April 16, 2014

AG earns over $1.5M, Teixeira $1M

Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Anil Nandlall

Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Anil Nandlall

– salaries of other officials axed from OP budget

In its quest to cut funding for the National Communications Network (NCN) and the Government Information Agency (GINA), the Opposition used its one-seat majority in the National Assembly to disapprove $5.1 billion budgeted for the Office of the President (OP). For the first time in Guyana’s history, the OP will have no money to facilitate administrative services or capital projects.

The A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) and the Alliance For Change (AFC) had first slashed $1.335 billion for current Administrative Services budgeted under the OP after Government, in their estimation, did not adequately justify why NCN and GINA were subsidised in 2013 when the House had disapproved funding.

Presidential Advisor on Governance, Gail Teixeira

Presidential Advisor on Governance, Gail Teixeira

They subsequently voted against $3.846 billion allocated for capital projects taking the total disapproved funds to $5.182 billion, out of a grand total of $6.078 billion budgeted for the OP. However, APNU and the AFC did not object to the $830.3 million for Presidential Advisory services (Cabinet and other services) and $65.1 million for Defence and National Security, which were also budgeted under the Office of the President.

Under the chairmanship of Speaker Raphael Trotman, APNU Member of Parliament (MP) Christopher Jones asked why GINA and NCN received $135.8 million and $81.3 million respectively when the National Assembly had reduced their subsidies to $1 each in 2013.

In response, Minister within the Finance Ministry, Bishop Juan Edghill said: “Mr Chairman, we relied and were guided by the Chief Justice’s ruling.” But this was an answer the Opposition was not willing to accept. APNU Shadow Finance Minister Carl Greenidge said MPs are guided by the Constitution which orders the National Assembly to approve expenditure from the Consolidated Fund.

AFC MP Cathy Hughes grilling Minister Edghill during Tuesday’s consideration of the budget

AFC MP Cathy Hughes grilling Minister Edghill during Tuesday’s consideration of the budget

“I am not aware that in the Chief Justice’s decision anywhere he has appropriated for himself, authorisation to spend. He cannot himself, as far as I am aware, authorise the House to spend any monies whatsoever,” Greenidge told the Committee of Supply.

In defence of Government’s action, Legal Affairs Minister and Attorney General Anil Nandlall told the Committee of Supply that he had offered his legal opinion on whether the slashed funds could have been restored following a request by the Cabinet. Referencing Article 218:3 of the Constitution, the Attorney General told the Committee of Supply that the Finance Minister has the powers to do two things: one, solicit monies from the Consolidated Fund by tabling a Supplementary Provision or submit to the National Assembly a Statement of Excess detailing how those monies have been spent.

Statement of Excess

“I am aware that, the Statement of Excess has been presented in relation to wherever there was a restoration of the monies cut…,” the AG added.

Greenidge, in response, denied having knowledge that Finance Minister, Dr Ashni Singh had tabled a Statement of Excess. He further told his colleagues on both sides that the Constitution does not allow for monies to be used from the Consolidated Fund without approval from the House.

He said, too, that such was conditional on matters being urgent, arguing that by no means the payment of wages and salaries could be deemed urgent.

“Given the unconstitutional action by the Government, given the fact that a figure is shown in these estimates which was not approved by the House, we are not going to approve this item at all. And if that has consequences to the approval of the head as a whole, so let it be,” Greenidge said. He had set the tone for the Opposition.

But before voting on the current expenditure for Administrative Services, AFC MP Cathy Hughes, along with her colleagues, capitalised on the opportunity to bombard Edghill with a flurry of questions on the financial affairs of NCN and GINA. While Edghill has pledged to provide financial details and other information on GINA, he gave members a breakdown of the spending of the $134 million given to the entity in 2013.

Wages

For the 39 employees attached to the agency, wages and salaries accounted for $77.8 million. Edghill noted that this year Government was asking for $79.6 million to cater for a five per cent increase. Under other charges, $58 million was used, with $60 million being sought this year.

He also disclosed that the Auditor General has submitted the 2004-2007 Auditor’s report, noting that the audit for 2008 is currently being done. However, he added, that all the financial reports for the Information Agency have been submitted to the Auditor General’s Office.

Meanwhile, the disapproval would affect the salaries of top OP officials including Presidential Advisor on Governance, Gail Teixeira who earns over $1 million monthly and Head of the Presidential Secretariat, Dr Roger Luncheon who gets $983,000.

Guyana Times was told that Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Anil Nandlall also earns over $1.5 million per month. While his salary details and that of several other ministers did not feature during the budget consideration thus far, reports are that this might be done soon.

Minister within the Ministry of Finance, Bishop, Juan Edghill who provided the information also disclosed that the lowest paid worker at OP is a typist clerk earns a salary of $43,000.  Back in 2010, Teixeira earned a monthly salary of $800,969 and by 2012 it had reportedly increased to $967,985.  In the top ten, the Presidential Advisor on Governance is followed by Dr Luncheon.

The Presidential Advisor on Youth Empowerment, Odinga Lumumba receives a salary of $735,553.  The Director General of the Civil Defence Commission Ret’d Chabilall Ramsarup has a monthly salary of $728, 887 while the Presidential Advisor on Sport Neil Kumar is paid $721, 000. He is followed by the Divisional Head $648, 402, the Senior Deputy Secretary of the Cabinet $552,333; Coordinator of Public Information $551, 214; Administrator $525, 000 and Advisor on Sustainable Development, Navin Chandarpal $496, 125.

Turning his attention to NCN, Edghill, after being grilled, told the Committee that in 2013, the state broadcaster earned $476.6 million. Coupled with the subvention, NCN received $557 million. NCN has a staff complement of 236 – 177 permanent workers and 59 temporary workers. But despite the Minister’s attempt to justify the spending, the Opposition moved ahead with its decision to vote against monies for the OP.

It subsequently voted against the $3.8 million budgeted for capital projects. AFC MP Moses Nagamootoo questioned why the Government did not delink NCN and GINA from important items, given the concerns the Opposition has with regard to the entities and the “use of taxpayers’ money to fund these entities for partisan political purposes”.

He added, “They have refused to democratise them, but, instead, they are bundled here with other line items which we have absolutely no problem with. We have no problem voting for Information Communication Technology or any of the other items.” Nagamootoo maintained that given the CJ’s ruling to approve or disapprove an entire line item, the Government should have delinked the two agencies.

He further accused the Government of withdrawing from the so-called tripartite committee initiated by the Speaker. “They must answer to the Guyanese people!” he stressed. Government Chief Whip Gail Teixeira said the Government never withdrew from any tripartite discussions. “The Government did not withdraw from any consultations, it was actually shut out, and we were shut out. The Government was deliberately shut out by the Opposition.”

She argued that last week, the Opposition broke the agreement that stipulates how parties should proceed or operate during the consideration of the 2014 Budget Estimates.

She explained that the Opposition had failed to submit important information it had pledged to submit. The agreement stipulates that at 09:00h daily during the consideration of the budget, the Opposition would have to supply  areas of concern that have been listed to be disapproved.

Subsequently, it was expected that the meetings would have been ensued among the parties.

But after the first day of the budget consideration, which saw the approval of $6 billion for the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo), the tripartite discussions broke down resulting in a series of disapproved line items thereafter.

Amerindians, APNU protesters clash over budget

Indigenous protesters as they demonstrated in front of Parliament for the second consecutive day

Indigenous protesters as they demonstrated in front of Parliament for the second consecutive day

By Jomo Paul

Amerindians protesting the disapproval of funding for a $1 billion development project by the combined Opposition for a second day clashed with a handful of demonstrators drawn from A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) who were calling on the Government to be more accountable to citizens.

Though police were well-positioned to guard against any altercation, caustic taunts and remarks were hurled by the opposing sides during the protest.

This Amerindian woman holds a placard blaming APNU MP Annette Ferguson for voting down their lives

This Amerindian woman holds a placard blaming APNU MP Annette Ferguson for voting down their lives

In a swift response, the Amerindian Affairs Ministry condemned what it described as the Opposition’s intimidatory tactics “targeting Amerindians who were protesting peacefully the Opposition imposed cuts of $1.1 billion earmarked for Amerindian development”.  According to the Ministry, supporters of APNU and the Alliance For Change (AFC) “were mobilised by the Opposition to intimidate hundreds of Amerindians on the second day of their protest action outside the Parliament.”

The Ministry noted that the Opposition supporters hurled derogatory, discriminatory and threatening remarks at the group of more than 400 Amerindians from various regions across Guyana. “The Ministry of Amerindian Affairs (MOA) is concerned about this development and urges the Opposition to desist from this known tactic of intimidation and bullyism in efforts to deny Amerindians’ right to protest and freedom of expression. The MOA insists that Amerindians have legitimate rights to protest against a matter which has severe consequences for their livelihood and well-being.”

A Partnership for National Unity supporters

A Partnership for National Unity supporters

Dissatisfaction

From their position across the road from Parliament, the Amerindians chanted: “We want development….Granger must go… Renita is a shame”.  Renita Williams is a recent addition to the APNU benches, representing Region One (Barima/Waini).

 Speaking with Guyana Times, one man who only gave his name as Charles said he was there protesting, because he wanted the Opposition to take a decision to restore the funds that it disapproved. “I’m protesting, because I want them to give us back our money, it is for our development, we need it in the villages,” he said. When questioned on how he would have made his way to the city from his home in Kamarang in Region Seven, he related that he became aware of the actions taken by the combined Opposition as the news had spread like wildfire through the villages in the interior. He added that the National Toshaos Council provided transportation for them to reach the city and stand in solidarity against the action by the Opposition.   “I came here to protest because what they are doing is wrong, nobody did not pay me, I am not receiving payment for this, we want the monies from the budget to go into our villages,” Charles posited. Another young protester voiced similar statements and added that she would be directly affected, since she was part of the Youth Entrepreneurship Apprenticeship Programme (YEAP), which will be severely affected since $796 million of the disapproved $1.1 billion was dedicated to that project.

Another APNU supporter demanding accountability  from the Government

Another APNU supporter demanding accountability
from the Government

On the other hand, the APNU supporters claimed that the Amerindians’ protest was part of the People’s Progressive Party/Civic propaganda. These protesters waved their placards, demanding more accountability from the Government.

The PPP/C said claims by Amerindian representatives of abuse of money are baseless, noting that part of the allocation cut by the Opposition includes the apprenticeship of more than 2000 Amerindian youths involved in management, community development, planning and providing much needed assistance to the Captains and Councils of Amerindian villages. This programme, which had previously employed in excess of 900 Amerindian youths, was overwhelmingly endorsed by the leadership of the villages. In the 2014 Budget provisions, were made to ensure that every Amerindian village would have these young people learning and providing much needed support to their communities.

The 2000 young Amerindians will go on the breadline, the ruling PPP/C had said on Monday, as a consequence of the disapproval of the funding. Among the programmes that are now affected by the Opposition’s negative vote are: the Secure Livelihood Initiative in Region One; the annual subvention to the Bina Hill Institute; grants to 10 villages to support eco-tourism projects; and $200 million which goes annually to Toshaos for initiatives they have been tasked by the villagers to pursue.

 Equally shocking, the party said was to see six Amerindian Members of Parliament from the Opposition – Dr George Norton, Valerie Garrido-Lowe, Eula Marcello, Renita Williams, Sydney Allicock and Dawn Hastings, voting against the further advancement of their people.

 “Imagine that we are 10 per cent of the population and we cannot get one per cent of the budget,” former Chairman of the National Toshaos Council, Yvonne Pearson said.

NICIL unaware of change in land deal with Ed Ahmad

Ed Ahmad

Ed Ahmad

Government on Tuesday said it was unaware that the prime real estate on the West Coast of Demerara that was sold to businessman Ed Ahmad for wood processing is now being converted into a housing development.

The announcement was made in a release by the National Industrial and Commercial Investments Ltd. (NICIL) in response to a Kaieteur News article on Sunday headlined “Ed Ahmad gears to make $600M on $80M GuySuCo land”.

Kaieteur News had reported that according to the website South American Wood Inc, the Leonora Projects is planning to construct 87 homes on the site.

The newspaper claimed that company officials said a house lot is now being sold for at least $7 million and that it is building homes for at least $30 million each.

However, in a response, NICIL detailed the sequence of the transaction, saying that the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) entered into an agreement on November 21, 2008, with South American Wood Inc for the sale of a portion (approximately 16 acres) of Plantation Groenveldt on the West Coast of Demerara for a wood processing facility for the sum of $80 million.

According to NICIL, it acted as an agent, at the time, for the sale of a number of State properties listed for privatisation, including GuySuCo.

“The sale of this land was subject to two prior bids: in 2003, the highest valid bid amounted to $30 million. In 2004, the land was again tendered for bids and none were received. Following the lack of any tenders, the land was sold at a price comparable with valuations established for GuySuCo land on the East Coast Demerara at $5 million per acre,” NICIL said.

Restrictive Covenant

NICIL said GuySuCo, in fact, entered into a Restrictive Covenant as set out in the terms and conditions of the sale, published in the Vesting Order effecting the transfer of title, that “the property shall not be used for any other purpose other than for the construction and operation of a wood processing facility with the option of future development in manufacturing, industrial and commercial activities including the construction and operation of shopping mall, providing that the construction of the wood processing facility is commenced first” and “ that construction of a wood processing facility shall commence within one (1) year of the execution of this agreement”.

According to NICIL, in January 2013, at a press conference, hosted by President Donald Ramotar, details of all of the privatisation transactions on behalf of GuySuCo, numbering 21, including this transaction, were listed in a public document, entitled “Privatisation in Tables-Phase 11 (1993-2011).

“Neither Government, GuySuCo, nor NICIL have any knowledge of any change of the agreement which was entered into with South American Wood Inc,” the NICIL statement ended.

Baby dies at city day care

Dead:  Four-month old Phillip Pratt

Dead: Four-month old Phillip Pratt

The parents of a four-month-old baby are seeking answers after their son died while being cared for at the Mother’s Union Day Care Centre located on Robb Street, Georgetown Tuesday morning.

The child has been identified as Phillip Pratt of Lot 631 South Sophia, Georgetown. Guyana Times spoke to the mother of the child, Philion Winter-Archer, who is a ward maid supervisor attached to the Georgetown Public Hospital. She recounted the events of the morning leading up to the unfortunate death of her youngest child.

The woman said that she dropped off her son just after 07:00h and went to work. However, she received a call from the day care around 09:57h that her son was not breathing. She noted that she immediately rushed to the day care where she observed her son’s motionless body. Winter-Archer explained that he was not breathing at the time and was frothing from the nose, which was also bleeding. “When I reach there, I see froth coming out his nose and I realise he dead because he was not breathing,” she stated.

The Mother’s Union Day Care Centre located on Robb Street

The Mother’s Union Day Care Centre located on Robb Street

The mother added that by the time she got there, the staff had alerted the police and after a while, they came and took the child to the Georgetown Public Hospital where the child was pronounced dead on arrival. She disclosed that the head of the day care told her that one of the staff went to move the child when she noticed he was frothing. The woman was puzzled as to why the staff did not take the child to the hospital and instead called her.

“I don’t know why no one bring him at the hospital, they just leave him there… even if he wasn’t breathing, they should have brought him here to see what was wrong or if anything could be done,” the mother cried.

Winter-Archer revealed that she has been taking her child to the day care since February 25 and never encountered any problem. She noted that she usually sends Nestum and milk for the child; however, that morning she fed her child around 04:00h and he was not given anything to eat at the day care. The mother told reporters that she was also giving the child Haliborange Baby and Toddler Multivitamin Liquid.

The devastated mother said her son’s body bore no signs of physical injury, which is making it more difficult to understand what caused his sudden death. The infant is the last of four children and only son of his mother, while he is the only child of his father.

Relatives of the dead child who were gathered at the hospital at the time were upset, because no one from the day care went to the hospital as an act of concern or sympathy for the family, not even the head teacher, they pointed out. They are now waiting for the post-mortem examination to be conducted so that they can get answers as to what transpired.

Meanwhile, when this publication visited the day care located between Cummings and Orange Walk, Bourda, the staff refused to divulge details of what transpired and informed reporters they should talk to the head of the day care who was reportedly not there at the time. This newspaper was informed that the day care takes children from three months of age.  The body of the infant is at the hospital mortuary awaiting the post-mortem examination, which is expected to be done today. Police investigators have since launched a probe into the matter.

GRA sacks officer in cocaine in mail bag

The Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA) has sacked the Customs officer who was
allegedly caught packing cocaine in a mailbag at the Cheddi Jagan
International Airport last Friday.
Revenue Authority Head, Khurshid Sattaur told Guyana Times the agency’s
policy is that any serious offence on or off the job that attracts the
attention of the police is subject to summary dismissal.  A subsequent
release from the GRA said that once again its surveillance system has
proven effective as the actions of the officer, who worked at the Customs’
Guyana Post Office Corporation location, were caught on camera.
“An internal investigation was immediately launched after reports surfaced
across the media that 644 grams of cocaine was found in mail bound for New
York on a Caribbean Airlines flight”, the release said.  Sattaur said that
the officer’s actions are a clear breach of the organisation’s Standard
Operating Procedure and that the entity will “work on putting more robust
systems in place to weed out corrupt elements.” He noted that officers
fail to realize that they have a responsibility to act with integrity and
protect the image of the agency. Sattaur reiterated that the GRA will not
allow corrupt individuals whether officials or taxpayers. He said the GRA
will do all within its power to eradicate corruption.
The customs officer attached to the Guyana Post Office Corporation (GPOC)
at Timehri branch was on Monday morning arrested in connection with the
cocaine. According to information, the young man was taken into police
custody after a thorough investigation following the bust, which unearthed
644 grams of cocaine in several envelopes in a mail bag.
The bag was about to be loaded onto a Caribbean Airlines flight bound for
the John F Kennedy International Airport (JFK).  Based on reports, Police
Narcotics Branch ranks were conducting a routine search when the illegal
substance was discovered in several envelopes.
The lawmen became suspicious after the officer did not turn up for work
the day after the discovery. He was reportedly contacted and interrogated,
but denied having any knowledge of the cocaine.
In a similar incident in May 2013, a 19-year-old employee of the GPOC at
the CJIA was charged following the discovery of 15 kilograms of cocaine in
a mail bag destined for the United States.  It was reported that on March
21 at the CJIA, Syaer Grantstuart worked the 06:00h to 14:00h shift and
went home, but returned to the mail bond with a bag in his possession
about 22:30h.
He subsequently asked the security guard on duty at the time to allow him
access to the bond, since he had forgotten his mobile phone. The security
guard was kind enough to allow him into the bond without searching his
bag, and after spending almost 10 minutes, he left.
On March 22, the bag containing the mail was being prepared to be taken on
board a Caribbean Airlines flight when Customs Anti-Narcotics Unit (CANU)
ranks realised that the weight affixed on the tag of the mail bag did not
match the actual weight. This prompted them to check the bag and the
illegal substance was discovered.

No big demand for permanent kidnap unit-Police

The Guyana Police Force say there is no big demand of an Anti-Kidnapping
Unit given that over the last five years there were only five such
reports.

In a statement on Tuesday the Force said that there were reports in 2009;
two in 2010 and one in 2011. There were no reports in 2012 and 2013, the
GPF said.

The information was contained in a statement by the police responding to
an article published in the Kaieteur News under the heading “Confusion
rages over Anti-kidnapping unit”, in order to clarify a misquote of the
acting Commissioner of Police Mr. Seelall Persaud, DSM.

Seelall Persaud

Seelall Persaud

The article quoted the acting Commissioner as saying that the Police
Force’s approach was to have several persons trained and whenever there
is a kidnapping, those officers who were trained will pool ideas to
address the situation, which is being refuted.  “What the acting
Commissioner said is that a team will be pulled from those trained
officers and will investigate the kidnapping under the leadership of the
officer in charge of the Criminal Investigation Department (Crime
Chief).” According to the Police there is a material difference between
“pooling ideas” and “investigating”.

Further, the Force said that there is no confusion about a kidnapping
unit. “The Guyana Police Force does not have a permanent kidnapping unit
because it sees the demand for such a unit as being very low…”
The Police said should a permanent kidnapping unit be in place, it will be
highly under-utilised. “Therefore the posture of the Guyana Police Force
is to have a number of ranks undergo specialised training and whenever
there is an incident, a team/unit is mobilised to investigate under the
leadership of the Crime Chief.”

According to the police the unit isdeactivated after the investigations are completed and the ranks return to their respective permanent deployment.The Police Force has beencriticised for its handling of the recent abduction and subsequent murder of a businessman of Foulis, East Coast Demerara

City Council votes to send Sooba on leave

Acting Town Clerk Carol Sooba

Acting Town Clerk Carol Sooba

– Town Clerk remains defiant

Pandemonium broke out in the City Council’s Chambers on Monday afternoon when Mayor Hamilton Green moved a motion to have acting Town Clerk Carol Sooba sent on leave.

Tensions flared as Sooba’s supporters raised their voices in condemnation of the decision by the Mayor to send her on leave, pending the outcome of another court action.

At the Council’s statutory meeting, several issues regarding the decision made by acting Chief Justice Ian Chang were discussed. And the Mayor related that because of its ambiguity, the Council would be seeking legal advice for clarification. But while that issue had its own little debate, what was more controversial was the fact that Sooba refused to take her duly pending leave. Mayor Green sought to explain. “This council, on several occasions, took a fundamental public service decision that officers must take their leave when it is due; beyond that, this particular officer has earned 42 days’ leave….” He continued: “It is a question of sheer decency that when a matter which revolves around and which involves a very senior public officer, that officer excuses him or herself,” Green told the group of councillors, much to the annoyance of Sooba’s supporters.

Loud rumblings

Mayor Green was jolted out of his explanation as Councillors Kamla Devi Ross and Victor Sobers rose in defence of the acting Town Clerk, declaring that neither the Mayor nor the Council had the power to make any such decision. “You are all illegal in here; you do not have that authority to impose on people like that,” they argued, amid loud rumbling from other councillors.

Meanwhile, Sooba, who was notably calm throughout the episode, broke her silence, maintaining that she will continue to stand by the decision made by Justice Chang. She shouted over the microphone that no one could cause her to demit office or take leave. “The Town Clerk wishes to advise you, Mr Mayor, that I will abide by the decision of the court and may that be so recorded and you can’t shut me up, Mr Mayor. That decision is not with you and since you have no legal authority to do that, you cannot supersede the decision of the court. You had always purported to the public that you had the legal authority to supersede decisions of the court. But ignorance of the law is no excuse and if you want to interpret the decision of this Council to satisfy your selfish needs, so be it but you have no authority and cannot force me out of this office,” Sooba said.

But Green, unmoved by Sooba’s stern warning went ahead and took the count. Seventeen votes to two in favour of sending Sooba on leave, he announced, was the result.

Eyebrows rose when the Mayor hinted that the Council was seeking permission to pass monies for legal fees, to seek advice on the decision made by Justice Chang. Mayor Green, along with councillors, said they had  not yet seen a copy of the decision and confessed that their knowledge of the issue was sparked from what was reported in the press.

Green said the decision by the High Court is of major concern to the municipality although it had emerged out of a legal challenge made by the City Council’s Public Relations Officer Royston King. He noted that the main issue brewing from the decision suggests that the former Local Government Minister’s action of appointing Carol Sooba as Town Clerk is ultra vires.

As a consequence, he said, other positions fell into the same condition. Green said it was clear that the Council is duty bound and has all right to seek further legal advice to interpret the decision, so that there would be less ambiguity and hopefully little or no contortion.

 “In that regard, I am proposing…, here and now, that Council be responsible for the payment of legal fees and that even if we  may consider it prudent to seek advice.”

Last week, the Georgetown City Council was thrown into a frenzy when word circulated that Justice Ian Chang had quashed the appointment of Sooba, saying that the then Local Government Minister Ganga Persaud went out of his power to appoint her to that position.

 The decision came about after the City Council’s Public Relations Officer had moved to the High Court last December, challenging the appointment. He had contended that Sooba was deemed the least qualified of several candidates who had applied for the post. King was one of the four applicants for the post.

He was represented by Attorney Nigel Hughes. In his application, he had asked that the then Local Government Minister Persaud show cause why his decision to appoint Sooba should not be quashed.

In his affidavit, King contended that the decision to appoint Sooba was an abuse of power, contrary to the legitimate expectation that the post would be filled by the “best suited and qualified” person, based on the criteria established in advertisements by the Minister.

Customs officer arrested for cocaine in mail bag

A customs officer attached to the Guyana Post Office Corporation (GPOC) at Timehri was on Monday morning arrested in connection with the cocaine found in a mail bag on Friday at the Cheddi Jagan International Airport (CJIA).

According to information, the young man was taken into police custody after a thorough investigation following the bust, which unearthed 644 grams of cocaine in several envelopes in a mail bag.

The bag was about to be loaded onto a Caribbean Airlines flight bound for the John F Kennedy International Airport (JFK).

Based on reports, Police Narcotics Branch ranks were conducting a routine search when the illegal substance was discovered in several envelopes.

Suspicions reportedly were roused after the officer did not turn up for work the day after the discovery.

He was reportedly contacted and interrogated, but denied having any knowledge of the cocaine.

In a similar incident in May 2013, a 19-year-old employee of the GPOC at the CJIA was charged following the discovery of 15 kilograms of cocaine in a mail bag destined for the United States.

It was reported that on March 21 at the CJIA, Syaer Grantstuart worked the 06:00h to 14:00h shift and went home, but returned to the mail bond with a bag in his possession about 22:30h.

He subsequently asked the security guard on duty at the time to allow him access to the bond, since he had forgotten his mobile phone.

The security guard was kind enough to allow him into the bond without searching his bag, and after spending almost 10 minutes, he left.

On March 22, the bag containing the mail was being prepared to be taken on board a Caribbean Airlines flight when Customs Anti-Narcotics Unit (CANU) ranks realised that the weight affixed on the tag of the mail bag did not match the actual weight.

This prompted them to check the bag and the illegal substance was discovered.

Aviation body says budget blanks its proposals

Prominent aviator Captain Gerry Gouveia said he was very perplexed by the development, as tourism bodies have been calling for investments in the sector

Prominent aviator Captain Gerry Gouveia said he was very perplexed by the development, as tourism bodies have been calling for investments in the sector

– disappointed in cuts to CJIA expansion

The Aircraft Owners’ Association of Guyana (AOAG) is disappointed that none of its proposals for the development of the local industry was addressed in this year’s budget. It also views as perplexing the Opposition’s decision to cut funding for the Cheddi Jagan International Airport (CJIA) expansion project.

In a statement on Monday, the body noted that following the National Economic Forum last July, hosted by the Government and in which the Parliamentary Opposition participated, a comprehensive Policy Proposal and Action Plan for the Aviation Industry was submitted to the Competitive Strategy Steering Committee, and was subsequently approved by the National Competitive Strategy Council chaired by President Donald Ramotar.

The AOAG said it was, therefore, disappointed, that the recommendations urged by the aviation industry for the development of this vital economic sector received minimal recognition in this year’s budget. The body was also let down by the Opposition’s cutting of the entire aviation budget, including the CJIA expansion programme, which is fully supported by both the aviation and tourism industries.

The Policy Proposal includes a menu of measures – all of which are well within the financial reach of the nation – essential for Guyana to conform to the requirements and practices of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO). Inexplicably, these proposals have been ignored in the budget.

Urgent recommendations

Urgent among the recommendations are: independent aircraft accident investigation and prompt public reporting of probe findings and actions taken by the Guyana Civil Aviation Association (GCAA);  a national search and rescue system with appropriate protocols under the Civil Defence Commission; strengthening of GCAA’s institutional capacity in order to achieve and maintain a Category One U.S. FAA (Federal Aviation Administration)/International Aviation Safety Assessments (IASA)  status; and sustained hinterland airstrip development to accommodate larger aircraft.

The AOAG said it looks forward to the National Assembly seriously addressing the aviation industry’s development in a constructive and comprehensive manner if Guyana is to be expected to meet its developmental objectives and obligations, particularly with regard to the servicing of hinterland communities and the mining, forestry and tourism industries.

The Opposition, using its one-seat majority, on April 10 voted against the budgetary allocation of $6.5 billion for the CJIA expansion project. The vote also affected funding for other aviation activities as $235 million was budgeted under the same heading, for hinterland airstrips’ rehabilitation, as well as for the GCAA.

Perplexing

Prominent aviator Captain Gerry Gouveia said he was very perplexed by the development, as tourism bodies have been calling for investments in the sector. “I really cannot fathom why they would interfere with the aviation budget that got to do with tourism and the creation of new jobs,” he reiterated.

The CJIA expansion is regarded as a major developmental project that will see Guyana’s main port boosting its runway to a total of 10,800 feet to accommodate large transatlantic aircraft; the construction of a new terminal building, eight boarding bridges, elevators, escalators, and three dimensional x-ray scanners, and the installation of new flight information and security monitoring systems.

The hinterland airstrips play a vital role in the development of the administrative regions, and their maintenance is critical to the movement of goods and people in and out of the regions. These projects suffered cuts in 2013, when the Opposition voted to slash the entire $5.6 billion allocation to the transport sector programme, of which  $5.3 billion was budgeted for the upgrade, expansion and modernisation of the CJIA; $248 million for the rehabilitation of airstrips in Matthews Ridge, Imbaimadai and Kamarang, and the maintenance of 43 airstrips in Regions One, Two, Seven, Eight and Nine; and $80 million to procure an Automated Dependent Surveillance Broadcast to bring precision and reliability of satellite-based surveillance to Guyana’s national airspace. The servicing of the European Union loan for the Ogle aerodrome modernisation was also affected.

Amerindians protest voting down of development fund

Amerindian Affairs Minister Pauline Sukhai on the picket line

Amerindian Affairs Minister Pauline Sukhai on the picket line

While hundreds of indigenous people took to the streets outside of the Parliament Building on Monday shouting “we want development”, National Toshaos Council Chairman Derrick John registered his disgust at the Opposition for voting down the Amerindian Development Fund.

The A partnership For National Unity (APNU) and Alliance For Change (AFC) recently disapproved $1.1 billion for Amerindian development in the 2014 budget estimates.

Speaking at a protest mounted by members of the indigenous community on Brickdam, Georgetown, in the vicinity of Parliament Building on Monday, John said, “We have to get back what was allotted to us…. We need to get back what we rightly deserve… Amerindians felt as though they are being robbed.”

The NTC Chairman went on to explain that several projects that were earmarked for expansion were launched, but their continuation seems uncertain.

“They seem like a lost dream,” John said, explaining that the eagerly anticipated expansion of the apprenticeship programme has been stalled as a result of the development in the National Assembly.

He further maintained that throughout the years, Amerindian communities have had steady development, but the action by the Opposition has put a “spanner in the process”.

Toshao Shane Cornelius expressed similar sentiments, contending that the Opposition should consider all the struggles endured by the indigenous people, and reconsider their position on the Amerindian Development Fund.

Meanwhile, Amerindian Affairs Minister Pauline Sukhai, who was also at the scene, said the action by the Opposition is a serious blow to the development of the indigenous people.

She maintained that from the $1.1 billion that was “illegally” removed from the budget, $796 million was earmarked for the provision of training and stipends for Community Service Officers (CSO) under the Young Entrepreneurship and Apprenticeship Programme (YEAP).

These officers, she further explained, functioned in varying capacities in their communities, with some playing integral roles in the education and health sectors.

Severe impact

“Denying Amerindian youth a chance to advance within their own community has a severe impact on them,” she said, as she condemned the action of APNU and AFC.

She also posited that several projects geared towards the economic development of Amerindian communities are “out of the window” because of the disapproval of the budgeted allocations.

Sukhai indicated that the move by the Opposition is the “most disrespectful and damning action against Amerindians” in the annals of Guyana’s history.

The entire $1.1 billion capital expenditure, incorporated in the Amerindian Development Fund for the Amerindian Affairs Ministry, on Thursday, received the thumbs down by the parliamentary Opposition.

APNU and the AFC had contended that the money is being used by the administration for political purposes.

The fund was implemented in 2013 by the Amerindian Affairs Ministry, in partnership with the United Nations Development Programme and was expected to benefit some 180 Amerindian communities across the 10 administrative regions.

During the consideration of the budget estimates, both APNU and AFC Members of Parliament (MPs) grilled Minister Sukhai on the use of the money directed for the project, to which she responded to all their queries.

APNU’s Shadow Minister of Local Government Ronald Bulkan had said the money was voted against because the coalition was reliably informed that it was being used to “buy” Amerindian communities in the hinterland region.