President’s comments on Rodney CoI testimony inappropriate – Ram

Attorney Christopher Ram yesterday said that President Donald Ramotar’s recent comments on the ongoing Commission of Inquiry (CoI) into the death of Dr. Walter Rodney were inappropriate and validated publicly expressed concerns that the inquiry was set up to serve a political agenda.

Ram said the president’s comments confirmed that his administration is not really interested in Rodney’s killing but more in serving a “narrow political agenda” and such
interventions would undermine the integrity of the commission.

On Friday, Ramotar at a press briefing pointed to the disclosure at the CoI that Guyana Defence Force weapons consigned to the Ministry of National Development since 1976 had ended up in the hands of criminals.

A statement issued by Ram, noted that President Ramotar added that the former President Jagdeo had alleged, several years ago, that weapons had been issued to “Mr. Robert Corbin” who was the then leader of the PNCR. The statement further said that Ramotar made a call for current PNCR leader David Granger to aid in the recovery of the missing weapons.

“As attorney for the Working People’s Alliance (before the CoI) , I find the comments by President Ramotar premature, inappropriate and improper,” Ram declared at a press conference yesterday.

He stated that the president needed to be aware that the CoI has not yet finished gathering evidence, let alone analyzing it, making determinations and issuing its conclusion. “He must therefore desist from premature interventions which undermine the integrity of the commission of inquiry…”

Ram further stated that the “unmistakable inferences” drawn from Ramotar’s intervention that the inquiry was set up to serve his administration’s agenda were becoming “increasingly clear”.

At the commission of inquiry last week, GDF Lt. Col. Sidney James testified that an investigation was carried out in August 2008 to determine whether weapons belonging to the Guyana Defence Force were issued to external organization. The investigation was prompted by the recovery of a number of weapons in the Mahaicony Creek, after a shootout between members of the Guyana Police Force and criminals. James had stated that two of the weapons recovered had in fact been issued to external agencies.

The weapons were issued, under the PNC Administration, to the Ministry of National Development, Office of the General Secretary of the People’s National Congress (PNC) and the Office of the Prime Minister. Two vouchers dated May 18 and May 19 1976 indicated that the issues were made to and signed for by a R. Corbin.

The issues to external agencies were made during the stewardship of Chiefs of staff Col. Clarence Price, Major General Norman McLean, and Brig. Joseph Singh. James was unable to identify any provision in the Defence Act which authorizes such issues to external agencies.

Ram stated that the PPP/C government had been lethargic in pursuing the return of the weapons since it took office in 1992. He added that under the Defence Act, the Defence Board is chaired by the President. “I have been reliably informed that shortly after 1992, the then Auditor General wrote to Chief of Staff Joseph Singh notifying him of the intention to carry out an audit of the arms and ammunition of the Guyana Defence Force. Had that audit taken place the arms and ammunition that James identified as outstanding, might have long since been highlighted, enhancing the chances of a prompt return,” Ram said.

The attorney argued that the PPP/C government, themselves, were “reckless” in recovering the missing weapons, citing it as “blatant hypocrisy”.

“While hard questions must necessarily be asked and answered concerning the weapons issued to the PNCR, successive Presidents under the PPP/C, including President Ramotar, have failed to treat these serious security breaches in a responsible manner. In fact the PPP/C-headed Defence Board not only failed to act but compounded a dangerous situation by authorizing further issues to external agencies, and for the first time, to private sector companies,” Ram stated.

“It’s frightening that their record keeping is still bad,” he added.

He stated that citizens needed to be concerned about the missing weapons but the matter should not be used by the government or any political party for partisan purposes or to distract from the principal purpose of the CoI—to ascertain the truth about the death of Dr. Walter Rodney.

“It is imperative that we do not squander the opportunity of this Commission of Inquiry not only to seek answers to Dr. Rodney’s killing but to make it the occasion to create a living legacy to his quest for which he lost his life,” Ram said.

When questioned on his views about the extension of the CoI, Ram stated that he was not too concerned about the extension but thought the pace of the commission should be stepped up. The CoI which was scheduled to last for six months, was extended to September 30. However, at recent sessions it was publicized that there would be no sessions in September and it would commence instead in October.

Ram posited that when the six months timeline was set it might have considered a more concentrated form of evidence gathering. “The truth is such a commission of inquiry can go on for a very long time. So while we are concerned, quite legitimately, about money being spent, I don’t think we should.The money we spend is not in vain,” he said. “I think coming out of this would be recommendations on how the GDF should maintain arms and ammunition; how the security forces should operate… so it would be money well spent.”

He further stated that a number of persons could be affected, so it is important that proper rules of procedures be observed “because if you are tarnished here you are tarnished for life.”

Ram hinted that the next session of the inquiry might include the evidence of the family of Dr. Rodney. “But the commission secretariat could change their mind and pursue other persons,” he said.

Marriott almost completed but not many locals employed

- contracts with Govt, investors determine local employment

Foreign Direct Investments (FDI) in third world countries are welcomed, particularly for the creation of jobs. The situation in Guyana is no different since very often, contracts entered into by Government with investors determine the level of local employees. However, there are certain job-skills that would have to be imported.

The multi-million dollar Marriott Hotel in Kingston is almost completed but there is no local labour for this fence. Government has said that the hotel would employ locals.

This is according to a senior official of the Ministry of Labour, who said that the desirable scenario in signing these agreements is to have local employment secured.
However, foreign investors feel more comfortable with having familiar persons around.
In fact, not so long ago, Government inked a construction contract for the Marriott-branded hotel in Guyana with Shanghai Construction Group (SCG) with one of the conditions being no Guyanese would be employed in the initial phases.
The justification was that the Guyanese labour force did not have the skills to build such a hotel. Incidentally, Government did not even find it necessary to include a clause that would allow the transfer of skills to prevent a similar situation in the future. Even now at the hotel, where the fence is under construction, there is no local labour evident in its construction. Government has said that the hotel would employ locals for the latter phases.
In addition, Government jumped at the opportunity of lowering the cost of constructing the hotel from US$65M to US$51M at the expense of the Guyanese labour force.
According to the official, the utilization of foreign labourers is monitored by the Ministry of Home Affairs- the agency that issues work permits. Personnel of the Ministry are tasked with visiting work sites to ensure investors do not employ more foreigners than the agreed number in the contract.
It has been observed that foreigners have been taking on traditional jobs such as truck drivers and heavy duty operators particularly in the mining and forestry sectors.
For instance, the majority of heavy duty vehicles and trucks owned by Bai Shan Lin, a Chinese company operating in Guyana’s forestry sector, are operated by Chinese nationals. Circumstances under which the foreign nationals were granted drivers’ licences were questioned since a language barrier exists.
The official said that there is a shortage of heavy-duty operators in Guyana. And, even though, there is continuous training, there seems not to be enough to satisfy the various sectors.
It is unclear how many Guyanese are shortchanged with this situation since the rate of unemployment is unknown.
According to the official, the Ministry of Labour is still computing data from the recently completed census. He explained that the Ministry of Labour’s primary roles include mediation, conciliation and to ensure good working conditions exist.
While, many Guyanese have gained employment with these foreign companies, the conditions under which they work are reportedly not in keeping with regulations. The official related that many persons working in the hinterland have been exploited by both foreign and local companies but the Ministry’s hands are tied and can only act once a complaint has been lodged.
The official noted that the Ministry has been doing a fairly good job to help persons receive outstanding payments in the interior. For example, the Ministry was able to recover about $20M in outstanding payments to workers for this year thus far.
The official pointed out that the Ministry is currently moving to get a foreign logging company prosecuted for not paying a family for woods cut.
Only recently, Bai Shan Lin was accused of paying the few locals it employs in Region 10, $500 per day- an allegation the company denies. If that were the case it would mean that the company is in violation of the new minimum wage order of $35,000 per month.
According to the company, for interior locations, most of the Guyanese employed are paid based on performance, “the more you work, the more you will earn.”
The performance scheme was acknowledged by some Amerindians who said they were promised payment on the size and number of logs cut. However, they were never given the opportunity to measure the size of logs. In addition, they accused the company of having outstanding payments for them.

$500M clean-up campaign…More equipment needed to complete work

- West Ruimveldt residents

While the authorities have noted progress made under the $500 million clean –up campaign, residents of West Ruimveldt, Georgetown say that there are insufficient tools to complete the job.

The clean-up exercise in progress at Gilhuys Square West Ruimveldt, Georgetown

Given the urgent need to restore cleanliness in the city, the Ministry of Local Government and Regional Development mounted a massive clean-up exercise to the clearing of  drains, main canals, parapets, alleyways, cemeteries, and rehabilitate monuments, markets and other public spaces.
Last Wednesday, a community clean-up group from Gilhuys Square, West Ruimveldt, reported that they have experienced difficulty carrying out the work in their area because of a shortage of tools. Mark Anthony Forrester, a spokesperson for the community, said that at the commencement of the project, officials of the Local Government Ministry promised to supply the residents with necessary tools to clear the area.
He said the Ministry has since donated a few cutlasses, long boots, buckets, and a wheelbarrow, but there is still need for additional equipment.
“We are trying to work with the tools that are currently available to us. Some people have been using their personal equipment to do the job but getting some of the work done is difficult without the right tools. We need additional cutlasses, wheelbarrows and a bobcat to complete this exercise.”
He noted, however, that the community group has completed a significant amount of work with the equipment made available to them.  He said that the group has since cleared the drains, parapets and alleyways from Vlissengen Road to the West Ruimveldt playfield.
“I have about thirty-five persons working with me, both males and females from the community. We are getting a stipend from the Ministry, but we are not doing it for the money, it is our community and we want to make sure that we do our best,” he added.
Forrester said the group has approximately ten days to complete Phase One of the project. “We have a lot more work to do and we want to begin Phase Two of the project.  The residents need more long boots, rakes, hoes, wheelbarrows and a Bobcat to complete it,” Forrester reiterated.
He said that the community has already seen the results of work.  “Ever since we cleared drains the area isn’t flooding as quickly as it would usually do.”
The man said that several attempts were made to contact the Ministry for further assistance. “We have been calling on them for the longest time but nobody has responded to us. We need the assistance which they promised as soon as possible.”
The residents of West Ruimveldt are voicing their dissatisfaction in light of reports of progress under the $500 million “Clean-Up My Country” Programme.
The Ministry of Local Government has since conducted a series of consultations under the initiative, which commenced several weeks ago.
Community work has begun in Albouystown, West Ruimveldt and Le Repentir Cemetery. Last week, alleyways and parapets in Albouystown were sanitized. In West Ruimveldt, parapets were cleared and drains within the neighborhood were de-silted. The work also included de-silting of the Sussex Street, Princes Street, Church Street, Downer and Lamaha Street canals.
At the beginning of the exercise, Community groups from around Georgetown presented proposals to the Clean-Up My Country Program Committee, outlining the areas that need to be addressed and the required budget for the communities’ sanitation.
To date, nine groups, including Albouystown, West Ruimveldt, Campbellville, Lodge, East Ruimveldt, South Ruimveldt, La Penitence, Alberttown and North Ruimveldt have submitted proposals after consultations were held in the communities.

Chinese restaurant murder…Cameras record gunman killing waitress

A young man wearing a black and red cap fires a gun through the bars of the counter where cashier/ waitress Debbie Blackman stands.
The first bullet, reportedly from a 9mm pistol, strikes the attractive, 48–year-old mother of five on the shoulder.  Wounded and terrified, Blackman runs towards a door that would lead her further into the restaurant. It’s locked.
The gunman shifts his position to get a better view of his target. He fires again… and again. A bullet pierces Blackman’s throat, and she slumps to the ground. The gunman and three accomplices calmly leave.

Deborah Blackman

This is the chilling scene that police sources said they witnessed on a security camera, which recorded the final seconds in the life of Deborah Blackman, who was shot dead at around 19.30 hrs last Saturday in the Chinese Delicious Restaurant.
Police said that the footage they saw gave no indication that the gunman had attempted to rob the restaurant.  This has led to questions as to whether the killing stemmed from a motive other than robbery.
The recording has also given police a look at the unmasked man who killed Blackman, as well as two other men who appear to be his accomplices. Police recovered two warheads and a bullet casing from the scene. The restaurant was shut tight when Kaieteur News returned to the scene yesterday.
Kaieteur News viewed part of the footage, which showed a man in a black cap, with red peak, going up to the counter and apparently making a purchase. Two other men then come to the counter, and one of them gives Blackman a $5,000 note. The footage shows the apparently nervous men constantly glancing around.
According to police sources, Blackman, of Critchlow Circle, Tucville, placed a box of food on the counter, which is barred off from the dining area.  Sources who viewed the footage say that the men walked out of the restaurant, but then the one wearing the cap returned to the counter and shot Blackman.
A police release stated that two men on a motor cycle drove up to the Delicious Chinese Restaurant on Durban Street, Georgetown, and the pillion rider entered the restaurant.
“He ordered and paid for a meal after which he pulled out a firearm and shot the cashier Debra Blackman to her shoulder and neck and escaped on the motor cycle.”
Blackman was pronounced dead on arrival at the GPHC, the release said.
Latoya Blackman, one of the slain woman’s daughters, said that her mother left for work at around 10.30 hrs on Saturday and was scheduled to work until the following day. She said that a woman who was at a salon in D’urban Street informed the family of the shooting.
The daughter said that when she arrived, a crowd had gathered but she managed to enter the restaurant, where she saw her mother lying in a pool of blood.
Relatives claimed that the owners of the restaurant took several minutes before they opened the restaurant for the police, and Blackman’s body was left for some three hours at the scene.
Kaieteur News was told that Blackman had been working at the restaurant, located between Halley and Hardina Streets, for some eleven years.
According to a relative, bandits had attacked the restaurant last March. A daughter said that the bandits had kicked open a door leading to the counter and robbed Blackman and the restaurant owners.
The relative said that the proprietors would leave the door behind the counter open to allow Blackman to secure herself in the event of future attacks, but that the door was locked on Saturday night when the killers struck.
A daughter said that after the robbery in March, her mother had expressed concern for her safety and had planned to leave her job and start her own business.

Police commence riot training for possible General Elections

The Guyana Police Force has commenced training of its ranks in preparation for possible general elections in the near future.

Riot police engaging a group of protestors following the 2011 General Elections.

With the imminent No Confidence Motion likely to result in the shortening of the life of the tenth parliament, there is every possibility that there could be general elections sometime early next year and the police are ensuring that they are not caught napping.
This newspaper was reliably informed that ranks from the police East Coast Demerara (C) Division have already commenced public order (riot) training under senior officers from the Tactical Services Unit.
The training, which commenced last week at the Divisional Headquarters, Cove and John, is being done in batches.
Apart from physical training, the ranks are being prepared to deal with crowd control and crowd estimates among other basics.
In the past, the police have come in for severe criticism in relation to their handling of potentially riotous situations, especially in the aftermath of General Elections since 1992.
Following the last general elections, the police were forced to discharge rounds at a group of marchers, including former Chief of Staff of the Guyana Defence Force, Brigadier Eddward Collins and Attorney at Law James Bond, a move that was widely criticized.
They also came in for criticism for their handling of demonstrations in Linden two years ago when three persons were shot dead.
It is expected that the force will adjust its training to eliminate the previous encounters.

The no confidence motion if passed could change the political direction in Guyana

Dear Editor,
If as expected, the no confidence motion is passed in Parliament, the government will have to resign but the president will act as the caretaker until the results of the next elections are known. The 2015 general elections will provide voters with a clear choice between three parties, three contrasting styles of governance and three visions of what Guyana should look like in the 21st century.
They will also present three opposing plans and policies for taking our country forward, and three management styles generally reflective of the different philosophy of the three parties.
We are told that the AFC management style is more participatory, inclusive, and consensual, characterized by more listening and less talking and necessarily includes a broader range of perspectives of advocacy on behalf of the masses. This choice between the three parties vying for power means that Guyana is on the threshold of a new type of politics in this century.
The AFC is very fortunate to have leaders like Moses Nagamootoo, Khemraj Ramjattan and Nigel Hughes with the political experience, competency and qualifications that will take the country forward. According to recent polls and abundant anecdotal evidence on the streets, these three leaders are much more popular and much more liked by the voters compared to the other leaders and politicians.
Let us face it, they bring a refreshing perspective to Guyana’s politics. It took a while for the people to become accustomed to their style and to understand their politics but gradually it is taking hold and they are beginning to understand and like it. The “in your face” macho, very hierarchical, dictatorial, and the “divide and rule” old-time leadership style to which Guyanese have grown accustomed in the past is rapidly becoming irrelevant to a brighter and much more educated younger population who in 2015 will be roughly 65 percent of the voters.
The old time management style of governance proffered by the two old parties has not served the people well. Issues like corruption, abuse of power, vindictiveness, disrespect for the people and the constitution and the marginalization of one ethnic group were routinely swept under the carpet and virtually ignored by both parties. It is only under the AFC leadership that these issues have been brought to the limelight and have received focused attention since independence.
The AFC has become so fed-up with the corrupt practices, high crime rate and the high-handed and dictatorial minority PPP regime that its leaders were left with no choice other than to spearhead the no confidence motion against the PPP. And for this, the people have recognized Moses Nagamootoo as the more mature politician to lead them in a coalition government.
It was not by accident that the two major parties have failed to understand the irreparable damage they have done to the people, institutions, and the social fabric of the country. Their actions were willful, vindictive and deceitful. They have put their parties first and not the country and people.
In fact, they are oblivious to the political wreckage they have caused the people and the country over the years. That is why the clear choice for 2015 will be the AFC, which will need at least two terms to undo the massive damage done to our beloved country since independence.
Let us make it abundantly clear that we are not saying that the two old parties have not done anything good.  Yes, they did and still have a role to play; but primarily the people want real change in 2015 and this means they will be supporting the AFC and perhaps a coalition between the AFC and APNU.
The AFC is quite correct to bring the no confidence motion against the minority PPP regime which has shown contempt for the constitution, disrespect for the people and has ignored the rules of Parliament.
The leaders of the PPP have projected themselves as the savior of the country as though they know it all. Yet they have presented the worst elements of old style leadership and dictatorial politics of the dinosaur era which the youths are moving away from.
The people, especially the youths will not in 2015 cast their votes for any of those old parties with their “race-bait “style of politics and their “divide and rule” concept despite the nation’s motto of “one people, one nation, one destiny.”  The AFC will be the people’s choice in 2015.
Asquith Rose and Harish Singh

Creating conflict when there is none

It is always worrying when in the height of a campaign of one sort or another something untoward happens to one or more of the people against whom the campaign is directed. Immediately people on the side suspect something sinister and become swayed to support the target of the campaign.
This is not unusual since most people are not violence-oriented. Recently, there has been a campaign against what people see as the unlawful operations of Bai Shan Lin, a Chinese logging company operating in Guyana.
Logging itself is not illegal unless the logger cuts down rare trees or young trees or simply log without the permission of the authorities. In Guyana there is another condition that makes logging beyond a certain scale illegal. That condition is predicated by the agreement signed between Guyana and the Kingdom of Norway for US$250 million over five years.
In the run-up to that signing, Guyana had already moved to help protect the environment against global warming. There is enough evidence to suggest that the earth is becoming warmer and the experts say that this is due to greenhouse gases from large scale industrial activities. Guyana, with its huge rainforest, offered to halt deforestation in an effort to limit the existence of these greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
Experts calculated the volume of forest that could be cut in each year without affecting the equilibrium. In the wake of disclosures about the operations of Bai Shan Lin the government keeps insisting that the extent of deforestation is well within the prescribed limits. No one is supposed to dispute these facts. However, similar comments by the government have been found to be far from the truth.
For example, in its advertisement, the Guyana Forestry Commission claimed that everything done to facilitate the operations of Bai Shan Lin was prescribed by an Act of Parliament. It turned out that he misapplied the Act.
Given certain facts one will most certainly question any response provided to the media by the Guyana Forestry Commission. It is here, when the defenders appear to be caught in a quandary that distractions are created. There was one such distraction last week when someone reportedly broke into the vehicle owned by Jacy Archibald, the lawyer for the Guyana Forestry Commission.
Archibald was reportedly at the National Park for a bout of exercise at the end of which he returned to his car to find it vandalized. The perpetrator reportedly removed a laptop and other documents. The immediate reaction that the vandalism was linked to the expose on Bai Shan Lin could only be intended to distract from the real issue—the legality of Bai Shan Lin’s operations.
Suddenly there were reports of death threats against other members of the Forestry Commission. If there were these threats why were they not reported? The police said that they never got such reports. This then begs the question of whether these ‘threats’ were concocted.
The authors of the distraction are seeking to initiate a dangerous game, one that pits investigative journalists against the government. President Donald Ramotar, at a recent press conference said that the questions about Bai Shan Lin’s operations are part of an anti-investment policy. He refused to examine the legality.
Home Affairs Minister Clement Rohee rather than discuss the issue, placed the investigative reporting in the light of a corrupt transaction of the media. “They probably beg for something and didn’t get it,” he said at a press conference.
Without saying as much, the government has pledged its support for Bai Shan Lin to the exclusion of everything else. One can therefore see how this recent distraction would seek to fashion a conflict between the media and the government.

Despite full page ads which claim compliance….Bai Shan Lin delinquent with NIS and PAYE payments

Even though Chinese Logging Company Bai Shan Lin in a full page advertisement last Thursday claims to be creating jobs and contributing to Guyana, it has not been up to date in its NIS and PAYE payments.
Checks revealed that the company, Bai Shan Lin International Forest Development which was registered in 2007 only started paying NIS and PAYE in 2013. Bai Shan Lin Housing and Construction Inc which was registered in 2012 only paid NIS and PAYE in October 2013.
Further checks revealed that Bai Shan Lin Ship Building Inc which was registered in 2012 has never paid NIS or PAYE. Bai Shan Lin Mining Development Inc was registered in August 2013 and has never paid any NIS or PAYE contributions.
The records are a clear contradiction of what the advertisement by Bai Shan Lin claimed. In the advertisement, BSL stated that it is committed to abiding by the laws of Guyana in its execution of work in the forestry sector.
It is unclear whether workers are required to pay their own NIS and PAYE, but the company has not been up to date with payments, one source explained.
The company also claimed that having started operations in Guyana since 2007, it then moved to purchase logs from local concessionaires and entered into joint venture agreements with several.
However even though Bai Shan Lin International Forest Development Inc began local operations in 2007, the records would show something different. The company registered with the Deeds Registry in 2012. Required by law, it submitted financial statements up to August 2014.
Bai Shan Lin International Ship Building and Company Inc was registered around the same time and has submitted financial statements up until 2014.
Indian Logging Company, Vaitarna Holdings Private Inc, has been paying since 2007. But Vaitarna is not registered with the Deeds Registry as a company operating out of Guyana.
Bai Shan Lin, a Chinese logging company, has big plans for Guyana: forest concessions covering 960,000 hectares; a 20-kilometre river gold mining concession; a 500-hectare Guyana-China Timber Industry Economic and Trading Cooperation Park and a 160-hectare real estate development.
Despite the scale of the planned operations, Bai Shan Lin’s agreements with the government of Guyana are not public and there has been no discussion in the National Assembly about the company’s plans.
In Guyana, it is illegal for a logging company to take over another logging company’s operation, unless officially authorized by the President. Yet Bai Shan Lin has managed to enter into large scale joint ventures with a number of locals.
In June, Bai Shan Lin submitted an application to the Environmental Protection Agency seeking environmental authorization to undertake a large scale logging and sawmill operation.
According to the public notice which was published, the company asked for the authorization for several areas including the Left Bank of the 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, as well as locations with Regions Nine and Six.
Bai Shan Lin has been granted a forestry concession that amounts to close on 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, according to redd-monitor.org.
In addition, the Chinese company sought 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 in 2012 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.
On Redd-monitor.org, it was stated that in November 2012, Chu Wenze, the Chairman of Chinese logging company Bai Shan Lin, gave a presentation outlining his company’s plans for Guyana at the World Congress in Taicang, China. These plans have threatened Guyana’s proposals to reduce deforestation and forest degradation.
In November 2012, Whu Wenze and David Dabydeen, Guyana’s Ambassador to China, took part in a signing ceremony for a loan from the Chinese Development Bank for Bai Shan Lin’s forestry projects in Guyana.
According to the website Global Timber, Bai Shan Lin’s concessions were acquired from other concession holders, a process known as “landlording” which is illegal in Guyana (unless officially authorised by the President). Under Guyanese law, forest concessions cannot be traded, but must be re-advertised by the Forestry Commission in an open auction.

Police silent on Ashni Singh spending complaint -Ramjattan expects response this week

There has been no word from the police on the complaint filed by Khemraj Ramjattan regarding the alleged illegal spending by Finance Minister Ashni Singh and the AFC leader said that he expects a public response from the Guyana Police Force this week.

When contacted, Crime Chief Leslie James was unable to provide information on the issue. He told Stabroek News that to give an update he would have to make contact with his superiors. He said too that he has not spoken to Ramjattan about the matter.

In an invited comment, Ramjattan said that he expects the police to publically respond to his complaint this week, failing which he will take the appropriate action. He disclosed that he has since learnt from police sources that it has been realized that the Minister has done a “big wrong.” The AFC leader said that given the nature of the matter – that it was a “big wrong” and that the minister holds a senior position – the sources have related that the matter has to be analyzed thoroughly as it is “no ordinary matter.” He stressed that he has been told that the matter will take some time to be analyzed.

Ramjattan added that he was reliably informed that the issue has left the minister “very scared” and he is now laying the blame at the feet of Attorney General Anil Nandlall.

The move to file the complaint came after it was found that government had spent more than $4.5 billion of the $37.4 billion cut from this year’s $220 billion national budget. Singh, on June 19, tabled Financial Paper 1 of 2014 seeking the approval of the House for the extra-budgetary spending. However, this quickly attracted the ire of the main opposition APNU as well as the AFC who have labelled it illegal.

In a nine-page Complaint and brief to the police, Ramjattan wrote that he was making a formal complaint and report that Singh and other officials in his Ministry have committed a violation of the provisions of the Fiscal Management and Accountability Act 2003. The minister, he said, has spent monies without having obtained legislative authorization and he and other officials in the relevant ministries have expended $4.533 billion up to June 16th, 2014. This, according to Ramjattan, constitutes a misusing, a misapplication, or an improper disposal of public monies.

Quoting Section 85 which says: “An official who knowingly permits any other person to contravene any provision of this Act is guilty of an indictable offence and liable on conviction to a fine of $2,000,000 and imprisonment for 3 years,” the AFC leader said that criminal liability can therefore befall the minister and those under him if it is determined that they went against the above-mentioned legislation.

Ramjattan, in the document, also told the police that Singh breached Article 217 which outlines all the conditions under which funds are to be withdrawn from the Consolidated Fund. He also quoted other sections of the Constitution in an attempt to validate his position.

School of Agriculture yields 120 graduates

One hundred and twenty persons including 55 females on Friday graduated from the Guyana School of Agriculture (GSA) with diplomas and certificates.

The students, from the GSA’s Mon Repos and Essequibo campuses completed courses in agriculture, animal health, and forestry and for the first time, agro-processing. During the graduation exercise, GSA’s relevance in the changing agricultural and development setting was highlighted, the Government Information Agency (GINA) reported.

This is the institution’s 50th anniversary and graduation exercise and it has been playing a leading role in agriculture education in Guyana and in the Caribbean in building capacity, GINA said while noting that one of the graduates is a scholarship student from St Vincent and the Grenadines.

A graduate collects his prize and trophy from Mrs Alli Baksh, wife of the Minister in the Ministry of Agriculture, Alli Baksh. (GINA photo)

In delivering the keynote address, Minister of Agriculture Dr. Leslie Ramsammy said that the 50th class was testament to the strength of the institution. “For those of you graduating today, you should feel a sense of pride that you are graduating from a school that has a long and good history, and you will add to its reputation,” he was quoted as saying. “I look forward to seeing many of you contributing to the success of agriculture in our country,” he added.

GINA reported that government is investing $1.2 million per student per year at the GSA. The report said that at the GSA and at the Guyana Sugar Corporation’s Training Centre at Port Mourant, government is investing approximately $600 million in the training of young people to participate in the development of agriculture.

“We see agriculture as a vehicle to accelerate our development. Agriculture has been responsible for bringing Guyana as a least developing country to low middle income country. It is now time that we move towards a high middle income country and I am confident that agriculture is the vehicle that will take us there,” Ramsammy said. Government recognises that unless it develops its human resources, “the potential of agriculture to rapidly bring our country to another level of development (high middle income country) will not happen,” he added, according to GINA.

GINA reported that the school has introduced a number of new courses. “To satisfy the skill of the agro-processing sector, and as well to provide students with skills to establish their own enterprises, a new one-year certificate in agro-processing was introduced for the academic year 2013-2014,” the report said.

Meantime, a new course in theoretical and practical aspects of the operation of tractors was also introduced. In addition, two short courses -the operation, repairs and maintenance of small equipment which targets field workers, technicians and farmers; and urban agriculture techniques in grow box/hydroponics targeting women involved in urban farming, field technicians and teachers have been added to the curriculum.

The GSA 50th graduation procession

Ramsammy challenged the GSA’s management to commit to further developing the curriculum and to introduce new courses and further distance learning for the school. He posited that the various farms operated by the Guyana Livestock Development Authority and the National Agricultural Research and Extension Institute can serve as attachment centres for the students, who could be facilitated in short specialist courses such as the management of black sigatoka disease and red palm mites, GINA said.

Meanwhile, the graduates were charged to set ablaze the modernisation of agriculture by Country Representative of the Inter-American Institution for Cooperation on Agricu-lture Wilmot Garnett. “Those of you from the rural communities, remember you are privileged to be selected to lead and empower especially our small farmers. You have been educated to modernise agriculture,” Garnett was quoted as saying.

He noted that the GSA has done its part in ensuring that students are well-rounded and ready to meet the challenges of agriculture. He encouraged the students to be steadfast in their approach and proactive in confronting these challenges, GINA reported. Garnett also urged the maintaining of zeal and professionalism and encouraged continued learning and networking to keep up to date on new technologies and practices.

This year’s Chief Executive Officer’s prize went to Hussain Ali. This award is given to the best graduating student in any of the two-year programmes offered by the institution at its Mon Repos campus. The Chairman’s Prize (the best graduating student in any of the two programmes offered by the institution at its Essequibo campus) went to Benny Augustus, GINA reported.

Minister of Agriculture Dr. Leslie Ramsammy and ICCA’s Country Representative Wilmot Garnett with the GSA Board of Director, staff and part of the 2014 graduating class in the Diploma in Agriculture (GINA photo)