… as protest erupts outside President’s office
A group of female social activists protested the Ministry of the Presidency on Tuesday, sending a firm message to President
Social Protection Minister Volda Lawrence
David Granger that he needed to give Social Protection Minister Volda Lawrence the boot, since she has failed the public and is unfit to hold the portfolio that bears responsibility for child protection and welfare.
With placards in hand, women of Help and Shelter, The Grass Roots Women Across Race, Red Thread and Guyana Trans United, along with other individuals, stood passively outside the gate of the Ministry of the Presidency on Vlissengen Road, Georgetown, in a simple protest action against the Minister who they said should have known better than to utter words in defence of an accused child molester.
The issue regarding A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC) member Winston Harding, who was also a successful candidate at the recently held Local Government Elections (LGE), surrounds Harding’s alleged sexually molestation of a minor. The allegation pushed the People’s National Congress (PNC)/APNU to pull its support from Harding, who however went ahead in the LGE and came out successful in the elections.
Speaking to Guyana Times, head of Red thread Karen DeSouza said Lawrence is not fit to hold that post.
“We are here because Cabinet is meeting and one of its Ministers, Volda Lawrence, has acted in contravention of the Sexual Offences Act and endangered a minor and she has been actively protecting the person who is accused of sexually molesting a minor. From her utterances to the media indicating that this child’s molestation was a family issue and that were it her brother she would find a different way to deal with it rather than allow the law to take its course, we are saying that it is in breach of the law and thinking of that kind is a very clear indication that she is not fit to be the Minister responsible for child care and protection. This is not acceptable. It cannot be allowed to go unnoticed,” De Souza said.
Harding had faced several charges for child sexual molestation over the years but was never convicted. This was brought to light after he was already selected as the APNU/AFC candidate for Constituency 13 (East and West Ruimveldt).
On Wednesday last, the coalition withdrew its support of Harding’s candidature, saying that the party is “firmly against all forms of abuse especially the abuse of women, children and the elderly.”
However, Harding went ahead and contested the local government polls during which he managed to win his constituency. This then raised concerns about whether the man would be recalled at the level of the party, since he initially entered the race as an APNU/AFC candidate.
The APNU/AFC coalition has indicated that it will have to discuss the future of Harding in the Georgetown Council; however, the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) has stated that there are no legal provisions for the party to ask the candidate to resign.
At a recent press conference, President David Granger said Harding’s removal from the Georgetown Council will have to be discussed at the level of party. “The matter will be discussed within the PNCR (PNCReform) and our partners in the APNU… An announcement has already been made, and we stand by the announcement until it has been discussed within the PNC Councils and within the APNU,” he remarked.
But a few hours later on Saturday, at a press briefing hosted by the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM), Commissioner Vincent Alexander pointed out that there are no provisions in Guyana’s local government legislation for the recall of an elected Councillor.
Meanwhile, Lawrence is also facing heat on the matter after she was reported in local media as saying that the matter was family related and should not have been handled the way it was.
“This is a family issue that has been going on and on and on and on for whatever reason, I can’t tell you because if I had a brother, even if there was an accusation, this is not how I would go about helping him,” she had stated.
The Minister’s comment sparked much outraged among rights activists, with several Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) members picketing her Lamaha Street office on Friday, calling for her resignation.
In response to this call, President Granger told media operatives Saturday that he did not receive a formal request to that effect but will, nevertheless, seek an explanation from Minister Lawrence about the matter.
“I was told the call was made to the President but the President didn’t receive no such call, but what I could say is that I will seek an explanation from Ms Lawrence about the circumstances under which Mr Harding was selected,” the Head of State remarked.