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Rupununi communities voice concerns over proposed Bai Shan Lin operations

-say concession may overlap titled lands

Fearful of impacts from proposed logging activities by Bai Shan Lin in the North Rupununi, community leaders on Friday raised concerns with the Guyana Forestry Commis-sion (GFC) Board in Annai but left the meeting dissatisfied with the responses received.

“I was not satisfied with the outcome of the meeting,” Chairman of the North Rupununi District Development Board (NRDDB) Michael Williams told Stabroek News. He added though that he appreciated the fact that the GFC Board took some time to meet with the leaders even as he said that time was an issue. “All the questions were not raised because of the time limit,” he said.

Several representatives of the area, including toshaos, met with the GFC Board of Directors on Friday and in a two and a half hours meeting, the GFC spent half the time defending the operations of Bai Shan Lin, attendees at the meeting told Stabroek News. Williams described the meeting as “top to bottom” and said that the GFC “came to clear their names,” in light of recent media reports regarding the operations of logging company Bai Shan Lin.

The NRDDB Chairman told Stabroek News that the GFC representatives did not disclose much. “All they were saying and continuing to say to us was that the process was now starting,” he said, while voicing his own skepticism about the GFC’s claims. “They (GFC) were saying that things were not happening,” he said, but the communities have been told by sources who have ventured into the area that roads are being built, logs harvested and wildlife is being hunted in great quantities. He questioned how this could be so when the company is supposed to still be in the exploratory stage.

Williams, a former toshao of Annai, said that the GFC representatives told them that the process of dialogue has now begun.

Bai Shan Lin in June applied to the Environ-mental Protection Agency (EPA) for permission to begin large-scale logging and sawmilling operations at its forest concessions in regions Six and Nine. The project would entail the felling, extraction of timber and transportation of same to a processing facility, grading, construction of roads, skid trails, bridges, culverts, and camps with other ancillary facilities within the concession, the EPA said. The EPA said that it recognises that the development may have significant impacts on the environment and an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is required before any decision to approve or reject the proposed project is taken.

Residents of North Rupununi have expressed concern that they have not been consulted for the EIA and pointed out that they have several issues that they are concerned about.

Williams stated that one of the issues raised with the GFC was that the Bai Shan Lin concessions borders Apoteri and other communities and there appears to be no buffer zone and should the communities want an extension of their land, they would be unable to do so.

Williams had also noted that Bai Shan Lin’s concessions were contiguous to Apoteri’s and Rewa’s land and according to the legislation, these communities should have been notified of impending developments but this was not done. He said too that it seems that the concessions cover parts of the communities’ titled lands but the maps provided by the GFC does not show the location of the communities and so they have been unable to definitively determine if this is so.

According to the Forests Act, there should also be a buffer zone but since they are unable to determine the parameters of the concessions, they have been unable to determine if there is any such zone, the NRDDB chairman said.

Williams noted that the communities also pointed out that it seemed to take very little time for land to be allocated to Bai Shan Lin but when the communities apply for their land, it takes years for this to be processed.

He said that they were assured that any application by the communities will be dealt with expeditiously. “They said Apoteri or any other village, once they apply for extension, priority will be given to them,” he recalled and informed that in this light, Apoteri, Rewa and Crashwater will apply for extensions of their land.

He said that they also expressed concerns about the Chinese use of wildlife as persons had reported that wild animals were being indiscriminately hunted in those areas. He also noted that the Arapaima Management Plan, which is undergoing revision, encompasses areas in the Bai Shan Lin concession and they are afraid what the operations could mean for this project.

The NRDDB Chairman said too that concerns were also raised about a road being built and said that they were told that the company has a right to build one but not one that vehicles could access yet.

Recently, Commissio-ner of Forests James Singh said that Bai Shan Lin has begun harvesting on its State Forest Exploratory permit (SFEP) 01/2013, which covers 73,015 hectares in Region Six. Singh said that the media will be invited on a field trip on a later date.

North Rupununi communities have been worried about the impact that logging would have on their communities, particularly Apoteri and Rewa. The communities have been involved in conservation efforts as well as eco-tourism activities.

Chief Executive Officer of the NRDDB Ivor Marslow had told Stabroek News that Apoteri, particularly, was concerned because the Bai Shan Lin concession borders the community. “Once there is road access, all sorts of hunting and thing start to happen,” he said. He had recalled that the community had requested that the area be classified as a conservation area but there has been no response from the authorities.

Marslow had noted that Apoteri has a fledging eco-tourism operation and “if there is mass exploitation, there would be nothing” for people to see. “Logging brings people and people bring changes to the environment,” he noted.

Williams told Stabroek News that they want more consultations and said that they understand that development has to happen but they are concerned about how it is being implemented without input from the communities. “There will be development… but when development happens, we need to be consulted,” Williams said.

Bai Shan Lin has announced big plans in various sectors for Guyana but concerns have been raised by some analysts that its primary interest is logs for export, with little downstream processing. Its operations have come under increased scrutiny in recent times. The company has failed to live up to commitments to do value-added processing but government officials, including President Donald Ramotar, have defended the company. Bai Shan Lin’s access to key parts of the economy has also raised questions about the regulation of its business by the forestry commission and associated bodies.

US$30M voted for GuySuCo bailout reflects Opposition’s incompetence

-  was forewarned by Anthony Vieira, must accept responsibility,” – Former APNU MP

After A Partnership for National Unity’s (APNU) Shadow Minister of Agriculture and Natural Resources Dr. Rupert Roopnaraine confessed that the $6B voted for the bailout of the Guyana Sugar Corporation was a mistake, a former APNU Parliamentarian has lashed out at the politician. “This mistake reflects the incompetence of the Opposition.”

Jaipaul Sharma

Jaipaul Sharma said that the political opposition was forewarned about the economic peril that would follow from the “Skeldon catastrophe”. APNU was also told that the change of its board and mechanization of the sugar industry would not solve the problems it is constantly faced with.

Sharma commended Anthony Vieira, who he said has been an “exceptional advisor” on agricultural matters to the APNU.
He said, “The Opposition was very much aware that the continued support for this bailout would not have made any sense in the end. They went ahead and they voted for the money for GuySuCo because it was a politically sensitive matter.
Now what has become of that decision? Today, we are made aware that the sugar company owes over US$170M in debt and Roopnaraine who is supposed to be the Shadow Minister of Agriculture is saying that that was a mistake? A $6B mistake? They should be held responsible for that money that was wasted because it did not make a difference. GuySuCo now wants more money.
“Why didn’t APNU ensure that it had in hand, an effective plan from the company? I would not have given that money to GuySuCo.”
Vieira said that given all the present declarations of the corporation’s dire situation as relayed to the Economics Services Committee, by senior managers of GuySuCo, he agrees with Dr. Roopnaraine, that the party made a mistake.
Roopnaraine during the recent committee meetings in addressing the possible request of a further $6B by the company to buy harvesters in a hope to return the company to profitability by next year, said that the opposition would no longer agree “to the granting of these large sums of monies to bail out GuySuCo without a specific plan laid out to us stating exactly how it will be applied and how we can anticipate how the improvements will be made.”
However, Vieira said that he would not have released the $6 billion bailout for GuySuCo without much more information from the Board of GuySuCo as to the exact economic situation of the Corporation, its immediate plans and the effect that tranche requested in the 2014 budget would have made to GuySuCo’s ongoing economic wellbeing.
Former Parliamentarian Sharma had also stated, “(The opposition) was forewarned by one of its own and the decision as to whether it should have voted for that money should have been informed by Vieira’s advice.
“The Opposition should have been stern and hold firm to its position. It is simply unacceptable of our opposition to behave like this. In the end it all just reflects a level of incompetence from the politicians of the opposition’s side.”
Vieira said that the Alliance For Change (AFC) and the APNU must work more closely together to undo the massive damage to the country’s economy that the PPP has unleashed both in rice and in sugar.

APNU’s Agricultural Advisor, Anthony Vieira

“No one must attempt to lay blame, but the supporters of these two parties must urge their leaders to work together for the common good to undo the damage done to Guyana by the PPP.”

Agriculture Minister, Dr. Leslie Ramsammy, recently said that Government believes that GuySuCo’s future lies in mechanization and diversification. He pointed to an ethanol pilot project ongoing at Albion Estate in Berbice which he said, will determine how GuySuCo proceeds in the future.
GuySuCo’s option of going the ethanol route is one that the Opposition has indicated a willingness to support as well.
But according to Vieira, GuySuCo’s excursions into the production of ethanol, since Guyana is located just north of the world’s greatest ethanol producer, Brazil, is less than compelling.
In a recent letter Vieira, a former Member of Parliament, said that since September 2013, the world market price for sugar was fluctuating between US$0.16 a pound and US$0.19 a pound.
He argued that the long term outlook for sugar, as far as price is concerned, is not good since Guyana’s cost of production as reported by GuySuCo to the Economics Services Committee was 34 cents a pound, 100 percent higher than the world market price today.
According to GuySuCo’s outgoing Finance Director, Paul Bhim, GuySuCo owes banks – both local and foreign, suppliers, the Guyana Revenue Authority, the National Insurance Scheme (NIS) and the Sugar Industry Labour Welfare Fund Committee (SILWFC) some $58B.
GuySuCo is asking for patience, saying that Guyana will have to wait until 2017, as part of its strategy to turn the fortunes of the industry around, to bring production prices to about US$0.27 per pound.
However Vieira feels that the opposition is not convinced that this is possible, given the current indebtedness of GuySuCo, the poor yields, the unattainable goals of the corporation, the difficulties of mechanization and the high cost of production per tonne currently applicable in the industry.

EPA can adequately respond to environmental disasters – Persaud

The Environmental Protec-tion Agency (EPA) has the manpower and the technical know-how to react to environmental disasters, Natural Resources Minis-ter Robert Persaud has said.

He also said the EPA is always looking at enhancing its capacity in this regard and is closer, now more than ever, to acquiring a full staff complement.

These and several other disclosures were made by the minister and several heads of agencies which fall under the Natural Resources Ministry when they appeared before the Parliamentary Sectoral Committee on Natural Resources yesterday.

The minister’s comments on the competence of the EPA to address environmental disasters were in light of the fact that the last few years have seen several companies expressing increased interest in the prospect of drilling Guyana’s offshore basin.

Oil companies currently exploring prospects in Guyana include CGX Energy Inc, Pacific Rubiales, Tullow Oil Ltd, Andarko Guyana Co, Repsol Exploration SA, Ratio Oil Exploration Ltd and Esso Exploration and Production Guyana Ltd.

Persaud said progress with regard to such drilling is being complicated by Venezuela’s intrusions in the Roraima Block. Last year a Venezuelan navy ship intercepted and subsequently took into custody a US ship and its crew as they were conducting surveys ahead of possible drilling in the area. Persaud said negotiations with Venezuela are ongoing and the oil company whose operations are stalled is still being engaged.

It was A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) MP Rupert Roopnaraine who highlighted the disclosure and noted the accidents which can result from offshore drilling operations. He therefore asked if the EPA is developing or has developed the capacity to cope with the “horror of spills that exploration and exploitation brings.”

Persaud said the EPA has worked along with some of the companies here to build capacity and has even simulated responses to oil spills and the like. The minister said the results of these simulations have satisfied the ministry and the companies involved that the EPA has the capacity to adequately respond.

APNU MP Joseph Harmon was interested in the fees and other deposits required by government before oil companies can set up shop and commence operations.

While Persaud was not able to supply the exact figures he said the companies are required to make security deposits, show that they have immaculate business plans and prove they have the finances to follow through on the proposed investment and other financial obligations.

Harmon was also interested in the non-revenue and job creation returns Guyana receives from companies involved in the extraction of the country’s natural resources. He said government should initiate negotiations with foreign companies in the extractive sector to see that they finance the creation of the technical skills needed for Guyanese to take up places in these sectors. This, he said, ought not to be something that is done “out of the goodness of their hearts” but an obligation.

The minister explained that the establishment of the mining school is the product of such negotiations. The mining school was opened last year and it offers a variety of practical and theoretical instructions in areas related to mining. In addition to providing instructors, foreign companies often make equipment available so students of the school can have hands-on experience. Persaud also said there are cases where companies paid for locals to go overseas to receive specialised training.

He further said that University of Guyana Vice Chancellor (VC) Jacob Opadeyi has been approached on the matter of having UG offer programmes which would produce persons capable of filling positions in the extractive sectors.

Opadeyi has said on several occasion that he will look to ensure that programmes such as those described by the minister are funded by the party that is in need of the skills.

EPA wants public input on Chinese company seeking authorization for large scale logging

Bai Shan Lin International Forest Development Inc has submitted an application to the Environmental Protection Agency seeking environmental authorization to undertake a large scale logging and sawmill operation.
According to a public notice which was published yesterday, the company is seeking the authorization for several areas including the Left Bank Essequibo River, Right Bank Berbice River, Right Bank Essequibo River, Left Bank Corentyne River, Left Bank Lysles River, River Bank Berbice River, and Right Bank Powis River, Regions Nine and Six.
It was noted that the project would entail, felling, extractions of timber and transportation of same to a processing facility. They would also be doing grading, construction of roads, skid trails, bridges, culverts and camps with other ancillary facilities within the concession.
The EPA noted that they fully recognized that the impending works may have “significant impacts” on the environment. Thus in keeping with the environmental protections act of 1996, an “Environmental Impact Assessment” is required before any decision to approve or reject the project.
As such the EPA has said that members of the public are invited within 28 days of the notice to make written submissions to them, setting out questions and matters which they required to be answered or considered in the “Environmental Impact Assessment”.
It was stated that a summary of the project can be viewed on the EPA’s website or uplifted at the office which is located at Ganges Street, Sophia. The public would have to stand the cost of photocopying the documents.
Bai Shan Lin has been granted a forestry concession that amounts to close to one million hectares of rainforest, from which it plans to extract logs and ship them out of Guyana. The company estimates that it will make US$1,800 from each hectare of land, giving it profits totaling US$1.7 billion.
In addition, it has been granted permission to dig up a 20-kilometre stretch of river to look for gold.
Other plans include setting up what it is calling a Guyana-China Timber Industry Economic and Trading Corporation Park plus a 400-acre real estate development.
The plans were announced last year by Chu Wenze, Chairman of Bai Shan Lin, at the Second World Congress on Timber and Wood Products Trade in Taicang, China.
Those plans were announced even before Guyana knew of it. The country became aware of what was happening only when Bai Shan Lin officials visited Guyana and held discussions with President Donald Ramotar and other Government officials.
The state information agency, GINA had reported that Bai Shan Lin has been in Guyana over the past eight years with operations through the Bai Shan Lin Forest Development Inc. These include  Haimorakabra Logging, Karlam South America Timbers, Wood Associated Industries, Kwebanna Wood Productions, Sherwood Forests, Bai Shan Lin Housing Construction, Mining development Inc., and Bai Shan Lin Ship Building and Heavy Industries Inc.
It has been contended that the law does not allow one logging company to take over another, unless the President so agrees.

Those unused accounting modules…Inefficient manual system led to numerous financial discrepancies –PAC Chairman

The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has finally concluded its examination of the 2010 and 2011 Auditor General Reports. Some committee members have said that while they have noted many financial discrepancies by various ministries, it could have been avoided if the two modules belonging to the Integrated Financial Management and Accounting System (IFMAS) were used.

Carl Greenidge, PAC Chairman

The IFMAS system was designed with seven aspects — the Appropriation, Expenditure, General Ledger, Budget Preparation & Reporting System (BPRS), Purchasing, Revenue and Asset & Inventory Modules.
The Purchasing and Asset and Inventory Modules are the ones that have not been implemented for over ten years.
Without the two modules in use, Chartered Accountant Christopher Ram said that this facilitates a lack of transparency and accountability.
He observed that former President Bharrat Jagdeo, under whose watch the system was put in place, was not known for his respect for transparency and accountability.
The unimplemented Purchasing Module seeks to provide the ability to create purchase requisitions and purchase order with self-creating commitments to reserve the necessary funds, provide the ability to record the receipts and return of goods and automatically update the purchase order to reflect the transactions, complete integration with the payment process to reflect payment for goods ordered and received, and provide the ability to create an asset record when goods are received.
The unimplemented Inventory/Assets Module seeks to provide the ability to create inventory and asset entries when entering a new record based on the requisitions; provide the ability to have automatic stock ordering when the system hits a user-defined reorder point; provide the ability for tracking issues and receipts; provide the ability to enter receipts for deliveries to stores via the Purchasing Module; provide the ability to make adjustments to reflect inventory average and shortages and provide the ability to provide queries and reports on current inventory, stock activity and receiving reports.
Chairman of the PAC, Carl Greenidge said, “If you have an accounting system, and there are missing modules, you are supposed to have “effective” alternatives in place. There would be a manual system in place. However, we have seen in a number of cases, numerous flaws in this system as it stands. The whole purpose of the advent of the electronic system is to reduce the risk of discrepancies taking place.”
The Parliamentarian added, “The Committee of course would want such a system in place (IFMAS). And I want to make this point especially clear for the Accountant General, that he should not feel that in the absence of the two IFMAS modules, he is excused. Whatever manual systems you have in place is supposed to be properly managed.
“There are big discrepancies in the reports that have arisen because those modules are not in place. On to this point, we don’t have a full explanation as to why it is not in place. We are not sure whether it is not in place because of the Accountant General or the Minister of Finance but we will certainly pursue this.”
While President, Donald Ramotar and Minister within the Ministry of Finance, Juan Edghill, hold firm to the effectiveness of their “manual systems, the auditor general reports reveal a different “truth”. It exposes the weaknesses of the manual alternative.
A look at the Ministry of Public Works reveals the weakness of the manual system. The 2012 AG report cited a discrepancy highlighted in 2011 in relation to a Toyota Carina AT 192 vehicle, PJJ 3886, which remains unresolved.
The Ministry acquired the vehicle on November 3, 2004. The vehicle was bought for use by the Construction Manager of the Chinese Construction Company that had executed works on the International Conference Centre, which was funded through a grant from the People’s Republic of China.
The vehicle was subsequently sold to a private individual for $1.24M even though evidence indicated that the Ministry had full ownership.
Without producing evidence to the contrary, a senior functionary within the Ministry on June 5, 2012 gave credence to the sale and advised the Head of Budget Agency to facilitate the transfer of the property.
Even though the transfer has been held in abeyance, the whereabouts of the vehicle was unknown to the Ministry and from all appearances, was released into the custody of the purchaser since July 2009.
In the case of the Ministry of Education, the AG report for 2012 said that the Ministry had still not taken steps to account for its expenditure, in that for the period under review, 20 payment vouchers for expenditure totaling $2.393M were not presented for audit examination.
As a result, it could not be determined the propriety of the payments made and whether value was received for the sums expended. A total of 11 payment vouchers for expenditure totaling $11.511M also remained outstanding for the year 2011.
As for the Ministry of Health, specifically, the AG report said that at the time of reporting, outstanding deliveries for the year 2011 totaled $59.835M, following the receipt of pharmaceuticals and other medical supplies.
The position remained the same for 2008, in that the Ministry is still to provide evidence to support deliveries valued at $79.262M.
With the aforementioned examples highlighted, some financial analysts have opined that the Ministry of Finance should be ashamed to say that their alternatives are effective and should really reconsider its statement that millions in assets and consumables are not going untraced.
It is clear that the manual systems cannot adequately keep track of government assets and expenditure until it’s almost too late.
However, if the two vital IFMAS modules were implemented, there would be immediate tracking of discrepancies.

The 1856 one-cent Magenta stamp.

A 19th CENTURY postage stamp from British Guiana is set to fetch a record price when it goes on sale in New York this month, the auction house has said.The 1856 one-cent Magenta, regarded by collectors as the world’s most famous rare stamp, might sell for up to US$20m (£12m/15m euros), Sotheby’s says.

The stamp’s most recent owner was jailed for murder.

The unique stamp has set a world record each of the three times it has been sold at auction. The current record for a single stamp sold at auction is US$2.3m.
The Swedish Treskilling Yellow was last officially sold in Zurich in 1996 for 2.88m Swiss francs (about US$2.3m at the time).
It is believed to have set another world record in May 2010 but its buyers did not disclose how much they paid.

‘Colourful history’
The British Guiana one-cent Magenta is the sole surviving example of its kind and regarded as the most well-known of rare stamps.
“This is just incredible because it has always been a rarity,” Richard Ashton, Sotheby’s stamp specialist, told the BBC.
“It is something that every schoolchild who was a stamp collector, everyone knew this was the rarest stamp – it has always had this mystique about it.”
The British Guiana one-cent Magenta was last bought in 1980 by John du Pont, a chemical industry millionaire, who kept it largely out of public view, locked away in a vault.
Du Pont was jailed for shooting dead an Olympic gold medal-winning wrestler in 1996 and died in 2010. The stamp is being sold as part of his estate.
Printed in black on magenta paper, the British Guiana stamp bears the image of a three-masted ship and the Latin motto “we give and expect in return”.
It was produced in Georgetown, British Guiana (now Guyana) after a shipment of stamps was delayed from London, threatening to disrupt the postal service. It carries a post mark, showing it has been used, and is initialled by a post office employee.
Its first owner was a 12-year-old Scottish boy who apparently found it among family papers in 1873.
“Since it was discovered, it has had this wonderfully colourful history and that certainly adds to its appeal,” said Mr Ashton.
The stamp has not been on view publicly since 1986, when it was exhibited at the Ameripex 1986 International Stamp Show in Chicago, Sotheby’s said.
It will travel to cities, including London and Hong Kong, before returning to New York where it will go on sale at auction on June 17.

 

Pensioner perishes in Turkeyen fire

What remained of the building after the fire was extinguished

SEVENTY–six–year-old father of seven, Sew Susankar, perished in an early morning fire of unknown origin, yesterday, at his home at Turkeyen, East Coast Demerara.

Sew Susankar’s body on a hospital stretcher

Neighbours indicated that the area had a power outage, and as soon as power was restored, a loud explosion was heard at Susankar’s residence, after which smoke started emanating from the building.

Firefighters on scene were trying to rescue the man from the burning building through the unlocked grill door at the back, but their efforts were unsuccessful. He was found still alive in the bathroom of the house, but succumbed to his injuries in the tray of the police vehicle en route to the Georgetown Public Hospital, and was pronounced dead on arrival at that medical institution.

The house being consumed by the raging fire yesterday morning

His son, Sonny Susankar, praised the Guyana Fire Service for responding to the fire in a very timely manner, but he said the fire continued to spread regardless; and when the Fire Service left the scene, pockets of fire could still be seen in the building. Sonny Susankar disclosed that he and his father had earlier had dinner, after which he left to go out; but when he returned home approximately forty-five minutes later, he saw the flames in the house and rushed upstairs trying to rescue his father. But as he opened the door, he had to retreat to safety from the fervent heat and naked flames within the building. He said the door was unlocked although it was bolted, and had his father unbolted the door, he would not have perished in

The bathroom where Susankar’s body was found

the fire.

Sew Seusankar’s sister, Betty Narine, said her brother travelled frequently to the United States, and that only last February someone had broken into his house and had stolen all his belongings. After he had heard about the incident, Sew Susankar returned to Guyana to take care of his house.

Sonny Susankar, son of the deceased, ponders his next move

“I don’t know what really happen, but I am shocked and surprised at this incident. My brother was always good; I don’t know how this happened. He always in a fire incident. The last time he was in a fire incident was back in 2002 when the Twin Tower in New York was blown down. He was in a critical condition then,” she disclosed.

(By Asif Hakim)

 

 

 

Guyana is China’s spy playground

The Caricom-related nations of Guyana and Jamaica are probably the Caribbean’s leading benefactors of Chinese investments, and arguably the region’s principal users of mostly counterfeit technology out of Beijing.
But few would realize that their respective relations with China are mostly a by-product of something more sinister and dangerous that even mere common sense would not be able to comprehend.
From the computer units used by every Government department, to Guyana’s One Laptop Per Family Project, the Chinese Government-planted Hubber Spy Worm has certainly given China a firm clandestine hold on every single keystroke, email, and communication emanating from the Guyanese Government, and even that of its citizens.
This spy tool, along with a Chinese dedicated propaganda news channel broadcasting from Georgetown, has now given Beijing a firm grip over the national security, social, economic and diplomatic affairs of Guyana; and by extension, a larger section of the English speaking Caribbean Community.
While a greater number of other Caricom member states also trade with Beijing and use their Government-funded gadgets, their dependency on Chinese technology is way lower than Guyana or Jamaica. Hence their ICT security risk is somewhat reduced, though not insulated.
But by itself, Guyana is probably China’s main regional economic playground, communication harvesting hub, and largest but unwitting host of HUB 79; – a Chinese Government-backed cyber-army in the Caribbean.
Strangled by accusations of rampant corruption, a parallel underground economy and political nepotism, Guyana opportunistically became the ideal candidate for the Chinese Government regional spy hub and an epicenter for information harvesting, more than five years ago.
According to Rabin Seth, a retired Israeli intelligence officer whose Government has been busy uncovering a map of China’s cyber warfare hubs; – the primary objective of Hub 79 (in Guyana) is to dig into the computers of Guyanese Government officials, the Caricom secretariat, diplomatic missions, media houses, journalists, politicians, diplomatic officials, military personnel, and similar units, to retrieve all information that can advance China’s economic, trade, security, and military interest.
He added that the Chinese government-funded Datang Group purchase of shares in Guyana’s main telecommunication service provider, GT&T, was no accident, neither is the presence of Huawei Technologies in that country’s eGovernance Project a coincidence.
He reminded this publication that several countries, including the United States, has banned Huawei from their respective Government projects, since the company was repeatedly classified as a Chinese Government intelligence tool, and a serious threat to many countries national security.
But being technologically docile, and lacking the availability of even a single qualified ICT Security Engineer, Guyana would probably never be able to detect, much more to deter China’s continued spying on its entire technological infrastructure.
After all, the United States itself has already warned the Caribbean about the scope and degree of Beijing’s cyber army, and has even issued wanted bulletins for several Chinese Government officials for thousands of spy attacks on U.S technological interest over the past few months alone.
However, even with those warnings, countries like Guyana and Jamaica continue to toe the technology line unguarded, but had never stopped to wonder how the Chinese Government could have known that either nation needs a deep water harbour or an expanded airport, long before they even asked Beijing for funding. (Epoch Times)

President Ramotar calls on CDB to assist in finding new growth areas – CDB Governors acknowledge challenges towards greater regional integration

‘THUMBS UP!’: President of Guyana His Excellency Donald Ramotar gives a ‘thumbs-up’ at the end of yesterday’s opening ceremony of the 44th annual CDB Board of Governors meeting, held at the Guyana International Conference Centre. Mr Ramotar is flanked by CDB President Dr William Warren Smith and Chairman of the CBD Board of Governors, Dr. Ashni Singh (Adrian Narine photo)

At annual meeting…

President Ramotar calls on CDB to assist in finding new growth areas

- CDB Governors acknowledge challenges towards greater regional integration

PRESIDENT Donald Ramotar has challenged the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) to address several areas he described as quintessential to ensure the Region’s competitive advantage is developed with a focus on regional integration.

He said the region must consolidate its gains, build on its successes and immunise itself from the difficulties that exist. President Ramotar also called on the bank and its leadership to assist the region to identify new sources of growth, as well as to support countries to deal with huge debts that threaten to retard the region’s development.

President Donald Ramotar, centre, with the CDB Board of Governors at yesterday’s meeting

The Guyanese Head of State was speaking at the opening of the 44th annual CDB Board of Governors meeting, in the Guyana International Conference Centre (GICC) at Liliendaal, Greater Georgetown, yesterday.

Mr. Ramotar said: “We need to work closely to overcome the problems (facing the Caribbean Region) and also, as far as possible, unite ourselves from what impacts on our countries.”

 

 

 

 

Appointing senior counsel can’t be placed ahead of the very serious problems facing the justice system Appointing senior counsel can’t be placed ahead of the very serious problems facing the justice system

Dear Editor,

Depending on the background and interest of who one asks, their responses to identify the principal challenges facing the legal system could include the length of time cases take to conclude; the non-pursuit of cases because the victims don’t want to proceed; the unscrupulousness of some lawyers, especially when dealing with “vulnerable” clients; for groups who deal with women and child victims of violence, the willingness of many lawyers to defend their client by subjecting the victim to a second abuse; and access to justice.

Those with a greater familiarity with the legal system may identify the thousands of cases still to be scheduled for hearing by the courts (a case of justice delayed being justice denied); the non-functioning of the Judicial Service Commission, charged by the Constitution with responsibility to make recommendations on the appointment of judges and for the appointment, discipline and removal of the majority of senior judicial officers; the inordinate delay by some judges in providing written decisions despite the passage of legislation to remedy this mischief; the quality of submissions by attorneys and the resulting quality of the decisions by the courts; and misconduct by attorneys at law – senior and junior – including the egregious violations of the code of practice for attorneys prescribed by law.

Still others may express concerns about the situation whereby the offices of Chancellor and Chief Justice have for years been held by acting appointees, a situation clearly not contemplated by the Constitution; the low esteem in which the legal profession is held; the failure of the legal profession, including existing Senior Counsel, to speak out on violations of the Constitution and the rule of law; and the unawareness of any case whereby the Legal Practitioners Committee, the legal disciplinary body empowered to sanction attorneys-at-law for professional misconduct has actually disciplined anyone seriously.

Some may even list as their concerns the perception that the legal profession defends and protects the brethren and sistren; the grave inadequacies of the Office of Director of Public Prosecutions including the failure to competently prosecute thousands of matters in the magistrates’ courts by poorly trained and incompetent police prosecutors; and the way certain persons seem immune from prosecution. And quite likely too, the apparently growing impotence of the state to secure high court convictions in serious criminal matters with the long acknowledged aversion to have indictable trials for serious firearm and narcotic offences.

It appears however, that these concerns do not coincide with the priorities of those who occupy the higher levels of the judicial and legal world. Instead, now engaging attention is a process aimed at selecting persons for recommendation to the political directorate for elevation to the “dignity of senior counsel”, the language used in an ad currently running in the media for appointments as senior counsel.

The classification of legal practitioners between senior counsel and (junior) counsel is a peculiarity of the common law system which Commonwealth countries have inherited from England. Some Commonwealth countries have debated the merit and justification of the class distinction and in some states the practice of appointing Queen’s Counsel, or Senior Counsel in republican countries, has been discontinued.

Indeed, in England itself, the Tony Blair government reviewed the case for the continuation of the designation of Queen’s Counsel. While the decision was made in 2003 to retain it, it is instructive to note the reason for retention given by Lord Falconer of Thoroton (then Lord Chancellor) who told the House of Lords:

 

“We felt it was wrong to abolish the rank of QC when there was considerable evidence that it benefited the market – in particular, so far as concerned the international business that came to London in relation to legal services.”

Having decided the issue on economic grounds, England then amended the process of selection to include non-lawyers, to remove political influences, and to make the process more transparent.

Here in Guyana, amidst all the unresolved challenges referred to above, the appointment of several attorneys as senior counsel now takes centre stage, controlled entirely by members of the profession and applying, essentially, the eligibility criteria for appointment used in England.

I think this is entirely misconceived. In England the rule of law prevails and the profession would be outraged if any government or government minister acts unconstitutionally, unlawfully or improperly. On a regular basis there, lawyers are disciplined and disbarred for professional misconduct, while the commingling of clients’ funds would be considered egregious, punishable by expulsion. The legal professional bodies are respected and are competent to enforce the legal rules. It would be unthinkable that a convicted criminal can practise at the bar in England and that the professional bodies will remain silent. As a rule, lawyers show respect for their clients and the rules regarding charging of fees are more transparent and honourable.

By contrast, in Guyana, the stories of misconduct by attorneys at law are legendary and are retold as matters for humour rather than offence and embarrassment. Whenever I express disappointment and dismay I am told “Ram, you have not seen anything yet “. A number of clients of other attorneys have complained to me about the sheer lack of professionalism, and in some cases, dishonesty bordering on fraud by their attorneys. When I suggest that they take the matter to the Legal Practitioners Committee established by law to investigate complaints against attorneys at law, they express fear of the consequences and for the deposits paid their attorneys, sometimes without receiving a receipt.

There is no Continuing Professional Education and it is anyone’s guess whether attorneys are familiar with the Code of Conduct set out in the Fourth Schedule to the Legal Practitioners Act. It is no surprise then that breaches of the Code are a routine occurrence among junior and senior lawyers and it would be interesting to ascertain how many attorneys keep “[clients’] money in a bank account separate from their own”, as the Code requires.

One attorney who practices in the magistrates courts was telling me only a couple of days ago of the collusion between attorneys at law and prosecutors for bail to be refused at the level of the magistrates courts so that higher fees can be demanded from clients when an application is made to the High Court.

Given the personal agenda and private and professional interests involved, the process for the appointment of senior counsel will no doubt proceed, and no doubt, sadly too, the dysfunction in the legal system will continue. Yet, in the public interest, I hope that the senior members of the legal architecture can be moved to advocate for the problems confronting the legal system to be addressed urgently.

In this regard, they may wish to consider whether the reconstitution of the Judicial Service Commission or the reforming of the Legal Practitioners Committee would be sufficient to resolve the problems or whether we need a Commission of Inquiry into the justice system to identify and deal with the problems holistically. Other common law countries review their legal system routinely. There is a lot we can learn from them.

I respectfully submit that the case for appointing senior counsel can hardly be placed ahead of sincere attempts to fix the far more serious, important and urgent problems facing the justice system. I doubt that anyone will suggest that such appointments are even relevant at this stage, or conducive to addressing those problems. But if we have to engage in an exercise about senior counsel let us have an open discussion involving the public whether the distinction has served the public interest or whether it should be abolished altogether. And if at the end of the day it is decided to retain the category, let the selection process and panel include non-lawyers. If lawyers honestly believe that they serve the public interest, they can hardly justify further exclusion of members of the public.