Sunday, November 30, 2008

Government noise

Government noise
Stabroek News. November 30, 2008 @ 5:01 am In Editorial

The complaints are flooding in from all across the country – from Essequibo, from Bartica, from West Demerara, from the East Coast, from Berbice, and above all else, from the city. Anyone would think that creating a thunderous noise in or near a built-up zone would be against the law. But that is the astonishing thing – it is. The problem is not the law; it is rather that the law is not being enforced. And as too many residents know from bitter experience, there is no point in complaining to the police about a noise eruption in a residential area; they will do zilch about it. After all, who has not seen Georgetown’s Finest decked out in their fancy luminous jackets marshalling traffic unconcernedly, while towering speakers nearby blast their high-decibel emissions into homes far and wide.

And the reason for their dereliction of duty is not far to seek. Dr Joyce Jonas put her finger on it by implication in a letter to this newspaper on Monday: why expect the police to do anything about noise nuisance when the government itself actively breaches the Laws of Guyana in this regard? The Ministry of Tourism, for one, appears to have no inhibitions about sponsoring the commission of a criminal offence. In the particular instance to which Dr Jonas referred, the ministry was having a Sunday ‘Fun Day’ at the Sophia Exhibition Site, which she said was fun for absolutely no one in Lamaha Gardens. There was no thought for residents’ right to peace and quiet in their own homes apparently, or even the possibility that such a racket could interfere with some families’ religious observances.

Exactly what this lime was in aid of, is something of a mystery. Which tourists, one wonders, was the ministry catering for? Not the ‘eco’ variety, surely? But that is the trouble with the government. Whenever it holds a trade fair at Sophia, for example, it is accompanied by such noise pollution that anyone interested in pursuing deals with an exhibitor simply cannot hear themselves speak. There isn’t a trade fair in the world which would be held under such conditions, but here the administration appears to be so insecure about attendance, that it concentrates its attention on trying to attract the largest possible number of visitors rather than in facilitating genuine trade. If its approach does not quite recall the thinking behind the Circus Maximus of Roman times, it at least has shades of it.

So if the government is cynically breaking the laws (and the associated regulations) enacted on its own watch, it becomes harder to complain about the private businesses which follow suit. And this newspaper has had numerous complaints over the years about these. In recent times letters from a Bartica resident who had to endure three music sets operating in the centre of the town one night; from Mr Roshan Khan, writing on behalf of residents in Atlantic Gardens about the noise levels which sometimes emanate from the Starlite Drive-in; from Mr Petamber Persaud about the suffering inflicted on the citizens of his part of Campbellville by a fish shop in Drury Lane; from residents living in the vicinity of the Sunday Seawall Lime; and specifically in the latter connection, from Ms Eileen Cox about a Digicel Promotion last Sunday, stand out.

Where the last-mentioned is concerned, one can only marvel that a large company like Digicel regarded it as being in its interest in the first place to alienate such a substantial number of citizens in the residential areas nearby. One can only presume it decided to write them off as potential customers. On a different note, as Ms Cox said, a business entity the size of Digicel has a corporate social responsibility, and if it wanted to promote itself would have done better taking “Christmas cheer” to the underprivileged children of this country.

The health dangers of noise pollution are well known, and have been recited on many occasions. Frequent exposure to loud noise does, of course, cause hearing loss, but since one must presume that those who attend ‘limes’ where mile-high speakers are the norm are probably already hearing impaired, they may genuinely not notice the volume. If they insist on damaging their own hearing, one must suppose that that is their right; however, they have absolutely no right to damage that of everyone else in the vicinity. Loud noise also affects those with a whole range of medical conditions, including people with heart problems, high blood pressure, or nervous complaints of one kind or another. The damage to the senses and the psyche is proportionately greater where there are babies, small children, sick persons and elderly people involved, and there must be plenty of those around in the neighbourhoods under assault from these massive sound sets.

Even if one boasts the most stalwart of constitutions, sleep deprivation caused by noise nuisance takes a huge toll. It affects alertness and the capacity to concentrate, which is obviously detrimental to schoolchildren, drivers and those engaged in any kind of work where safety is an issue. For everyone, unwanted noise and the consequent loss of sleep impair judgement and add another element of stress to an already stressful existence.

Ideally, for the sake of everyone’s health, one feels the government over time should be trying to wean the population off the addiction to music played at maximum volume. In the meantime, however, it should be looking to limit the injury to health by identifying locations where loud music can be played so it will not affect residents who are not participants in a given lime or concert or whatever. In terms of the seawall, there was vague talk some years ago about making the stretch (or part of the stretch) between Vlissengen Road and Camp Road an esplanade. There is at least a section in the middle where there are no residents nearby, and the customary speakers would cause minimal disturbance to outsiders. Apart from identified places away from built-up areas where permits for playing systems at high-decibel levels could be granted, none should be issued in or near to residential zones, and transgressors against the noise pollution law there should be rigorously prosecuted.

Of course none of that is going to happen unless the government first sets an example. At the time of writing, a concert in the Camp Street Avenue sponsored by the Ministry of Health was in the offing. We will know by today whether or not that ministry, like the Ministry of Tourism, is more concerned about circuses than about health. If it too caused noise nuisance to people living nearby, then there is little hope for us.

We are living in a situation of anarchy. The law is not worth the paper it is written on, and the beleaguered citizen has nowhere to turn for relief – not to the police and not to the Ministry of Home Affairs. One can only wonder idly what would happen if someone set up a sound system in that particular residential area favoured by government ministers and senior functionaries for their homes, and blasted them with noise. One suspects the offence would not be committed for hours on end as it is elsewhere, because the police would appear as if by magic and move the offender, if not place him before the courts.

The current problem of noise nuisance, of course, is symptomatic of the larger problem of the breakdown of a rule-governed society. The more the government passes laws which it has no intention of implementing or lacks the capacity to implement, the more it loses control and respect. In order to function, societies demand a measure of orderliness, and if an administration cannot provide the framework for that, it becomes an irrelevancy, and people increasingly will ignore its pronouncements and do their own thing. A government which countenances any of its ministries breaking the law openly and with impunity, effectively has ceased to govern in the real sense of that term.

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Saturday, November 29, 2008

No progress since Independence?

No progress since Independence?
Stabroek News, November 29, 2008 @ 5:05 am In Letters | 6 Comments

Dear Editor,
A report on a presentation by Major-General (rtd) Joe Singh, the CEO of GT&T and Ms Faith Harding at a symposium hosted by the youth arm of the PNCR is worth reading (Guyana Times November 27 page 3). The views of both presenters highlighted issues which affect us as a nation, and should be seriously addressed by the institutions mentioned.

However, I tend to disagree with the CEO’s statement that there has been no progress in Guyana since Independence, and further that when he looks around Guyana, it is the same way as when he left school many years ago.

According to the Concise Oxford Dictionary, 1995 edition, ‘progress’ is defined as (a) forward or onward movement; (b) development towards betterment and (c) move or be moved forward or onward.

The CEO must therefore explain, based on the explanations obtained from the dictionary, what he meant when he said that Guyana had not made any progress since Independence.

I wish also to request that the Ministry of Education use the CEO’s statement as a topic for the schools’ debating competition.
The CEO of GT&T should be a member of the panel of judges for the competition.
Yours faithfully,
CS Vaughn MSM
Major (retired)

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Was Minister Henry Jeffrey axed or asked?

Was Minister Henry Jeffrey axed or asked?
Kaieteur News, November 27, 2008

Dear Editor,
Whichever one it is, we’ll never know. That’s the way the cookie crumbles.
However, the greatest mistake Dr. Henry Jeffrey or anyone for that matter, who works under His Excellency The President of the Co-operative Republic of Guyana, Great Leader, Bharrat Jagdeo, can make is to disagree with him.

Hence the reason why certain types of personalities surround him – those with business interest; they have much to gain in such a relationship; those who have evolved under the maxim of the maximum leader, such as many in the PPP who were made and nurtured under former Presidents Jagan and Janet; and lastly, the spineless, but qualified and unqualified “yes men.”

Many would be surprised how much of these proliferate at the various levels of Government as Heads of Corporations, Boards and Agencies, including Cabinet; most, if not all, handpicked are cronies of the Great Leader.

Of the first category it is clear. Primary in the psyche of businessmen is receiving the biggest ‘bang for their buck’ even if it means ‘sleeping with the enemy’.

Wherever the political fortunes, once profits are to be made, business will follow, PPP or PNC notwithstanding.

This in no way implies they have lost their social conscience. Profit never had one. In the context of the Guyanese paradigm, however, being a bull in a political china shop profits no one. Business understands this as an essential element for survival.

Why disrupt the ‘gravy train’ by speaking out on controversial matters inimical to the interest of the maximum leader during his/her tenure in office?

Jerry learnt not to do so the hard way when he openly offered his professional opinion on the suitability of the two helicopters the government bought for the purpose of fighting crime.

He was publicly slapped on the wrist in the most demeaning way by the Great Leader. Hopefully, he learnt an important lesson; authoritarianism and friendship do not mix!

Dr. Yesu Persaud also came in for some blows for expressing his strong professional views. Being of old vintage with all the societal trappings of success, respectability and a political/social voice of conscience, he had to be dealt with extremely harsh.

Why? His achievements and successes along the historical and present paths represent a clear and present danger in the eyes of the maximum leader.

After all, he, the maximum leader, was a political unknown, not even ‘in liquid form’ (I love these words Cyril B) when Mr. Yesu Persaud was waging battle in the political arena.

Dr. Persaud built an economic empire with his vision, acumen and tenacity, despite great odds and a humble beginning. The maximum leader is sitting over the political, economic and social demise of a nation wielding authority with the arrogance of power foreshadowing any humble beginning.

Dr. Yesu Persaud has indelibly etched his name in the annals of the international history book in the Caribbean, Europe and North America.

Maximum leader will be forgotten as soon as he demits office, even though to his doting admirers, he has shown profound leadership in the epic battles of the EPA, the Jagdeo Agriculture Initiative, Carbon Credit, etc, which, when analysed will reveal the political manoeuvre intended for both short and long term objectives.

The EPA has long been a fiasco. Any sane negotiator with a modicum of negotiating ability would understand within the parameters of long term decision making, oversight mechanisms and periodic reviews are absolutely essential.

On agriculture, check former President Burnham’s Agriculture Drive! Carbon Credit? Check former President Clinton’s running mate’s expose’ on climate change. So much for “the Jagdeo Bubble”.

This brings us to the second category: PPP elements made and nurtured by former Presidents Cheddi and Janet.

Already firmly established or institutionalised if you may was the psychological foundation for blind and unquestionable following of the maximum leader.

Democratic Centralism, the core of the decision making mechanism – you have a right to disagree and I have a right to make you disappear, either physically or from the political arena -– through the majority, ensured this.

But which majority may I ask? None other than a combination of hard core unlettered and confused communists cum opportunists who have really lost touch with the Guyanese reality with their new found wealth, educated political opportunists tied to the skirt of Granny Janet, and a sprinkle of solid, qualified and intelligent individuals who genuinely believe their presence in the PPP makes a difference.

When Jagdeo, therefore, out manoeuvred Janet who had already out manoeuvred her unfavoured political successors, he was already on firm authoritarian ground. And with seven years of study in the land of Stalin, what better grounding did he need in authoritarianism!

Recognising the needs of the various competing forces in the PPP, the maximum leader skillfully played on their weaknesses and strength.

His tentacles even smothered the political opposition despite periodic grumblings inside Parliament. I am not at liberty to expose the undermining. Control its head and you subdue a snake.

In one clean sweep, Jagdeo not only undermined the PPP’s general Secretary and Granny,” but also endeared himself with the larger membership country wide, while leaving the opposition squeaking like a mouse.

Economic enticements became the weapon of choice with which he undermined the PPP leadership and decimated his political nemesis, thereby making himself untouchable and unanswerable to anyone; his ultimate ambition as maximum leader.

The last category I have absolute no respect for. I have heard of them grovelling, shivering and too scared to speak to the maximum leader.

Yes, seemingly intelligent and educated men and women who, despite knowing better, stoop to please and would dare not offer ideas contrary to his although their conscience tell them different.

Or are they too playing possum like the others; the businessmen and the politicians.
Obviously Dr. Jeffrey, even if he has been axed or asked seems to stand tall by openly admitting his difference.
R. Cing

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Bigger vision - Stabroek News Editorial

Bigger vision
Stabroek News Editorial. November 24, 2008

Though it was tabled in Parliament quite late, the mid-year report by the Ministry of Finance for 2008 is useful as it gives an indication of whether economic targets are going to be met and the type of milieu in which next year’s budget would be presented.

The Ministry of Finance must be complimented for getting it out but it must do so on time in the future.
Some of the indicators were positive – projected GDP growth of 4.9% in these difficult economic circumstances would be welcomed while inflation is projected at a troubling 8.1% though with collapsing oil prices this would probably be adjusted downwards.
If one were to assess the results through the prism of how the bases of the economy have changed there would be very little refraction. There is a sameness in the constituents of the GDP and in relation to sugar there are enormous concerns.

Sugar, into which we have ploughed US$110M in a new ambitious factory as part of a strategic expansion plan, continues to underperform as in recent years and there are questions about whether its long-standing Booker Tate management will continue in this position for much longer.

Production has failed to veer towards the 400,000 tonnes that would guarantee the servicing of local, regional and international markets. The start-up of the new factory for this vital second crop has been badly delayed and will affect the annual production figure and cultivation plans at the estate. Both the start-up of the factory and the mobilizing of private cane farmers to supply the new mill have been troublesome and the government will certainly have to take some of the flak for not doing more to get around these problems.

Rice has boomed but there have been export market problems in Jamaica. This will hopefully not be the case next year since the signing this month of a one-year MOU with the Jamaica trade ministry. However, the uncertainty that attends the rice trade as exemplified by the implosion of the EU’s Other Countries and Territories route market in the mid 1990s and the reckless investment it prompted is a cautionery tale. In the region our own fellow Caricom members have been less than forthcoming with the necessary market information that would allow our industry to efficiently supply the market and so we must proceed carefully.
Other crops, which have been held out by successive PPP/C administrations as having enormous growth potential, have seen higher output but not in the leaps and bounds necessary to make it a new pillar of the economy. More money is to be spent on agricultural diversification through a foreign-funded programme and it is hoped this will lead to major developments.
The rest of the economy reads more or less the same. Forestry is down, bauxite (now completely in private hands) up, gold swelling with the boom in prices and livestock up, fisheries down. If one were to revisit the 1994 budget for a real review of the first full year of PPP/C governance one would see the same sectors – some in the ascendancy and some in decline.

The point is that 16 years after it took office the PPP/C has not managed to shift the fundamental bases of the economy from the old markers. Instead, a decision was made to harness the country’s future to sugar, the wisdom of which has been called into question by the upheaval in the European market and now the domestic issues surrounding the start-up of this much vaunted factory and the management of the industry.

For the sake of all concerned it is hoped that the sugar investment turns out to be sweet for the country but it still leaves the torturous question as to whether we want ensuing generations of Guyanese to be yoked to sugar for the rest of their productive lives. As was pointed out in the Stabroek Business editorial of November 14 “A critical question that arises out of this reality is whether or not it is our desire that our children and grandchildren be harvesters of sugar cane one hundred years hence. Our response to this question could provide a logical basis for a much needed national contemplation on the way forward for the sugar industry.”

That notwithstanding, there is no reason why President Jagdeo in the remainder of his term, the PPP/C government and all the other stakeholders couldn’t seriously again grapple with where economic growth should come from in the medium to long-term given the seismic shift in the prime sugar market, the malaise in the Caricom single market, the imperatives of the World Trade Organisation rules and the condition of under-development that Guyana finds itself in.

Much energy was expended this year on what from the outset appeared to be a hopelessly misplaced rearguard effort to stave off the Economic Partnership Agreement with the EU. There has been no similar effort evident this year or last or the year before that on facing up to what the future productive bases of this country’s economy should be in 5, 10 or 15 years from now. One pledging conference was held in relation to the Jagdeo agricultural initiative but it hasn’t translated into immediate plans for any major project here. Biofuel plans remain on the drawing board and the only other major possibility – the finding of oil remains years away. In terms of profiting from trade, the opening of the Takutu Bridge could provide a platform to tap the trade into northern Brazil but the requisite infrastructure is lacking.

There needs to be a bigger vision – not a new one. The vision has been argued for by regionalists for many decades now as Guyanese Havelock Brewster recently reminded in his address to the UWI (Mona) Graduating Class on the challenge that had been thrown out to lecturers like him at UWI 40 years ago.
“In the economics and social studies faculty, as in other faculties, we took up the challenge, and came up with a number of conclusions and recommendations. They included the need to: orient public policy to the eradication of persistent poverty, and the roots of the plantation system; to lessen dependence on primary commodities, like sugar and bananas, exported under preferential terms; to get greater returns and added-value out of our raw materials and services, like bauxite, petroleum, timber, fishery products, and tourism; to diversify the production structure; to rationalize our air and maritime transport; to combine our natural resources and aggregate demand through integrated policies for production and trade; to promote local ownership of Caribbean assets.”

Forty years on, much of this remains a barren expanse for Guyana and it behoves a governing party that has occupied office for 16 consecutive years to grapple with it seriously.

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Freedom of Information Bill…

Freedom of Information Bill…I don’t know of any work being done — Nagamootoo
Kaieteur News. November 25, 2008

Leader of the Alliance for Change, Raphael Trotman, says that, to date, neither Prime Minister Samuel Hinds nor anyone from the Office of the President has made any contact with him, or discussed the issue of Freedom of Information (FOI) Bill which is currently on hold in the National Assembly.
Trotman, in an invited comment yesterday, told this newspaper that he is still unaware about whether the relevant authority was even working on a draft or a compromise on his version of the proposed legislation.
When contacted yesterday, former Minister of Information, Moses Nagamootoo, said that he was a staunch advocate of FOI legislation and restated his position at the recently held Commonwealth forum for Parliamentarians and media personnel on FOI.
At that forum, he and the Prime Minister had said that it was inevitable for Guyana.
He added that ever since the Commonwealth forum that was held at the Grand Coastal Inn, he has not been aware of any discussion pertaining to FOI legislation.
According to Nagamootoo, he was also not aware of any alternative of counter to Trotman’s proposed legislation.
He did say that, being that he was the former journalist as well as former Minister of Information, such discussions would have been held with him.
Hinds recently told this newspaper that no significant issue was ever as simple as a yes or no. He said that events were moving along, and these could see the Freedom of Information Act sooner rather than later.
At the time, Trotman said, he was unaware of any such initiative on the Government side to quickly implement the legislation, but he was optimistic that he would gain the support to have the legislation tabled by year end. He emphasised that the Freedom of Information Bill was an absolute necessity.
He noted that there was a renewed vigour in democracy worldwide, and he was hopeful that the Government would follow suit. He pointed to the fact that Barbados is gearing to implement similar legislation, as well as the fact that Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica have already implemented their Freedom of Information legislations.
The People’s National Congress Reform has already voiced its support for the legislation; and yesterday, leader of Vision Guyana, Peter Ramsaroop, voiced his support for the Freedom of Information legislation.
In an invited comment, Ramsaroop said: “This will allow us to ensure accountability and transparency…Critical information such as procurements and contracts should be visible to the public.”
He said that his party actively supports the AFC cause in getting the legislation passed in the National Assembly. “There should be no objection by the Administration if they believe everything is being done above board.”
During a mid-year press briefing, General Secretary of the PPP, Donald Ramotar, had disclosed that at that time the party “has never consulted internally on whether it would support a Freedom of Information legislation.”
Ramotar, at that time, did concede that the PPP may have to do so some time in future, and that it is likely that this was what the Prime Minister was referring to.
That position adopted by Ramotar at the time came on the heels of public statements by both the Prime Minister Samuel Hinds and Health Minister Dr Leslie Ramsammy, where they conceded that the enactment of the legislation was inevitable.
Despite acknowledging its inevitability, the Prime Minister had said that Guyana was already experiencing some 80 per cent of freedom of information, in that the Government already makes information available in a proactive manner. The Prime Minister made this statement recently at a forum to discuss the mining situation.
The essence of the Freedom of Information Act, according to the Commonwealth Parliament Association (CPA), is the empowerment of the populace to request any piece of information (with few exemptions, such as medical records) held by a public authority. One such utilisation of the Act was cited by a renowned Trinidadian journalist, Sasha Mohammad, at a recent CPA workshop held for media operatives and Parliamentarians.
According to Mohammad, one such incident was where there was a request that the salaries and monies paid to the director of a bank be disclosed.
The Bill proposed by Trotman is based on the Trinidad model, which has been criticised by the Government for having too many flaws.