April 27, 2017

Marginalised groups in Guyana anticipating referendum on LGBT rights

Following a commitment made by the Granger Administration, marginalised groups in Guyana are anticipating a referendum on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) rights.

Responding to a petition submitted to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) on the matter of human rights violations against young persons in Guyana, the coalition Administration pledged to work to address issues of discrimination against marginalised groups.

In its documented response, seen by this newspaper, the Government said the issue of repealing of laws that criminalise homosexuality was brought to the attention of the legislative arm of Government on several occasions and it was deemed unfit for the legislature to decide on the matter.

As such, the Government said it was recommended that the matter be taken to a vote, where the people of Guyana will decide by a referendum these matters.

“His Excellency, President of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana, Brigadier Ret’d David Granger has contended and signalled his support for the reformation of the laws with respect to the LGBTI [Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex] community. With this Executive support, efforts will be made to advance the cause and strengthen the implementation, enforcement and the system of the protection of every Guyanese citizen, including the LGBTI community,” the document outlined.

In relation to the issue of access to employment, Government maintained that no person should be discriminated against on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation since everyone has a right to work, pension and gratuity.

“Article 149A of the Constitution promotes equal employment opportunity to all by advocating the right to work. Article 149A states that “No person shall be hindered in the employment of his or her right, that is to say, the right to free choice of employment”,” the Administration cited in its response.

The Government said it has one position on the cross-cutting principles of discrimination towards members of the LGBTI community, whereas, its policymakers believe the principle of universality admits no exception.

“Human rights truly are the birth rights of all human beings. As such, we are committed to implementing the rule of law,” Government emphasised in the report.

The A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC) coalition Administration reminded that such commitments were also made in its elections manifesto.

“As indicated in the manifesto, we are committed to putting in place measures which will ensure that all vulnerable groups in our society, including women, children, persons with disabilities, rural and Indigenous women, youth, the elderly and the sick and pregnant and those marginalised because of sexual orientation, are protected and are not discriminated against,” Government stated.

A delegation from the Guyana Equality Forum (GEF) attended a thematic hearing of the IACHR in March in Washington, DC, to present on the human rights situation affecting young persons in Guyana.

The GEF delegation presented on rights abuses against young persons in Guyana, primarily on the lack of implementation of policies and laws that would develop youth in Guyana, protect young people’s rights and citizen security in the State, with emphasis on the deficiencies of Guyana’s new National Youth Policy in addressing these rights abuses against young people. Government’s report was in response to the presentation made by the GEF delegation.


Miner fined, jailed for ganja trafficking

A gold miner was on Tuesday morning slapped with a three-year jail sentence, and ordered to pay a whopping fine of G$3.2 million by Chief Magistrate Ann McLennan when he appeared before her at the Georgetown Magistrates’ Courts.

Eon Simpson pleaded guilty to the charge, which stated that on April 13, 2017 at Itaballi Police Checkpoint (Region Seven – Cuyuni-Mazaruni), he had in his possession one kilogram of cannabis for the purpose of trafficking.

The unrepresented man readily admitted to the offence, explaining that he was driven to traffic the illicit drug owing to the financial situation of his family.

He said he had a one-year-old son with his fiancée, who was currently four months pregnant.

According to the prosecution, Simpson’s vehicle was stopped and searched as per routine at the checkpoint and the substance was found in a black plastic bag amid his luggage. He was then transported to the Bartica Police Station, where he was charged with the offence.


16-yr-old dies after slamming into utility pole

deadA West Berbice farmer is now dead after he and a neighbour crashed into a utility pole following an Easter Monday drinking spree.

Dead is 16-year-old Dave Kumar Williams of Bath Settlement, West Coast Berbice (WCB), who was the pillion rider of the motorcycle that crashed.

The rider, Leon Norton, 21, also of Bath Settlement, was taken to the New Amsterdam Hospital in critical condition and subsequently transferred to the Georgetown Public Hospital.

In a statement, Police said that about 05:30h on Tuesday Williams died while receiving treatment at the New Amsterdam Hospital, after the motorcycle he was being towed on crashed into a utility pole about 00:45h at Cotton Tree Public Road, WCB.

According to the Police, investigations revealed that motorcycle CF 9832, ridden by Norton, was proceeding north allegedly at a fast pace when he lost control and crashed into the utility pole on the western side of the road. They were picked up and taken to the New Amsterdam Hospital, where, while being treated and prepared to be transferred to the Georgetown Public Hospital, Williams succumbed.

The dead man’s cousin, Natram Sukdeo, told Guyana Times International that he and Norton were neighbours and on Easter Monday morning, the two went into the village using Norton’s motorbike.

Sukdeo related that later in the day, Williams asked him for money and claimed that they were going to Williams’s sister in the next village. According to Sukdeo, he instructed them to leave the bike and walk, but they promised to be back shortly.

However, the two went on a drinking spree and ended up at Rosignol village, some 10 miles away, where they visited several bars.

About 00:30h on Tuesday, they left for home, but less than a mile after they started the journey, Norton, in trying to navigate a turn, lost control and ran into the utility pole.

Police are still investigating the incident. (Andrew Carmichael)


‘Educational Exchanges’ Russian Government provides invaluable opportunities for Guyanese

Every year since the establishment of diplomatic relations between Russia and Guyana in 1970, the Russian Government provides scholarships to Guyanese for studies in Russia.

More than 100 Guyanese, including doctors, engineers, politicians and diplomats, have graduated from the Peoples’ Friendship University of Russia (RUDN).

Dr. Shivasram Itwaru

Dr. Shivasram Itwaru

In 2016, two Guyanese received Russian Government scholarship to study medicine in RUDN. This year another two scholarships were granted – one focused on oil and gas studies, a prospective Guyanese industrial field.

The Ministry of Natural Resources of Guyana will designate a group of Guyanese students for training as oil and gas technicians in Russia as agreed during the 1st Meeting of the Working Group in the Field of Geology and Mining in October 2016 in Moscow.

The application for scholarship to study linguistics in Russia for 2017/2018 academic year can be made at Russia study website until May 1, 2017.

Russia is famous for its quality education and offers a wide range of technical and humanitarian studies. Twenty-four Russian Universities, including Moscow State University, are within 2016 Times Higher Education top ranking list. The detailed guide on Russian Universities is available online at www.znanie.info.

The Russian Embassy in Guyana believes that the friendly relations Russia and Guyana have been enjoying for decades will continue to develop through educational exchanges.

Below Dr. Shivasram Itwaru, a doctor who is benefiting from the scholarship programme, comments on his recent experience at Moscow University.

“I am Dr. Shivasram Itwaru, a medical doctor attached to the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation and currently studying in Russia. I never thought I would be ever studying in Russia as the country seemed to be a very distant place. Nevertheless, I’m here in beautiful Russia. I’m very happy to be at RUDN pursuing a Residency in Cardiology/Internal Medicine.

I always supposed that Russia was a gloomy place, but this turned out to be wrong. Russia is a very lively and delightful place. It has a lot of different memorials, beautiful parks and it is definitely a place where anyone could find what he/she likes. Currently I live in Moscow on campus at RUDN. The University is very huge and scenic. The academic programs offered are demanding and challenging, thus students have to spend lots of time reading, which is a usual scene across campus, at study halls, library, in the park, and other places.

At RUDN there are students from more than 150 countries, as such you are given the wonderful opportunity to interact and learn not only about Russia, but other countries as well.

I have not been that long in Russia, however I have already visited several places. Firstly, the famous Red Square is mesmerizing. It has lots of historic buildings, beautiful cathedral, old castle wall and much more. This usually attracts the attention of many tourists. My visit to the well-known Gorky Park and Sokolniki Park was breath-taking. The parks cover large areas where you can be at peace with nature.

It must be mentioned that the Russian people are very affable and polite, which definitely makes you feel at home in Russia. I have been to a lot of places across the world and I am happy to say that Russia is one of the best experiences I ever had.

Thanks to the Russian people and the Government for affording me this experience and the opportunity to study here.” (Press release from Russian Embassy in Guyana)


New Ombudsman to be appointed soon

The late Justice Winston Moore was Guyana’s last Ombudsman

The late Justice Winston
Moore was Guyana’s
last Ombudsman

Minister of State Minister Joseph Harmon has announced that Government will be making moves to fill the post of Ombudsman by month-end.

“We’re still in the process of identifying that person, and we believe that by the end of April we will be in a position to make that announcement,” Harmon told reporters at his most recent post-Cabinet press briefing at the Ministry of the Presidency.

This pronouncement by the State Minister comes months after he had said that Government would have appointed a new Ombudsman within the first quarter of 2017. At the time, he had noted that the appointment requires “careful consideration” and consultations with the Opposition Leader, in accordance with the law.

“I can say to you that, in fact, we are looking at several persons: which ones we have basically decided on, what are the names of the persons we are likely to put up; but we would have to discuss that with the Leader of the Opposition, and to get his ‘buy in’ on it,” Harmon had stated.

Outgoing Chairman of  Police Complaints Authority (PCA), Justice Cecil Kennard

Outgoing Chairman of Police Complaints Authority (PCA), Justice Cecil Kennard

The last Ombudsman, Justice Winston Moore, died in September 2016.  He had been appointed to the position in January 2014. The ombudsman’s office is an independent, impartial body providing free services in investigating complaints that haven’t been solved by an organisation or public body against which the complaint is directed. The role of the ombudsman is also to investigate complaints of cases that have been handled badly or unfairly by another agency, thereby making someone suffer as a result.

Minister Harmon told reporters on Thursday last that Government is also looking to fill the chairmanship of the Police Complaints Authority. It was revealed back in January that outgoing Chairman of the Police Complaints Authority (PCA), Justice Cecil Kennard, had been asked to step down from the post because of his age. While his termination letter was dated December 31, 2016, Justice Kennard had requested, and was given, additional time on the job to wrap up his unfinished work. He is expected to officially step down by this month end.

Minister  of State, Joseph Harmon

Minister of State,
Joseph Harmon

Minister Harmon has further outlined that Government wants to fill several other public service posts that are vacant, including that of the Public Service Appellate Tribunal, which he noted has been languishing for many years under the previous administration.

“We’re looking to ensure that that body is also activated, because in the absence of that, public servants who want to challenge their dismissals and so on have to engage in the expensive process of going to the High Court, and in many cases, the system does not produce the kind of results that they are looking for in a very timely manner,” he noted.

The State Minister noted that these and other appointments are on the front burner of the current administration, and all these issues are expected to be addressed very shortly.

Education Minister opposes hike in UG fees

…calls for review

Education Minister, Dr Rupert Roopnaraine

Education Minister, Dr Rupert Roopnaraine

The University of Guyana (UG) Council has decided to hike student tuition fees at Guyana’s premier public education facility, but the Education Minister has signalled his opposition to the move.

In a recent interview with this publication, Education Minister Dr Rupert Roopnaraine declared that he is not in favour of the hike. He indicated that there is need for the decision to be reviewed, and has promised that he would speak with the MoE’s representatives on the UG Council.

“Anything that makes life more difficult for children I’m not in favour of. So the fees’ hike, I will urge that they review it. People have come to see me, parents and teachers. It needs serious review. The Ministry of Education does not run UG. It is run by the Council, and from the Ministry, we have two people on the Council,” Dr Roopnaraine has said.

“UG has a special place in my heart, and I have to look and see what can be done. I will talk to (them), because life is hard, and the truth of the matter is people are not earning enough and education, of all things, is something we have to nurture,” Dr Roopnaraine declared.

Declaring himself adamantly opposed to anything which puts an impediment in the way of working people, he warned that if the council should insist that increasing fees is the only way to address expenses, there is nothing else he would be able to do.

“So it is something I will ask again (of) my people who are representing me on the Council. The issue has been raised with me, and I think it is something we should look at. If the Council says we have looked at everything and there are expenses and so on and there is very little we can do, I have to abide with what UG Council says. The Ministry doesn’t run it.”

The University of Guyana (UG) Council has approved a 15 per cent increase in tuition fees. At a March 30 extraordinary meeting of the Council chaired by Chancellor Eon Nigel Harris, this decision was taken. It is the first step in the University’s move to raise fees by an overall 35 per cent over a three-year period. According to UG, the Council’s decision will be applied to tuition fees for all programmes and for both continuing students and new students for the 2017-2018 academic year.

However, the Council has said input from the Student Society was considered, leading to an incremental rollout wherein continuing students will now pay an increase of 15 per cent (about G$2500 a month), and new students will be required to pay 18 per cent (about G$3000 a month).

This decision was not preceded by any consultations. It came to light only a few days before the meeting, when UG Vice Chancellor Dr Ivelaw Griffith made the revelation during a town hall-style session with students.

The very day of the extraordinary meeting, there were student-organised protests on campus against the decision held outside of the Education Lecture Theatre. Many have been dissatisfied at the sudden manner in which the increases were proposed and voted upon. Expressing outrage at the proposed increases, the students are adamant that no one is doing them a favour by enhancing facilities on the Turkeyen campus, since they (students) are mandated to pay separate facilities fees.


High drama as “Grey Boy” charged again for Crum-Ewing’s murder

Regan “Grey Boy” Rodrigues

Regan “Grey Boy” Rodrigues

Regan “Grey Boy” Rodrigues, the prime suspect in the execution of Courtney Crum-Ewing almost two years ago, was remanded to prison after stirring an hour-long drama in the Police Outpost at the Georgetown Magistrates’ Courts on Tuesday afternoon.

Upon arrival at the courts, Rodrigues refused to enter the courtroom and opted to remain in the outpost area, creating a racket as seemingly powerless armed officers stood nearby, withstanding his tantrums.

Magistrate Judy Latchman went downstairs in a futile effort to persuade him to attend the hearing. It was only upon the intervention of Chief Magistrate Ann McLennan, who went to Rodrigues and informed him about the reopened status of the case by the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), Shalimar Ali-Hack, that Rodrigues terminated the ruckus.

The Magistrate then ordered Rodrigues to return to court on April 25, 2017 and remanded him to prison until then.

Based on reports reaching this publication, the accused was arrested on Friday last at Middle Road, La Penitence, Georgetown.

He was released on September 14, 2016 owing to insufficient evidence as the prosecution had failed to establish a case against him for the murder. Subsequently, the DPP ordered the case reopened one month ago. The sole purpose of this remit according to the DPP’s chambers is to take further evidence from Police witnesses and to rule on the voluntariness of all oral statements of the accused. Attorney-at-Law Nigel Hughes was appointed as a Special Prosecutor in the case.

Crum-Ewing was gunned down in 2015 as he encouraged persons to turn out to vote for the election.


Edghill says Govt not serious about fighting corruption

– cites lagging debarment apparatus, Integrity Commission

While Guyana has a Public Procurement Commission (PPC) and a Bid Protest Committee, effective measures for debarring contractors are still lacking.

If the Government were serious about fighting corruption, it would have brought legislation to make this a reality, says Opposition Member of Parliament and former junior Finance Minister, Juan Edghill.

He said that since the National Procurement and Tender Administration Board (NPTAB) falls under the purview of the Ministry of Finance, then the responsible minister ought to bring this legislation.

“If this Government is serious about corruption, let the Minister of Finance, who has responsibility for the National Procurement and Tender Administration (Board) bring legislation to this House that addresses the issue of debarment of contractors,” Edghill said.

Edghill also opined that gazetting the names of contracting companies and individuals who have been blacklisted will serve as a mechanism against corruption. He said the measure should extend to companies who “use their finances to influence the outcome and evaluation processes in the (awarding) of contracts.”

At last year’s end-of-year press conference, Minister of Finance Winston Jordan had announced that setting up of a Debarment Committee was imminent. He had stated that the committee would be established to debar companies and individuals who were not compliant with the Procurement Act.

The PPC was established last year October. Among its functions, as set out by the Procurement Act, are to “monitor and review the functioning of all procurement systems to ensure that they are in accordance with law and such policy guidelines as may be determined by the National Assembly.”

It is also tasked with promoting “awareness of the rules, procedures and special requirements of the procurement process among suppliers, contractors  and public bodies, and safeguard the national interest in public procurement matters, having due regard to any international obligations.”

The Act also stipulates that “it will, as well, monitor the performance of procurement bodies with respect to adherence to regulations and efficiency in procuring goods and services and execution of works; approve of procedures for public procurement; disseminate rules and procedures for public procurement, and recommend modifications thereto to the public procurement entities.”

On the other hand, the Bid Protest Committee has been in place since June 2016. It hears the valid concerns and complaints of bidders who are dissatisfied with the system and circumstances under which a contract was awarded.

In one high profile case, the committee ruled against the Ministry of Education in favour of local juice company Tropical Orchard Products Company (Topco). The company won its appeal to the Committee over the Government’s decision to award its supply contract to another company – one from Suriname

Edghill also touched on the Integrity Commission, which has been without a Chairman since 2006. Back in 2016, President David Granger had promised that a functioning Integrity Commission would be in place.

In August of last year, Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo was also quoted in sections of the media as stating that Government was considering amending the Integrity Commission to give it investigative and prosecutorial powers.

Edghill, however, has stated that nothing has changed regarding the commission. “We have a new Government, since May 2015. And as a member of this Parliament, I’m yet to receive a package from the Integrity Commission that says, ‘MP, this is your form, fill it up and get it to such and such an office’. Even if you go online and download the form, you don’t even know where (to submit it after completion).”

While in opposition, the APNU/AFC coalition had promised to implement a functioning Integrity Commission. It had acknowledged the importance of having the commission in place to oversee parliamentarians and ensure they make effective declarations of their assets.

In fact, the APNU/AFC Administration had long been pushing for transparency, and had even accused members of the PPP/C regime of stashing their wealth abroad.

The Opposition had proposed a motion to have ministers’ tax records and statements made available to the Integrity Commission and released to the public in 2016. But the original motion never saw the light of day, as the Government side had been against public declarations.

Manickchand slams Govt’s ‘flip-flop’ approach

Former Education Minister, Priya Manickchand

Former Education Minister, Priya Manickchand

Former Education Minister Priya Manickchand has described Government’s decision to impose the Value Added Tax (VAT) on private education as “senseless and unimaginative”.

Manickchand told Guyana Times International recently that the situation begged the question whether the David Granger-led Administration planned to stick with the promises it had made with respect to education.

Under the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) Government, the “Because We Care” Education Grant was introduced to the public school system in 2014, while Manickchand was Minister.

The initiative saw parents receiving G$10,000 for each public school student annually that aided the schooling of children at the nursery, primary and secondary levels. To be eligible, children had to be registered with a public school.

Manickchand recalled that when the then PPP/C Government had introduced this new initiative, not only did it receive popular support, but the then A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) and Alliance For Change (AFC) Opposition parties had conceded that it was a sensible decision. During that period, both parties, according to her, had suggested to the PPP/C Government that they should also extend the grant to include children attending private educational institutions.

The then Government had expressed its willingness to consider the recommendation, on the basis that APNU and AFC felt that “private school students were poor”.

Manickchand told this newspaper that the Government’s new position on VAT on education, therefore, highlighted the grave “vindictiveness” and “flip-flop” approach that were evident each day.

“So, one year before you came into office, you said private school students were poor and are deserving of cash grants, an omission we had made as a government. One year later, you come in, and tax the hell out of them and their parents,” she noted.

The former Education Minister said it was “really sad” that parents were now being forced to consider how they would meet the monthly or termly school fees, in addition to surviving the increased taxation implemented by the new Government.

She said, “The average schoolchild (private school) has to pay G$25,000 more in school fees. That is 50 lunches they are taking out of that child’s lunch kit. To do what? To fund extravagance by the Government? Travelling, travelling with large delegations. I mean, if we can cut back on that, then we can give our children the education that the Government said when they were campaigning.”

Manickchand continued, “It is really quite a shame. It is unnecessary. It is almost a punishment to the parents (and children) who want to do better for their children, so that these children can do better for Guyana.”

Although the policy has received widespread condemnation, Government remains firm on keeping the 14 per cent VAT that was applied to private education effective February 1, 2017.

Cabinet has taken the decision that the VAT on education will remain for the rest of 2017; however, during its 2018 budget planning, a review of the VAT regime would be done.

The PPP/C has made it clear that if it was reelected to office in 2020, it would reverse this and other policies it deemed unnecessary that were imposed on Guyanese by the coalition Government.

Cops question sister over stabbing death of Covent Garden man

Dead: Vishaul Hansraj

Dead: Vishaul Hansraj

A 24-year-old woman is in custody as Police investigate an attack on her mother and the fatal stabbing of her 21-year-old brother on Easter Monday.

The now dead young man, Vishaul Hansraj, a trawler operator of Covent Garden Squatting Area, East Bank Demerara (EBD), succumbed on Tuesday afternoon while receiving treatment at the Georgetown Public Hospital after being stabbed to the chest on Monday.

While information surrounding the stabbing is sketchy, Police have arrested the dead man’s older sister, whom they believe wounded him.

When contacted on Wednesday morning, A Division (Georgetown-East Bank Demerara) Commander Clifton Hicken told this newspaper that the young woman was “in custody for questioning into both stabbing incidents”.

At the time, Hicken noted that detectives were awaiting the results of the post-mortem examination that was conducted on the body on Wednesday in order to determine the course of the investigations.

However, the siblings’ mother, Sumintra Brijmohan, was adamant that the young woman did not kill her brother. She explained that the young woman was at home when her brother came in, but he was already injured.

Nevertheless, Brijmohan admitted that her daughter had attacked her during an earlier confrontation. She related that the young woman had gone to the nearby school ground with her brothers and they were drinking.

She noted that her daughter returned home around 17:00h and was sitting in the house quietly.

“I ask she ‘Debbie, what happen?’ and she say ‘nothing nah wrong, like you want a problem’. I say ‘I don’t want no problem’, so I left she (in the house) and walk outside. She run out behind me and she shove me and I fall, and like me nah know how it happen, but like she nail dig me (on the neck). After me feel the blood, me run out and call for my neighbours and they call taxi. But whilst I running over the bridge, my son run towards me and he pass me with a set of blood on he shirt and went to the house,” the woman stated.

She continued that she did not turn back, but was put into the taxi by neighbours, who moments later brought her injured son to the car, and they were both transported to the Diamond Hospital.

Brijmohan added that she was treated and sent away that night from the medical institution, while her injured son was transferred to the Georgetown Public Hospital where he succumbed on Tuesday. The woman claimed that Hansraj died without relating how he got injured.

“I don’t know (what happened), he didn’t tell me nothing… All me son say ‘Mommy, I want something to drink’; ‘Mommy, I want go home’; ‘Too much pain; ma, carry me home’… that’s all meh son say to me before he die,” the distraught woman related, adding that she did not want to lose another child – referring to her daughter who is in custody.

The young woman remains in Police custody as investigations continue.

Meanwhile, a post-mortem examination conducted on Wednesday morning revealed that Hansraj died as a result of perforations of the liver due to stab wounds. He was stabbed twice.