March 6, 2015

GRA admits unable to control “bottom house” rum shops

GRA head quarters

GRA head quarters

… out of 200 defaulters only 60 regularised

By Devina Samaroo

The Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA) has acknowledged that it was struggling to regularise the alarmingly high number of illegal rum shops in the country, disclosing that out of the 200 it was able to identify last year, only 60 have been regularised.

Earlier this week, this newspaper reported that the GRA had commenced the sale and renewal of liquor licences amid the flourishing of “bottom house” rum shops. However, the revenue body chided the newspaper for what it said was the publishing of “half truths” when this newspaper merely pointed out that while the sale of licences has commenced, the GRA was yet to clamp down on the mushrooming of illegal shops, which it acknowledged in its statement.

The GRA statement added that for the year 2014, alone it conducted a series of control visits throughout Guyana in an effort to ensure non-compliant businesses were regularised. “These visits saw more than 200 business operatives being engaged over a 10-month period by staff of the agency and efforts were made to have them legalise their operations.

“However, given the vast expanse of Guyana and the limited human resources at the Agency’s disposal, most of these visits were conducted in central areas, or in areas where intelligence was received that illegal rum shops were in operation. It should be noted that in most instances the GRA only becomes aware of and take action against these illegal operators when the public provides information.”

Further, the GRA wishes to remind holders of Restaurant Liquor, Off-Licence; Spirit Shop; Members’ Club; Hotel; Malt Liquor and Wine that they can purchase their licences in Georgetown at the GRA’s Headquarters which is located at 200-201 Camp Street, Georgetown, while persons residing in Anna Regina and New Amsterdam can purchase their licences from the GRA’s Branch Offices in those locations.

Licensing

Meanwhile, speaking with the Guyana Times, in a telephone interview on Thursday, Senior Manager and Licensing Officer Sean Richmond revealed that the GRA had only succeeded in getting just over 60 operators to legalise their business.

In fact, Richmond noted that the requirements for a liquor licence are not rigid, indicating that the average person would be able to easily acquire one once they meet the yielding requirements. Licences can be approved by either the Commissioner General or by the Liquor Licensing Boards.

Licences approved by the Commissioner-General only allow for the sale of spirituous liquor, wine or malt liquor not to be consumed on the premises whereas licences approved by the Board – malt liquor and wine licences – authorise the sale in any licensed store, shop, floating shop, room, shed, stall or yard, of malt liquor and wine, whether to be consumed on the premises or not.

In either circumstance, some of the requirements to obtain a liquor licence include a police clearance, sanitary certificate, the applicant must not have committed a criminal offence in at least five years and the applicant must be above the age of 18. Richmond highlighted that while the GRA can do its part through public notices to clamp down on these lawbreakers, other stakeholders like the local Police need to do their part by monitoring the operations and reporting the illegalities. The GRA also justified why it has failed to address this crucial issue by casting the blame on limited staff. Additionally, the GRA noted that in most instances it only became aware of and took action against these illegal operators when the public provided information.

When questioned about the penalties the perpetrators face when found guilty of operating without a licence, Richmond expressed that the GRA would opt to give them an opportunity to become legalised. This process, he explained, would require the operators to get their business and premises under the required conditions before the licence can be granted.

Nonetheless, Richmond noted that the penalties are very limited, considering the legislation was dated to a time when the currency exchange rate was lower.

Great nuisance

Meanwhile, Region Five (Mahaica-Berbice) Chairman Bindrabhan Bisnauth expressed that the situation was a great nuisance in the district. He said he instructed all Neighbourhood Democratic Councils (NDCs) to identify the culprits and they in turn would contact the Police.

Bisnauth said he was unaware if the GRA was informed during the process, but he noted that the Police did do their job in trying to curb the issue. Police and other stakeholders have said in the past that the many illegal rum shops were contributing to the high incidence of road fatalities in the country. “Bottom house rum shops” are a feature in most rural communities, with patrons sometimes spending hours imbibing before climbing into their vehicles to drive far distances to get home.

According to a GRA notice, licence holders are required to have their licences renewed with immediate effect. Further, in accordance with the Intoxicating Liquor Licensing Act, Chapter 82:21, failure to obtain the relevant licences to operate can result in enforcement actions being taken and goods being forfeited.

Over the years, the GRA has threatened to crack down on illegal rum shops, but has failed in its bid. Many of these illegal outlets trade in uncustomed liquor. Previously, a Marias Lodge, Essequibo businessman, Whithman George had complained about the unfair competition posed by some of the illegal shops. George, in a letter to the editor, had said that he was a licensed owner of a liquor restaurant and provided employment for two persons on a daily basis. He said too that he subscribed to all the regulations and laws in relation to operating a liquor restaurant and bar.

“But my biggest problem is the constant unfair competition that I have to endure from the so-called bottom house rum shops that operate with impunity in my village.

While I am not afraid of competition I strongly believe that the playing field must be level at all times. I am totally surprised and grossly dissatisfied that despite several reports to the Suddie Police Station and to the Customs Department, no effort to the best of my knowledge has been made to ensure these unlicensed places of business cease to operate.”

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Caricom states still violate free movement obligations

Some of the immigration officers paying keen attention to the presentation on CSME

Some of the immigration officers paying keen attention to the presentation on CSME

― Guyanese immigration officers informed of protocols

Legal Officer attached to the Caricom Secretariat, Oneil Francis has acknowledged that many member countries continue to violate free movement obligations under the Treaty of Chagaraumas.

Speaking at a workshop for Immigration Officer here, Francis outlined that the excuse of contradicting domestic laws is often employed. However, once a country ratifies a treaty, this supersedes domestic law – as was the case of Jamaican Shanique Myrie Versus the Government of Barbados.

Francis explained that Caricom member countries are obligated to amend their local laws to coincide with the Treaty and had approximately 5 years to do so, but many countries are yet to make such changes.

This, he noted is one of the many challenges immigration officers often face in the execution of their duties.

It was also noted that many citizens are unaware of their rights under the Treaty.

Reflecting on the Shanique Myrie Case, Oneil explained that the woman was fully cognizant of her rights and therefore, made a smart and well-informed decision to sue the Government of Barbados- a case which she won.

As such, Caricom has embarked on a series of workshops aimed at educating the general public about their rights under the Caricom Single Market and Economy (CSME).

The CSME allows for the free movement of people and goods within Caricom member of states in order to facilitate a better standard of living for all citizens.

There should be no differentiation and no biased treatment influenced by nationalities.

But many times, citizens are still being treated unfavourably at certain ports of entry. Guyanese and Jamaicans have often complained of the unjust treatment at certain airports in the Caribbean. Guyana has made the varying requisite changes through acts of Parliament.

According to the legal affairs officer, citizens can only be denied entry once creditable reasons are provided, such as for security purposes or for the protection of public moral and human, animal or plant health.

Subsequently, these reasons must be submitted to the relevant authorities for scrutiny.

Francis noted that an immigration officer must take into account a person’s past records before allowing entry, but must not let a stained past be the only basis for denying that person as that person may be reformed. He stressed that once a citizen is not current threat to the country, he has a right to enter.

He also pointed out that an officer cannot deny a person entry on the basis of protecting moral values or laws if such laws are not strictly enforced within that country.

Francis used for example a situation concerning prostitution. He said if a country states in their laws that prostitution is illegal yet turns a blind eye to the situation, then to deny a person entry on those grounds would be considered discrimination.

Many other scenarios were explored to help immigration officers better understand what protocols to take to ensure all citizens within Caricom are faced with fair and just treatment upon entry to various members of state.

The workshop was held at the Police Training Center and saw 31 immigration officers in attendance.

The presentation was also facilitated by Technical Coordinator of the Technical Action Services Unit of the Caricom Secretariat Melbour Phillip. The wider initiative was compiled by the Caricom Secretariat to improve the flow of information within six member states. It is being executed by Right Angle Imaging Consultancy; a St Lucian-based organisation, and forms part of component 300 of the Caricom Trade and Competitiveness Project.

Free Movement of Skills, Free Movement of Capital, the Caricom Complaints Procedure, Free Movement of Services, Free Movement of Goods and the Right of Establishment were among the areas.

The Guyana leg of the Canadian funded project is expected to conclude in March.

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1st hearing set for March 16

Presidential term limit motion:

The motion which was filed by civilian Cedric Richardson challenging the two-term presidential limit will be heard on March 16 at the High Court.

The matter will be heard by acting Chief Justice Ian Chang. According to legal advocate Emily Dodson – who along with Attorneys Shawn Allicock, Oneidge Walrond-Allicock, and Coleen Sparman, is representing Richardson — the Attorney General and the Speaker, who were listed at the defendants in the case, have both responded to the motion.

Dodson related that the Attorney General would be representing his own interests in the matter while the Speaker has appointed Attorney-at-Law Roysdale Forde as his legal representative.

On Monday, February 2, Richardson, 50, of Lot 4 West Ruimveldt, Georgetown, filed a motion in the High Court challenging the constitutionality of the limit which was imposed on Guyanese Presidents since 2001. The Speaker of the National Assembly and the Attorney General had eight days to file a response to the motion. Justice Chang will, upon perusal of the document, then set a date for hearing of the matter.

In his writ, Richardson claims that Act No 17 of 2001, passed by a two-third majority of members of the National Assembly that altered Article 90 of the Constitution, “curtails and restricts the sovereign and democratic rights and freedom as a qualified elector to elect the person of former President (Bharrat) Jagdeo as the Executive President of Guyana”.

Richardson contends that the Act diminishes and reduces the level of democracy enjoyed by the electorate prior to the alteration and, therefore, required for its legal validity, the holding of a referendum of the people for such alteration. Guyana’s Constitution, upon passing of the Act, states that a person elected as President after the year 2000 is eligible for re-election only once. The Constitution further states that a person who acceded to the presidency after 2000 and served therein for a single occasion for not less than such a period as may be determined by the National Assembly is eligible for election as President only once.

Days after the motion was filed, the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) had flayed the sponsor of it, declaring that the timing of the challenge and the identity of the plaintiff were suspicious.

The Party said: “Clearly, this new development is an attempt to throw a spanner in the works. The sponsors of the legal challenge appear to have a hidden agenda in the real sense of the term other than invoking or blocking the boogie of a “third term” for Bharrat Jagdeo.”

Jagdeo has repeatedly said that he was not interested in any constitutional position. According to the PPP/C, the interest of those behind the challenge lies in the “darkest and deepest crevices of a democracy comparable to the galleries of Hades”. The Party stated too that “Mr Bharrat Jagdeo had publicly affirmed time and again his respect for the Constitution and that he has no interest whatsoever in any so-called “third-term” Presidency”.

“It is now become obvious that Mr Jagdeo’s assertions fell on deaf ears and that his expression of disinterest in returning to the presidency notwithstanding, the modern-day Quislings working in close collaboration with the local satraps continue to generate and peddle this absolute nonsense, elevating it to useless legalistic twaddle.”

The PPP/C said since 2011, Jagdeo made clear his disinterest in this matter within the Party and beyond. “The Party wishes to state that while Mr Jagdeo remains a highly popular figure within and beyond the membership and supporters of the PPP/C, this popularity is in no way intended to be translated into a “third-term” candidature. The PPP/C is aware of the fact that while many of its members and supporters hold the former President in high esteem and would have liked to see his return to the Presidency, they are very much aware that there are wolves in sheep’s clothing in our society who seek to sow discord and to engage in deceitful and artful fandangle aimed at misleading and confusing PPP/C supporters. While the other political parties are still dithering to name their Presidential Candidate, the PPP/C has already done so.”

The PPP/C said it has confronted much subterfuge in and out of elections season. “We fought off and overcame all of them. This new subterfuge will be fought off too and consigned to the dustbin of history,” the statement ended.

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No hiccups as Exxon begins drilling

ExxonMobil’s oil exploration ship, the Deep Water Champion

ExxonMobil’s oil exploration ship, the Deep Water Champion

By Gomatie Gangadin

United States-based oil company ExxonMobil’s oil exploration ship, the Deep Water Champion commenced its US$200 million oil exploration project on Thursday at the Stabroek Block off Guyana’s Essequibo Coast and according to Natural Resources and Environment Minister Robert Persaud, the operations were off to a smooth start.

This is even as the company remained locked in what could be a possible showdown with Venezuelan authorities who have issued a warning for it not to proceed with the drilling, which was sanctioned by the Guyana Government.

“Exxon has begun its operations and so far there has been no conflict or hiccups in that,” Persaud told the Guyana Times.

Venezuela has repeatedly laid claim to the area to be explored, ignoring an 1899 Arbitral Tribunal Award, which was declared as the full and final settlement of the boundary between the two South American nations. With Venezuela’s insistence on its position, Guyana is considering judicial settlement of the boundary.

Following Venezuela’s warning, Guyana’s Foreign Affairs Minister, Carolyn Rodrigues-Birkett, dispatched a diplomatic note to her Venezuelan counterpart, warning against any action to prevent the oil rig from carrying out its work in an area of the Stabroek Block known as Liza.

The total area allotted to Exxon for exploration covers 26, 806 square kilometres. The company intends to drill at a depth of 1750 metres. The project is expected to be executed over a 10-year period.

The Guyana-Suriname Basin has the second largest unexplored oil potential in the world after Greenland, according to the US Geological Survey. And there is much optimism that oil will be found in commercial quantities.

ExxonMobil joins other investors such as CGX Energy, Repsol, Anadarko Guyana Co, and Gas and Nabi Oil and Gas in exploring for oil in Guyana’s offshore.

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GTA issues Operator Licence to Bushmasters

Bushmasters Managing Director Ian Craddock is presented with the operating licence by Guyana Tourism Authority (GTA) Director Indranauth Haralsingh

Bushmasters Managing Director Ian Craddock is presented with the operating licence by Guyana Tourism Authority (GTA) Director Indranauth Haralsingh

Attaining 100 per cent conformity with tourism regulations and being issued with an operating licence should be an integral goal for all tourism operations.

This pronouncement was made by Bushmasters Managing Director Ian Craddock, as he was presented with the operating licence for his company from the Guyana Tourism Authority (GTA).

In accepting the certificate, Craddock underscored the importance of adhering to the highest standards that govern the industry, particularly when doing business with international companies.

The Tourism Ministry and the GTA, in an effort to prepare local businesses to become more competitive, are striving to ensure that these establishments meet the necessary requirements expected by any tourist or visitor, whether overseas or local.

GTA Director Indranauth Haralsingh urged all tourism businesses to follow the example set by the entities which have been licensed to date, and to commit to the process.

He said, “This is in no way a difficult process, but it is a process that requires commitment. We want to take this opportunity to congratulate you on this achievement and for following through with the process.  This is a significant achievement and should set the precedent for other businesses.”

Haralsingh acknowledged that with the growth in the tourism sector, conformity to standards and regulations should be the focus of tourism establishments, even as they employ the best marketing and promotional strategies.

The GTA Director urged those businesses that have not yet registered to recognise the importance of the exercise and the many benefits of compliance.

Haralsingh explained that the GTA will be differentiating businesses and providing a listing on its website, which will determine who gets support in terms of both local and international exposure.

 “The GTA’s Act and these regulations say that you need a licence to operate any one of these businesses…,” the Director explained.

Bushmasters Tours is the third tour operator to receive certification; Roraima Tours and Wilderness Explorers already achieved this important milestone, while Rock View Lodge Eco Tourism Resort was presented with its licence under the Interior Lodges and Resort category and Princess Hotel and City Inn were granted licences under the Tourism Accommodation category.

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30 graduate from IT programme in Berbice

Best graduating student Ester Jones receiving an award from Prime Minister Samuel Hinds

Best graduating student Ester Jones receiving an award from Prime Minister Samuel Hinds

Thirty Berbicians of various ages have successfully completed an IT training programme, under an initiative undertaken by the Government through the Basic Needs Trust Fund to the tune of $1 million.

The programme catered for Greater New Amsterdam residents from Overwinning to Glasgow, and ran from January 30 to February 14.

Finance Minister Dr Ashni Singh delivered the feature address at the Glasgow Community Centre on the East Bank of Berbice, Region Six (East Berbice-Corentyne) on Wednesday.

He said there was nothing that can substitute for the training of young people. “There can be no greater satisfaction than to see our young people get qualified, get jobs, earn an income and become professional and self-sustaining individuals.

According to the Minister computer literacy and related skills are assets in the job-seeking arena. “We want as a Government to ensure that every single young Guyanese are equipped with the skills that are required of the modern world.”

He explained that there is a digital divide between the rich and the poor worlds and noted that Government is trying to bridge the domestic digital divide. “Every single Guyanese person no matter where they live, where they come from or their socio-economic circumstances, must enjoy the benefits of modern technology. No Guyanese person must be left behind. That is why we are implementing a programme called the One Laptop Per Family (OLPF) programme to which 90,000 laptops will be distributed.” Already about 55,000 laptops have been distributed under the OLPF.”

He said despite cuts in the national budget, Government continued to make resources available for all Guyanese to have access to Information Technology (IT) training.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Samuel Hinds in delivering an address at the graduation ceremony called for a repeat of the programme, but pointed out the need for more participating males. There was only one male in the 30 member graduating group.

The Prime Minister encouraged all to take up the challenge of building Guyana through Information Technology.

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Ramsammy reaffirms commitment to PPP/C

Agriculture Minister,  Dr Leslie Ramsammy

Agriculture Minister,
Dr Leslie Ramsammy

Agriculture Minister, Dr Leslie Ramsammy has reaffirmed his commitment to serve the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) on the upcoming campaign trail, rubbishing claims that he would bow out of politics due to ill health.

In a statement the minister said, “I noticed that there is some speculation and mischievous attempt to misinform the public that I will not be returning to campaign for the PPP/C in the upcoming elections…I want to state categorically that I am a part of the PPP/C and I am and will be campaigning vigorously for the re election of Donald Ramotar as President and PPP/C for a majority Government.” He then went on to state that the, “report of my demise and my early departure is grossly exaggerated.”

On Wednesday Head of the Presidential Secretariat, Dr Roger Luncheon confirmed that Ramsammy’s failing health could impact his work as a Minister. Ramsammy, who was also Guyana’s Health Minister, has been suffering from a heart condition which saw a pacemaker being implanted.

Luncheon said the Minister has been absent from his office for close to a month and has indicated to his colleagues that he would be seeking medical assistance in the United States of America.

While there are no truth to rumours that the Health Minister may be resigning from politics due to his ill health, Luncheon agreed that his current condition will make a “decisive impact on his availability to carry out his functions as a Minister of Government”.

Ramsammy has a pre-existing heart condition and, several years ago, had suffered an almost fatal attack and underwent triple bypass surgery overseas. Back in 2013, Ramsammy was rushed to the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation (GPHC) after complaining of feeling dizzy.

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PNCR calls for change as it extends Holi greetings

PNCR Leader David Granger

PNCR Leader David Granger

The People’s National Congress Reform extends sincere Holi greetings to the Hindu Community of Guyana in particular, and Guyanese in general, on the occasion of the celebration of the Festival of Phagwah in Guyana.

The significance of Phagwah is two-fold. Its secular significance lies in the advent of the season of spring, and its real and allegorical implications of fertility rebirth, renewal and regeneration. The religious significance of Holi lies in the conquest of good over evil, manifested by the destruction by Prahalad of his demonic father, King Hiranyakashipu.

As the celebrated Indian national, Kulapati Vani wrote many years ago, “… festivals are gatherings for refreshing the spirit and enjoying life,” we urge all Guyanese to use this occasion to refresh their spirit and enjoy life and to participate fully in this colorful festival and enjoy the rich elements of our religious and cultural diversity.

We are conscious, also that our spirits are becoming increasingly sullen and sour, in the brooding darkness that now engulfs our land. Violent crime, runaway cost of living, pervasive joblessness, creeping despotism, nay real despotism, societal disintegration and deepening poverty, stalk our land; partisanship, discrimination and executive lawlessness compound bad and vindictive governance; our economy and society are in tatters.

It is time for change, and on May 11th Guyanese have a chance to vote for change.

We urge all Guyanese to see some spiritual inspiration in this festival and to brace themselves against the many evils that are in our midst, and resolve, at this juncture, to take steps to end these calamities that now bedevil our country, and to restore equity, justice, peace and prosperity to our dear Motherland.

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GAWU remembers Guyanese stalwarts in Phagwah greetings

We in the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) will personalise this brief message as we join Hindus and all of Guyana in celebrating the Festival of Holi.

The month of March holds deep, real and symbolic significance for us in GAWU as a trade union. Our former honorary President and National Hero, the late Dr Cheddi Jagan passed on in March, 1996. His dear wife in struggle, Janet also passed in March as did labour movement stalwart, Joseph H Pollydore.

March month also commemorates the passing of GAWU heroine Kowsilla known as “Alice” who sacrificed her life during a sugar-workers’ protest over scabs violating a legitimate strike. And of course Phagwah – the Holi Festival -

is also located in March, sometimes.

This Indian-originated early spring festival celebrates the beginnings of agricultural harvest; it symbolises hope and it represents that bad, destructive forces – the wicked Holika – will be burnt or will burn themselves out leaving the ashes of good and productive endeavours.

GAWU is also grounded in agriculture, its members, including thousands of Hindus, work in the sugar and rice industries and related areas of agriculture. As we enjoy the various cultural meals and the gaiety of worship, let us all welcome non-Hindus who enjoy this festival of joy and love.

GAWU suggests that we put politics, the crime and any rancour aside for this week-end as we give thanks and celebrate Holi in a peaceful manner.

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Guyana positioned as a premier travel and adventure destination

Guyana, South America Undiscovered, will cement its position as a premier travel and adventure destination at the 11th Annual Washington DC Travel & Adventure Show on March 7 and 8 at the Washington Convention Centre.

This marks the second time that Guyana is participating in the event, known the world over as the place “travel lovers come for travel inspiration, expert information and fun, cultural interaction”.

The local delegation is headed by Guyana Tourism Authority (GTA) Director Indranauth Haralsingh and includes representatives from private tour operators, Wilderness Explorers and Dagron Tours.

While at the Travel Show, individuals and groups will discover thousands of authentic travel experiences and speak directly to the travel experts who can plan their dream travel destination.

The Washington DC Travel & Adventure Show is counted among the largest shows of the region and anticipates the presence of travel services and solutions, travel planning services, tourism related products and services and all that fall within the regime of travel and tourism.

Celebrity travellers share their opinions on various tourist destinations and aspects surrounding travelling at the event, which fosters direct interaction and communication with the speakers and expert travellers.

The Tourism Ministry and the GTA are encouraging travellers the world over to put Guyana on their list of places to visit in 2015, to experience the uniqueness and authenticity of the country’s tourism product.

Last year, Guyana was featured in National Geographic Traveler Magazine on its Best of the World list, which features 20 destinations to visit in 2014 and was ranked among the best destinations for extraordinary adventure.

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