August 2, 2015

Rekindling our past glory through Youth Innovation

If nothing else, the occasion of Emancipation Day always brings with it a degree of awakening among African youths – particularly those who live in traditional “black villages”, where some aspects of the culture are still alive and residents are not shy about their “Africaness”.
It is this euphoric feeling that Emancipation inspires that perhaps should be harnessed into more productive thinking and dreams that can be put to work in developing some of these villages and the people themselves. Enough is usually said around this time about the reasons for African Guyanese being economically dependent as a group and the countless claims of marginalisation bequeathed to us by our slave masters. But even after emerging from the horrific conditions of slavery, Africans were able to purchase villages and develop their economies through hard labour, persistence, and enterprise. It is this spirit of resilience that the occasion of Emancipation offers us African Guyanese again to retrace the steps of our ancestors and begin that journey as a liberated people.
This year’s Emancipation theme by the African Cultural and Development Association (ACDA) “Rekindling our past glory through Youth Innovation” is very apt, even as we witness another takeoff of black entrepreneurship. Although usually in small enterprises, there has been a greater willingness by young African Guyanese to take risks, invest in projects as well as a desire to own properties. However, the data clearly indicate the need for more black entrepreneurship if black Guyanese are to own businesses, generate revenues and create jobs in relative percentages that are more consistent with their demographic presence in this country.
Already there have been many examples in the mining sector, where young black men and women have invested and are now reaping the rewards. There are numerous other success stories in the agricultural and construction sectors and even the food industry where our African brothers and sisters have resisted the temptation of “eating their seed” and with purposeful planning have developed world-class businesses through the process of deferred gratification. It is, therefore, incumbent on these businessmen and women, along with the village leaders and our new Government, to create new paths for those to come by steering them in the right direction and providing the opportunities necessary for their success.
Another important avenue for increasing the pool of black entrepreneurs is to seek out young blacks who see themselves as “potential” entrepreneurs. On this note, the work of renowned economists Norris Krueger and Deborah V Brazeal (1994) as explained in a study “Entrepreneurial Attitudes and Knowledge of Black Youth” seems particularly relevant because they explain the importance of entrepreneurial potential and suggest how to develop potential entrepreneurs. They also emphasise according to the study that “a necessary pre-existing condition for an entrepreneurial event is the preparedness to accept an opportunity.
“Krueger and Brazeal note that preparation is a key element for creating potential entrepreneurs because “opportunities are seized by those who are prepared to seize them” They also stressed that perceptions about entrepreneurship are extremely important and set the foundation for becoming an entrepreneur long before an individual actually makes the decision to become one”. It has been said that those who wish to foster entrepreneurship must support and reinforce the perceptions that it is personally feasible and socially and personally desirable. As was said in this newspaper on numerous occasions, a significant avenue for achieving such impacts on potential entrepreneurs is through educational preparation. Entrepreneurship education is especially important because the idea of becoming an entrepreneur needs to be presented at an early age. It is against this background that the launch of Entrepreneurship as a subject at the Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examinations (CAPE) last year must be lauded, as it should give our children, particularly those of African descent some hope. We must, therefore, ensure that they seize the opportunity to empower themselves by acquiring the knowledge, skills and attitudes to achieve entrepreneurial success in a variety of settings. We believe that with the right conditions and preparation, we will witness in the not-too-distant future an expanded African business class, driven by the inspirations of those who have achieved success and with a burning desire to carry what the late Maya Angelou referred to as the “the hope and dream of the slave”.

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Foreign Aid and Primary Health care

One of the first actions of the new Ministry of Public Health, was to negate the Specialty Hospital, a project which was on stream and which the Donor, the Indian Government, was prepared to continue.
Health Minister, Dr George Norton, claimed that the Indian Funds were better spent on primary health care, little being aware that all donor countries have bureaucracies which simply cannot change to a new policy overnight. And further, what could have put off the Indian Foreign Aid Office somewhat, was when the Envoy of a foreign State, as reported in the press, publicly advised the Government on how it should use the Indian funds.
In any case, primary health care is the stock-in-trade of every Health Ministry throughout the world and any donor would scarcely ever give tens of millions of US dollars to any Health Ministry to do its normal remit. All donors may give a little bit here and there, but no donor could treat primary health care as a main project per se.
Accordingly, one of the first actions of the Ministry, was to cause Guyana to lose millions of US dollars of aid funds. It should be underlined too that, to renegotiate new assistance which seems to be the direction the Government is going, would take nearly a year.
Opportunely, the Envoy referred to above, offered his own Government’s support for our health services and among the things he mentioned was the need to establish another (Georgetown) Public Hospital. Perhaps the Minister of Health and the Government could immediately begin to negotiate with the said Government assistance to establish another of its kind (GPHC) in either Essequibo or Berbice or elsewhere in Demerara.
No progressive Health Ministry could ultimately omit a Specialty Hospital from its agenda for the following cogent reasons:
Having comprehensive world-class medical help available in any society is a great boon. Today, only Parliamentarians and the rich could access such help by being able to go abroad. With a local Specialty Hospital, many ordinary folk would have had timely access to the required high grade medical treatment and their lives would have been saved. And it would save the humiliation of many distraught parents from desperately importuning the public for donation to send their sick children abroad for treatment.
Having a cadre of high-grade specialists locally would allow the younger doctors the opportunity of further perfecting their skills.
Some of the specialists could help the University of Guyana Medical Faculty and students both clinically and academically.
Most important, it would allow the thousands of retired Guyanese in the Diaspora to return home, often bringing their pensions with them. Most retirees cannot return to this country because the high grade medical services they enjoy in North America and Europe are not as yet available in Guyana. The Specialty Hospital would have met this need.
And finally, it could attract some medical tourism from the developed countries earning funds which could be used to subsidise poorer Guyanese patients.
In essence, the Specialty Hospital is an initiative aimed at improving the nation’s health in the most fundamental way, and would allow health care of the highest quality to be afforded to persons of all walks of life. In every part of the world, the right to proper, competent and modern medical care is regarded as a basic human right; and stakeholders ought to encourage, support, and even pressure the authorities to ensure that these facilities are available; especially to sections of the population that, because of their financial and economic standing, would be unable to enjoy such facilities.
We therefore urge all stakeholders, especially civil society actors, to collectively lobby the Government to reverse its decision to halt this project. We are convinced the Administration is dealing with the matter from a purely political as against a consumer/ nationalist standpoint. This project is in the nation’s interest as it will benefit every single Guyanese who, at some point in time, would require the type of medical procedure and attention A Specialty Hospital is intended to provide.

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Closure for Rodney

It would be imprudent to claim that when in 2012, the PPPC administration acceded to the request by the family of Dr Walter Rodney for a Commission of Inquiry (COI) into his death on June 13 1980, they might not have considered its political impact. But the irrefutable fact is that it really did not matter when such an Inquiry was conducted: the political fallout were inevitable because of the circumstances of his death, within the history of his political activism against the then incumbent PNC regime.

Back in 2005, there had been already a motion introduced by the then PPPC government to initiate such an Inquiry. They however insisted that the motion speak to the “assassination” of Dr Rodney, while the Opposition felt such a formulation would be self-conclusive. The motion was passed with the PPPC abstaining but no Inquiry was ever launched. The Workings People Alliance (WPA), representing the interests of the Rodney family, claimed that with elections scheduled for 2006, the Inquiry would poison the political climate for the PNC. The Inquiry died stillborn.

It is probably because of that experience that the family of Dr Rodney dealt directly with the then PPPC Government in 2014 to proceed with an Inquiry. Thirty-four years would have been too long not to have closure of Dr Rodney’s death. The Inquiry began a year before the elections of May this year, but unlike what had been predicted by the WPA in 2006, there was no adverse impact of the political image of the PNC, which by then had been merged in the A Partnership for National Unity. In fact, in coalition with the Alliance for Change, they won the elections and now form the Government.

With the knowledge that a Rodney COI was not a silver bullet to destroy their electoral chances, it was therefore with a great degree of surprise that citizens learnt via one of the first announcements of President Granger, was that “the COI was a waste of time” and that it would have to wrap up its hearings forthwith. The Government subsequently refused the formal request of the COI grant it one more extension so that it could examine three witnesses to whom it had issued “Salmon Letters”.

The latter is a notification to individuals that they would be presented with aspects of the report of the COI that may affect them negatively. This innovation was introduced in the 1970’s by Lord Salmon to address issues of fairness to witnesses. The witnesses that the COI wanted to examine included, interestingly enough the present Minister of Education Dr Rupert Roopnarine, who had been a very close associate of Dr Rodney in the WPA.

Dr Roopnarine, however, unlike the other members of the WPA such as Eusi Kwayana, had insisted that Rodney had been engaged in collecting arms before his death. As Mr Granger said at the time when the allegation was made, this justified the security forces taking measures to deal with the “threat” from Dr Rodney’s activities. When the announcement was made to arbitrarily bring the COI to an end, most of the active members of the WPA, with the exception of Dr Roopnarine, called for the extension to be permitted.

As their release pointed out, the end of the COI in this abrupt manner, unnecessarily leaves an aura of uncertainty and ambiguity over whatever report the COI will now be forced to issue. Since over $300 million have been already spent on the COI, the additional funding would be a drop in the bucket in the big picture. In the opinion of many observers, this uncertainty would leave a cloud not over the hopes of the family of Rodney for closure, but over the PNC, which finally had the opportunity to let the chips to fall as they may on this unfortunate incident in Guyana’s history.

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Diversionary politics

Over the last two weeks, Guyanese have been ‘intrigued’ if not completely ‘amused’ by the revelations made by self-confessed Death Squad member, Sean Hinds.

During what appeared to be a sit-down gaff with a local journalist and not a probing hard hitting interview as it is being described by some, Hinds made some sweeping if not totally spurious allegations against former and serving members of the Guyana Police Force linking them to death and phantom squad killings, and at least two unsolved high-profile murders of anti-PPP/C political activists.

He has also demonstrated a willingness to have discourse and an ongoing information sharing session with the new Government but not the police force whose reputation he has been impugned by his accusations.

As expected, State Minister Joseph Harmon, Public Security Minister KhemrajRamjattan, Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo, PPP/C General Secretary Clement Rohee and at least one high-ranking retired policeman, whose name has been invoked, have all added their slant on the Sean Hinds conundrum.

Hinds has since turned himself in to the police in the company of his lawyer Nigel Hughes who is also the incumbent Chairman of the Alliance for Change. While Hughes’ representation of Hinds, who is a convicted criminal, is in keeping with his legal code of ethics, it has raised eyebrows because of his other hat in the AFC. His party leader is now the Minister of National Security and has denied any amnesty for Hinds, even though this has been criticized by some legal luminaries.

Hopefully, the police will now do their work whether or not Hinds, who is refusing to cooperate, speaks and gives more credible, factual and truthful information about the executioners and intellectual authors of the criminal enterprise here which has claimed the blood and bodies of scores of innocent Guyanese – civilian and police – over varying periods of time.

Evidently orchestrated, the entire Sean Hinds saga can be viewed as an exercise in diversionary politics because for a short-period of time, the public’s attention has swayed from the serious domestic issues that will continue to eat away the bill of health of this country’s socio-economic status if not addressed frontally.

The truth is, Hinds crept out of the dark and into public limelight at a time when the crime rate was increasing rapidly and the Government, which was elected on a promise to reduce crime, was demonstrating high levels of incompetence in terms to even putting a plaster that would hold until more long term solutions were crafted and implemented.

People were growing inpatient and desperate.

They were losing confidence in the Government’s ability to deliver on many things included in its 100-day plan. At the time Hinds started to “sing”, the Government was under extreme pressure to explain why Local Government Elections could not be held this year and why the phased reduction of VAT could not commence immediately as well as why significant promised increases of 50% and 20% could not be given to nurses, teachers and other public servants.

Hinds’ startling claims were also made at a time when the economy was slumping into a pre-recessionary state as a result of decreasing remittances, growing economic uncertainty on the part of investors and private sector businesses and a general slowdown in domestic as well as foreign direct inflows and investments.

It is also apt to note that Hinds, appeared in the media, making much ado about extrajudicial killings and other State sponsored human rights violations, at a time when the new APNU/AFC Government was accused of violating the rights of hundreds if not thousands of poor and average Guyanese by firing them from the jobs and dismissing them because of the administration lacked confidence in them or they were allegedly corrupt and supportive of the PPP/C.

It cannot be forgotten either that the ex-policeman’s tirade climaxed as the rice industry’s crisis deepened while platitudes were offered as Government panicked being incapable of finding a long term solution to the problems being encountered.

That aside, the costly audits, Commissions of Inquiry, revamping of State boards and forensic probes have yielded nothing rather than a functional difference in how one Government choose to manage public affairs as opposed another. This is vindicated by the Government’s willingness to “let heads rolls”

It would appear that the divisionary politics of the political forces here worked for a short period of time but as the dust is settling and the police are investigating the allegations, reality is kicking in again as people continue feeling the squeeze.

Now with all this silence from Hinds and the new Government, the problems being faced since May 11 are being amplified. No amount of marketing and public relations will make people to forget the point when their standard of living drops so precipitously.

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Ubuntu

With Emancipation Day just days away, one of the tasks of those of us living in a country where slavery held sway for hundreds of years is to overcome the imposed world view that “Africa had no philosophy”. Not only did Africa examine the human condition most profoundly but its world view would serve us and the rest of the western world well, if we were to apply its concepts to our modern world that seems to have reached an existential dead end.

We present the views of a westerner, Heinz Kimmerle, who examined how the African concept of “Ubuntu” addresses the alienation of the western world much more germanely and holistically than the “communitarian” approach formulated in the past few decades. One African philosopher, Tschiamalenga Ntumba had distilled the overall difference between African and Western philosophy as the former being a philosophy of ‘We’ and Western philosophy being a philosophy of ‘I’.

Heinz, however thinks this is too simplistic and says: “Things are more differentiated…since we have to take into account that the ‘I’, or the person, is becoming increasingly important in African ontology, too.” Heinz interrogated the book, “African Philosophy Through Ubuntu” by the South African Mogobe B. Ramose as follows.

“The discourse of this book is organised around three proverbs, maxims or aphorisms taken from the language of the Northern Sotho. The first aphorism, ‘Motho ke motho ka batho’ can be understood as a simplification of ubuntu. According to Ramose it expresses the central idea of African philosophical anthropology. It means more specifically: ‘to be human is to affirm one’s humanity by recognising the humanity of others and, on this basis, establish respectful human relations with them’. In other words, my human-ness is constituted by the human-ness of others, and vice versa. And the relations between human beings, other persons and me, are characterised by mutual recognition and respect.

“The second aphorism, ‘Feta kgomo o tshware motho’, says in a condensed formulation: ‘if and when one is faced with a decisive choice between [one’s own] wealth and the preservation of the life of another human being, then one should opt for the preservation of life’. Hereby a basic principle of social philosophy is presupposed: the other ranks higher than I myself, especially when his/her life is in danger. This is due to the fact that life or life force is the highest value, which determines also the relations between human beings.

“The third maxim is about kingship and expresses a fundamental aspect of political philosophy. The formulation of this third maxim, ‘Kgosi ke kgosi ka batho’ is very much similar to the first one. It relates kingship like human-ness in general to the humanity of others and demands mutual recognition and respect. In the words of Ramose it means ‘that the king owes his status, including all the powers associated with it, to the will of the people under him’.

“However, ubuntu has aspects that reach further than the contents of these proverbs. It has to be discussed in a comprehensive ontological horizon. It shows how the be-ing of an African person is not only imbedded in the community, but in the universe as a whole. This is primarily expressed in the prefix ubu-of the word ubuntu. It refers to the universe as be-ing enfolded, containing everything. The stem -ntu means the process of life as the unfolding of the universe by concrete manifestations in different forms and modes of being. This process includes the emergence of the speaking and knowing human being.”

Heinz also showed that the concept of Ubuntu undergirded the “African Socialism” propounded by leaders such as Leopold S. Senghor from Senegal, Nkrumah from Ghana, Kenyatta from Kenya, Nyerere from Tanzania, Kaunda from Zambia. Traditional African societies show harmonious forms of life without any antagonism of classes. There is an ethics of mutual help and of caring for each other.

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Political Pollution

In rather matter of fact tones, another section of the press reported that in 1964, the Venezuelan government sought clearance from the U.S. Government for a plan to support Burnham and D’Aguiar with a band of armed men to stage a coup against the Cheddi Jagan government. What is of even greater interest is that at the time, Britain was still ruled Guyana as a colony but evidently was not on the U.S.-Venezuelan axis.

U.S. officials pointed out that they had their own plan of “elections under Proportional Representation”, to oust the PPP – duly accomplished five months later in Dec 1964. Three years earlier, President John F. Kennedy had decided Jagan was a Russian fifth columnist and he would not accept “another Cuba in the hemisphere”. The CIA- sponsored riots of Feb 16, 1962, which launched violent ethnic riots that segued into 1964, was only one arrow in the U.S. quiver: the Venezuelan motion to the UN General Assembly, also in Feb 1962, claiming that the border Arbitral Award of 1899 was fraudulent and void, was another.

Today, Guyana is still reaping the bitter harvest of these two arrows – but most analysts and politicians stubbornly refuse to factor them in their analyses and proposed solutions to our present political travails. While to the U.S. of 1962, the border controversy with Venezuela was just another option, it morphed into a nationalistic issue to the Venezuelans which none of their politicians can ignore. To our detriment.

Since Guyanese politics had already taken an ethnic turn by the 1961 elections, the U.S.-CIA sponsored destabilizing 1962-1964 riots inevitably were also channeled along those cleavages. While the British always used the police to protect colonial interests, when those interests supported “one side” in the 1960′s the police also took an ethnic turn. In the 1960′s, the police were fingered in several atrocities, notably in Mahaicony. The COI into the Wismar atrocities of 1964, denounced the police and Volunteer Force, who stood by as arson, rapes and robberies were committed. Janet Jagan resigned as the Minister of Home Affairs because of this indifference and the British Governor’s refusal to sanction them.

Because of these inaugural distortions during our “independence era”, our politics became polluted with the intervention of the police and military to a degree unmatched in the Commonwealth Caribbean. This pollution gave an edge of uncertainty and danger to political participation that was epitomized for the longest while by the assassination of several members of the Working People’s Alliance, including its leading light Dr Walter Rodney in 1980.

By that time, the Police Force, as well as all the new military and paramilitary groups lumped as “the Disciplined Forces” all part of the apparatus of the People’s National Congress (PNC), which explicitly declared that it was “paramount” over the government. It was generally accepted that the coercive arms of the state – primarily the GPF – were in dire need for reform and professionalization when the government changed hands in 1992 after the first “free and fair” elections in 28 years.

However, under a policy of “no discrimination, no victimisation, no recrimination” the new PPPC government eschewed the needed shakeup of the Police Force and in fact kept on one of the pillars of the old dispensation as the Police Commissioner. However, one of the major recommendations of the Constitutional Changes agreed to unanimously by the PPP and PNC in 2000, a “Disciplined Forces Commission” (DFC) was established in 2003 to consider reforming all the Disciplined Forces, especially to making them more representative of the ethnic composition of the populace.

The recent allegations by one self-proclaimed “police hit-man” of the subversions of the police force into the present should remind the government that the 164 recommendations of the DFC must be implemented ASAP. Especially the one on their ethnic composition.

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Parliamentary oversight of Executive

After the 1997 elections were won by the PPP/C, the PNCR used its street power to bludgeon the Janet Jagan government to its knees and extracted constitutional changes via the Herdmanson Accord to increase its powers as the Parliamentary Opposition. A most significant innovation was the formation of four “Sectoral Committees”: (i) natural resources; (ii) economic services; (iii) foreign relations and (iv) social services.
The legislation forming the committees succinctly summaries the panopticonic power of the Committees to scrutinize almost all aspects of the work of the Executive in real time. The PNC had complained that the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), chaired by the Opposition, performed essentially an auditing function, long after objectionable activities would have been completed.
The Terms of Reference are: The committees shall, in the discharge of their scrutinising role, examine all policies and administration, for each sector, to determine whether the execution of government policy is in consonance with the principles of good governance and in the best interest of all the people of Guyana.
The committees shall have the authority to: Determine areas of Government activity for scrutiny or specific examination; Request the Minister assigned responsibility for the sector to submit written or oral information, including government documents and records about any specific area of government policy and administration; Review existing legislation on Government policy and administration for any of the sectors; Summon persons to give evidence, scrutiniseGovernment documents, papers and records; Visit any Government activity or project in Guyana as agreed and arranged by the Committee and In the discharge of their mandate, utilise the services of experts, specialists and other sources of advice as they determine.”
The Chairperson and Deputy are from opposite sides of the Assembly. The Chairs, half of which are from Government and Opposition, are rotated annually while Ministers of the Government barred from being members of the committees. In addition to their MP’s salary, members of the committees are paid a monthly stipend. The Sectoral Committees preclude the Opposition from claiming they are not au fait with governmental actions in any particular area.
Let us take the present Government’s claim that they are unaware of the details of the PetroCaribe rice agreement with Venezuelans. When they were in Parliament, the now Government members could have used the Economic Services Committee to summon the Agriculture Minister, the GRDB, the Finance Minister or any other individual or agency to obtain those details. Their claimed lack of knowledge is the consequence of their lassitude in conducting the necessary investigations.
What makes their claim even more untenable is on obtaining their one-seat parliamentary majority in the 10th Parliament, the then Opposition used that majority to change the composition of the Committees so that they, rather than the Government, occupied the majority of seats in each committee. They insisted that their compositional change only to facilitate a heightened scrutiny of the Government. Their present insistence in changing the legislation back to what prevailed before, suggests that the Government is not comfortable with the more rigorous scrutiny they insisted on subjecting on the PPP Government in the 10th Parliament. This is unfortunate, because with that party obtaining a mere 1% lesser endorsement from the electorate, they can deploy same argument on the need to “ensure the will of the people” be exercised.
However, when the PPP enters Parliament, as they have signaled they will do soon, the Sectoral Committees present them with the wherewithal for holding the new Government’s feet to the fire on any number of their “excesses” that are presently alleged – from firings to audits. The opportunity is also presented for their younger MP’s to be “blooded” in the examination of the mechanisms and processes of governance. That the media can be invited to Committee hearings, will ensure the populace is informed as to who are actually working in their interests. Let democracy blossom.

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BASS and Smuggling

The announcement by the Guyana Revenue Authority that it was closing down the operations of the Berbice Anti-Smuggling Squad owing to its lack of success in reducing the trade in contraband and also increasing revenue collection in the Berbice Region has come as no surprise.

Not only because the present Government, particularly the People’s National Congress Reform- component of the coalition, was never in favour of BASS, but also because of its relative tarnished image and ineffectiveness in dealing with smuggling in Berbice. For years now, some of the major manufacturing companies here have complained about the threats posed to their businesses by smuggling. Gone are the days when smugglers concentrated on trading in food items, which flourished during the 1980s, when the Forbes Burnham Administration had banned commodities such as flour and oil.

Since that time to now, despite relentless efforts by the authorities, smugglers instead of scaling back their operations, have expanded. Today a range of items are being smuggled through the various porous illegal entry ports in this country. This multi-billion dollar underground trade has caused many legitimate businesses on the Corentyne to close their doors and while there might be many who have enriched themselves through this type of activities, the overwhelming majority would welcome any measure to tighten the noose on smugglers.

It is against this background that the GRA’s planned effort to introduce an excise stamp on tobacco and alcoholic beverages must be hailed as a positive move. Already the GRA acknowledged that although the cost of implement the stamp is exorbitant, it is worth the while, given the heavy taxation on alcohol and tobacco and also the scale of smuggling in those two products.

In addition to the millions in taxes being lost through smuggling, legitimate businesses are also being squeezed out of operations as a result of a trade that breathes corruption. The Upper Corentyne region is one of the hotbeds for this illegal trade. Only recently an official of the Corentyne Chamber detailed how devastating backtracking, smuggling, and piracy have been on businesses in that region. “The word backtrack has become a household term for residents of Corentyne and Nickerie, Suriname, and has become a culture for the people. It is neither a nice word nor a healthy culture and needs to change.” As it relates to smuggling, the chamber official said tax evasion was not something that Governments could pretend did not exist especially in today’s global communities. “That being said, I hope that smuggling could be replaced with free trade,” the Chamber official stated.

If that were not enough Chairman of Banks DIH, Clifford Reis at a shareholders forum on Essequibo earlier this year emphasised that smuggling of alcoholic beverages has drastically cut sales for the company. He said while Government was making move to introduce the excise stamp his business was suffering tremendously. Implicit in Reis’ complaints is the fact that whilst this country has experienced five consecutive years of economic growth, the activities smuggling is a major threat to business interests and can cause significant damage to the financial system through its subversion, exploitation, and distortion of legitimate markets and economic activity.

A United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) last year heard that illicit financial flows are worth €800 billion each year, compared to €80 billion of official development assistance, while UNCTAD’s 2014 Trade and Development Report shows that approximately 8-15 per cent of the net financial wealth of households is held in tax havens, mostly unrecorded. The resulting loss of public revenue amounts to US$190-$290 billion per year, of which US$66-$84 billion is lost from developing countries.

From these reports there could be denying that the issue of tax evasion resulting from smuggling must be more aggressively tackled, by the cutting off of ports of entries that facilitate this type of trade and also a more rigid enforcement by the GRA. This should involve the deployment of maritime crafts to patrol borders and also frequent raids on suspected businesses that deal in smuggling. The revenue body must also be concerned that its major revenue earners are at the mercy of smugglers- a situation which it can ill afford at a time when more and more businesses are refusing to remit VAT and the fallout from the global recession continues to bite.

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A disregard for the poor

From the statements being made by various Government spokespersons it seems as if the Granger-led Administration has already made a decision to scrap the “Because We Care” $10,000 per student Cash Grant, which the then PPP/C Government had started. Like most of the policy decisions made so far by the APNU+AFC Government since it took office, this will certainly go down as yet another highly unpopular one.

Such a decision, once confirmed, will have a tremendous negative impact on an already burdened citizenry, especially the poorer segment of the population such as single parents who struggle every day to make ends meet.

Last year, this assistance was welcomed by every parent as they turned out in their numbers at locations across the country to uplift their monies. There was a country-wide distribution of the $10,000 Cash Grant offered to each student attending public school, with the aim of easing the financial burden parents often complain about. This year parents were hoping to receive this assistance again, only to be disappointed.

This was perhaps the only country in the region and one of few in the world that offered such support to its citizens. It should be noted that this grant is in addition to the many other initiatives being instituted to aid parents’ efforts to ensure their children receive a good education.

The reasons being offered by the Government not to continue this assistance to parents are nothing but spurious at best. For example, among the many frivolous excuses are: the assistance is given to everyone and not only poor people, there is a high administration cost to administer the assistance, nothing is built into the programme to show improved attendance and/or enrollment and the programme was meant to be an elections gimmick to win votes for the PPP.

These are mere ‘excuses’ for not continuing this programme, and they are of no help in justifying the rationale behind such a move. In fact, former Minister of Education Priya Manickchand explained that this position has actually exposed Government’s position on the matter, that is, “a disregard for the needs of the people of Guyana and recklessness as it relates to fulfilling promises made only three months ago”.

Guyanese all across the country always look forward to whatever assistance they can get from the State, especially considering the hard times most parents face when they have to take care a long list of financial commitments which they must deal with, especially school expenses. While one cannot dispute the fact that a few parents will use the money for what it was not meant for, this cannot be used as a justification to deny the thousands of poor families who have normally taken full advantage of this relief.

Under the previous Administration, a number of crucial steps were taken towards improving the quality of education students receive. Some of these initiatives are already bearing fruit, while others are still in their implementation stages. The nation is currently reaping the benefits of those investments. For example, better results can be observed at all levels of the school system; including at the CSEC level, more students are attending school, more teachers are being trained and are attending university and there is more involvement of parents and the community as a whole in the management and delivery of education in this country.

The Administration must continue to explore ways and means of investing more money in improving education standards in our country and putting systems in place where more students can attend school. Programmes such as the $10,000 Cash Grant, once managed and administered effectively and transparently will help to boost the efforts which are already being made in improving the performances of our nation’s children.

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Whither sustainable clean energy?

Amaila Falls HydroElectric Project (AFHEP) was the cornerstone of the Low Carbon Development Strategy (LCDS) crafted by the previous PPPC administration. It was supposed to steer Guyana through the energy and climate challenges of this millennium. The then Government, under the leadership of Bharrat Jagdeo had intervened directly to market the forests that cover more than 80% of our country as a “carbon sequestration” mechanism that should be recompensed financially.

With an Agreement with the Government of Norway to pay US$250 million over a span of five years, for not harvesting our forests beyond a stipulated rate, the LCDS would be receive its initial funding for “green sustainable” projects. AFHEP addressed climate concerns directly by substituting the burning of petroleum to generate electricity with using a renewable resource. The electricity from AFHEP would also be cheaper than that from petroleum, going a long way towards addressing the major hurdle faced by businesses here.

AFHEP was designed to generate 165 MW of electricity to satisfy consumer and industrial demand. Presently this is achieved solely from imported oil which consumes scarce foreign reserves. The utilisation of our renewable water resource to generate electricity would – after the investment were paid off in twenty years – allow these funds to be utilised for social or infrastructural spending.

However, the then Opposition which is now in office, early on dismissed the project as a “pie in the sky” dream of former President Bharrat Jagdeo. Yet it was subsequently revealed from studies conducted by the World Bank in the 1970′s, that they always knew Amaila Falls was a contender for a hydro-electric facility.

They also claimed not to have information of the financial and other agreements. But then President Ramotar supplied these immediately upon assuming office. Even though Guyana is without a sovereign rating, the the Government was able to secure the full US$840 million financing for the AFHEP. Without increasing Guyana’s debt burden. Guyana was to put in US$100 million (of which US$80 million would come from the Norwegian Fund accessible to Guyana); the Build, Own, Operate and Transfer (BOOT) partner Sithe Global US$152 million; InterAmerican Development Bank (IDB) US$175 million, and China Development Bank (CDB) US$413 million.

The contractor China Rail had already signed an Engineering, Procurement and Construction (EPC) agreement with Sithe for US$506 million, when Sithe Global pulled out of the project last August because the “consensus” between the Government and the Opposition it demanded was not reached. The then Opposition had demanded completion of an IDB “due diligence” report.

That report has now been supplied and the IDB has asked that a decision be made by the end of the month – only one week away. It would appear that the Government might be getting stuck with its rhetoric when it was in opposition. At that time, its major objection was that the overall price tag was too high and there was possible corruption involved. But since it is now in receipt of the IDB report, they are now in a position to access all the details of the funding.

After Sithe had walked away from the deal, the PPP/C Government earlier this year, before the elections, claimed to have secured another private investor in the Private Public Partnership (PPP). The present government can engage this new company directly since the details would be available to them. Alternatively, they can also seek a new partner.

With Guyana seemingly headed into a recession, the AFHEP can be one of the stimuli to give the economy a needed fillip. While the government has hinted that it is looking at the wider development of hydro power to encompass the entire Cuyuni-Mazaruni basins, AFHEP does not all preclude going in that direction later.

What we know for sure, is that Guyana should not lose an (energy) bird in hand, for two in the bush.

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