February 24, 2017

Berbice domestic worker’s murder: 5 suspects remanded

Dead:Lilawatie Muhammed

Dead:Lilawatie Muhammed

Five persons were remanded on Wednesday for the murder of a Corentyne domestic worker, Lilawatie Muhammed last week.

The five suspects: Oliver Permaul, 36, of Lot 100 Tain; his wife, Nazeema Permaul, 42, a businesswoman of the same address; Andre James, also called “Andy”, 26, a tattoo artist of Lot 46 A George Street, Rose Hall Town; Rohan Johnson, also called “Jamakie”, 38, a carpenter of Clardon Jamaica and Lot 107 Second Street, Rose Hall Town and his reputed wife Shabikie Alber, also called “Shabikie Thompson”, appeared at the Number 51 Magistrate’s Court. They were jointly charged for the February 7, killing of Muhammed, 45, at her Lot 198 Sixth Street, Tain Settlement, Corentyne home and were not required to plead to theindictable charge.

The matter has been transferred to the Whim Magistrate’s Court for May 4.

Muhammed was shot dead last Tuesday night by two men who broke into her home at Tain.

It had been reported earlier that a tattoo artist and a Jamaican had confessed to being the hitmen. It was also reported that both gave confession statements to thePolice, stating that it was the Jamaican who pulled the trigger, killing the woman.

The now dead woman was rumoured to have been involved in a relationship witha wealthy businessman, who operated a lumberyard on the East Bank of Berbiceand lived at Tain, in close proximity to where she lived.

The tattoo artist and the Jamaican living in Rose Hall Town, reportedly told Police that they were allegedly hired by a barber, who was said to have been in a secret relationship with the businessman’s wife, to make the hit.

When the woman was executed, the businessman’s wife was reportedly out of the country; she has since returned and Police are trying to ascertain her whereabouts. She reportedly contacted the Police through a lawyer claiming that her life was threatened and she was going to turn herself in. It is alleged that after his initial release from custody, the barber had made threats to the woman.

 

Opposition moving to file private criminal charges against Govt officials

President Daivd Granger and his Cabinet

President Daivd Granger and his Cabinet

The Parliamentary Opposition, the People’s Progressive Party (PPP), has signalled its intention to file private criminal charges against Government officials and is hoping that these charges will also test the immunity of the President.

This was announced by PPP General Secretary and Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo during a press conference on Monday morning at Freedom House, Robb Street.

He said these private criminal charges will include charges against Government officials who have enriched themselves from the exorbitant salary increases in 2015.

“The argument they are making about enrichment, the asset and enrichment. The basis for which they are looking at the Pradoville issue is that people illegally transferred assets to enrich themselves, then we can prove a case in court that they have taken financial assets of the State, based on a Cabinet decision to give themselves an increase bigger than anyone else, that is enrichment also,” he explained.

He noted that this is why he has grave concerns about what will happen at the Integrity Commission.

“They have sent home all the staff and now they are in possession of all the returns so we know that many of them broke the law and did not file their returns and we are worried that they just stick these things in there and tamper with the records,” he stated.

Jagdeo argued that this should never be the case where a constitutional agency and their records fall under the control of the Executive.

Moreover, he said these criminal charges will also provide an opportunity to test the immunity of the President against prosecution.

Prompted for more details on the matter, the Opposition Leader declined to comment, however, he assured that the legal documents are currently being prepared.

Relatives suspect foul play in death of Berbice cane harvester

Dead; Ramesh Seegolam

Dead; Ramesh Seegolam

The body of a man was found on the shore of the Berbice River on Tuesday morning after he went missing Monday afternoon. Relatives suspect foul play.

Dead is Ramesh Seegolam, also called “Mickey”, 30, a cane harvester attached to the Rose Hall Sugar Estate, of Pepper Street, Heatburn, East Bank Berbice.

According to information, Seegolam had gone swimming on Monday afternoonwith a couple and a young child. When they returned to the community, without the man, the child and the couple allegedly gave different accounts of what happened at Heatburn.

The woman reported that Seegolam could not be found, and explained that he was last seen coming out of the water and heading into the bushes. However, when questioned, the primary school student told residents that Seegolam did not leave the water. She said the man plunged and was not seen again. The child also reported seeing blood in the water.

Seegolam’s mother, Usha, confirmed that the couple returned without her son about 17:00h. She explained that Seegolam had been at home consuming alcoholic beverages with his father when the couple, who live a few houses away, passed and invited her son to go fishing and swimming with them. A few hours later, the woman returned to Seegolam’s home with his clothing and said his whereabouts were unknown.

The couple were taken into Police custody on Monday evening when a search for the missing man proved futile. His body was discovered on the river bank on Tuesday.

One resident, Adesia Andrews said she was told two different stories, and was of the opinion there was foul play involved. She said the man was an excellent swimmer. She also claimed that the female suspect allegedly told some residents that she was taking Seegolam as they passed on their way to the river.

There are also reports that Seegolam and the couple were involved in an argument last Saturday; that was confirmed by the dead man’s mother, although she could not say what it was about.

Villagers say Seegolam was accused of making advances to the woman. On Saturday, the male suspect accused Seegolam of having an affair with his wife. Seegolam was not married and had no children. Police are continuing with their investigations.

 

In support of a referendum on Constitutional changes

Dear Editor,

This has reference to a recent news item on the Privy Council Brexit ruling by the UK Supreme Court.  In the UK, there was a referendum. The UK Supreme Court ruled that Parliamentary approval is also required for Brexit.

The Guyana Court of Appeals (led by the Chancellor) is expected to hand down its ruling on the government’s appeal of the decision by the High Court (Judge Ian Chang, Ret’d) declaring presidential term limits unconstitutional.

The CJ ruled that changes to the constitution pertaining to rights must be done by referendum and not parliament alone; peoples rights are supreme. I am in favour of term limits. But I also firmly support the idea that the peoples’ rights are stronger and they should give their assent to any constitution or amendments to it.

The Burnham constitution was not approved by the people in a free and fair referendum. Why not grant the people that vote in a referendum as happened in England with Brexit or in Scotland? The country needs constitutional reform. But it must be done legally through a referendum.

The Burnham constitution was the product of a rigged referendum. Judge Chang made a wise ruling mandating a referendum on constitutional changes although I would have preferred a referendum on the entire constitution. Chancellor Chang’s appeal court should empower the people by affirming that ruling.

Related to the Guyana case is the one recently engaged by the British Privy Council on the legality of the procedure “to Brexit”. There was a court challenge, filed ironically by a Guyanese Briton, on whether the UK can break from EU without parliamentary approval. The Highest Court ruled that parliament must give its assent also to what is known as the Brexit vote and cabinet approval.

Guyana’s system of governance is different from the UK. In UK, the parliament is sovereign and supreme over the people unlike in Guyana. In Guyana, parliament cannot act alone in restricting people’s rights or decide on how people will be governed. In the UK, the people choose representatives – under its first past the post representative democracy– to govern them and act for them in a parliament. Thus, the members of parliament in UK can speak on behalf of the people because each represents a constituency.

In Guyana, the parliament is not sovereign and is not a representative body with constituent representatives; we have a PR system in which the party represents the people. Thus, the Members of Parliament cannot speak on behalf of the population on an important matter like restricting voters’ choices in an election. This must be done by referendum. The fact that the constitution was imposed on the population without their assent, a referendum becomes all the more imperative and moral.

It is about time that the politicians give voters an opportunity to voice their view on the Burnham constitution. The politicians say they are in favour of term limits and people empowerment. Instead of a court challenge to the Chief Judge’s ruling endorsing a referendum, why not put the Burnham constitution and all its amendments to a vote? Better yet, why not ask the people to choose between the amended Burnham constitution and the independence constitution of 1966? Why are politicians afraid of the voices of the people?

Yours faithfully

Vishnu Bisram

 

How can the Govt apply VAT on private education in Guyana?

Dear Editor,

The importance of education cannot be stressed enough. We know that education is the key to the future, the key to success and the key to this country’s growth. I can’t understand therefore how it is even possible to consider taxing such a crucial service, or indeed a service like private health care for that matter. Unfortunately the damage has already been done and I am concerned for my future and those of my colleagues who are in the private education system.

A merit good is one which has positive side effects when consumed and education is surely the epitome of such a good, indeed, it is the key. Those agencies that have this vision at heart and who provide supplementary opportunities for education should not have to bear the burden of this VAT. They need to be encouraged to continue and to expand their vision for it will only benefit the entire country when even more capable minds are sent into society.

Furthermore, the incidence of this tax on private education will be passed on to the consumers who are already making sacrifices to send their children to these private schools. I am fully aware that there is public education available but, without a doubt, it has many challenges.

Tens of Thousands of public education consumers are clearly not satisfied with public education alone since the majority of them send their children to private lessons. I understand that there are very fortunate people who send their children to private schools and can easily afford it but there are as many others who are humble and have hard-working parents, that I can tell you from first-hand experience, sacrifice a lot to give their child the best opportunities. This tax imposition does not cater for these people.

Economic theory states that if the price of a substitute goes up (private education fees rise due to taxation) the demand for the other good increases (more people demanding public education). There will be an increase in demand for public education which may well outstrip the capacity of the already overburdened education sector, thereby causing poorer quality of education to all of our citizens. How will the Government be ready to deal with this? Private education provides quality, supplemental services which include quality computer laboratories, air conditioned class rooms, ample playground and yard space and, most importantly,  excellent teaching. There are few public schools that meet some of these standards and, it can be argued, that the majority lack most of these traits of quality education.

Public education only offers Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC) and the Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examination (CAPE) examinations. Some private schools give the important opportunity to write exams like GCE, ABE and SATs. These are all far more internationally preferred and recognised examinations that give students a better opportunity to compete on the international stage. Once this new VAT tax is applied, those middle class families that want their children to write these exclusive examinations will be confined to CXC/CAPE examinations.

I can only hope that my opinion is heard and valued by someone who has the power and vision to see beyond, short-term, Government revenue, and who understands and appreciates the crucial contribution that quality education can play in building a better Guyana.

Yours faithfully,

Othniel Lewis

Nations 6th Form College

 

The APNU/AFC regime is driving Guyana along the same destructive road the PNC took

Dear Editor,

It appears that the Granger regime is determined to show that Burnham’s policies were correct and they could work in our country. From the inception of this Government, it picked up from where the People’s National Congress (PNC) left off and has been hastily implementing many measures that are a throwback to the worst days of the PNC regime.

Last week, the Government finally admitted that there is a significant shortage of foreign currency in the market. That, of course, has been known for a while and was repeatedly stated by the commercial banks and business people much earlier.

This was not a surprise. What was surprising, however, was the announced measures to deal with the situation. The regime said it would put in place arrangements to regulate and control the foreign currency supply. Later, the Bank of Guyana directed the banks and cambios of the rates they must buy and sell for.

This immediately raised red flags of a time past when this was done and the consequences of such actions, which were very destructive. There was a time when persons travelling aboard had to seek permission from the Bank of Guyana to take foreign currency out of the country. A person was limited to US$15. That was then stamped at the back of one’s passport.

The control of foreign currency led to the creation of a parallel economy. America Street became the place where a lot of buying and selling of foreign currency took place. The business was so ‘bright’ there that the street was renamed “Wall Street” by the public.

Of course, we have had many unpleasant incidents there. Police often raided the place to seize foreign currency. Vendors, and even stores were raided; clothing and other items were seized, because even if persons produced receipts for their purchase, they could not say where they got the foreign currency to make their purchases. They, therefore, suffered many heavy losses.

Most of those items seized were sold at Guyana Stores, which was then Government-owned.

The foreign currency seized went to the coffers of the regime.

Many business persons were charged and hauled before the courts. Many small vendors were jailed for having banned goods, for example, wheat flour, split peas, potatoes, etc. Some were jailed for selling goods above the officially controlled price, sometimes, only by a small amount.

Even some lawyers who tried to send money out of the country to pay for their children’s education were hauled before the courts. In these conditions, bribery and corruption became rampant.

Those persons old enough would also recall the long lines for very basic food and household items. One had to have had ‘contacts’ to get toilet paper among other essential items.

Production suffered greatly, too, as replacement parts for machinery and equipment were hard to come by.

In these difficult times, people suffered greatly, not only from the shortages and the high prices, but from the loss of dignity. People were made into criminals if they had bread and roti in their possession.

Extreme malnutrition resulted, as Guyana was visited by illnesses such as ‘beriberi’. This, of course, came about due to lack of nourishment.

Now, this regime, in its quest to prove Burnham right, is driving us along the same destructive road the PNC took.

Recall President Granger’s recent statement on the programme ‘Public Interest’. Responding to his Government’s poor record on job creation, he urged that people make pepper-sauce and cassava chips and sell!

This is the job creation policy of the regime? The results would not be different. Indeed, it cannot be different.

The Private Sector has already stated its opposition to this measure of Government controlling the flow of foreign currency. Other democratic forces in the society must also make their voices heard.

The PNC-led A Partnership for National Unity regime has clearly not learnt anything from their past mistakes. We must stop this decline now.

Sincerely,

Donald Ramotar

 

Constitutional reform in Guyana should be taken seriously

Dear Editor,

In welcoming the recent interest of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in constitutional reform, the Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA) hopes that it will serve to revitalise domestic interest on the issue. As a civic organisation that emerged in response to the infamous Referendum of 1978, which sought to legitimise the current Constitution and, as an active participant in multiple subsequent coalitions and initiatives to redress its baleful effects, the GHRA has been disturbed by the seemingly ambivalent commitment of the APNU/AFC coalition Government to constitutional reform.

The overriding challenge to a successful constitutional reform process historically, has been the lack of political will on the part of the leadership of all major parties, rather than any substantive constitutional issue.

Despite a relationship characterised for decades by disagreements of every description, one area of enduring common ground between the two major parties has been their resistance to reforms which would democratise political power. In the context of this historical resistance, the want of purpose and lack of enthusiasm demonstrated in the APNU/AFC coalition’s statements on constitutional reform are discouraging.

Had reform of the Constitution not been stipulated in the Herdmanston Accord in 1998 it would not have taken place. The timid reform process of 1997 had settled the matter as far as the major parties were concerned. Even with this international mandate, however, the reform process of 1999-2000 was frustrated by the major parties. A good public consultation process with strong civic involvement was subsequently decimated by the Parliamentary Oversight Committee, followed by unanimous approval of political parties too anxious to get to the next elections to even read the Bills properly. The Reynolds reforms to the electoral system were kicked into the long grass and a sensible approach to Human Rights side-lined in favour of the bizarre concoction of ‘Rights Commissions’ the country is now saddled with.

An important lesson for any future process of constitutional reform is to ensure that extra-Parliamentary influences – civic, business and faith-based – be sustained throughout the process. This recommendation is not unmindful of the need for Parliamentary approval as the final stage of the process, but is calling for imaginative ways of ring-fencing the process against any cynical party political manoeuvring.

Constitution-making in Guyana must address three issues: Nation-building, State-building, and Integrity-building.

Nation-building encompasses, firstly, the rights of citizens and the values by which we want the State to be governed. The second part of Nation-building seeks to make socio-economic rights justiciable. Without this essential feature, the concept of all citizens having equal rights will always be frustrated by the limitations posed by majoritarian politics in ethnically diverse societies. Justifiability, socio-economic rights are preferable as a response to ethnic diversity, than prioritising communal units above individual citizenship.

Rather than politicising ethnicity, the GHRA recommends an intensively participatory approach that works towards acknowledging differences but accommodates them within an over-arching framework of being Guyanese. The constitutional reform process must start from the premise that, while respecting culture and language differences, we are all Guyanese who come to public affairs primarily as Guyanese citizens.

State-building needs to address institutional mechanisms by which the values established under Nation-building are to be delivered. Each institution – Parliament, the Judiciary and the Presidency – must be constantly reminded of their responsibilities to citizens.

Promoting Integrity and accountability of all those elected to public office is vital. In the past we have never paid sufficient attention to the destructive potential of corruption and have paid a price in terms of the low esteem in which politics and politicians are held. Integrity must be emphasised to counter the ever present lure of corruption. For this reason, a strong code against corruption is a constitutional priority. For too long politicians have been motivated by greed, rather than service and this has to be eradicated.

The GHRA is requesting the APNU/AFC coalition to clear the air on what it hopes to achieve from the current constitutional reform initiative. For our part, the GHRA strongly supports a broad-based, adequately-resourced consultative process under the management of a multi-stakeholder committee with a time-table that envisages implementation of major reforms.

Sincerely,

Executive Committee

Guyana HumanRights Association

Guyanese Diaspora?

The University of Guyana (UG) announced that it will host its inaugural “Diaspora Engagement Conference” from July 23-28, 2017, under the theme ‘Dreaming Diaspora Engagement, Doing Diaspora Engagement’.

More specifically, it claims the Conference would provide the platform to develop a diaspora engagement strategy that would inform the work of the first “Caribbean Diaspora Engagement Centre” which will be launched during the conference.

But in that statement, there are several ambiguities that need to be clarified. While the conference claims to be an “inaugural” one, it followed several engagements initiated by the new Vice Chancellor (VC) Ivelaw Griffith that also invoked the ‘diaspora’ theme. One of these was a “Renaissance Weekend” last September in New York City, to which the VC flew up with a large delegation of 13 from UG to represent the “UG Renaissance” in order to “friend and fund raise”.

It would appear the idea of a “diaspora engagement” was already in the air since in the UG Magazine “Renaissance”, following the inaugural one, it was reported: “One of the bold objectives of this Renaissance project was to facilitate tangible Diaspora Support Engagement in four critical academic areas: Technology (Architecture, Civil Engineering, and Electrical Engineering, Mechanical Engineering), Health Sciences (Medicine, Nursing, Pharmacy, Dentistry, Optometry, Medical Technology), Natural Sciences (Biology, Chemistry, Computer Science, Mathematics, Physics, Statistics), and Law.”

On the team’s return, the VC dubbed the trip to the diaspora a “success”, especially as it related to the above mentioned assistance and what it foreshadowed: “The Renaissance weekend in New York has set the stage for considerable financial, human capital and technical assistance to our university by providing structure to Guyanese and other nationals in the diaspora to support critical areas of need.” However, when the financial details were revealed, it turned out that while G$2,019,950 was secured through contributions from the diaspora, G$4,366,024 was spent on the expenses of the team. There were cries of protests from some staff, especially against the background of an increase in student fees and the presentation of UG’s largest budget ever – G$5.2 billion for financial year 2017, of which G$3.0 billion was earmarked for recurrent expenditure, versus G$2.2 billion for capital works.

The main reason for mentioning the previous expensive engagement to stimulate engagement with the diaspora is that the present “inaugural” Conference seems to have completely ignored the achievements mentioned above from the September 2016 engagement, since they relate to the core raison d’etre of UG. The attention of the VC appears to have expanded without consolidating the initial claimed gains: “the Conference will contribute to the development of diaspora policy and a framework to effectively attract direct diaspora investment and engage the diaspora in nation building.”

If the “success” of the first foray into “diaspora engagement” is anything to go by, one must be concerned about this expanded initiative with three components – an academic symposium, a business forum and community engagement.

This concern is heightened by the further ambiguity about exactly which “diaspora” the organisers have in mind, since the announcement speaks of establishing a “Caribbean Diaspora Engagement Centre”. The word “diaspora” means “to scatter about” and refers to people who leave their homeland and maintain some sort of identification with that homeland when they migrate, voluntarily or as in the paradigmatic Jewish instance, involuntarily to other lands.

The question that arises is whether UG and its VC are targeting the “Caribbean diaspora” or the “Guyanese diaspora”. If it is the former, is it the entire Caribbean diaspora as represented, say, by the nations of Caricom, or only the Anglophone Caribbean. And even if it is the latter, is it realistic to expect Jamaicans or Bajans to become part of a group intended to spur “engagement” in, for instance, the “community engagement” component of the Conference. This, the release claimed will, “focus on building relationships with key stakeholders, such as diaspora community leaders, governments and hometown associations.”

If we are not clear about our destination how will we ever get there?

They deserve an “F”

…Jagdeo says of APNU/AFC Govt’s performance

Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo

Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo

Tuesday marked the second anniversary of the formation of the coalition, but their performance in government is nothing worth celebrating, according to Opposition Leader BharratJagdeo who, on Monday, ridiculed President David Granger’s A Grade of his Administration.

Jagdeo said the President’s assessment was proof that he was trapped in a cocoon and completely out of touch with reality.

“They are increasingly growing aloof and out of touch with reality and that it’s permeated the entire Government all the way to the top, all the way to the presidency…in the face of all the evidence that his Government has underperformed, has failed in many areas, has demonstrated an unbelievable level of incompetence, he gives his Government the top grade,” he told media operatives during a People’s Progressive Party (PPP) press conference at Freedom House.

In relating his personal assessment of the A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC) coalition’s performance over the past 19 months, Jagdeo contended that they deserve a “bold red F Grade” for failure in all aspects of managing the country.

President David Granger

President David Granger

According to the former President and now Opposition Leader, it appears that the coalition is more focused on politics than on doing what is best for the country and its citizenry.

Investments

Jagdeo noted that the President promised to provide jobs, but failed to secure investments that create these opportunities.

“The reason they don’t want to invest in Guyana is because of the policies of this Government. They’ve scared away not only current investors but future investors. The people do not want, based on the signals they are getting, to put their money at risk. They can’t do so with a capricious Government that changes its policies on a daily basis and has no long-term vision for the future of this country,” he explained, noting that the Government deserved a failing grade in the subject of investments and provision of jobs.

Taxes

The PPP General Secretary also reminded that the APNU/AFC campaigned on the promise of reducing the tax burden on the people of Guyana, but did the complete opposite after being elected to office.

He declared that they needed to be graded F for this as well.

In addition to increasing the tax burden tremendously, Jagdeo highlighted, the Government has increased the fees for basic transactions, which contributed significantly to the expenses endured by Guyanese.

Moreover, he noted that the administrative burdens have been increased, making it more challenging and bureaucratic for persons to complete transactions.

He argued that Government could not be lauded for the two per cent reduction in the Value Added Tax (VAT) because of the whole chain of VATable items they have introduced.

Crime

Jagdeo also asserted that the coalition deserved an F Grade for its performance in the security sector.

“The crime as we know is ravaging the entire country and we have a minister who makes these unilateral pronouncements, a government totally at sea in how to address this growing cancer in our society,” he stated.

The former President said the most worrisome aspect was that there seemed to be no expression of sympathy or acceptance of responsibility for the countless people who have gotten murdered under their watch.

“It seems to be routine, the routine order of the day,” he said.

He noted too that the APNU/AFC’s performance was compounded by a long list of unbroken promises and countless instances of corruption.

In light of this bleak performance, Jagdeo found it amusing and worrying that President Granger was hopeful of a second term in office.

“He’s already talking about a second term…he probably knows something that we don’t know that would allow people, with this dismal performance, to ever vote for them again,” he stated.

Cocaine in shoes at JFK: Guyanese man to face charges soon

The cocaine that was found in the shoe

The cocaine that was found in the shoe

A Guyanese man was arrested after US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers discovered cocaine valued US$67,000 hidden in footwear, at the John F Kennedy International Airport, New York.

He was subsequently turned over to Homeland Security.

According to the CBP agency, the man arrived on a flight from Georgetown, Guyana via Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, on February 9, 2017and wasabout to ‘walk’ past officers, but was stopped.

During the course of the inspection, CBP officers discovered four pairs of sneakers and two pairs of shoes in his luggage, which contained a white powder and which tested positive for cocaine.

“This latest seizure demonstrates the vigilance of our CBP officers, and their excellence in detecting those who would try to smuggle these illegal substances,” said Robert E Perez, New York Field Operations Director.

The Guyanese man now faces federal narcotics smuggling charges and will be prosecuted by the US Attorney’s Office in the US Eastern District Court of New York.