October 9, 2015

Draft PUC, Telecoms Bills at Cabinet Sub-Committee

Public Infrastructure Minister David Patterson

Public Infrastructure Minister David Patterson

– no assurances on date for Parliament

The Public Utilities Commission (PUC) and Telecommunications Bills may be tabled in Parliament sometime this year. This is according to Public Infrastructure Minister David Patterson, who on Monday said that while the Bills have been completed, they were still with the Cabinet Sub-Committee awaiting approval. While the Minister has assured that the Bill will be ready for Parliament this year, he could not give a commitment as to when this will actually take place.

“I had said before this is something that will be done this year. I can’t say if it will be done next week, but it will be done this year,” Patterson said.

In August, the Government had announced that it was appointing two legal consultants to harmonise the amendments of the PUC Bill and complete the Telecommunications Bill in order for them to become law. Overseas-based Janice Brendman and Geeta Ragubir were appointed as consultants to complete the work on the Telecommunications Bill.

Patterson on Monday reported that the consultants have returned the drafts, adding that the Cabinet Sub-Committee will study the two pieces of legislation before Cabinet gave its approval for them to be presented to Parliament.

“Obviously, now we will go through it to ensure it contains all the aspects with which we, as an Administration, would like included there… As long as it passes through that process, it goes to the CPC (Chief Parliamentary Counsel) and then to Cabinet. Immediately after, we will lay it in Parliament,” he stated.

Telecommunication licences

Furthermore, Patterson stated that the revised Telecommunications Bill would now see companies having to re-apply for telecommunication licences.

“From the draft Bills, obviously everybody were required to re-apply,” he pointed out.

The Bills, which was first introduced in 2011 and revised in 2013, was at the level of a Select Committee when the 10th Parliament ended. The A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC) Administration is now moving to have the Bill passed in the 11th Parliament.

The Telecommunications Bill seeks to create a competitive regime in the telecommunications sector. It provides for an open, liberalised and competitive sector that will be attractive to new market entrants and investors, while preserving the activities of the current participants.

By creating this competitive environment for telecommunications, the Bill is expected to result in greater choice, better quality of service and lower prices for consumers. The Bill also specifically addresses the expansion of telecommunication networks and services into unserved and under-served areas, through the institution of a new universal access/universal service programme, in an effort to further national, regional, social and economic development.

Following the prorogation of Parliament in November 2014, former Digicel Guyana Inc Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Gregory Dean had lamented the state of affairs on the Telecommunications Bill, pointing out that it was another missed opportunity for the sector to be liberalised.

Meanwhile, former Guyana Telephone and Telegraph (GT&T) CEO Radha Krishna Sharma had said that the company was prepared for Government’s plans to liberalise the sector, pointing out that the company – which began 20 years ago – was looking forward to contributing to the refinement of the legislation. He had stated that there were tremendous opportunities within a “liberalised” sector. Upon assent, this Bill would in essence break the more-than-20-year-old monopoly enjoyed by the GT&T.

The Telecommunications Bill is among 12 other Bills that will have to be recalled in the 11th Parliament. The others include the Customs (Amendment) Bill, the Broadcast (Amendment) and Education Bills.

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Maduro accuses US of “meddling” in Guyana-Venezuela affairs

US Ambassador Perry Holloway

US Ambassador Perry Holloway

Venezuela’s President Nicolás Maduro on Tuesday said the United States of America was too much involved in the border controversy between Guyana and the Spanish-speaking country, and its ongoing interference would only “damage brotherly relations” between the countries.

Maduro raised his country’s condemnation over what it said was the US’ meddling in affairs which concern the peoples of Guyana and Venezuela.

Meeting the Guyanese Press for the first time on Monday, new US Ambassador Perry Holloway said the controversy which continues to brew between the two countries still warrants a peaceful resolution through diplomatic means.

He said his country’s stance remained that the two countries must maintain peace and adhere to international law. The Ambassador reaffirmed the need to respect the 1899 ruling on the border.

Venezuela on Tuesday said the US needed to take its hands off the Essequibo (almost two thirds of Guyana) to which it lay claim, continuing that it would “not accept your interference any longer”.

Venezuela said it was further evidence of intrusion on the part of the US Government in the issues that concern only Venezuela and Guyana in its obsession to “damage brotherly relations between the countries of the Caribbean”.

Venezuela President Nicolás Maduro

Venezuela President Nicolás Maduro

It urged the US not to get involved directly or indirectly in matters which exclusively belong to the parties involved in the territorial controversy. This is contrary to the stance of Venezuela in the late 1800s when it pleaded with the US to help it resolve the border controversy and America responded by almost going to war with Britain to force it to agree to arbitration to decide the border.   Venezuela and Britain then signed the Treaty of Arbitration to determine a “final” settlement of the border by an international arbitral panel. On that panel, Venezuela was represented by its powerful ally, as two Americans were part of the five-member panel that also comprised a Russian and two Britons. The panel unanimously determined the Guyana-Venezuela border which all parties agreed would be final.

Now Venezuela claims the US was “one of those responsible for the arbitral fraud” and was, therefore, responsible for the existence of the border controversy.

The criticism comes after Ambassador Holloway called on Venezuela to respect the 1899 Award. The Venezuelan Foreign Ministry responded that the parties responsible for that decision were “senior US officials in collusion with right-wing mercenaries of the old British Empire”. It was previously claimed by Venezuelans that Russia and Britain had struck a deal on the matter, although the British lost control of the hugely important Orinoco River Mouth in the Arbitral Award. Both parties accepted, ratified and demarcated the boundary. The US President at the time later told Congress the tribunal’s “unanimous decision” on the border was “equally satisfactory to both parties”, thereby “ending a long lived controversy”.

In its statement on Tuesday, the Venezuelan Government denounced the interference of the US, whom it had begged to intervene in the first place. It claimed the US was undertaking a “calculated strategy to try to validate, by way of intimidation, the null rights of ExxonMobil to carry out extractive activities in a disputed territory and regulated by the 1966 Geneva Agreement”. The Geneva Agreement was signed by Guyana and Venezuela to resolve Venezuela’s contention that the 1899 Arbitral Award was null and void. The Venezuelans have not provided any proof to support their claim.

Earlier this year, US Chargé d’Affaires Bryan Hunt said his country was ready to support the Government of Guyana on the position it had taken against the Venezuelan Government, which, in a move of provocation has warned the oil company ExxonMobil against drilling in Guyana’s waters.

Venezuela ratcheted up its rhetoric after the oil company announced a major oil find, issuing decrees that purported to claim Guyana’s maritime space off the Essequibo. The first decree was later withdrawn, but Venezuela has continued its aggression toward Guyana, deploying, among other measures, troops and military equipment to the border areas which were later withdrawn after a United Nations mediated meeting between the countries.

This new pronouncement by Venezuela comes almost two weeks after President David Granger and President Maduro held consultations in the presence of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. The UN has agreed to mediate the matter, with Guyana pushing for a judicial settlement of the controversy, “once and for all”.

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Minister Ramjattan engages Camp St prisoners

Public Security Minister Khemraj Ramjattan

Public Security Minister Khemraj Ramjattan

promises Govt will push for early trials

Inmates of the Camp Street Prison, in Georgetown, who have waited years to have their cases heard, were recently promised by Vice President and Public Security Minister Khemraj Ramjattan that efforts would be made to start the process of speedy trials. This disclosure was made when the Minister visited the penal facility.

Minister Ramjattan recently told the media that he visited the facility and had discussions with inmates after there were reports of gang fights in the penitentiary, resulting in the subsequent hospitalisation of an inmate.

It was during this visit that it was brought to the Minister’s attention that persons were being held there for many years and are still awaiting trial.

Camp Street Prison

Camp Street Prison

“I am confident, having spoken to them and knowing fully well that I will keep my promise to them to have the courts give some early trials to them or at least start the process, they are comforted by that and will not be so explosive… they promised to keep their part of the deal and wait for the early trial,” Minister Ramjattan explained.

Meanwhile, addressing the issue of overcrowding in the prison system, the Public Security Minister told media operatives that the A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC) Government is working to address this issue since it is of major concern.

“The over crowdedness is a huge problem, we need another prison, but the capital works for another prison is going to be humongous, and at this time, we might not be in a position to afford that, and so we will have to make do with what we have.”

This issue was the subject of the United States State Department’s 2014 Report on Human Rights in Guyana and other countries. The Report stated that the Camp Street Prison was built to accommodate 775 inmates, but it now houses more than 900 inmates, according to data provided in 2011.  However, it is believed that this figure gradually increased over the years, since the 2011 data showed that in total, there were 1962 prisoners in five facilities with a combined design capacity of 1580.

To this end, Minister Ramjattan explained that efforts are being made to occupy the brick prison, which is located in the Camp Street Prison compound.   “We are now trying to open that extension we had made at the brick prison that was a brand new structure that can accommodate 160 prisoners… the new brick prison needs some renovations, some of the doors might not be of the best construction, we are working on that to get that done and then bring them over,” he said.

Minister Ramjattan reported that as the prisoners are transferred there, “we will then do some rehabilitation to that prison (Camp Street). Of course I would have to get Cabinet’s approval, and the Cabinet paper is now being prepared to get the approval for the reconstruction of that area that was very dilapidated.”

It is anticipated that this rehabilitation work will cost approximately $150 million as the intention is to build a better structure at the Camp Street Prison and in the long-term, plans would have to be made for the construction of a prison elsewhere.

Responding to a question as to whether the Government is seeking to introduce skills training for the prisoners as is done in other countries, the Minister advised that there are several projects, which are currently ongoing for prisoners, as they are engaged in carpentry, masonry, and electrical installation, among others.

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Govt seeking to impose on functions of Parliament – PPP/C

PPP/C General Secretary Clement Rohee

PPP/C General Secretary Clement Rohee

Missing assets at Opposition Leader’s Office…

Government is seeking to impose itself on the functions of the Parliamentary Office, the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) said on Wednesday, in response to Minister of State Joseph Harmon’s answer to the issue of missing assets at the Office of the Opposition Leader.

Speaking to the media at Freedom House, General Secretary of the PPP/C, Clement Rohee said that the missing assets belongs to the Parliament Office and were loaned to the A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC) when the coalition was not yet in Government.

However, when the now Opposition party sought to utilise the office, it was discovered that these assets were unaccounted for.

Guyana Times understands that the missing equipment and furniture were supposed to have been handed over to Opposition Leader, Bharrat Jagdeo by the APNU/AFC.

Minister of State Joseph Harmon

Minister of State Joseph Harmon

However, Chief Whip of the PPP/C Gail Teixeira on Monday told reporters that a reconciliation of Parliament Office’s asset register and the equipment and furniture at the Hadfield Street Office, which was used by President David Granger when he was Opposition Leader, revealed that laptops among other items were missing.

This publication was told by Minister Harmon on Tuesday that Teixeira had neither contacted him nor President Granger on this matter. As such, if there is any issue about computers, the PPP/C should contact the new Government.

“What is the big thing about a couple of computers?… I don’t know what it is that the PPP/C believes that is in there… is just some furniture, a photocopier and a couple of laptops,” the Minister of State posited.

Harmon told reporters on Tuesday that, “I don’t know what noise he (Clement Rohee) is blowing. If he doesn’t have anything to say, why don’t he shut up and go and do something”…. “The furniture is in the building they have to come and move it. I am not moving any furniture for Rohee or for Jagdeo or anybody.”

Meanwhile, Rohee emphatically stated that his Party has not been, and is not required, to make contact with President Granger and/or Minister Harmon.

It was further clarified that these assets are the property of the Parliament Office and the individual who is tasked with the responsibility of ensuring that they are handed over to Jagdeo is the Clerk of the National Assembly, Sherlock Isaacs.

In fact, the PPP/C General Secretary noted that the line of communication on this matter is between his Party and the Clerk of the National Assembly exclusive of the Executive of Guyana.

Guyana Times was also told that to have the involvement of members of the Executive in this matter would interfere with the functions that belong to the Parliament Office.

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Region 10 to pilot new programme for developing, managing sustainable communities

The Regional Democratic Council (RDC) of Region 10 (Upper Demerara-Berbice) will be fashioning the first “Plan of Action for Regional Development (PARD)”.

According to Minister within the Communities Ministry, Dawn Hasting-Williams, the Ministry has identified the Region to lead the development and implementation of what will essentially be the map for developing and managing sustainable communities and for attracting investment, which would lead to new economic activities and job creation.

The Minister told the Government Information Agency (GINA) on Wednesday that consultants from the Ministry are at present in the Region, working with the RDC and other local leaders and stakeholders, in finalising the Region’s PARD, which would be the model for the other nine regions, as they in turn work to develop their plan.

The Communities Ministry, as part of its mandate for creating sustainable communities, along with empowering the local democratic organs, had endorsed the development of PARD by the RDCs, with support from Central Government.

Minister Hasting-Williams explained that these plans must also capture education, health and disaster risk management developmental ideas and programmes of the Regions. On this foundation, she added, Central Government will work hand in hand with each RDC for implementation.

Meanwhile, the RDCs’ capacity to develop these plans will be further built as the Ministry is set to engage the regional representatives and leaders in a round table discussion, on October 9, at the Arthur Chung Convention Centre at Liliendaal.

PARD is expected over time to ensure that the 10 regions are not only administrative regions, but also productive ones. It will also guarantee that the regions develop the capacity to be self-sufficient and contribute significantly to economic growth and a good life for residents.

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Teen gets bail after denying he escaped from Police custody

A teenager was on Wednesday placed on $150,000 bail by Magistrate Fabayo Azore when he appeared at the Georgetown Magistrates’ Courts charged with larceny and escaping Police custody.

Shakeel Wilburg pleaded not guilty to the first charged which alleged that July 24 at Durban and Smyth Street, Georgetown, he stole a gold chain valued $90,000; property of Virtual Complainant (VC) Niketa Damon. The accused also denied the second charge, which stated that on August 8 at the Brickdam Police Station, Georgetown while being in custody, he escaped.

Police Prosecutor, Corporal Simone Payne objected to bail, telling the court that while in custody at the Brickdam Police Station, Wilburg picked the handcuff on his hands and escaped. She told the court that it is the prosecution’s belief that the 18-year-old would not return for his trial once he is granted bail. She also informed the court that the teen has similar charges pending.

The prosecution’s objections were nonetheless overruled by the Magistrate who placed the teen on $100,000 bail for the larceny charge and $50,000 bail on the escape from custody charge. The case will continue on October 9.

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New US Ambassador, Govt to collaborate on renewable energy

From left, Technical Officer Teresa Gaime, Ministerial Adviser Clayton Hall, Governance Minister Raphael Trotman, Permanent Secretary Joslyn McKenzie, Economic and Political Officer at the United States Embassy, Frisco Mc Donald and Ambassador Perry Holloway

From left, Technical Officer Teresa Gaime, Ministerial Adviser Clayton Hall, Governance Minister Raphael Trotman, Permanent Secretary Joslyn McKenzie, Economic and Political Officer at the United States Embassy, Frisco Mc Donald and Ambassador Perry Holloway

New United States Ambassador to Guyana, Perry Holloway on Wednesday paid a courtesy call on Governance Minister Raphael Trotman at his Brickdam Office.

The two officials spoke on a number of issues and reaffirmed their commitment to working together, particularly in the area of renewable energy.

Minister Trotman outlined the roles and responsibilities of his Ministry and the departments that fall under its purview. He informed the new Ambassador that the Government sees the announcement of the establishment of the long-awaited Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Office as a welcome and positive sign.

“We value your support and we will look to you for guidance and assistance, in the areas of governance, natural resources and the environment,” Minister Trotman said.

Ambassador Holloway said he has been closely following the news in Guyana over the past months and was aware of the push for the development of hydropower. In this regard, he informed Minister Trotman that he could count on the US for expertise and technical support as Guyana pursued its renewable energy development initiative.

“Most of the things that your Government wants to accomplish are the same things we want to accomplish, so that is going to make working together very easy,” the Ambassador said.

He also assured that he would be working closely with the Government to ensure that all US investors, particularly those in the extractive sector, operate in conformity with the laws of Guyana and adhere to ecologically sound and environmentally sustainable practices.

Ambassador Holloway presented his Letters of Credence to President David Granger last week at the Ministry of the President. He replaces former Ambassador Brent Hardt, whose term of Office ended in July last year.

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“Nasty Man” slapped with murder charge

Murdered Dexter Griffith

Murdered Dexter Griffith

East Ruimveldt Execution

Dellon Henry called “Nasty Man” was on Wednesday slapped with a murder charge and remanded to prison by Magistrate Fabayo Azore.

The 23-year-old, of 53 Houston Housing Scheme, Greater Georgetown, was charged for the murder of footballer Dexter Griffith who was gunned down on September 29 in East Ruimveldt, Georgetown.

He was also charged for unlawful possession of .38 revolver with six matching rounds of ammunition.

On the murder charge, Police Prosecutor, Corporal Simone Payne told the court that on September 29 at about 19:30h, Griffith was sitting in front of his house at Back Circle, East Ruimveldt, when the accused reportedly walked up to him with a gun and shot him.

According to the Prosecutor, the now deceased man attempted to escape but collapsed in a drain a short distance from the scene. She told the court that the accused reportedly escaped on a cycle while Griffith was taken to the Georgetown Public Hospital where he was pronounced dead on arrival. Payne also reported to the court that the accused was picked up by Police on October 4 for questioning in connection with the murder, but denied the allegations. He was subsequently placed in an identification parade where he was positively identified and later taken into custody. The investigations are still incomplete.

With respect to the second charge, it is alleged that on October 4 at Second Street, Agricola, Greater Georgetown, Henry had in his possession an unlicensed .38 revolver along with six matching rounds of ammunition and two.32 live rounds of ammunition without being the holder of a firearm licence.

The case will be called again on September 9.

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Land Tiling and Demarcation Project recommences

Adviser to the Minister of Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs, Mervyn Williams

Adviser to the Minister of Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs, Mervyn Williams

– 113 communities targeted

About 113 Amerindian communities are targeted to be titled and demarcated under the Government’s Land Tiling and Demarcation Project, which recommenced in September. Forty-five communities will be titled and 68 demarcated.

Since the resumption of this programme, investigations have been conducted in Hotoquai and Red Hill, Region One (Barima-Waini) with regard to extension.  Demarcation is currently ongoing at Karisparu, Taruka, Kato and Tuseneng, all areas in Region Eight (Potaro-Siparuni).

 Adviser to the Minister of Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs, Mervyn Williams, has confirmed that these communities will receive their title document by year-end.

 The Land Titling and Demarcation Project provides an opportunity for Amerindians to better manage, protect and improve their chances of expanding economic activities in their respective communities.

 In 2013, Guyana received US$10.7 million for the implementation of the Land Titling and Demarcation Project, under the Guyana REDD + Investment Fund (GRIF). This new process will see the Ministry accomplishing the outstanding 80 per cent of deliverables in the remaining life of the project.

 It will also allow for the creation of jobs for indigenous youths, who have already been trained in Geographic Information System (GIS) technology and mapping, and have successfully surveyed and mapped their village lands.

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EU recommits to infrastructural development

The European Union (EU) has renewed its commitment to supporting infrastructural development in Guyana.

Ambassador of the European Union to Guyana Jernej Videtič, in discussions with Ministers David Patterson and Annette Ferguson

Ambassador of the European Union to Guyana Jernej Videtič, in discussions with Ministers David Patterson and Annette Ferguson

This was done when the EU Ambassador to Guyana Jernej Videtič paid a courtesy call on Public Infrastructure Minister David Patterson and Minister within the Public Infrastructure Ministry Annette Ferguson, on Wednesday at their Wight’s Lane office in Kingston.
Ambassador Videtič used the opportunity to reaffirm the EU’s commitment to working with Guyana in its development process. Guyana-EU cooperation commenced over 40 years ago with priorities including sea defences and transport infrastructure, inter alia, the Bartica/Berbice ferry services, the Demerara Harbour Bridge (DHB) rehabilitation and the Ogle International Airport (OIA) extension.
During the meeting, the two parties discussed several ongoing projects including the ‘Power Utility Upgrade Programme’ which is cofinanced by an EU grant of €19.3 million and a loan by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) of US$37.6 million.
The project, which is being administered via Guyana Power and Light (GPL) Inc, is geared at enhancing the operational efficiency and corporate performance of the utility company. It will cater to the upgrading of infrastructure to reduce energy and revenue loss while also improving GPL’s management and administrative efficiency.
It was agreed by the two parties that close monitoring of project implementation is necessary to make best use of available resources.
Ambassador Videtič along with Ministers Patterson and Ferguson also discussed ongoing cooperation programmes on sea defences, including capacity-building and training, strengthening the functionalities of the Guyana Post Office Corporation (GPOC), opportunities for studies in renewable energy, and the exploration of possible future EU/Guyana collaboration in the area of renewable energy, transport infrastructure, tourism  and logistics.

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