tidal and other currents can and have caused unexplained local erosions (Craig, EBD), which is almost as severe as the cyclic attack but which may stop as unpredictably as it began,” Sohan said.
Sohan said that if Allsopp’s staff in the 1960s were able to predict when and where erosion would have occurred there would not have been any breaches of the sea defences at Bladen Hall, Lusignan and other places in the 1960s.
“Mr Allsopp is of the opinion that if the coastal cyclic phenomenon of erosion and accretion is identified and studied it is possible to pinpoint coastal areas of erosion and plan effective maintenance accordingly. These statements are all well and good, but in recent years the government has failed to provide the resources, manpower and equipment needed to collect the relevant data to make this possible,” Sohan said in his letter.
Scientists have projected that at current levels of melting ice caps, seas can rise up to 30 cm during this century because of global warming. Local experts said that Guyana’s sea defences needed to be strengthened to deal with the challenges of climate change, but this would be an expensive undertaking.

Evidence of marginalization

Evidence of marginalization
Kaieteur News, 27 April 2008
Letter to the Editor. http://www.kaieteurnewsgy.com/letters.html

Dear Editor,
This is my last letter on marginalisation, a topic Prem Misir has written about every two months since I returned to Guyana in 2005. It is as if he is trying to convince his delusional self there is no African marginalisation in Guyana. He has therefore chosen to become the statistical and intellectual author of this piece of fiction.
There are two types of death squads in Guyana. One uses the mighty gun, kidnappings, torture, corruption and blackmail to achieve its goals. The other uses the mighty pen to do the same.
The second type of death squad is the army of ghost writers in the Chronicle.
Misir claims that there is no proof from any African that marginalisation exists. He laboriously quotes statistics about the number of Africans in the army, Police Force and Public Sector. He uses these statistics to state that Africans are doing just fine.
In reality, Prem Misir has become a master ventriloquist and statistical contortionist.
Perhaps Mr. Misir should be reminded that, during slavery, Africans were 99% of the workforce. According to him, therefore, they could not be, and were not, marginalised because they dominated the workforce.
Prem Misir is hard at work today because the Government has been caught with its pants down. The Venezuelan donation of US$500 of food to the people of Buxton has gained worldwide attention as to the meanness of the PPP and the Jagdeo Administration, because it highlighted the plight of innocent African Guyanese farmers whose complete livelihoods have been destroyed. Imagine, the new Minister of Foreign Affairs stated that giving each of 80 farmers US$7.50 in food has jeopardised the Joint Services’ operations.
I imagine Guyana is the laughing stock at the United Nations in New York and in major capitals of the world.
Prem Misir has three reasons why he keeps repeating in his sleep that Africans are not marginalised.
The Government is totally embarrassed globally, and he is trying his utmost best to dispel the majority view that Africans are marginalised in Guyana. Among the arguments put forth is that Samuel Hinds is African and so is Dr Luncheon, the Head of the Presidential Secretariat. After all, with these two Africans in prominent positions, surely there can be no credibility to African marginalisation.
Prem Misir, obsession with unreality and marginalisation in Guyana, is to continue to use psychological warfare to say that there is no marginalisation and that it’s a figment of Africans’ imagination. After all, you are better of now that under Burnham.
In his last fictional piece, he incredibly states: “Marginalisation is a process, not a condition; the condition itself is not marginalisation”.
This statement of Prem Misir’s convinced me he is living in outer space. This is, therefore, my last response to him on this topic.
In essence, Prem is stating with the great intellectual authority of a PhD that: “if Africans in Guyana are marginalised, Africans are not marginalised because marginalisation is a process and Africans are not a process.”
With this logic, he can easily explain to Jews that the holocaust was a process and therefore they did not die in large numbers because they are not a process.
Prem has stated in his letter that Africans are delusionary about marginalisation because there is no proof. Since Prem wants proof of marginalisation, then let me share with him my own personal experiences over the last three years in Guyana. Indeed, thousands of Guyanese farmers, teachers, contractors, businessmen and women, young people seeking jobs, vendors seeking credit, Buxtonians etc. can give you their own horror stories.
Prem Misir defines three types of marginalisation in his last letter: (1) cultural, (2) social, and (3) political.
However, he has left out the one type of marginalisation Africans complain the most about: economic marginalisation, namely jobs, contracts, donor grants, access to capital, control of institutions that determine business success, business networks in and out of Guyana cemented by race and culture (e.g. international business franchises operating in Guyana) and access to business information, among many other issues.
First, however, let me deal with my own economic marginalisation because of Prem’s omission of the most critical element of marginalisation: economic marginalisation.
Prem, do you know that during the first year of returning to Guyana since May 2005, I applied for nine different jobs for which I am eminently qualified and, given my career performance, was the most qualified person to do the job? Prem, do you know that, not only did I not receive an interview, I never heard from any of them? Ask Prime Minister Hinds. I wrote him a letter detailing each of these situations and this gross personal marginalisation.
Prem, do you know that I and the leadership at ACDA applied for an European Union Guyana Micro Projects Programme grant to build a Drum Museum for Carifesta X that would have housed locally made Guyanese drums as well as three drums and three books from every African country? The project was based on the building of a Community Centre in which there would have been a Drum Museum and a Business Learning Centre. The Centre would have been used for providing a wide range of social, business and cultural courses. The central goal was to reach out to create hope and pride in the African community by helping to create jobs, nurture creativity and leadership development, provide mentorship, encourage volunteerism, provide courses in life skills, small business management and peer counselling for HIV/AIDS.
In addition, there will be such activities as drumming, drama, theatre, chess, culture, karate, soccer, cricket and dancing classes.
Prem, do you know the GMPP Board, headed by Mrs. Yvonne Hinds, approved this project after it passed the concept note and detailed proposal phases, only to have it denied by the Ministry of Finance? This denial of a worthwhile cultural project that would have resuscitated drum making and drumming in African villages is cultural marginalisation. Don’t you think this is cultural marginalisation, Prem?
Another personal example has to do with Buxton. The Buxton Community Centre for Toucan 11 Multi-Purpose Club, an 11-year-old institution for Buxton youth, was the first proposal turned in at the phase two ‘request for proposal’ stage of the GMPP process, in March 2007. The Centre was awarded on June 17, but no monies were received until late December, after I wrote the President and detailed the incredible conflicts of interest and pure corruption of the grant process. A large number of proposals, including one I wrote for another youth club in BV three months after the Buxton proposal wase turned in, were funded before the Buxton proposal received its grant in December. This is and was cultural and social marginalisation and an attempt to deny Buxton and its residents.
Currently, the Commemoration Committee comprised of prominent African Guyanese were told by Minister Nadir that, unless they sent in their photographs to him, he would not sign their Friendly Society registration certificate because many individuals are using fake names in their applications. There is no legal requirement for this request. This is regardless of the fact that the Minister knows most of these people; their signatures, home addresses and telephone numbers are all provided in duplicate. The seven names on the application are Christobel Hughes, mother of Nigel Hughes, Andaiye, Magda Pollard, Tom Dalgety, Sam London, Charles Conway and Eric Phillips. Other members of the Committee include Tommy Payne and Cecil Josiah, and the Committee is supported by ACDA and PANAF, the two premiere African cultural organisations in Guyana.
This refusal is cultural marginalisation, as this group held four presentations during the 200th Anniversary of the Commemoration of the Trade in Captive Africans last year, and has held several exhibitions in Georgetown, New Amsterdam and Corriverton. The group currently holds events at the Museum; these events are advertised in the daily papers and on TV, and the group is also currently in partnership with the Ministry of Culture Youth and Sport to revitalise the Museum of African Heritage in Bel Air Park for Carifesta X.
Dance Alive, which is the edutainment HIV/AIDS Youth Lifestyle NGO I founded when I returned from South Africa in 2005, was purposefully marginalised from 2005 to 2006, a period of over 15 months. Its proposal was turned into the Government in August 2005. The Government was aware that it would be launched on 18 December 2005 at the National Cultural Centre under the title “Footprint of Hope’. Much work was done, including the spending of $8 million of my own money to prepare for the launch. Many companies and business friends were contacted for support, as it would be free to the public. In early December 2005, the Ministry of Health, after passing World Health Day on December 1, deliberately launched “Don’t Dis Me” on 17 December 2005, the day before Dance Alive was to be launched. Most of the advertisers I had contacted, and who were predisposed to support Dance Alive, dropped out or gave minimal financial support. The sad reality was that “Don’t Dis Me” was copied from Dance Alive, and was deliberately launched to destroy Dance Alive.
Prem, here we have one of the most dangerous epidemics facing Guyana and a show that could have benefited the public in 2005. Dance Alive was marginalised because I was the Founder of the NGO.
Prem Misir should not ask about African political marginalisation. The Westminster system is a system of marginalisation; and in Guyana, where there is entrenched ethnic voting, Africans are marginalised. The PNC, AFC or GAP/ROAR cannot change a single line in the national budget. President Jagdeo has 11 unanimously approved bills from his PPP-controlled Parliament and yet has he not only not signed them, but has ignored the Constitution and refused to send them back to the Parliament with an explanation within 10 days. This is political marginalisation.
Guyana is a constitutional dictatorship. Prem knows this better than most people, yet he argues to the hundreds of thousands of functional illiterates in Guyana that Africans are not marginalised. Hence many will believe him.
I leave these words from Dr Martin Luther King for Prem Misir:
“Like an unchecked cancer, hate corrodes the personality and eats away its vital unity. Hate destroys a man’s sense of values and his objectivity. It causes him to describe the beautiful as ugly and the ugly as beautiful, and to confuse the true with the false and the false with the true”.
Eric Phillips

Freedom for the collision of views

Ian On Sunday
Stabroek News, April 27, 2008
Freedom for the collision of views By Ian McDonald

Whatever happened to the National Broadcasting Authority Bill? Proposed legislation has been in gestation for countless years but there has been no birth.
I know there has been an almost infinite number of comments and recommendations from experts and specialists in the field. My own contribution has always been to urge that in seeking to bring ‘order’ into broadcasting we do not lose the priceless benefit of maintaining access to the widest possible range of information, education and entertainment and access also to views expressed from around the whole compass of opinion. Bringing order out of anarchy is an admirable objective but if order leads to a drastic narrowing of international programming and the stifling of diversified local opinion that would certainly be an unacceptable alternative.
Despite the need to create order and supervise more carefully what is broadcast on our multiplying TV channels, there has been no indication so far that Government contemplates censoring the independent broadcasting media or intends ‘controlling’ objectionable or even reckless opinion except through the action of the Advisory Committee on Broadcasting. The suspension of Channel Six because of an exceptionally flagrant transgression does not appear to signal a departure from this approach.
But if policy, perhaps in reaction to recent terrible events, were to change in any fundamental way that would be the unhappiest of events. We all know why. It is because no question needs so urgently and repeatedly to be asked of anyone with power over others than that suggested by Oliver Cromwell in a letter he addressed to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland on August 3, 1650. “I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ,” Cromwell urged the assembled Churchmen, “think it possible you may be mistaken.” Great words that Cromwell later, in the fullness of his own power, too often failed to remember.
“Think it possible you may be mistaken.” It is a point that continually has to be made to anyone who gets to thinking that he and he alone possesses the keys to the kingdom of truth. Throughout history cruelty, evil, and inhuman absurdities of all kinds have followed in the wake of pure dogma put into practice. Long ago the most dangerous kind of dogma was religious, because religious leaders wielded dominant power over people.
Now, in an era when politicians have the power, it is political dogma which is most dangerous – though it may be, God forbid, that religious dogmatism is making a strong comeback in these days of fierce fanaticisms.
“Think it possible you may be mistaken.” Politicians who cannot readily admit that they may be in error, that they need all the constructive criticism and suggestions they can get, that any system they espouse is bound to be flawed as time passes and is therefore subject to change and improvement – such politicians are bound to menace the general good sooner or later. It would be all right if they said what Sam Johnson used to say: “I dogmatise and am contradicted, and in the conflict of opinions and sentiments I find delight.” But the trouble is that a politician’s dogmatism tends eventually and always to end up in the claim which Juvenal, the Roman poet, more than 1900 years ago described when he had his emperor shout: “I will it, I insist on it! Let my will stand instead of reason.” And along that way – the way of one man or one party’s will in place of the reasoning of many – lies great danger.
We should strictly avoid letting partisan party, or any one person’s, opinion dominate any sphere of our national life. John Stuart Mill is one of the great authorities on this subject. It would be good to make him required reading as an antidote to so much that is turgid, blinkered, rigidly ideological, partisan or coldly dogmatic in the life of any nation. Listen to him on the subject of letting conflicting views contend:
“The peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is that it is robbing the human race: posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth; if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.”
That is so well said. I have no doubt that dogmatism must be challenged and challenged again wherever it appears in public life – in the press, in the Churches, in the marketplace, in the arts, in academia, and not least in Government circles and in the ranks of all politicians. Certainly in one respect at least the administration should think it possible that it is mistaken – that is in allowing only one radio station to operate in Guyana. That is a big blot on its fine record of openness.
Isaiah Berlin, the great exponent of opening the mind to all views, at the conclusion of the introduction to his memorable collection of essays on Russian thinkers, wrote some words which should be inscribed on small plaques displayed prominently on the executive desks of every single politician in the land:
“The entire burden of my writings, so far as they can be said to display any single tendency, is distrust of all claims to the possession of incorrigible knowledge about issues of fact or principle in any sphere of human behaviour.”

Why hasn’t the Director of Public Prosecutions appointed a special prosecutor in the Sacred Heart insurance fraud case?

Why hasn’t the Director of Public Prosecutions appointed a special prosecutor in the Sacred Heart insurance fraud case?
Stabroek News, April 27, 2008

Dear Editor,
It is a matter of grave concern that we appear to have a multi category approach in responding to calls for justice in our legal system.
The front page of the Catholic Standard of April 25, 2008 once again reports the non -response of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) to the request of the Roman Catholic Bishop for a special prosecutor in the matter of the Guyflag Insurance Company Fire Insurance Claim following the destruction of the Sacred Heart Church by fire.
The Bishop’s written request of early November 2007, we understand, was followed up by another later in March 2008. Further, counsel for the bishop in the matter have reportedly made numerous efforts to contact the DPP, all without success.
Meanwhile one has read of special prosecutors being appointed in other cases such as the NBS fraud, another fraud case in a private company and matters involving evasion of taxes and duties payable to the State, the most recent being the Guyana Revenue Authority vs Fidelity Investments.
President Jagdeo in his meeting with Senior Police Officers on Thursday, April 24, 2008 has reportedly called for major improvements in the investigation of white collar crime, the category in which this insurance fraud falls.
In view of the above is the RC Bishop’s matter not entitled to equal treatment as that in the other instances named above?
Further, does our President’s call for investigative improvements not include the prosecution of any resulting case? It certainly must, since one does not believe he intended otherwise.
The DPP must pronounce on the RC Bishop’s request for a special prosecutor as a matter of greatest urgency and prior to May 2, 2008 when the matter is set for yet another report, lest the judicial role of the DPP be brought into question.
Yours faithfully,
(name and address provided)
Editor’s note
We are sending a copy of this letter to the Director of Public Prosecutions for any comments she may wish to make.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Guyana mulls entering tuna market… Imminent crackdown of illegal fishing in deep seas - Persaud

Guyana mulls entering tuna market… Imminent crackdown of illegal fishing in deep seas - Persaud
By Leonard Gildarie
Kaieteur News, 26 April 2008

Government has warned of a possible crackdown on illegal fishers in the deep seas and is also considering moving the closing season to the middle of the year to avoid over-exploitation of key sea foods, including the prized sea-bobs (shrimp).
The statements were made on Thursday by Minister of Agriculture, Robert Persaud, at a workshop to mull the pros and cons of Guyana entering the tuna market.
The clear absence of key representatives of the fishing industry at the forum held at the Grand Coastal Inn, East Coast Demerara, also came under fire from the Minister who threatened to find interested partners to develop the tuna industry if the local stakeholders are not interested.
The forum was hosted in part by the International Commissioner for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) and was described as important at this time, especially in light of the current crises on the world market for food.
The workshop was to agree on a way forward for a tuna industry with key discussions on quota and processing and marketing aspects. Other areas would have included the training of fishers in new techniques of fishing, and new vessel types.
Guyana has to become a member of ICCAT before it can exploit and market tuna.
According to the Minister, the fishing strategy plan for Guyana welcomes the idea of entering a new frontier in deep sea fishing and this country stands ready to abide with the necessary regulations.
While ICCAT's annual fee is an imposing Euros12,000 annually, the fact is that Government intends to encourage the local industry to become an integral part of the organisation, especially in light of the fact that the local fishers are the ones benefiting, the Minister said.
Currently, the country is moving through the Fisheries Advisories Committee (FAC) to ensure that it improves drastically its database on deep sea fishing.
Stressing the tremendous potential of exploiting the deep seas for its resources, Persaud disclosed that $10 billion is earned annually from sea foods alone with half of this coming from the export of sea-bobs.
It was also disclosed that recently, a fishing expert was looking at the methodology of monitoring stocks to prevent possible over-exploitation. Based on technical grounds, the closing season (when fishing in deep seas cease for about six weeks) should be moved to mid-year from its normal October time, the Minister said.
According to Persaud, Guyana needs to manage those resources in a strong, sustainable way. If the industry is not interested in venturing into the areas of tuna, then “they should tell us so”, so that other parties could be approached.
The Minister acknowledged that the government's capacity to monitor the deep seas is hampering them and there are indications that prime fish resources are being pilfered.
Against this background, there is an urgent need to ensure that the fishing authorities maintain a presence in the deep seas area with the opportunities grasped, he noted.
Meanwhile, the Minister has signaled a possible overhaul of the Fisheries Department which currently falls under the Ministry. There is a move to increase its capacity with skills and to make it a semi-autonomous body.
He admitted, however, that there is still a lot of work to be done with the process to restructure not moving as fast “as we want…”
In addition to the exploitation of the deep seas, Government is also pushing the development of the aquaculture department which is slowly gaining ground.
The further development of the sea food industry will place the country in a better position, especially with the demands for food in the world.
Meanwhile, Chairman of the FAC, Andrew Bishop, in his presentation highlighted the growing importance of the fishing industry in Guyana.
FAC, he said, is playing a crucial role in the revamping of legislation. The Committee is key to the development of the sector with over 20 members coming from the trawler association, artisan fishing, police, Coast Guard, UG and the Environmental Protection Agency.
Currently, FAC is working to vastly improve its database collection which is a crucial to the conditions laid down by ICCAT where demands for proper and in depth recording keeping is a must.

Corruption probe: Customs officers fired, cashiers “sick out”

Corruption probe: Customs officers fired, cashiers “sick out”
Kaieteur News, 26 April 2008

Two Customs officers in the Internal Affairs arm of the Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA) were dismissed late yesterday even as a number of cashiers at the Main Street office went on a “sick-out”.
The two officers, who were on contract and had less than four years of service, were among a team that inspected containers of Kong Inc., which is at centre of the Polar Beer controversy that sparked a President-ordered investigation in various sections of the civil service.
Seventeen staff members of the Guyana Revenue Authority, two of them seniors, and some of them who have been working for as long as 20 years, have been sent on “annual leave until they hear from the Commissioner General” as a multi-agency task force went to work.
Yesterday, almost 40 of the GRA staff members gathered at the Guyana Public Service Union building on New Garden Street to plan their next move.
According to some of them, they were told by the Auditor General, who is part of the investigating multi-agency task force, that they were next.
Speaking with Kaieteur News yesterday, the two sacked Customs officers, who asked not to be named, said that they were part of separate teams that inspected containers of soft drinks last year at a city wharf.
Investigators believe that the containers had Polar Beers but were passed off as soft drinks to deprive the state of millions in revenues.
“I saw soft drink when I inspected. Further, other officers were with us inspecting and nothing has happened to them.”
And to compound the issue, the importer paid Value Added Tax on the imported soft drink and the money has not been returned. The GRA has actually accepted that the imported goods were soft drinks.
Last week, the two officers were among others that were reporting to the Police CID headquarters. They were placed on $50,000 bail each and asked to report for questioning.
One of them said that the Auditor General, who is a member of the multi-sectoral team, actually told the man that he would be sacked and at 16:00 hours he received a letter confirming his dismissal.
This week several of Customs officers continued to be interviewed by the task force which included the police, Ministry of Finance, and the Office of the Auditor General.
According to the two sacked officers, during the interview yesterday, they were allegedly asked to admit that the containers had beer in them.
“We refused because this was not so. At around 16:00 hrs, we received letters dismissing us. This is indeed shocking since no one from Fidelity or Kong seem to be in any trouble. They are still open and running their business as usual.”
According to the letters of dismissal issued to the two staffers, they were let go for contravening the GRA Schedule of Disciplinary Measures and being guilty of “inefficiency and incompetence” and “failure to obey known rules and the code of conduct…”
The two were also asked to hand in their IDs and properties of GRA.
According to GPSU Principal Industrial Relations Officer, Pamela Wendt, the meeting with the aggrieved Customs officers yesterday was to decide a way forward.
Already, the union has written GRA Commissioner General, Khurshid Sattaur, asking for a meeting but there has been no reply, the official said.
Seventeen Customs officers have been sent on annual leave since the start of the probe and some have been barred from leaving the country.
Some of them were locked up immediately after attending the interview. In one case the lock-up sparked a protest outside the East La Penitence Police Station and the subsequent release of the detained officers.
They have since been advised to seek legal advice because their constitutional rights have been violated.
Kaieteur News has learnt that the officers' names have been added to the so-called “black-list” operated by Immigration at the Cheddi Jagan International Airport (CJIA) and flags any “undesirables” from leaving or entering Guyana.
And on Thursday, one cashier was sent a letter informing her that she was to report to the multi-sectoral task force “at the office of Mr Clyde Roopchand” in the Ministry of Finance. That letter was signed by GRA Commissioner General, Khurshid Sattaur.
Once there she was grilled and soon after she received a letter dated yesterday but delivered a day earlier, sending her on vacation leave until authorised by the Commissioner General.
Yesterday, she got a third letter countermanding the letter sending her on leave and ordering her to return to work immediately.
That letter came in the wake of a sick out by the cashiers at the GRA. None was at work yesterday.
President Bharrat Jagdeo, about a week ago, had ordered a full blown probe into possible corruption involving civil servants and their assets after a possible scam was revealed involving the Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA) and Fidelity Investments, the importer of Polar Beer from Venezuela.
President Bharrat Jagdeo, during a press conference earlier this week made startling revelations, painting a picture of elaborate schemes by civil servants, including Customs officers and businessmen, to defraud Government of millions of dollars.
According to the President, the investigations will go beyond the Fidelity Investments fiasco.
When announcing the probe, President Jagdeo said that the probe came in the wake of reports that a number of people involved in revenue collection had, over time, secured millions of dollars from large businesses operating in Guyana.
Initial reports were that those involved collected some $150 million from Fidelity Investments in the wake of the recent seizure of a quantity of Polar Beer.

GRA had seized the Polar Beer because it had evidence to support its contention that Fidelity Investments had set out to defraud the government of some $350 million in revenue.

“A disservice to the Caribbean, indeed”

In The Diaspora
Stabroek News. April 21, 2008
“A disservice to the Caribbean, indeed” By Alissa Trotz

The title of this week’s column borrows from an editorial in the Jamaica Observer (April 18), which targeted those involved in what it described as “an orchestrated campaign against the recent Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA).” The commentary expressed outrage that this ‘Caribbean’ issue had been aired on the international stage via an article and websites, in a move “calculated to embarrass the political leadership of the region.” It reserved its harshest comments for those ‘wise men’ who attended an EPA forum in South Africa, wondering whether resources from cash-strapped universities had been wasted to finance such disloyalty, even suggesting that the move was purely self-serving, intended to “catapult forgotten or obscure intellectuals into the glare of media coverage”.
The offending paper, titled ‘Renegotiate the Cariforum EPA’ and authored by Havelock Brewster, Norman Girvan and Vaughan Lewis, was requested by and published in the most recent issue of Trade Negotiations Insights (available online), which not only referenced but directed readers to the full text of the rebuttal by the Caribbean Regional Negotiating Machinery (CRNM) that is carried at www.normangirvan.info. Incidentally this offending website, where the EPA petition campaign was launched, is the only place where readers can currently go to find commentaries that are both critical and supportive of the agreement, including the recent Observer editorial. Two of the authors were invited (and funded) by the Commonwealth Secretariat to attend a meeting in Cape Town, South Africa in early April, whose objective was “to undertake a comprehensive stock taking of EPAs concluded in order to provide countries with an objective and accurate assessment of the content, character and implications of the various agreements that will help guide and inform their policy choices”. Attendees included representatives of NGOs, independent consultants (the CRNM was also represented), Ministers of Trade and Industry or their Deputies from Botswana, Namibia, Samoa, South Africa, Tanzania, Trinidad and Tobago, as well as the Secretary General of the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States (ACP).
In her remarks to the convened group, Lady Glenys Kinnock, Co-President of the ACP-European Union Joint Parliamentary Assembly, suggested that deepening South-South co-operation is a major casualty of the EPA process and the pressure of the December 31 2007 deadline, which resulted in 35 out of 77 ACP states initialing interim and full EPAs: “In fact the Commission policy of concluding separate deals with individual states or groups of countries has possibly irreversibly splintered ACP regions.” The statement issued at the end of the Cape Town deliberations similarly observed that the “multiplicity of different trade regimes between the ACP and EU” that now exist are “detrimental to the integration processes of the regions concerned, and contrary to the Cotonou objective that EPAs should prioritise regional integration”. Faced with this potential undermining, it called for ACP countries to share information and forge “common positions within and across regions”, and stated that there remained problematic issues that needed to be revisited in order for ACP regions to arrive at pro-development EPA’s. Most significantly for the Caribbean, in light of the looming deadline that faces the Cariforum-EPA, the meeting acknowledged that it had received advice that “whether States had initialed a full or interim EPA there is still legal space to negotiate resolution of the contentious issues…[and]…that such an opening must be followed through, and that this should not prejudice the existing preferences granted by the EU”.
Unfortunately, it is only the most narrow and blinkered vision that would lead to the conclusion that the Cariforum-EPA is a strictly Caribbean issue, with no implications for other developing regions facing similar pressures, or for our relations with them. Or do we think we are somehow superior to our partners in the ACP, having signed a full EPA that is seemingly beyond reproach or scrutiny? If so, we are regrettably already succumbing to divide and conquer tactics.
The Jamaica editorial is not just about airing our dirty laundry across the world. Despite its apparent commitment to free speech, the attack was intended to narrow the space for public discussion by restricting who could legitimately speak, as was made clear in a telling comment that “governments and the private sector which have to make the agreement work are generally satisfied…no private sector organization has complained publicly.” Quite apart from this being inaccurate – as evidenced in the EPA petition that includes private sector signatories – there are more fundamental issues at stake here.
Do Caribbean people from all walks of life not have the right to make an informed choice based on hearing the case for and the concerns with the EPA? Does silence necessarily mean acquiescence, or does it index the absence of people’s awareness of and participation in how decisions get made? If trade negotiations need to be conducted in highly specialized language, should we not find ways to translate them into terms that make sense to people’s lives? In this process, what is to be the role of the university and where is the place for critical engagement? Are these ‘cash-strapped’ institutions to prioritise research and public interventions only when those of us who work in them can show ourselves to be yes-women and yes-men? When decisions will have such a far-reaching effect on everyday economic reality, not only should we insist on our right to debate, but that ‘we’ – apparently imagined by the Jamaica Observer editorial to be governments, skilled negotiators and the private sector – needs to be as inclusive as possible. It is all of us who have to live with this agreement, and who have to make it work. As Glenys Kinnock pointed out in her remarks, “There is disquiet and concern that has clearly been most forcibly expressed by ACP Ministers and Governments, by parliamentarians, the private sector, farmers, trade unions and civil society. These are the authoritative and authentic voices of the ACP which have been raised across all regions.”
The vitriolic attack contained in last week’s Jamaica Observer ends up muzzling dissent, dismissing disagreement as traitorous, singling out individuals, personalizing criticism as a way of displacing engagement with substantive issues (a tactic perhaps intended to discourage others from raising concerns), narrowing the scope of who can participate. It wants monologue not conversation. Caribbean people are cynical about politics and no wonder why. Does the level to which this editorial descends not exemplify conduct that is a disservice to the region?

Around the museums of Guyana

History this week No.16/2008
Stabroek News, April 24, 2008
Around the museums of Guyana
Lloyd F Kandasammy

Louis Lemieux defined the museum as “an institution that collects and preserves objects that will compose its collections, that studies these objects in order to establish their importance and significance as part of the society’s cultural heritage, and disseminates the knowledge thus acquired by means of various educational formulas.” There is no universal definition as to what is a museum. The definitions and concepts used will vary depending on the nature of ones interpretation. One of the most suitable definitions may well be that of the American Association of Museums.
According to this definition, a museum can be classified as “an organised and permanent nonprofit institution, essentially educational or aesthetic in purpose, with professional staff, which owns and utilizes tangible objects, cares for them and exhibits them to the public on some regular schedule.”
In Guyana there are several museums each exhibiting distinctive exhibits interwoven with fascinating tales showcasing, despite financial constraints, skilled personnel and limited resources, the multicultural society we are so blessed with.

The National Museum of Guyana
The National Museum of Guyana, located on Company Path is the oldest in the country. The history of the museum dates back to 1844 when the Royal Agricultural and Commercial Society was formally established. According to one report, one of the immediate objectives of the society was the establishment of a “museum and model room in which would be kept both indigenous and introduced minerals, soils, timbers, fruits, seeds, gums, resins, dyes and drugs, specimens of zoology, especially such as may tend to illustrate the ichthyology of the coasts and rivers and thus renders its fisheries of more importance, and models of such implements and machinery connected with agriculture and manufacture as the society may introduce…”
By 1853, the collection of the museum was reported to have been substantially augmented by the duplicates of exhibits, which were being prepared for the Paris exhibition of 1855 together with a presentation of a gift of minerals from England. This gift was presented to the society on behalf of one of their founder members Mr W H Campbell. As the collection slowly increased the colonial museum exhibits were said to have been “inadequately housed and hardly displayed at all in a small poky building behind the library (the present National Library) known as the laboratory.”
In 1861 definitive steps appeared to have been undertaken with the formation of a Natural History Society. In that year, it was proposed that a museum be constructed at Company Path. From all accounts it appears that the society did not proceed with the decision, for reasons unknown, to build the proposed museum. The plans of the society were abruptly halted when the entire collection and the structure housing the colonial museum were erased within minutes by the devastating fire on 3 April 1864. Progress was not as rapid as one may have envisioned as it was not until 1867 that any definitive plans were undertaken.
The construction of the structure designed by Mr Francis A Conyers, was soon undertaken and by October 1867 the Chairman of the RACS reported that a large portion of the frame was pulled into place. On 13 February 1868 after years of expectations the new museum described in one report as “a lofty, airy and well lighted annexe to the Royal Agricultural and Commercial Society’s Library and Reading Room in North Street,” was thrown open to the public with the staging of a grand exhibition, which was described as the best Guyana had ever witnessed.
Throughout the years, the museum and its collection were continuously expanded but on 23 February 1945 the institution, its entire collection, archives and building were erased, ravaged by the thirsty orange flames of the most destructive fire ever experienced in Georgetown. After this fire, the society immediately began to rebuild from the ashes.
On 13 May 1948, after three years of lengthy discussions the plans for the rebuilding of the museum were formally adopted. In summary, it called for the construction of a building to house both the natural history and ethnographical collection. With the consent of the town council all land and buildings were to be exempt from municipal taxes.
On 28 July 1951, with great fanfare the present building after being dedicated by His Grace the Archbishop of the West Indies was declared open by the officer administering the government, Mr John Gutch before some 500 guests.
Today the museum represents an interesting collection of exhibits. It was originally intended to house natural history exhibits but it has since collected and displayed a wide range of exhibits. The first floor consists of an interesting collection of models of Guyana’s built heritage, which have since been erased thanks to the ravages of greedy flames, particularly the great fire of 1945. Equally interesting are the Rolls Royce once used by the late President Linden Forbes Sampson Burnham, the stamp press that manufactured the world’s most valuable stamp, the Black Magenta and several interesting Dutch and Scottish bottles, together with water prints of Lieutenant Thomas St Clair during his visit to British Guiana in 1808.
The second floor exhibits the natural history of Guyana with an exquisite collection of mounted specimens of reptiles, birds and mammals, together with specimens of the country’s geomorphology.

The Walter Roth Museum of Anthropology
The Walter Roth Museum of Anthropology, located next to State House, the official residence of His Excellency the President of Guyana, was founded in 1974. The transformation of this historical structure, which once housed the Government Training College for teachers, was undertaken with great enthusiasm to showcase the lifestyles of the nation’s first peoples. It is the first museum of its kind in the English-speaking Caribbean, a testimony to the vision and academia of Guyanese Archaeologist Dr Denis Williams.
In 1980, the ethnographic collections of Dr Walter Roth, Mr JJ Quelch and Sir Everard im Thurn were transferred to the Walter Roth Museum from the National Museum of Guyana. Two years later the museum was opened to the public. An ethnographic collection of the Wai Wai was presented to this museum in 1991 by Guyanese Cultural Anthropologist Dr George P Mentore. The museum’s collections also include excavated artifacts from all of the ten administrative regions of Guyana.

The Rupununi Weavers Society Museum
Complimenting the work of this museum is the Rupununi Weavers Society Museum at Lethem. This association is designed to promote and enhance awareness of Guyanese indigenous cultures. To this end, society maintains a museum within its compound on the outskirts of Lethem.
The museum houses Amerindian artefacts and antiquities, as well as archival materials and other intellectual resources.

The National Art Gallery, Castellani House
The National Art Gallery, Castellani House, designed by Cesar Castellani, an architect of the Public Works Department, this building (and the “New Amsterdam Public Hospital) are the only two surviving structures which were constructed by the Maltesian artist. His other noteworthy architectural masterpieces, the Alms House, were demolished and Our Lady of the Mount, Roman Catholic Church at Meadow Bank, East Bank Demerara was erased by fire.
Construction of this elegant three-storey timber edifice, the residence for the government Botanist, Mr George Jenman, commenced in 1879. However, it is recorded that he was displeased with the design of the house and refused to occupy it until the changes to his desire were implemented. In 1882 the building was completed and Jenman resided there. In later years, this building was designated as the official residence for the Directors of Agriculture such as John Birchmore Harrison and Gavin Kennard.
Architect Lennox Hernandez provides an interesting description of the original building, which had two floors only — ground and first — with high gable roofs pierced by gable dormer windows. The main body of the house had a centrally placed entrance on the west side, with galleries along the north and east sides at first floor level and an open porch below the northern gallery.
Over the years, the design of the original building has been altered with the addition of a third floor in 1942, which resulted in the raising of the roof and the enclosure of the open porch. In 1965, the structure was further transformed by Guyanese architect, Mr Hugh McGregor Reid.
For many years, this was the official residence of President Linden Forbes Samson Burnham. During this period it was known to all Guyanese as ‘the Residence’. Heads of States and members and officials of the royal family were noteworthy guests who gathered here on many occasions for dinners and social events hosted by President Burnham and the First Lady, Mrs Viola Burnham.
After his death in 1985, the building was left unoccupied for a short period. On 2 May 1993, after extensive repairs were undertaken by the government of Guyana, this structure was renamed Castellani House. It was here that the national art collection, which was founded in 1950, was housed after many years of repeated requests by Guyanese artists.
The late Dr Denis Williams remarked that the name Castellani House for this museum of fine art seems justified by historical fact. Whilst recognising this thread of continuity in the Guyanese heritage, it acknowledges the unique value of the artist as an articulate bridge between generations. Today this museum showcases valuable and interesting works of Guyanese artists including Philip Moore, Bernadette Persaud and Aubrey Williams just to name a few.

The Hadfield Foundation
Lovers of the visual arts may also want to visit the Hadfield Foundation, a privately owned art gallery, on Hadfield Street vividly displays a wide array of water colours, oil on canvas, and pen and ink drawings by some of Guyana’s and the Caribbean’s artists.

The John Campbell Police Museum
The John Campbell Police Museum, this small museum, which displays the history of the Guyana Police Force was founded in 1932. In 1948, it was relocated to the C1D headquarters and remained there for a number of years hidden from the eyes of the public. In 1975, the museum was given a fresh lease of life when John Campbell undertook the task of redesigning this institution. In 1993, this museum was reopened at its new location, the Felix Austin Police College on the 150th anniversary of the Guyana Police Force.
The museum has five main sections: History, Uniform, Musical Instruments, Photographs and Miscellaneous.

The National Military Museum
The National Military Museum, located at Camp Ayanganna established in 1985 is also worth visiting as it exhibits a fascinating array of materials linked with Guyana’s military heritage. Noteworthy examples include the selection of governor’s portraits, armaments inclusive of rifles, pistols, bayonets, revolvers, swords and cannons, medals and paraphernalia.

The Museum of African Heritage
The Museum of African Heritage, located in Barima Avenue was originally founded in 1985. It was initially called The Museum of African Art and Ethnology but was renamed the Museum of African Heritage, in 2001 in order to open its doors to a wider audience and begin to fully address the African experience in Guyana.
The existing collection includes items of African art, mostly West African, from the wooden mask to the carved door of secret societies, helping to educate people about the meaning and reasons behind African art traditions. Also in the collection are the brass weights used for measuring gold dust, drums, musical instruments, games and clothing. More recent donations include a wooden replica of the 1763 Monument.
The Linden Industrial Heritage Museum
The Linden Industrial Heritage Museum, one of the most recent additions to the cultural landscape of Guyana is located in the historic Mackenzie Recreation Hall, which was used in the past for concerts, dances, meetings and other social events. The museum displays the chronological history of Mackenzie, Wismar and Christianburg. Visitors should pay special attention to the carved wooden depiction of the bauxite mining process from pit to port. Other exhibits include a chronological history of bauxite mining in the area, a museum plaque, an artists impression of scenes around Linden, and one large mural of Linden from an incoming view atop Amelia’s Ward, showing the bauxite mining calcining Kilns #13 and #14 billowing smoke.
The Guyana Heritage Museum
The Guyana Heritage Museum located at Kastev, West Coast Demerara was opened in 1999. Its existence is due to the enthusiasm of Gary Serrao. The museum houses an interesting collection of exhibits representative of the nation’s history. Examples include irons, enamel lunch carriers, ice-shavers, countless bottles, cannon balls, jars, three-legged iron pots, 18th and 19th century maps, coins and stamps, other artifacts and an impressive collection of books by Guyanese authors awaken a sense of nostalgia.

The Dutch Heritage Museum
The Dutch Heritage Museum, located at the Court of Policy Hall, the oldest non-military structure erected in Guyana, at Fort Island in the Essequibo River, was designed and laid out by the author. Measuring forty feet in width and sixty feet in length, this brick building was completed according to the journal of Gravesande, the Dutch governor in 1752.
According to records, this structure was used for a variety of purposes. On Sundays, it was used as a place of worship and during the week, it performed the services of a Court House and Vendue Office.
The process to transforming this historical edifice into a museum involved the restoration of the structure, which was dilapidated owing to years of neglect. Additionally extensive research had to be undertaken to plot the layout and design of the museum. Visits were made to Fort Nassau, on the Berbice River to secure exhibits from one of the earliest Dutch settlements in Guyana.
Residents there enthusiastically donated a variety of items, inclusive of Delftware, crockery, bottles and jars, which they had unearthed at Nassau and its environs.
Equally enthusiastic were the residents of Fort Island, Mr Gary Serrao, of the Guyana Heritage Museum, Ms Indira Anandjit through her office of the Guyana Tourism Authority and members of the Dutch National Archives also donated a variety of items of a similar nature to ensure the success of this project.

The Demerara Rum Heritage Centre
The Demerara Rum Heritage Centre, located at DDL’s Complex at Diamond East Bank Demerara and showcases equipment used in the production of rum from the beginnings at Port Mourant Estate in 1732 to present, a display of the world famous Demerara rum.
Exhibits within the museum include the Coffey Still first built in 1832 and still being operated and maintained by DDL to produce its single barrel aged rums with the attractive aroma and flavour, which has won many international awards for years in succession.
Experts credit the aroma and fruity flavour of rums such as the 12-year-old and the 15-year-old Demerara El Dorado rums to the original wooden Coffey Still in which they are blended. The old wooden coffey, made of greenheart wood, continues to be used in the production process to this day. This is the last operating still of its kind in the world today, and rum connoisseurs attribute the uniqueness of the Demerara rums. In addition, the distillery makes use of a wooden pot still for the production of the very aromatic, flavourful, heavy rums that are widely sought the world over.
This still is again the last operating of its kind in the world, and the resultant rum, is so very distinctive that rum experts opined that it is the wood of the still that lends the flavours and congeners to the rums. Also exhibited is the Savalle Still, built around the same time, another important cultural and technological aspect in the history of rum production. Other exhibits include photographs of the processes used in batch and continuous rum production and other events of historical interest to the DDL.

The Cheddi Jagan Research Centre, Red House
The Cheddi Jagan Research Centre, Red House, was opened on 22 March, 2000 to commemorate the 82nd birth anniversary former President Dr Cheddi Jagan. Located in the heart of historic Georgetown this historic structure was the former residence of Dr Cheddi Jagan and Mrs Janet Jagan from 1961 to 1964. The centre houses a number of important documents and a photographic exhibition illustrating the President’s political career. On the second floor is the recreation of his office and an interesting exhibition of memorabilia, gifts and other objects presented to Dr Jagan.
In addition to these museums, there are other smaller establishments such as the Parson Munroe Museum of Village Life also known as the Sapodilla Learning Institute at Hopetown, WCB, which provides an interesting insight to the history of that area and its environs. Other small but nonetheless interesting displays showcasing other aspects of Guyana’s cultural landscape include the philatelic collection of the Guyana Post Office and the history of currency at the Bank of Guyana.

Annually these establishments host numerous exhibitions showcasing the history of this nation. Noteworthy examples include the annual exhibitions staged to commemorate Immigration, Emancipation and Independence, hosted through the umbrella of the Ministry of Culture, Youth & Sport.
Of all these establishments, the National Art Gallery is the most active constantly showcasing the talents of Guyanese artists. Equally important are the educational programmes undertaken to sensitise the populace of various aspects of their history. It is here that the National Museum of Guyana, more than any other establishments of its kind, excels with its August school vacation activities.
The Walter Roth Museum of Anthropology has also contributed greatly to the field of ethnography and anthropology with the publication of Anthropology and Archaeology, the hosting of guest lectures by Dr Mark Pleu. Sadly, the junior archaeology programme, once hosted by this establishment, seems to have fallen off the map. It is envisioned that the powers in charge will see it necessary to revitalise this important programme within the not too distant future, to encourage interest in the aforementioned fields of study.
There is still considerable work to be undertaken in the field of museums in Guyana as much of our heritage is carelessly discarded without thought in part due to the ignorance that prevails towards history within our society.
The preservation and transformation of the Berbice River Ferry as a museum dedicated to the history of the ferry service in Guyana, the transformation of the Railway Station as an Industrial Heritage Museum, the creation of a Museum to remind us of the Trade in Enslaved Africans, the creation of a visitor heritage and exhibition centre at Fort Nassau, Berbice River and the establishment of an Industrial Heritage Park at Mahaicony as part of the preservation plan for the historic railway bridges are several project proposals that have been presented by this author through the National Trust to the Ministry of Culture and various stakeholders.
It is envisioned that the powers in charge will someday see it necessary to embark upon these projects as vital to reminding the present and future generations of their rich and diverse cultural heritage, before they are sold as scrap iron or dumped the daily refuse collection bins.
On April 18-22, 2008 the importance and role of museums in today’s society will be discussed when members of the Commonwealth Association of Museums meet in Guyana. Our heritage will be on display on al for all to see as the value of museums will be highlighted by members of the commonwealth who will make presentations of their respective countries. Cultural heritage is often sidelined by many as unworthy of a substantial investment. Over the years, Guyana has lost valuable chapters of her history.
It is envisioned that the powers to be take every available opportunity to ensure that these institutions are properly financed rather than the shoestring budget under which they operate.

The rights of the executive and the responsibility of the National Assembly over financial charges and debts

The rights of the executive and the responsibility of the National Assembly over financial charges and debts
Stabroek News, April 20, 2008
By Ralph Ramkarran, Speaker of the National Assembly

In March 2008, Minister of Finance Dr Ashni Singh objected to a motion moved in the National Assembly by Mr Winston Murray, the Shadow Finance Minister, which sought to impose a limit of $10 million on the aggregate of debt obligations that may be forgiven, postponed or reduced by the minister without the approval of the National Assembly in any fiscal year. Dr Singh argued that consent of the cabinet was required for a motion of this kind and that the Speaker should not have accepted the motion. He sought to make a speech in Parliament to this effect (the text of which was published in the Guyana Chronicle on March 28, 2008) but which was disallowed by the Speaker.

In this article Mr Ralph Ramkarran, the Speaker of the National Assembly, argues the case for accepting the motion which he submits does not fall within the contemplation of Article 171 of the Constitution which was relied on by Dr Singh.

The struggle for parliamentary supremacy
The struggle for parliamentary supremacy over the sovereign in England was long and bitter and cost nine speakers their lives by beheading. The background to this history was the clamour of the rising classes for more power in decision-making and to displace a class already exercising power. The Magna Carta of 1215 resulted from a struggle between the barons and King John over his unilateral attempt to impose taxes to raise much needed funds to pay for the war with France in which he had been defeated. Apart from its other provisions, the most famous being the writ of habeas corpus which survives to this day, the Magna Carta established a committee of barons with certain powers over the King, this being the first attempt at establishing something akin to a parliament.
The best known period in this history is the Cromwellian revolution in the first half of the 17th century during which Charles 1 was beheaded. The dispute arose as a result of differences between the King and Parliament about their respective rights to impose taxation. As in 1215, the issue of taxation masked a far deeper struggle, on this occasion between the emerging mercantile class and the aristocracy. This revolutionary period in British history gave rise to one of the most famous incidents in parliamentary history, which has inspired speakers down the centuries. Parliament had passed a law in 1642 giving its members control over ministers. Charles ordered the arrest of five members who promptly escaped. When Charles enquired of the whereabouts of the men from Speaker William Lenthall, he famously replied: “May it please Your Majesty, I have neither eyes to see nor tongue to speak in this place but as this House is pleased to direct me, whose servant I am here; and humbly beg Your Majesty’s pardon that I cannot give any other answer than this to what Your Majesty is pleased to demand of me.” After this loss of control of parliament, Charles began to make preparation for war against the parliament which resulted in the Civil War. William Lenthall continued as Speaker, participated in the Civil War, and died of natural causes in 1662.

Parliament’s power over spending
These historic struggles from those early times arising from parliament’s attempts to reduce or limit the power of the sovereign, have resulted today in democratic control being acquired by the elected representatives of the people over the imposition of taxes, spending and remission of debt. The position in the United Kingdom is expressed in Erskine May’s Parliamentary Practice (22nd edition) at page 732 as follows: “The development of responsible government and the assumption by the government of the day of the traditional role and powers of the Crown in relation to public finance have not altered this basic constitutional principle: the Crown demands money, the Commons grants it, and the Lords assent to the grant.”

Speaker of the National Assembly Ralph Ramkarran (right) and President Bharrat Jagdeo at the ceremonial opening of the House in September 2006. (Stabroek News file photo)
Major works on parliamentary practice and procedure confirm the fundamental principle relating to the role and powers of the executive and legislature. Erskine May confirms that the power of the executive relates to ‘charges.’ It states at page 733: ‘As has been indicated, financial procedure is primarily concerned with the authorization of public expenditure (sometimes referred to as ‘charges upon the public revenue or upon public funds’) and of taxation (sometimes referred to as ‘charges upon the people’)… In relation to expenditure, financial procedure is, with one exception exclusively concerned with payments made out of the two Funds.” The exception referred to is set out at note 2 as: “the releasing or compounding of any sum of money owing to the Crown (ie the writing off of any portion of a debt owed to the consolidated Fund) is also treated as a charge upon public funds.” This exception, which is provided for by the Standing Orders of the House of Commons, is almost exactly replicated by article 171 (2) (iv) of the Guyana Constitution.
The position is the same or similar in many Commonwealth countries. These include Canada (see House of Commons Procedure and Practice edited by Robert Marleau and Camille Montpetit at pages 712-13); Australia (see House of Representatives Practice edited by IC Harris (4th edition) at pages 401-02); New Zealand (see Parliamentary Practice in New Zealand by David McGee (2nd edition) at page 339) and India (see Parliamentary Procedure by Subhash C Kashyap at pages 1418-21). In none of the above countries does a proposed limitation on the aggregate debt which may be forgiven, or anything remotely resembling such a proposition, require the approval of the Crown, the government or the cabinet. In every single instance, it is only when “charges,” as defined by Erskine May, are sought to be imposed that such approval is required, and, in addition, in the case of Great Britain and Guyana, actual remission of a specific debt.
In Guyana, the legal position has been enshrined in the Constitution. Article 171 provides that any member may introduce a bill or propose a motion. It goes on to provide that except with the recommendation or consent of the cabinet the Assembly shall not proceed with any bill or motion for imposing or increasing any tax, for imposing any charge upon the Consolidated Fund, for withdrawal from the Consolidated Fund or for compounding or remitting any debt due to Guyana. These provisions closely resemble those by which the House of Commons is bound under its Standing Orders. They are simple and easy to read, understand and interpret.

Is cabinet permission required for a motion to limit the aggregate debt which can be forgiven?
Recently, Dr Ashni Singh, Minister of Finance, in an article in the Guyana Chronicle on March 28, 2008, purporting to be a speech he intended to deliver in the National Assembly but which was disallowed, sought to apply the provisions outlined above to a motion moved in the National Assembly by Mr Winston Murray. He argued that the consent of the cabinet would be required for the motion. It invoked section 81(3) of the Fiscal and Accountability Act 2003 (the act) which provides that: “The National Assembly may set a limit on the aggregate amount of debt obligations that may be forgiven, postponed or reduced by the Minister without the approval of the National Assembly in any fiscal year.” Mr Murray’s motion sought to impose a limit of $10M.
To establish his case Dr Singh had to prove that the above Section 81(3) of the act falls within the contemplation of Article 171 of the Constitution. The first hint that it does not is that no reference is made in the section to the Constitution. If the draughtsman or draughtswoman were of the view that Article 171 applied to Section 81(3), the latter would have started with the following phrase: “Subject to the provisions of the constitution…” The telling omission of this or a similar prefix (contained in many legislative enactments including article 171 which starts off with the words “subject to the …rules of procedure of the National Assembly”) to the section is the clearest indication that the draughtsman or draughtswoman understood that the section did not fall within the parameters of Article 171 of the Constitution and, therefore, any bill or motion seeking to actualise it, would not require the consent of the cabinet.
The view of the draughtsman or draughtswoman is confirmed by Section 81(3) itself. It provides for “[setting] a limit on the aggregate amount of debt obligations… in any one year.” There is nothing in Article 171, or in any of the passages cited by Dr Singh, which requires cabinet approval or the Crown’s permission for a bill or motion setting a limit on the aggregate amount of debt obligations. In his extensive quotations from Erskine May, Dr Singh did not cite a single passage or sentence which states that cabinet approval is required for such a motion to proceed. Instead, he relies on two false premises leading to artificial and unsustainable conclusions, which is now demonstrated.

‘Financial matters’ v ‘financial charges’
Early on in his dissertation on parliamentary procedure Dr Singh states at paragraphs 5 and 6: “Mr Murray violates a cardinal principle enshrined in the provisions of Article 171 of the Constitution… The cardinal principle to which I refer is one that dictates that ‘financial matters’ can only be introduced into the legislature by, and with the consent of, the government.” There is no such principle set out in Article 171, cardinal or otherwise. The passages relied on by Dr Singh, and in fact all the extensive passages quoted from Erskine May, refer only to “financial charges” and not to “financial matters.” Dr Singh seeks to justify his tenuous conclusion by substituting the phrase “financial matters” for the phrase “financial charges.” The word matters suggests a limitless range of financial issues which can indeed include “[setting] a limit on the aggregate amount of debt obligations” while the word charges relates only to charges to the Consolidated Fund and taxes and has nothing to do with limiting the aggregate amount of debt obligations. By a subtle transposition of phrases, Dr Singh leaps to an insupportable conclusion.
When the National Assembly approves the estimates it gives authority to spend; since the government cannot spend more than is authorised, then in that sense only is a ceiling on expenditure set.
At paragraph 8 Dr Singh suggests that “the budget estimates motion (accompanied by the associated Appropriation Bill) prescribes the ceiling on the amount of money that can be issued or paid from the Consolidated Fund.” Based on this premise, he argues and concludes in the same paragraph as follows: “In like manner, the current motion seeks to prescribe a ceiling on the amount of debts that may be forgiven in any fiscal year and should therefore only be submitted to this Honourable House by a minister with the consent, or on the recommendation, of the cabinet.”
It is important to note that the word “ceiling” is Dr Singh’s. With some resourcefulness, he employs it in relation to estimates, then applies it to the purpose of section 81(3) and argues that since setting a ceiling is common to both, they are equally prohibited.
It is highly irregular and a non sequitur to conclude from the fact that because the ceiling on spending incidentally approved by the National Assembly cannot be exceeded, that a motion to set a ceiling on the debt which can be forgiven must be approved by cabinet. The purpose of presenting estimates to the National Assembly is to seek and obtain authority to spend money from the Consolidated Fund. This requires cabinet approval. Once approved, this amount cannot be exceeded. Thus, the purpose of the estimates is to secure authority to spend, not to set a ceiling on expenditure, which is merely incidental to the approval by the National Assembly. This issue is settled by David McGee in Parliamentary Practice in New Zealand where he states at page 333: “Authority to expend public money or to incur expenses is obtained by Parliament making an appropriation for specified purposes. An appropriation authorises the spending of public money or the incurring of expenses or liabilities for those purposes.” There is no reference to a ceiling but clearly, there is no authority to spend more than the amount approved. Dr Singh’s argument elevates the setting of the ceiling as the primary objective of the estimates (which are formally approved by an Appropriation Act), and concludes that because this is so, a motion to set a ceiling on aggregate debt that can be forgiven requires cabinet approval. Such argumentation, commencing with a contrived premise, cannot but collapse into a contrived conclusion.
In a situation where many of these issues are arising for the first time because of our short history of parliamentary democracy, interrupted by many years of stultifying stagnation, it is expected that the executive will zealously guard its perceived rights under Article 171 and otherwise. But unless the court intervenes the Speaker is the sole arbiter of those rights and his or her decision is final unless the National Assembly by motion determines otherwise.


Stabroek News. Editorial. April 7, 2008

The walk-out of the opposition from Parliament on March 27 was an ominous augury for members of the public who were looking to the assembly for decisive and cohesive steps to address crime.
As we had feared, the stalemate in Parliament will not be dissolved by window dressing compliments of an assortment of groups presenting themselves under the rubric of civil society. Any parliamentary engagement between the government and opposition that requires mature compromise will suffer from the inflexibility of the PPP/C benches and the inability of the opposition to change this. It was no doubt in recognition of this that following the January 26 slaughter at Lusignan and accelerated by the February 17 massacre at Bartica that an ad hoc group of civil society members was invited to the Office of the President with representatives of the government, governing party and opposition parties. The civil society members were clearly to act as a leavening and help facilitate important agreements in the presence of the President.
The series of meetings at the Office of the President between the stakeholders and President Jagdeo led to the crafting of a motion to give effect to the agreements reached by “consensus”. PM Hinds’ subsequent motion in Parliament was a mirror image of those agreements and when the opposition pressed for what were eminently reasonable amendments such as equitable access to the state media, the government benches balked on the grounds that these amendments were not the consensus of the stakeholders.
It is incredible that the government – and the stakeholders – would believe that any agreement made outside of the National Assembly could be taken to Parliament by way of motion and be immune to the fullest consideration by the House.
It is incredible that they would seek to impose an agreement on Parliament and have it be a real rubber stamp. If the liniment applied by the stakeholders resulted in some movement between the two sides then it was up to Parliament to decide if it should be fleshed out. True to form, the government exposed its inflexibility and tried to excuse it by saying it was sticking to the letter of the agreement. Is this not a marginalizing of Parliament?
In the numbing aftermath of the massacres, the aridity of parliamentary life was exposed by the need to have civil society press for many of the things that the government and the opposition were supposed to have agreed many years ago. To then try to circumscribe any further parliamentary input on measures that could improve political cooperation at the highest level was unwise. The stakeholders’ agreement was a catalyst to engagement and a test of whether the government was willing to meet the opposition part way. It could definitely not have been an agreement cast in stone.
Under those circumstances, the opposition walk-out from Parliament was understandable. Anything else would have enabled the government to engage in a cosmetic exercise at the expense of the public interest.
The unwillingness to give a little on important issues such as fair access to the state media, the inclusion of Article 13 and support for freedom of information legislation is now glaringly evident. What is shocking is that there would have been some stakeholders at that meeting who opposed any of those three open society hallmarks: fair access to the government-owned media, greater involvement of civil society in decisions like those made at the stakeholders’ meeting and legislation which allows members of the public the right to seek information on the state’s activities. Which of the stakeholders would dare oppose such provisions? Or is that the government would have had to show its hand on these issues?
Inevitably, one of the government’s allies rose to its assistance; the Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Guyana which in its original incarnation played a heroic role in fighting the undemocratic ways of the TUC and the government of the period. It plays a different role now. It said in a letter published in Thursday’s edition of Stabroek News that it was concerned at the walk-out by the opposition. Not losing the opportunity to say that it represented the majority of the unionized workers in Guyana, FITUG then had the gumption to say that the amendments sought to the motion “would have had to be as a result of another meeting of all the stakeholders who had agreed on this document”. That is not so and should never be. FITUG would have been better advised to state clearly where it stood on Article 13, freedom of information legislation and equitable access to the state media and to call for a mature agreement between the government and the opposition.
Several senior government officials have since used the “consensus” argument knowing full well that it is an excuse. In no gathering of dozens of civil society entities – some of them marginally functional and others supportive of the government – can there be a real chance of consensus. But there could certainly be a broad consensus on issues or even the majority opinion being taken. This is how the decision-making should have been driven at the stakeholders’ meeting.
Are there any stakeholders who gathered at the Office of the President who are opposed to any of the three amendments proposed by the opposition? Can they make their positions public and provide reasons?
Considering the importance of making it clear to the criminals that the country stands united against their outrages the government should invite a representative number of the stakeholders to another meeting to review the amendments presented by the opposition so that Parliament can speak with one voice on crime.

Prosecuting Torture

Prosecuting Torture
Stabroek News. Editorial. April 10, 2008

In November 2005, during a trip to Panama, President Bush told reporters that the United States faced “an enemy that lurks and plots and plans and wants to hurt America again.” But even though the US intended to “aggressively pursue” its foes it would only do so “under the law.” The soundbite of the day was unequivocal: “We do not torture.”
The Bush administration’s insistence that it does not condone torture has been an important part of its claims to the moral high ground in the struggle against “evil” which has driven so much post-9/11 foreign policy. But words alone are not enough. Having ratified the UN Convention against torture (albeit with a provision to protect its military from foreign courts), the US has legally enforceable obligations not to torture, an irksome detail that must have nagged a few consciences when the president gave such liberal assurances that everything was being done according to the letter of the law. More than a year had passed since photographs from Abu Ghraib had raised serious doubts about the gap between the high-flown rhetoric of the “war on terror” and its sordid manifestations on the ground. Nevertheless the administration stuck to its official story: once ‘bad apples’ like Specialist Lynndie England had been disciplined and purged from its ranks, the war on terror would honour all anti-torture provisions in both US and international law.
Clearly the president “misspoke”. The release last week of an 81-page memo drafted in 2003 by then Deputy Assistant Attorney General John Yoo, is the most compelling evidence to date (more will un-doubtedly surface as requests under the Freedom of Information Act are grudgingly fulfilled) that senior members of the Bush administration are guilty of war crimes and will probably be charged in the not too distant future. The Yoo “torture” memo is the latest in a growing paper trail of legal sophistry which has tried to argue that the president’s war powers allow him to ignore or override “quaint” obstacles such as the Geneva conventions and international laws against prisoner mistreatment and torture.
A single footnote is enough to give the flavour of the Yoo memo’s many disingenuous legalisms: “It might be thought, that Congress could enact legislation that regulated the conduct of interrogations under its authority to “make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces.” … [but] Our Office has determined that Congress cannot exercise its authority to make rules for the Armed Forces to regulate military commissions. … If military commissions are considered an integral part of the conduct of military operations, then the conduct of interrogations of enemy combatants during wartime must be as much a core element of the President’s power to successfully prosecute war. Any effort by Congress to use its power to make rules for the armed forces would thus be just as unconstitutional as such rules would be with regard to military commissions.” It might be thought, that anyone who could produce 81 pages of this sort of nonsense could not possibly make it through any reputable law school, but John Yoo is a professor at the University of California, Berkeley. What is truly disturbing about his memo, however, is not its specious argufying – an occupational hazard of the legal trade, as any lawyer can attest – but the way in which the underlying rationale, in the words of the legal scholar Scott Horton, feels more like “a roadmap to committing crimes and getting away with it. [The] sort of handiwork we associate with the consigliere, or mob lawyer.”
Article one of the Convention against Torture specifically states that: “No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.” It is self-evident that the Yoo memo, and others like it, tried to do exactly this, using the “war on terror” as a figleaf. The roles of other senior officials (such as then vice-presidential counsel David Addington and then White House counsel Alberto Gonzales) in shoring up these justifications are well-documented, as is the role of former Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in using them to promote the use of a host of “cruel and unusual” interrogation techniques in the field, efforts which resulted in the mistreatment, abuse and torture of detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Abu Ghraib and elsewhere.
As the constitutional scholar Glenn Greenwald points out at the online magazine Salon.com: “Ironically the Bush administration itself argued in the 2006 case of Hamdan — when they sought to prosecute as a ‘war criminal’ a Guantanamo detainee whom they allege was a driver for Osama bin Laden — that one is guilty of war crimes not merely by directly violating the laws of war, but also by participating in a conspiracy to do so.” If the actions of “a government official who, in concert with other government officials, set out to enable a brutal and systematic torture regime, and did so” does not amount to such a conspiracy then words have lost their meaning.
In the latest issue of Vanity Fair magazine, Philippe Sands, a law professor at University College London, provides a comprehensive description of the legal jeopardy to which this documentation exposes the intellectual authors of America’s behind-the-scenes torture policy. After the landmark human rights case against the Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, foreign travel for any of these men could easily lead to prosecution for war crimes. With any luck, one day it will. Although Yoo’s memo was rescinded several months after it was put forward, it clearly embodies an enduring philosophy of the Bush years, namely that executive power should be almost completely untrammelled and that moral quibbling over the niceties of interrogation techniques in the war on terror (Vice-President Cheney famously described waterboarding as “a dunk in the water”) is an unaffordable luxury. What better way to atone for this arrogance than to allow the prosecution of Yoo, Addington, Rumsfeld et al for war crimes?
“It isn’t pleasant to think about high government officials in one’s own country as war criminals,” writes Greenwald “— that’s something that only bad, evil dictatorships have — but, pleasant or not, it rather indisputably happens to be what we have.” The legal issues surrounding this administration’s use of torture are quite clear-cut and should be easily proven in court, what remains to be seen is whether the US can summon the political will and exert the moral pressure necessary to force these men to answer for their cruel and unusual crimes.

The Channel Six Suspension

The Channel Six Suspension
Stabroek News. Editorial. April 14, 2008

There is no disagreement that the threat uttered against President Jagdeo on a live call-in programme on CNS Channel Six on February 21 was criminal, reprehensible and inexcusable. The unfiltered call came four days after the Bartica massacre which had been preceded several weeks before by the Lusignan slaughter. Tensions were running high, fear gripped all parts of the country and members of the public were no doubt given to extravagant postulates and declarations. The offending caller was one such person. She said in part “…look at these killings and nobody can’t give account about these people’s lives and Jagdeo going to take a high risk job by going and tell people to calm down; he’s going to bury the dead bodies. If anything is going to happen to my family. I am going to kill Jagdeo”.
The reportedly elderly woman should not have said what she said and the proprietor of the station, Mr Sharma intervened and told her so.
Mr Sharma was however exceedingly careless in not editing that particular comment out of the programme which was subsequently rebroadcast thrice. When he was pressed on this point by President Jagdeo’s legal team he had no plausible explanation. Mr Sharma had told the Advisory Committee on Broadcasting (ACB) in reply to their complaint “In the instance when it was replayed prior to your letter, it was done without my knowledge by the person who books programmes”. As the proprietor of the station and considering the broadcaster’s liability in this matter that admission by Mr Sharma exposed a shocking dereliction of duty and clearly a transgression that occurs too often in the broadcast media.The transgression did not however warrant the penalty that was meted out by President Jagdeo on Friday night. CNS Channel Six has been a repeat offender and had been taken off the air previously for infractions which included the superimposition of an image of President Jagdeo dancing on scenes of the immense flooding from 2005. On that occasion he was taken off the air for several weeks.
Even if his previous track record was factored into the punishment equation, suspension of Channel Six’s licence for four months is excessive. There is no businessman engaged in any type of legal business here, no matter how profitable, who could say with a straight face that he could easily survive being shut down for four months. In a competitive business environment, the four-month ban on Mr Sharma’s station is tantamount to an attempt to put him out of business. The excessiveness of the punishment therefore impinges on press freedom issues specifically whether the action can drive one of the government’s harshest critics out of business and was so intended. Press freedom can be assaulted in many ways as the 17-month boycott of Stabroek News by the state advertiser showed.
There were several mitigating circumstances which if taken account of should have resulted in a much lesser penalty against the station. Mr Sharma had recognized his error and would have been amenable to an apology to the President for the caller’s remark, the rebroadcasts which were cited as the main cause of the President’s action occurred before the first letter from the ACB complaining about the caller’s comments and there were no re-broadcasts after this, Mr Sharma promised to acquire a time-delay mechanism so that unfiltered calls were not aired and he had already been subject to an inquiry from the ACB which accepted his explanations.
Further, the President and his administration are just as blameworthy as Mr Sharma for what has transpired on the broadcast spectrum. The ACB was established in 2001 as part of a series of confidence building measures between President Jagdeo and Mr Hoyte that broke a longstanding political impasse in the country. The objective of the ACB was to take interim control of disciplinary and licence matters from the subject minister – and the inherent politicization – and repose the mandate with professionals: nominees from the government, the opposition and the private sector. The spirit of the agreement never envisaged that the subject minister would vault the ACB and impose penalties from on high. That was precisely the type of intervention the ACB was put in place to avoid. Therefore, the arguments trotted out by the Office of the President and repeated on an NCN programme on Saturday night that the minister can act on his own is completely untenable. Why didn’t President Jagdeo first lodge a complaint with ACB about the offending broadcast? If he had and was still not satisfied with the way it was handled – as he clearly wasn’t – then there might have been greater room for accepting his subsequent decision.
The President and his government are even more culpable on the grounds of the anomie in the broadcast sector. President Jagdeo has had nine years to bring some order to the broadcast spectrum. He once convened a ground-breaking meeting of broadcasters to urgently hammer out agreement on new legislation which would cater for a broadcast authority to replace the interim ACB and take charge of the entire spectrum and many things that the ACB is not even doing. That process which would also have broken the longstanding and oppressive monopoly of the radio spectrum was allowed to fall apart on the spurious grounds that the PNCR had altered its positions. The PPP/C at all times during these nine years had a comfortable parliamentary majority and has passed bill after bill without the agreement of the opposition.
That Mr Sharma and others have been allowed to have live call-in programmes after all these years and are now hustling for time delay devices is as much a damning commentary on Channel Six’s services as it is on the government’s dereliction of its duty.
The President’s obligation is to bring order to the broadcast sector and he should begin doing so immediately. In the meanwhile the penalty against Mr Sharma is completely ill-matched to his offence and should be withdrawn.
As an aside, the NCN programme on Saturday evening which featured the Attorney General Singh, PPP/C MP Nandlall and the Presidential Advisor on Governance Ms Teixeira is exactly the type of programme that offends a significant part of the population which feels that it has no voice on the state media.
There is nothing wrong with the government being given an opportunity to explain its position as was effortlessly enabled by the tepid questions that were lobbed by the interviewer. But where is the balance? Where is the state media programme that considers the opposition viewpoint or the aggrieved party himself? As unconvincing as the programme was it continues to beg the question why state TV remains inaccessible to opposition viewpoints or, indeed, viewpoints that differ from the government’s.

The Bells and the GRA probe

The Bells and the GRA probe
Stabroek News. Editorial. April 21, 2008

At a poorly attended consultation on governance and security recently at the Umana Yana for the poverty reduction strategy paper, the Head of the Presidential Secretariat, Dr Luncheon spoke positively of the progress that had been achieved in governance and transparency.
He said that improved procedures have been formulated for accountability of agencies for their discretionary decisions within the Executive and under the Constitution. Provision was also in train to strengthen the “right of review and appeal to discretionary decisions of agencies and make them transparent”.
Quite frequently those lofty commitments and assertions by Dr Luncheon are found wanting. There are many examples. One that strikes close to this newspaper was the 17-month embargo on state advertising in Stabroek News. The boycott was implemented without any formal notification to this newspaper and when the matter was publicized there was no adequate or reasonable explanation of the cut-off. There was no mechanism for redress or review. There was no consideration of the multiplicity of suggestions and initiatives to end the impasse. Now, just as it began, the embargo has ended; without explanation. One is surely needed if transparency and good governance are guiding the decisions of the Executive and government agencies. The main purpose of these good governance planks is to convince each and every person affected by decisions by the state and its agencies that they were just and anchored within a transparent and fair framework.
The hurried purchase of two Bell helicopters to assist the joint services in arresting the alarming crime situation here is relevant. Why there was no functioning helicopter despite the fact that the country had seen numerous eruptions of bloody crime over the last six years in particular is another matter.
What now concerns many Guyanese is the basis for the decision-making and whether the government will live up to the standards that Dr Luncheon set at this consultation. It will no doubt be argued that the government had to act quickly and decided to single-source the helicopter. That is an undesirable practice and could lead to conditions where those in decision making positions act with the intention of later invoking an emergency. The same single-sourcing occurred when emergency power generation was suddenly needed last year and again recently.
There are many ways in public procurement to violate well-established procedures. Some are blatant like the contract-splitting that has harried public accounting for many years. There must have been options which would have allowed the government to institute an orderly tender process for the helicopters. Even if this is ruled out, the subsequent single-source decision must now be open to scrutiny so that members of the public can satisfy themselves that their government is acting judiciously and prudently.
Beginning with businessman, captain Gerry Gouveia, numerous questions have been raised about consultations with aviation experts, the price of the copters, their age, the choice of type and whether they will be able to perform the crime fighting functions envisaged by the state. The Guyana Defence Force has attempted to answer some of these questions but without putting them to rest.
When pressed, Dr Luncheon himself released the names of two persons who had been spoken to in relation to the purchases. One of them was Lex Barker and the other is a pilot, Michael Brassington. The latter has now dissociated himself from the project and has said that it has the makings of a “terrible deal”. Under those circumstances Dr Luncheon and his administration have much more explaining to do to convince the public that the right decision has been made and in the right manner.
Which government official initiated the search for the helicopters? What manner of search was conducted and who was consulted? Which officials were involved in the evaluations of any offers or proposals? Who made the final decision and can the expenditure of $300M on these particular two helicopters be justified? Were any fees or commissions paid outside of the purchase price? There is no need, at least not yet, for an inquiry. Those answers can be simply given by Dr Luncheon or those who are in the know.
Procurement is one area where the state has lapsed in ensuring that all of the checks and balances are in place. The obligation was on the state to ensure that the procurement commission and its tribunal were in place. This is only now being taken up again by the parliamentary parties, years after the first failed attempt.
There is no circumstance under which the state should be allowed to spend $300M just like that without adhering to best practice procurement guidelines. That it happened in this case is unacceptable. The situation can still be retrieved, however, if the public can be convinced by the government that good judgement was exercised and the helicopters are a good buy.
In the meanwhile, no time must be lost in setting up the procurement commission and tribunal and bringing all government procurement expenditure under its oversight.
As for the corruption shroud that now hangs over the Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA) and Fidelity Investment, there is already healthy public skepticism of the pronouncements and assurances by President Jagdeo. The public has been regaled before with similar denunciations of graft only to see the investigations fizzle into nothingness. The President railed against corruption when the duty-free scam ensnared the GRA several years ago. However, after a much-publicised investigation, the probe boiled down to charges against junior personnel of two ministries. A senior official who was either flagrantly reckless in his duties or complicit in the scam was later rewarded with a new position in the Finance Ministry and those members of the public who induced the corruption got off scot-free when they should have all ended up before the courts.
This new investigation has the markings and makings of a similar fiasco. The investigators have been handpicked by the President and include the Office of the Auditor General which no longer inspires the public as the watchdog of public finances. The scale of the alleged corruption at the GRA demands a more credible inquiry and inquirers. It also requires an investigation of the GRA and a determination of whether the linking of inland revenue and the customs and excise department has produced the desired results and lessened corruption and the conditions that allow it to thrive.