February 25, 2018

ERC members finally sworn-in

Seven years after the Ethnic Relations Commission (ERC) became inoperable, President David Granger on Thursday morning swore in the new members of the organisation during a simple ceremony at State House.
The new members were identified as Pastor John Smith from the Christian community; Rajkumarie Singh from the Hindu community; Roshan Khan from the Muslim community; Norris Witter from the labour movement; Norman McLean, the Private Sector representative; Deodat Persaud for youth organisations; Ruth Howard for women’s organisations; Ashton Simon for Amerindian groups; Barrington Braithwaite for African groups and Neaz Subhan –media personality- for Indian groups.
Granger congratulated the newly appointed members and encouraged them to carry out their duties without cowardice, prejudice or malice.
This swearing in comes more than a month after the National Assembly approved the appointment of the nominees from 10 stakeholder entities as members of the Commission.
The Opposition had raised concerns with the length of time it took for persons to be appointed to the Commission.
However, when the Third Report of the Standing Committee on Appointments was presented to the National Assembly for adoption and approval on January 19, Minister of Social Cohesion, Dr George Norton, told the National Assembly that while an earlier time would have been appropriate for such an important body, there were several hindrances to the process.
The ERC plays an integral role as a constitutional body which serves to protect and preserve the interests of all stakeholders as far as creating an atmosphere of tolerance and harmony among the different races and ethnic groups in Guyana’s diverse society.
The Commission initially comprised representatives from seven different constituencies, but in 2015 it was increased to 10.
The ERC is a constitutional body established under the Herdmanston Accord. It works with persons and agencies to promote harmonious ethnic relations.
The Commission also deals with complaints, promotes training in racial harmony, and fosters a sense of security, among all ethnic groups.
The Commission had been virtually dysfunctional since 2011 when then Opposition Leader Robert Corbin had secured an injunction against the body, barring the Chairman and two Commissioners from taking any decision, recommendation or issuing any direction on behalf of the constitutional body. (Ramona Luthi)

Guyana’s sovereignty under threat – Jagdeo

Guyana’s Opposition Leader Dr Bharrat Jagdeo has said that he has received information from a source that would suggest that there is a real threat to Guyana and its sovereignty from neighbouring Venezuela.

Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo

Jagdeo told a media conference on Thursday that he feels that the Government is also aware of this treat and is urging the Administration to inform the Guyanese people.
The People’s Progressive Party (PPP) General Secretary said he doesn’t feel he should be the one to inform the nation about this issue.
President David Granger recently visited villages in Region 1 that are bordered by Venezuela, where 24-hour security posts were established by the Guyana Defence Force (GDF).
During his visit to Kaikan, which the President described as a “frontline” village, he said “I have come here with a promise to ensure that Kaikan is fully integrated into this region and this region is fully integrated into Guyana. Have no fear, if we are united, we will prevail. We will be able to live in a strong, secure and stable country…Frontier communities are guardians of Guyana’s territorial integrity and national security. They are our first line of defence against any attempt at incursions and invasions.”
The President, according to a release from the DPI, told the villagers that while the army and the police will intensify their efforts to ensure their safety, they have a significant role to play as they are the eyes and ears on the ground.
“In weeks and months to come, I am asking you to join the People’s Militia, we are not making war with anyone but I want you to be prepared…My brothers and sisters, we have to protect ourselves… People bring illegal guns into the country and they commit crimes with those illegal guns, unregistered guns. These crimes make us feel very unsafe…We can’t only rely on the police; we have to look after our own families, our own communities,” the President said.
Prior to this meeting, the President met with villagers of Whitewater which is also bordering Venezuela and made similar sentiments. Whitewater is also benefiting from 24-hour security from the GDF.
The Guyana/Venezuela border controversy was recently referred to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) by the United Nations after relations between the two countries reached an all time low when US oil giant ExxonMobil discovered huge amounts of oil on Guyana’s shores.
Venezuela, which is going through a political and economic crisis, is laying claim to the Essequibo county that covers about two-thirds of Guyana’s territory, and the waters off its coast.

President Trump congratulates Guyana on 48th Republic Anniversary

The following letter was sent to President David Granger on behalf of the people of the United States, according to the US Embassy in Georgetown:
“Congratulations to you and the people of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana on the occasion of your 48th Republic Day, February 23.
The United States of America takes pride in its partnership with the Cooperative Republic of Guyana. We value your ongoing contributions to regional security and look forward to working with you on the development of your natural resources for the benefit of the Guyanese people.
On behalf of the American people, I wish you and your people a beautiful Mashramani festival”.

‘Holder must go!’

As Wales sugar workers continued to decry the challenges they are facing since the closure of the Estate, the former employees, their family members and other supporters once again protested the refusal of the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) to give them severance pay as they called for Agriculture Minister Noel Holder’s removal.
“Who must go? Holder must go,” was the resounding call by the ex-employees on Wednesday as they gathered outside the Ministry of the Presidency (MotP) and Ministry of Agriculture. The former employees made it clear that they must be paid their severance.
This was underscored by father of four Alvin Bradford, who is demanding his termination benefits.
“I does plant and I does cut lil broom and sell, but I can’t go at no company for wuk, they paying G$1500 and G$2000 a day – that can’t do nothing for me and I got four children and that ain’t easy to maintain. When the Estate shut down, that was the last one I get,” Bradford noted.
Guyana Times International was told that Minister Holder was upset that the protest was held outside his Ministry as the Special Purpose Unit (SPU) took over management of the Wales Estate, which was transferred from GuySuCo to the National Industrial and Commercial Investments Limited (NICIL) last December.
The workers said on Wednesday that not being able to earn was not only affecting the education of their children but their family life as a whole, since couples have had many arguments over declining finances.
“Whatsoever thing you plant and sell, that’s it. You’re not getting work. Work hard at Wales, you can see it’s like ghost-town right now. Before when the Estate was alive, we were happy, but now we getting more sad, getting more quarrels, everything not right in the home,” a retrenched worker observed.
Young men in their late teens and early twenties were also affected by the Estate’s closure. Supporting their colleagues, they indicated that they too were facing challenges. Amos Sookram told this publication that he was “expecting changes” from President David Granger, but as of now, he did not know “what is going on” in Guyana.
A father of one, “Sonny”, said that he worked for five years and was waiting on his severance. He voiced concerns over the conduct of Education Ministry officials and the Police when going about “picking up children” in the Wales area, as he contended that the parents “have no choice” other than to keep their children at home.
More than 300 former Wales employees who refused employment at Uitvlugt are still waiting on severance. The workers declined to take up work at the West Coast Demerara Estate since it is 22 miles away from Wales, noting that this violates the Termination of Employment and Severance Pay Act (TESPA).
A court action since was filed on behalf of the workers by their representative body, the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) in March last year. However, to date, the matter is yet to be assigned to a judge by the acting Chief Justice.
Speaking on this matter on Wednesday, GAWU President Komal Chand related that the Union was still waiting on the judicial arm to act on the matter.
Official operations at Wales Estate were shut down in December 2017. Earlier this month, the former Wales sugar workers staged similar action and expressed much frustration that their colleagues from other estates were paid all or part of their severance, just weeks after the entities were closed.
However, their former employer has long maintained that they were not entitled to this benefit with acting Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the State entity, Paul Bhim, saying earlier this month that GuySuCo has honoured all its obligations regarding the payment of severance at the Wales Estate.

President talks tough against corruption in Police Force

…says Govt will resist attempts to thwart reforms

Guyana’s President David Granger, on Thursday, during his address at the opening of the annual Police Officers’ Conference sent a very clear message to the top brass of Police Force that his administration is very much dissatisfied with the manner in which the issue of corruption is being addressed among ranks.
The President told those gathered that corruption must be tackled from the very top and throughout the Force, saying “if corruption is concealed, it will continue”. He stated that corruption cannot simply be addressed by transfers, promotions or demotions, but must be tackled head on.
The Head of State also said that with the Security Sector Reform Programme ongoing, his administration will confront any effort to prevent the reform of the security sector.

President David Granger being accorded the Presidential Salute upon his arrival at the Officers’ Mess at Eve Leary on Thursday

The president added that crime is the greatest impediment to human safety and economic prosperity of Guyana, noting that “crime must be curtailed if the people are going to be safe and if the state is secured.”
“My Government will resist any attempt in any quarter to reverse, retard, or to thwart the reforms on which we are embarking. Security reform is not a recent invention in this administration, the need became especially during the period of intense criminal violence”, he added.
Meanwhile, President Granger indicated that he is awaiting the appointment of a Chairman of the Public Service Commission before he can move ahead with the reconstitution of the Police Service Commission.
The Head of State told media operatives he is now looking to have this done by next month.
“I had an engagement with the Leader of the Opposition and we’ve settled the Teaching Service Commission and the Integrity Commission, and we will move onto the Public Service Commission. Once that is done, I hope as quickly as possible, maybe during February or March, that commission will be in place,” he indicated.
In the latter part of 2017 however, the President had said that he would like to see the Commission in place by the end of that year.
The life of the last Police Service Commission came to an end in September of 2017 and there have since been calls for its reconstitution.
In fact, concerns were further raised after there were no promotions of senior officers last year.
Before the life of the last Police Service Commission ended back in September of 2017, President David Granger had ordered in July, of that year, that it put a hold on the promotion of senior ranks.
Though that order was followed, the Courts later determined that it was illegal for the President to direct the autonomous Commission.
The new members of the Police Service Commission have already been selected but they are yet to be formally appointed.
The Police Force promoted 204 junior ranks last year.

President’s comments on top judicial appointments ‘downright dishonest’ – Jagdeo

Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo on Wednesday described comments made by President David Granger with respect to his decision to reject two persons nominated by the President to be appointed as Guyana’s next Chief Justice and Chancellor, as disingenuous and dishonest.

Opposition Leader – Bharrat Jadgeo

Jagdeo said it is his constitutional right to object to the appointment of any nominee if he believes that a better candidate could be appointed. He maintained that a careful decision was taken after his due diligence process not to agree to the appointments of Justice Kenneth Benjamin and Yonette Cummings-Edwards as Guyana’s next substantive Chancellor and Chief Justice respectfully.
“I’ve always harboured the suspicion, and I’ve spoken publicly about this before, that President Granger has to be living in a parallel universe,” the Opposition Leader remarked.
He said for the President to “say that a decision of mine, which does not agree to his nominees for the Chancellor and Chief Justice positions would paralyse the Judiciary, is disingenuous. It is not only disingenuous, it is downright dishonest”.
Jagdeo reminded that for 12 years, the People’s National Congress and the A Partnership for National Unity never agreed to a substantive appointment in the Judiciary as a whole, especially to the Chancellor and the Chief Justice’s posts and that did not paralyse the Judiciary. “To say now that my decision not to agree to his nominees will paralyse the Judiciary is dishonest”, Jagdeo insisted as he promised to address the comment made by the President in more detail during his next media briefing.

Corentyne man accused of raping 3-yr-old to face Court soon

Senior Police officials on Wednesday confirmed that the 24-year-old Corentyne man who was on the run after allegedly raping his 3-year-old relative on Friday last was apprehended and is expected to be charged shortly.

A source told Guyana Times International that the man was apprehended by Police a short distance from his Corentyne, Berbice home.
It was reported that on the day in question, the child was left in the care of the suspect’s mother, as the child’s mother went to attend to her farm in the backlands.
On Friday last, the suspect’s mother left the child unattended and it was then that her son allegedly committed the act.
Based on reports, it was when the mother of the child collected her daughter after returning from the backlands, that the girl complained that the suspect interfered with her private parts.
As such, the mother contacted the Police and the three-year-old was medically examined, where it was confirmed that there was sexually penetration. The suspect remains in custody and is assisting with investigations.

Sacked Wales sugar workers facing extremely tough times

Former Wales sugar worker Arvin Bradford has decried the financial strain that has been facing his family over the past year.
The Free and Easy, West Bank Demerara (WBD) resident told Guyana Times International that since the closure of the estate, he plants his land with cash crops. But, he gave all indications that his life was not what the name of his village suggested as his earnings now were not sufficient to take care of his wife and children.
“Twenty years I worked with [Guyana Sugar Corporation] GuySuCo. Right now, I struggling. I got a lil’ piece of land and by time I plant that out, everything done sell out and eat out. Four pickney me got and that not easy to maintain. The smallest one is couple months,” he expressed.

Former Wales sugar worker Arvin Bradford

The Wales Sugar Estate

He explained that one of his children attended nursery school while the others attended primary school. Bradford contended that not having employment meant that his youngest child was born into a situation of poverty. Bradford said in 2016, he was injured but afterwards he was not offered suitable work or compensation from the National Insurance Scheme (NIS).
“They forcing people to go to Uitvlugt but I ain’t going nowhere. Here become redundant and they supposed to pay we off. From 2016, I get a head injury while working for GuySuCo; I do a head scan and I ain’t get nothing from NIS,” he stressed.
He further explained that he was given a referral by the hospital that he could perform “light labour”, but was not offered such tasks at Wales and he instead opted for severance as the entity was being closed.
He said sugar workers were being neglected despite their contribution to Guyana.
“It seems to me like cane cutters [are] nothing in this country. I feel neglected because without we, there woulda never be a sugar industry…nobody could get pay, nobody wouldn’t get a job, no sugar to make, no molasses to sell, but the hardest set of workers ain’t getting nothing,” Bradford detailed.
He then highlighted that the surrounding Estate villages were suffering as there were “more sellers than buyers”.
Despite the calls and even protests by Wales sugar workers and their families, GuySuCo announced earlier this month that those employees were not entitled to their termination benefits. This was declared by acting GuySuCo Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Paul Bhim, who maintained that GuySuCo honoured all its obligations regarding the payment of severance at the Wales Estate. He told the Department of Public Information (DPI) that cane cutters were offered jobs at the Uitvlugt Estate and they were at risk of self-termination because of their refusal to take up this offer.
However, the workers argued that they were being pressured by GuySuCo when they were aware that the Uitvlugt Estate was located more than 20 miles from Wales. They still contend that this move is contrary to the Termination of Employment and Severance Pay Act.

2% royalty too low

– President’s Petroleum Advisor

… ‘He doesn’t speak for us’, says Gov’t

A contract is an agreement between two parties and when one is dissatisfied then the terms of that agreement could be reviewed and amended, according to the Presidential Adviser on Petroleum, Dr Jan Mangal.
Dr Mangal made the statement while speaking to reporters following a discussion on the Government’s vision for the oil and gas sector at the University of Guyana’s Turkeyen Campus on Wednesday.
“A contract is an agreement between two people and both parties need to be comfortable. If one party becomes really uncomfortable it will be changed. Guyana is a sovereign country, the evidence out there from around the world is that when situations change, like look at the price for natural gas, people sign contracts for natural gas at very high price long-term contracts, the price for natural gas has dropped drastically, people are renegotiating those contracts,” he stated.

Dr Jan Mangal and Vice Chancellor, Professor Ivelaw Griffith

He added that if a contract is amended then the oil companies would contend that Government is discouraging investments, but noted that investments ought to be weighed compared to the level of comfort with the contract.
He explained that if Guyana decided to amend its contract with ExxonMobil then there will be the perception that it does not know what it wants but noted that he believes otherwise.
“We have to be careful not to simplify too much. It is not black and white, there could be a whole lot of grey area in the middle,” the petroleum expert noted.
When asked about whether he thinks the contract should be renegotiated, Dr Mangal stated that while he has his views he is not ready to pronounce on that publicly but did say it is a topic of discussion with the Government.
“Last year the focus was getting the contract out so Guyana could get a comfort level of what the contract was about. The process has just started; it will probably take some time for the people to do analyses and Guyanese as a whole to decide what they want to do… sticking with things how they are or

looking for another solution,” he explained.
“It is part of my remit to push for transparency so I don’t want to be in a situation where information is withheld from citizens and then they develop mistrust or further mistrust of the industry. We need Guyana and Guyanese to be comfortable with what they have and the direction they take. So, the way to do that is by putting information out there and not withholding information,” he noted.
Dr Mangal informed that following the release of the contract in December of 2017, he is now in the process of organising a team of experts to review the contract for the Government to decide a way forward.
“I am pushing to get experts… to get support from the IDB, IMF, etc to go and do thorough review of the contract. Some of them already have reviewed the contract so it’s the case of doing more of that and getting results and then for Government to look at the results and decide what to do,” he related.
When asked if those reports should be made public, the oil and gas expert said it is his belief that all things should be made public so as to encourage transparency.

Low royalty
Under the renegotiated agreement, Guyana receives two per cent royalty on earnings from ExxonMobil’s oil sales while the US oil giant would not be required to pay taxes on its share of the profits and according to the President’s Petroleum Adviser that is low compared to global standards. He also raised concerns about the system used to negotiate that agreement and also the expertise of the persons doing the negotiating.
“What we can do is look at what are the international norms. Royalty, when you look around, is more between 10 and 20 per cent, not two per cent. Tax is usually 20-30 per cent in some places, the production split of 50-50 is not too bad,” Dr Mangal noted while responding to a student’s question about whether the Government negotiated a fair contract.
“If a process was followed then we would know who was involved, knew their competencies, expertise and that they went there to bat for Guyana. A lot of people in Guyana right now are questioning that,” he added.
The presidential advisor said generally oil companies are very powerful and experts in everything they do and they know how to influence governments to a “T” but would buckle under public pressure and as such he encouraged Guyanese to engage in “intelligent debates” on the future of its oil and gas sector.

Large concession
Based on the 1999 agreement and the new 2017 deal, ExxonMobil is controlling the entire Stabroek Block of about 600 blocks or 10 times more than what Guyana’s laws allow. That was raised by a law student of the university who sought to get clarification and Dr Mangal’s opinion on the control of such a large concession.
“It is not good for one company owning too much of your acreage. Exxon already owns over 50 per cent of the acreage in Guyana. That’s not good for Guyana,” he said.
“The other thing to consider in Guyana that this is a first project. Guyana is trying to attract international investment, however, Guyana needs to also remember that the Stabroek Block is a huge block and that contract promises the whole block. It could be that all of Guyana’s oil is in the Stabroek block… So if this was a small block then it would be okay to say oh well let’s leave it to the next block we will get a better deal but the block is a huge block so Guyanese needs to weight the tradeoff with that situation of the blocks and trying to attract foreign investments,” Dr Mangal added.
He noted that in some countries, they mandate competition and control who the blocks are allocated to while recommending that a review of the block allocation be done.

Govt’s response
However, mere hours after Mangal delivered his comments on the controversial ExxonMobil contract, the government sought to dissociate itself from his positions.
“The Ministry of the Presidency puts on record that Dr. Jan Mangal, Presidential Advisor on Petroleum, is not authorised to speak on behalf of His Excellency, President David Granger or the Government of Guyana,” the Ministry of the Presidency said in a one-line statement issued on Wednesday evening.
Mangal delivered his presentation in his capacity as Presidential Advisor on Petroleum as was stated on the University of Guyana programme for its “Discussion on the Government of Guyana’s Vision for the Oil and Gas Sector”. He was introduced by that designation and at no time did he say whether or not he was speaking in his private or official capacity.
Mangal’s latest short-term contract expires in March.
Dr Mangal has a Doctorate in Offshore Geotechnical Engineering from Oxford University and a Bachelor in Civil Engineering from the University of Edinburg. He worked in the marine and oil and gas industries for over 18 years, where he spent 13 of those with US oil giant, Chevron, working on major projects in the USA, West Africa and Asia.

GIPEX Summit
The University of Guyana hosted the discussion on the day the inaugural Guyana International Petroleum Business Summit (GEPEX) opened and his absence from the event was notable.
When asked about that, he told reporters that he was never invited to the event despite his boss, President David Granger, being listed as one of the speakers.
“I was not invited to go so that’s the main reason. If you looked at the website, you will see President Granger picture was there. I would assume he was invited,” he said.
However, the President was a no show at the event.

President to request further consultations for appointment of Chancellor, CJ

…after Opposition Leader rejects nominees

President David Granger is expected to write Opposition Leader Dr Bharrat Jagdeo for another round of consultations before the appointment of a substantive Chancellor and Chief Justice, Minister of State Joseph Harmon told sections of the media on Thursday.
“The President took the decision that he is going to write the Leader of the Opposition… and that the work of the judiciary will not be held in abeyance or will not be stymied by any interventions whatsoever,” Harmon said.

Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo

President David Granger

The development came in the wake of the Opposition Leader’s not finding favour with the nominees proposed by the President about a month ago.
“Mr Jagdeo’s rejection is constitutional; the president’s powers are also constitutional and there is a provision in the law which provides in the event that there cannot be agreement -because the requirement is for agreement – there is a second level which now requires meaningful consultation,” Harmon told media operatives.
“So I believe that is the next step we’ll have to go to,” Harmon added.
Jagdeo has rejected the appointment of Justice Kenneth Benjamin as Chancellor of the Judiciary and Justice Yonette Cummings-Edwards as Chief Justice following their nomination by President Granger.
In a letter dispatched to the media late Wednesday evening and addressed to the President, Jagdeo said, “I have duly considered the two nominees for whom you seek my agreement for appointment as Chancellor of the Judiciary and Chief Justice, respectively, in accordance with Article 127 (1) of the Constitution of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana.”
However, he noted that his decision was made following due diligence done on the candidates. “As promised, I have done the requisite due diligence. It is with deep regret that I inform you that I am unable to offer my agreement to the appointment of Mr Justice Kenneth Andrew Charles Benjamin, as Chancellor of the Judiciary and Madam Justice Yonette Decina Cummings-Edwards, OR, as Chief Justice”.
Jagdeo also defended a report that was published by the Department of Public Information (DPI) with the headline: “Opposition Leader a no show at scheduled meeting with President Granger.” Accompanying the article is a picture with the President, along with Attorney General Basil Williams and Minister of State Joseph Harmon seated at a table staring at three empty chairs across the table.

Justice Yonette Cummings-Edwards

Justice Kenneth Benjamin

The Opposition Leader said, “This odd photograph bears the caption: ‘No Show’. It is accompanied by a brief statement explaining that the Leader of the Opposition did not show up at a meeting with the President which was scheduled a month ago, to take place today (Wednesday).”
However, Jagdeo said having received no information confirming the meeting for Wednesday, which he said is a usual practice; he dispatched three letters which contain his response to issues raised at the last meeting. Minister Harmon was later contacted about the letters and stated that he remains ready and willing to meet with the President at a mutually convenient time.
President Granger had announced at his first press conference in two years, in December last year, that he has accepted a proposal from a committee that had been set up to review and interview applicants interested in the top judicial post after it advertised locally, regionally and internationally.
Meanwhile, the Opposition Leader in another missive to the President noted his approval of the appointment of members of the Integrity Commission. “I offer no objection to the four persons whom you have identified for appointment to the Integrity Commission, in accordance with Section 3 (4) of the Integrity Commission Act Cap 19:12, Laws of Guyana. “I consider the totality of our engagement on this issue to be in satisfaction of the requirements of “consultation” as contemplated by the letter and spirit of section 3 (4)…”
Under the Integrity Commission Act, the President is to appoint a chairperson and other Commissioners. Although the number of nominees has been identified, the names were never disclosed.