Tag Archives: Stabroek News

Guyana to get $9.3B from EU

European Commissioner for Development Andris Piebalgs yesterday signed development programmes for 21 African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) group countries and Guyana’s allocation is Euros 34 Million ($9.28B) over the next seven years.

A release from the European Union yesterday said that the funds for Guyana will focus mainly on climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction, including sea defences. The agreement was signed in the Pacific Ocean island of Samoa.

The funds have been allocated to the countries’ National Indicative Programmes under the 11th European Develop-ment Fund (EDF) for the period 2014-2020.

Guyana’s Foreign Minister Carolyn Rodrigues-Birkett (left) and European Commissioner for Development Andris Piebalgs after the signing of Guyana’s NIP. (EU photo)

Minister of Foreign Affairs, Carolyn Rodrigues-Birkett signed the deal with Pielsbag on behalf of Guyana.

The signing occurred on the sidelines of the UN Third International Conference on Small Island Developing States. Aside from Guyana, the signatory countries from the Caribbean are Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, Jamaica, St Kitts and Nevis, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines and Trinidad and Tobago.

After the signing ceremony, Piebalgs said: “Today’s signatures mark the official go-ahead to continue strengthening our development cooperation with the concerned countries. These documents lay down the priorities for our joint work for the next seven years and will allow us to move ahead with the preparations of the concrete projects and programmes.”

He added “For the European Union it is essential that our programmes are drawn up in close cooperation with our partner countries, based on governments’ own policies and strategies and reflecting their stated needs. This is how we ensure that programming documents really support areas where the EU can add value”.

EU Member States agreed in 2013 the overall amount for development cooperation that will be directed to 78 ACP countries through the 11th EDF. The National Indicative Programmes that were signed yesterday define the strategy and priorities for EU aid in each particular country and were done in close cooperation with the partner countries.

One of the programmes that is likely to be financed for Guyana is the second phase of the Mahaica-Mahaicony-Abary Scheme.

Agriculture Minister Dr Leslie Ramsammy has mentioned the project twice in recent weeks and said it will be 30M Euros (US$41M).

While Phase Two of the MMA is still at the funding clearance and ministerial level, the National Drainage and Irrigation Authority has met with EU representatives, exchanging technical data on the contours of the project which straddles regions four and five.

Ramsammy had stated during the recent presentation of the 2013-2020 National Strategy for Agriculture that the first portion of the MMA-ADA Phase Two will take up to five years and should make available up to 200,000 acres of land in Mahaicony.

Part of the project will be the damming of the Mahaicony River which is expected to ease flooding in the area.

Phase two of the MMA project will focus on the Mahaicony area. Phase two and three of the project were to be completed decades ago, however only the Abary segment was ever completed. Critics say the Abary segment is not functioning the way it was intended and it may have to be reopened and re-engineered before the other phases are tackled.

Phases two and three are seen as critical to protecting Mahaicony and Mahaica from deep flooding and to open up more lands for rice farming.

Elections arrangements

After months of contradictory statements, the PPP/C government is still to make a cogent and believable case as to why long-awaited local government elections have not been called. Its failure will cement in the minds of many -including its supporters – that in its weakened state it is unwilling to risk a loss in key areas which could frame it as a lame duck at general elections. As we have said before in these columns the PPP/C government is putting its own fortunes ahead of the country’s interest.

It has now opened up a new front. Whereas it has unconvincingly argued that the electorate is not ready for local government elections it is of the view that the people are more ready for general elections even though there are few differences between the two systems and basic voter education would have taken care of any gaps in knowledge. While more in favour of general elections, that hasn’t stopped the ruling party and the government from embarking on a cynical campaign to undermine the credibility of the electoral system and to cast aspersions on it.

How else does one explain the weekly mutterings at the PPP/C press conference by General Secretary Rohee about a sudden inflation in the size of the list of persons eligible to vote and sundry non sequiturs such as 18 persons registered at one location in Georgetown and the name of the late former President Arthur Chung being on the list. In his other capacity as Minister of Home Affairs, Mr Rohee would be well aware that it is the General Register Office, which comes under his own ministry, which must initiate the process to have the register purged of those persons who have died. Since he has overall responsibility for this department he himself should be made to explain why the name is still on the list.

While the matter of Mr Chung’s name and others can be easily addressed, the weekly grousing by the PPP about preparations for elections, whether local or general, points to a broader strategy to target the administrative processes for political purposes in the short term or whenever polls are actually called. This dovetails well with the shocking assertions by no less than President Ramotar after the 2011 general elections that shenanigans at GECOM had resulted in the PPP/C being cheated of an outright majority. The groundwork is being laid by the PPP to build on this despite repeated denials by GECOM of the various allegations.

It is the quintessential role reversal. Between 1990 and 1992, the PNC put enormous pressure on the reformed elections commission over processes and credibility and continued with this behaviour at the 1997 and 2001 general elections. With less than a majority of the vote in the 2011 polls and sensing the risk of a further erosion whenever elections are called, the PPP/C is clearly keeping all of its options opened. One expects that GECOM and all of its commissioners, three of whom were nominated by the government, would robustly defend the electoral preparations considering the negative impact that deliberate misinformation can have on an apathetic electorate.

The public must not lose sight of the fact however that the sweeping electoral reforms agreed following the intervention of the Carter Center prior to the 1992 general elections have laid a solid foundation for credible elections which cannot be easily derailed. Counting at the place of poll, identification requirements, measures to prevent multiple voting, the cleaning up of the register of registrants and the presence of scrutineers through all parts of the process have helped to create and build the necessary confidence in the electoral system.

Nevertheless, the way things are shaping up, fresh general elections could end up being the most watched since 1992. Given the qualms that have thus far been raised by the ruling party and the government, both the administration and GECOM must do all in their power to ensure that the most transparent arrangements are in place and watched by as many credible observers as might be interested.

At the level of GECOM, one expects that as soon as is practicable, the Joint International Technical Assessor will be in place and the full and complete needs for the electoral machinery will be made known to both the government and the donor community so that there are no gaps. The information technology aspects of the electoral process are usually fraught with contention and one hopes that the relevant competencies are availed to GECOM.

One also expects that invitations to observe the elections will be approved for the Commonwealth, the EU, the OAS, Caricom and others. This will give greater assurance to the public and obviate any concerns over some of the niggling questions that have been raised recently.

Despite the pendency of the no confidence motion against it, the government still has the opportunity to call local government elections and fulfill the solemn promise it made to the electorate in 2011.

Revert to Cabinet system of gov’t – Ramkarran

Former Speaker of the National Assembly Ralph Ramkarran says that Guyana should revert to a cabinet system of government with a prime minister as head and has endorsed a view that any party obtaining more than 10% of the vote would be entitled to join the government if it so wishes.

“Our constitutional system has been damaged by the attachment of the presidential carbuncle to our Westminster system for no good reason other than grandiosity. It has sucked the lifeblood from a vibrant, cabinet system of government and imposed a commanding authority bloated with supreme executive power over compliant ‘advisers’ holding ministerial posts. I therefore propose a cabinet system of government with a prime minister as head of government, subject to term limits, and a cabinet with the right to vote, not as advisers as at present. The president would be a ceremonial head of state elected by a two-thirds majority of the National Assembly. Essentially, this means returning to our Independence Constitu-tion, which worked well until it was subverted,” he wrote in his Sunday Stabroek column.

Ramkarran, who was an influential member of the PPP before quitting after nearly 50 years of membership, argued that until today’s politically disputatious situation, created by Guyana’s history and overshadowed by ethnicity, is contained by a workable constitutional system, Guyana will show little political and economic progress and instability will continue.

He said that the first step is to persuade all political parties to accept that Guyana needs a government that includes at least the two main political parties. “The PPP once championed this position but reneged on it after gaining political office in 1992. While the PPP is dangling before the public a confusing concatenation of alliance formats, including the national democratic front, the broad left front, shared governance by first building trust, which it claims from the other side of its mouth already exists through the implementation of constitutional reforms, the ‘winner does not take all,’ but which already exists through the civic alliance, promoting a different one each day of the week, the rest of Guyana ought to move forward with the discourse on constitutional reform. The PPP will undoubtedly catch up in due course, either willingly or of necessity,” he said.

The former PPP stalwart advocated a return to the Independence Constitution and said that had it been applied with the 2011 electoral results, the ceremonial president would have been obliged to invite the leader of the party, which the president believes is capable of obtaining the support of the majority of members of the National Assembly, to form the government. “Therefore, whichever party the president invited to form the government would have to satisfy him or her that it has the support of at least one other political party in the National Assembly. This would have forced the formation of a coalition government or at least forced negotiations by the party with one or more of the others for a commitment to support,” he said.

“If the PPP now has concerns that 1964 might be repeated when it obtained the plurality but was not invited to form the government, the appropriate article in the constitution can be amended to impose a duty on the president to first invite the party obtaining the plurality at the elections to form the government. Only if that party declares to the president that it is unable to form a government which would receive the support of the majority of members of the National Assembly would the president be able to then invite the party obtaining the second largest number of votes to form the government. The president would have power to require a vote of confidence in the government as the first order of business of the National Assembly,” Ramkarran asserted.

The former Speaker said that he agreed with Stabroek News columnist and former PPP government minister Dr Henry Jeffrey’s view that a coalition government can be ensured by a provision in the constitution that any party obtaining more than ten per cent of the vote would be entitled to join the government if it so wishes. “Of course, this would make the job of the president of inviting the formation of a government to be a mere formality,” he noted.

 

Coalition-type

governments

In his ‘Future Notes’ column, Dr. Jeffrey had advocated for the establishment of a political constitution that provides for the possibility of coalition-type governments and thus contains strong institutional checks and balances to guard against the kind of executive abuse that such regimes could engender. The constitution must also seek to facilitate the development of conditions that will promote multi-ethnic politics and the resulting competitive liberal democratic state.

In terms of reforms, he had said that to deal with the issue of exclusion/ inclusion, at least for a transition period, the constitution will need to provide that once a party achieves some threshold, which he suggested could be 10% of the votes, at national elections, it has a right to a pro rata share of the government.

Ramkarran said that devising a system for the scrutiny of government without an opposition would be a challenge. “I do not believe that less dominance by the executive of the legislature by keeping ministers away from membership of the legislature and even electoral reform to introduce realistically sized constituencies would guarantee more independence of members of the body. Ethnically driven political solidarity and the possible interruption of benefits flowing from membership would defeat such an effort. One possibility that comes to mind is an upper chamber consisting of persons with no party political affiliation nominated from civil society by the president in his own deliberate judgment. To be effective it would have power to meaningfully influence legislation that comes before it,” he said.

Jeffrey had said that Guyana should look no further than the presidential system of the United States, where the president must negotiate with members of his own party. “The president should be elected by at least 50% of the votes cast. In our developing ethnic situation, this will force those wishing to be president to craft their policies to gain support across ethnic lines and also to negotiate across parties,” he had said.

“Also, to further entrench the separation between the executive and the legislature, as in the US, the executive (ministers) should not be members of parliament. The president will have the right to hire and fire his cabinet but must always keep the party proportionalities,” he wrote. “Contrary to what is sometimes thought, the fact that some ministers are nominated by the opposition would not necessarily cause persistent cabinet dissension. Rather, since the president has the right of dismissal, the opposition will also need to guard against their nominees becoming ardent acolytes of the president,” Jeffrey had said.

“Furthermore, the president should not be able to prorogue the National Assembly. Both s/he and the Assembly should be in office for fixed periods and the Assembly should manage its own personnel and financial affairs and have the right to adjust and negotiate with the government the formation of national budget,” the former minister said.

“In this context, we should eschew the notion of parliamentarians viewing themselves as part of the government and opposition and return to the situation where parties in parliament are, as in the US, designated majority and minority parties. They should be encouraged to view themselves as representing constituent and national interests,” Jeffrey declared.

Some Bai Shan Lin joint ventures may be illegal – experts

Some of the Joint Ventures (JV) involving logging company Bai Shan Lin may be illegal as provisions in the Forest Act 2009 did not come into force until 2012, forestry experts Janette Bulkan and John Palmer have said.

“The choice of 2009 by the GFC staff as the first year for approval of joint ventures appeared to be based on a belief that the passage of the Forest Act 2009 by the National Assembly in January of that year meant that it entered into force immediately. In fact, Presidential assent was delayed by a possible world-record-breaking 628 days by then-President Bharrat Jagdeo, and the commencement order required by section 1 of the Act was only signed by Minister Robert Persaud on 08 August 2012,” Palmer and Bulkan wrote in the Stabroek News last week.

“In law, therefore, the Forests Act 1953/1997 continued to be the operational forest law until August 2012. Activities contrary to that law and its associated Forest Regulations 1953 were illegal until August 2012. All the so-called ‘joint ventures’ – actually, landlording – devised until August 2012, and all the approvals of such landlording by the GFC Board until August 2012, were illegal unless approved for TSAs by the Minister of Forests (the President). There is no evidence in the public domain that former President Bharrat Jagdeo gave prior formal approval to any transfers under Regulation 12 of the Forest Regulations or Condition 13 of the Timber Sales Agreements. The emphasis is on ‘prior’; there is no legal provision for retroactive approval,” the duo wrote.

Commissioner of Forests James Singh told reporters at a press conference recently that Bai Shan Lin has four joint venture (JV) arrangements. In 2007, Danny Chan transferred all the shares in Haimorakabra Logging Company Inc as well as Karlam Sawmill to Chu Wenze, the chairman of BSL, and in April 2009, the JV with Wood Associated Industries Company (WAICO) was approved. The GFC board in March this year approved the JV with BSL and Puruni Woods Inc and in April approved the JV with Kwebanna Wood Products Inc.

Bulkan and Palmer identified several dealings involving Bai Shan Lin – renting or private sales of forest concessions – ‘joint ventures’ – which they said were “probably illegal” pending contradiction by formal publication of such prior approvals, with date-stamping of signatures before the dates of any joint venture contracts.

The duo said that the total area of these probably illegal rentings or joint ventures is 762 000 hectares which represents over half of Bai Shan Lin’s “forest empire” in Guyana.

Bulkan and Palmer identified the Haimorakabra State Forest Permission (SFP) as well as the WAICO Timber Sales Agreement and Karlam South American (Guyana) Timber as among the transactions that were likely illegal. They also identified the case of Demerara Timbers Ltd’s TSAs 02/1991 and 03/1991 in 2007 covering 492 000 ha as an undertaking that may be afoul of the law. “That no shares may actually have been transferred is not a defence because Condition 13 of the TSA licence refers to ‘any interest’, not just the company shares,” they wrote.

The duo also cited the case of the A Mazaharally TSA 02/1990 or TSA 04/2009 which covers 87 000 ha, “when rented variously to Barama and to Ram Ali,” as likely illegal but when it was passed to Bai Shan Lin in April 2014, that transfer was legal.

“Possibly illegal were the rentings of Nagasar Sawh’s TSA 02/1985 (29 000 ha) and Garner’s TSA 03/2005 (93 000 ha) but information is not confirmed,” they wrote. They added that there is also no evidence in the public domain that the GFC Commissioner gave prior formal approval to transfer of State Forest Permission Bce 15/1987 to Bai Shan Lin, as required by Condition 2 of 16 of State Forest Permissions.

The duo noted that ‘Landlording’ is the practice in which the legal holder of a forest harvesting concession gives up managerial control and rents it out to another enterprise. The practice is illegal under Forest Regulation 12, 1953 which stated that “No transfer or any lease or timber sales agreement shall be made by any forest officer without the prior approval of the President where such lease or timber sales agreement grants exclusive rights to any person over an area estimated to exceed three thousand acres or is for an unexpired period exceeding three years.”

Bulkan and Palmer pointed out that eight years after the drafting of the Forest Bill 2007, “the GFC has still not prepared regulations subsidiary to what is now the Forests Act 2009 (activated in August 2012 and backdated to October 2010). So the Forest Regulations 1953 are still in legal effect.”

 

Condition 13

They also pointed out that landlording is illegal under Condition 13 of Timber Sales Agreements which states that “The grantee shall not transfer, sublet, mortgage or otherwise dispose of any interest arising under this agreement except in accordance with the Forest Regulations and any purported disposition made except in accordance with such regulations shall be null and void.”

The duo pointed out that much the same wording is found in the third edition of the GFC Code of Practice for forest operations for Timber Sales Agreement and Wood Cutting License holders: “The concessionaire shall not transfer, sublet, mortgage or otherwise dispose of any interest arising under the concession agreement.”

Bulkan and Palmer noted that although the illegalities of renting logging concessions were exposed repeatedly in the independent Press in early 2007, at the time of the Barama ‘bad-faith contracts’ with Amerindian communities Akawini and St. Monica in Region 1, the GFC continued to allow the other three Asian-owned logging companies to rent concessions: Bai Shan Lin, DTL and Jaling.

“The chaotic situation resulting from uncontrolled renting of concessions, and the evident loss of control by the GFC over the State Forests which it is mandated to administer on behalf of the people of Guyana, contributed to the citizens’ petition against the technically weak Forest Bill 2007,” they said. The National Assembly failed to take heed, Bulkan and Palmer noted.

They also said that in addition to the illegalities, the accumulations of rented logging concessions are contrary to national policy. “The 1993 timber concession policy is clear that ‘No additional areas will be granted to TSA holders until they have demonstrated their ability to work existing concessions for maximum sustained yield’ (GFC timber concession policy 1993, page 3). And ‘the grantee shall work the area to the satisfaction of the Commissioner in accordance with the terms of this Agreement’ (Timber Sales Agreement template in the second schedule ‘A’ of the Forest Regulations 1953/1982, clause 6). This clause is reiterated as ‘The concessionaire shall work the area to the satisfaction of the Commis-sioner in accordance with the terms of the concession agreement and only in accordance with the Forest Management plan, as approved by the Commissioner, . . .’ in the third edition of the GFC Code of Practice for forest operations for Timber Sales Agreement and Wood Cutting License holders,” they said.

“Neither during the management by the original Guyanese concession holder nor subsequently under Bai Shan Lin have any of these concessions been worked to the maximum sustainable yield,” the duo declared.

“The field audits prescribed in the same 1993 policy would have shown that the loggers were not cutting at those intensities, and therefore the concessions were not being worked in accordance with GFC prescriptions, and therefore there were no grounds for adding more concession area by adding more rented TSAs. The under-cutting in overall terms was readily acknowledged and shown in data tables during the presentation by the GFC Commissioner at the Press conference on 18 August. Thus the illegal renting of Haimorakabra in 2007 has been aggravated by the against-policy additions of other TSAs to the Bai Shan Lin forest empire,” Bulkan and Palmer 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.

Revert to Cabinet system of gov’t – Ramkarran

Former Speaker of the National Assembly Ralph Ramkarran says that Guyana should revert to a cabinet system of government with a prime minister as head and has endorsed a view that any party obtaining more than 10% of the vote would be entitled to join the government if it so wishes.

“Our constitutional system has been damaged by the attachment of the presidential carbuncle to our Westminster system for no good reason other than grandiosity. It has sucked the lifeblood from a vibrant, cabinet system of government and imposed a commanding authority bloated with supreme executive power over compliant ‘advisers’ holding ministerial posts. I therefore propose a cabinet system of government with a prime minister as head of government, subject to term limits, and a cabinet with the right to vote, not as advisers as at present. The president would be a ceremonial head of state elected by a two-thirds majority of the National Assembly. Essentially, this means returning to our Independence Constitu-tion, which worked well until it was subverted,” he wrote in his Sunday Stabroek column.

Ramkarran, who was an influential member of the PPP before quitting after nearly 50 years of membership, argued that until today’s politically disputatious situation, created by Guyana’s history and overshadowed by ethnicity, is contained by a workable constitutional system, Guyana will show little political and economic progress and instability will continue.

He said that the first step is to persuade all political parties to accept that Guyana needs a government that includes at least the two main political parties. “The PPP once championed this position but reneged on it after gaining political office in 1992. While the PPP is dangling before the public a confusing concatenation of alliance formats, including the national democratic front, the broad left front, shared governance by first building trust, which it claims from the other side of its mouth already exists through the implementation of constitutional reforms, the ‘winner does not take all,’ but which already exists through the civic alliance, promoting a different one each day of the week, the rest of Guyana ought to move forward with the discourse on constitutional reform. The PPP will undoubtedly catch up in due course, either willingly or of necessity,” he said.

The former PPP stalwart advocated a return to the Independence Constitution and said that had it been applied with the 2011 electoral results, the ceremonial president would have been obliged to invite the leader of the party, which the president believes is capable of obtaining the support of the majority of members of the National Assembly, to form the government. “Therefore, whichever party the president invited to form the government would have to satisfy him or her that it has the support of at least one other political party in the National Assembly. This would have forced the formation of a coalition government or at least forced negotiations by the party with one or more of the others for a commitment to support,” he said.

“If the PPP now has concerns that 1964 might be repeated when it obtained the plurality but was not invited to form the government, the appropriate article in the constitution can be amended to impose a duty on the president to first invite the party obtaining the plurality at the elections to form the government. Only if that party declares to the president that it is unable to form a government which would receive the support of the majority of members of the National Assembly would the president be able to then invite the party obtaining the second largest number of votes to form the government. The president would have power to require a vote of confidence in the government as the first order of business of the National Assembly,” Ramkarran asserted.

The former Speaker said that he agreed with Stabroek News columnist and former PPP government minister Dr Henry Jeffrey’s view that a coalition government can be ensured by a provision in the constitution that any party obtaining more than ten per cent of the vote would be entitled to join the government if it so wishes. “Of course, this would make the job of the president of inviting the formation of a government to be a mere formality,” he noted.

 

Coalition-type

governments

In his ‘Future Notes’ column, Dr. Jeffrey had advocated for the establishment of a political constitution that provides for the possibility of coalition-type governments and thus contains strong institutional checks and balances to guard against the kind of executive abuse that such regimes could engender. The constitution must also seek to facilitate the development of conditions that will promote multi-ethnic politics and the resulting competitive liberal democratic state.

In terms of reforms, he had said that to deal with the issue of exclusion/ inclusion, at least for a transition period, the constitution will need to provide that once a party achieves some threshold, which he suggested could be 10% of the votes, at national elections, it has a right to a pro rata share of the government.

Ramkarran said that devising a system for the scrutiny of government without an opposition would be a challenge. “I do not believe that less dominance by the executive of the legislature by keeping ministers away from membership of the legislature and even electoral reform to introduce realistically sized constituencies would guarantee more independence of members of the body. Ethnically driven political solidarity and the possible interruption of benefits flowing from membership would defeat such an effort. One possibility that comes to mind is an upper chamber consisting of persons with no party political affiliation nominated from civil society by the president in his own deliberate judgment. To be effective it would have power to meaningfully influence legislation that comes before it,” he said.

Jeffrey had said that Guyana should look no further than the presidential system of the United States, where the president must negotiate with members of his own party. “The president should be elected by at least 50% of the votes cast. In our developing ethnic situation, this will force those wishing to be president to craft their policies to gain support across ethnic lines and also to negotiate across parties,” he had said.

“Also, to further entrench the separation between the executive and the legislature, as in the US, the executive (ministers) should not be members of parliament. The president will have the right to hire and fire his cabinet but must always keep the party proportionalities,” he wrote. “Contrary to what is sometimes thought, the fact that some ministers are nominated by the opposition would not necessarily cause persistent cabinet dissension. Rather, since the president has the right of dismissal, the opposition will also need to guard against their nominees becoming ardent acolytes of the president,” Jeffrey had said.

“Furthermore, the president should not be able to prorogue the National Assembly. Both s/he and the Assembly should be in office for fixed periods and the Assembly should manage its own personnel and financial affairs and have the right to adjust and negotiate with the government the formation of national budget,” the former minister said.

“In this context, we should eschew the notion of parliamentarians viewing themselves as part of the government and opposition and return to the situation where parties in parliament are, as in the US, designated majority and minority parties. They should be encouraged to view themselves as representing constituent and national interests,” Jeffrey declared.

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.

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)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

GDF soldiers to testify in Rodney COI

Several witnesses from the Guyana Defence Force (GDF) will appear at the session of the Walter Rodney Commission of Inquiry (COI) which begins tomorrow.

The session was originally scheduled to continue today but the Secretariat of the Commission yesterday issued a press release stating that hearings will instead commence tomorrow and continue on the 30th and 31st July and on the 4th to 7th August, 2014, inclusive.

The Commission apologised for any inconvenience caused.

The names of the persons to testify were not immediately available. Stabroek News has been informed that tomorrow Tacuma Ogunseye will return to the stand and it is hoped that he will be able to complete giving his evidence. Human rights activist Karen de Souza will be the next to take the stand. She has already given her evidence-in-chief and will now have to be cross-examined.

According to a public notice, this session of hearings will end on August 7. In February this year, a three-man commission was sworn in by President Donald Ramotar to probe the death of WPA co-leader Dr. Walter Rodney.

On June 13, 1980, Rodney who was also a renowned academic and political activist, died in a car near John and Bent streets, after a walkie-talkie given to him by now deceased GDF member Gregory Smith, exploded. His brother Donald Rodney who was with him at the time, escaped serious injury. The PNC administration then headed by the late president Forbes Burnham, whose reign had been opposed by Rodney, has long been blamed for the murder. The party, however, has continuously denied any responsibility. The current leadership of the PNCR has publicly said that they will not be cooperating with the COI.

According to the February 8, 2014 Official Gazette, the Commissioners are to examine the facts and circumstances immediately prior, at the time of and subsequent to the death of Dr. Rodney, in order to determine as far as possible who or what was responsible for the explosion resulting in his death.

The Commissioners are to enquire into the cause of the explosion in which Dr. Rodney died, including whether it was an act of terrorism and if so, who were the perpetrators.

Further, the Gazette said that the Commissioners are to “specifically examine” the role, if any, which Smith played in Rodney’s death and if so, to inquire into who may have “counseled, procured, aided and or abetted” him to do so, including facilitating his departure from Guyana after Rodney’s death.

It also stated that the Commissioners are to examine and report on the actions and activities of the State, including state agencies, such as the Guyana Police Force, the GDF, the Guyana National Service, the Guyana People’s Militia and those who were in command and superintendence of them, to determine whether they were tasked with surveillance of and the carrying out of actions and whether they did execute those tasks and carried out those actions against the political opposition for the period January 1, 1978 to December 31, 1980.

Additionally the Commissioners are to examine, review and report on earlier investigations and inquiries done on and into the death of Rodney.

Among the other persons who have already given testimony are former army chief, Major General Norman Mc Lean, Captain Gerry Gouveia, Robert Allan Gates and political activist Eusi Kwayana.

Shaik Baksh to be GuySuCo Board chairman -sources

Chief Executive Officer of the Guyana Water Incor-porated and former Education and Housing Minister Shaik Baksh will be the new Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo), sources say.

Stabroek News was reliably informed that President Donald Ramotar will be making the announcement after meeting with his cabinet tomorrow. Ramotar said on Saturday that the new GuySuCo board will be announced this week.

When Stabroek News contacted Baksh on Thursday, he said that “certain things are under negotiations” and added that he could not confirm anything as yet.

Meanwhile, head of the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) Komal Chand is awaiting a formal response from the Agriculture Ministry on whether the invitation to sit on the board would be extended to another member of GAWU and not just him. Chand explained that he would not be sitting on the board but had written to Agriculture Minister, Dr Leslie Ramsammy requesting that GAWU be allowed to select another representative. “At this point in time my union would rather be pleased to have your invitation extended for its central executive committee to select a suitable person to be its representative on the corporation’s board,” Chand wrote. He told Stabroek News that he was looking forward to the response and the union on Saturday at the general council’s meeting, would be discussing possible names to be submitted. The GAWU leader stated that they do not want to be preemptive and submit any names to the ministry but will await a response because the initial invitation was to him directly and not GAWU.

On June 16, during a rally at the Enmore Martyrs Monument at Enmore, East Coast Demerara, Ramotar publicly invited Chand to sit on the next GuySuCo board. This was after Chand criticised GuySuCo’s management during his address at the rally. Blaming the depressed state of the corporation on poor management, Chand had said “A new board of directors is long, long overdue…, especially since the last Chairman became the new Chief Executive Officer, leaving GuySuCo headless and the present board headless….”

Chand revealed that     he had since received a formal invitation from Ramsammy to sit on the board. He said that the decision is not being taken lightly and all the factors will need to be considered especially in relation to the union’s position as a critical member of the corporation and its current management.

Chand had said that the management system is flawed and the appointment of the previous board chairman Rajendra Singh to the position of CEO did little to ease worries over the management structure of the state-owned company. He had also called for full disclosure of how the over $31 billion that was handed over by the European Union(EU) as the accompanying measures to the reform of the EU sugar regime, was spent. The restructuring of GuySuCo’s board has taken over a year. Last October, it was revealed that the company was without a properly functioning board since June. Ramsammy had responded that the life of the board was extended until the end of the year. The new board was to be announced at the beginning of July.

In addition, the position of Deputy CEO has to be filled and currently no one has been identified to take over for Paul Bhim who will step down as the Director of Finance.

Criticism of the state-owned corporation has mounted and industry experts have called for the formulation of a real strategic plan that will address the crisis in the sugar industry. Ramotar’s decision to appoint Singh to the post of CEO when the company is struggling with over $58 billion in debt has also been questioned as it was pointed out that Singh is not a financial expert nor an agriculturist.

Stakeholders were hoping that the new board would comprise experts who have a deep understanding of the sugar industry and how to move it beyond its current struggles.