April 27, 2017

Drug shortages should not be looked at as a political problem

Dear Editor,

The shortage of drugs and medical supplies is a matter of life and death, and not just a political problem, as some may want to believe. (Earlier this week), we at the Office of the Leader of the Opposition were confronted with this reality in a very direct way.

Two children, juvenile diabetics (Type 1, diabetics who have been on insulin all their lives, and who will always be on insulin) travelled with their mother from Lima Sands, Essequibo Coast to the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation (GPHC), only to be told that no insulin was available. They turned for help at the Office of the Leader of the Opposition, and requested that we highlight their case. They further explained that, while at the hospital, they were informed by staff of the GPHC that insulin would be available in another four weeks (by May 8th 2017), their next clinic date.

Herein lies the problem: After a G$605 million purchase of drugs and medical supplies by the GPHC, and the ensuing scandal of this award going to ANSA McAL without any proper procurement process, a vital drug like 70/30 insulin, needed to ensure the health of our citizens, is not available at our foremost health institution in Guyana.

We sought to verify, through different sources, the state of affairs, and we have concrete evidence to substantiate this claim. There was no insulin in the pharmacy or at the hospital’s bond. We can further confirm that there was no insulin at the Diamond Diagnostic Centre, the West Demerara Regional Hospital, or any of the hospitals in the county of Berbice.

Thankfully, public-spirited citizens who were present at the Office of the Leader of the Opposition financially supported the purchase of this essential drug for the children, going the extra mile by searching various private pharmacies in Georgetown to make the purchase (this was not a case of a beggar trying to dupe people or get money, so no excuses will be accepted).

The question is: What will happen to the hundreds — if not thousands — of Guyanese who suffer from this chronic non-communicable disease that requires daily supply of insulin and other medications?

The Ministers of Public Health should stop making excuses, finding scapegoats and blaming their predecessors and other junior staff for this prevailing incompetence. Penalising staff, such as sending them on administrative leave, having police investigate for theft, and conducting a robust public relations stunt are insufficient actions, and will not deflect the nation’s attention away from the major drug shortage that exists in our health care system. What a Shame!

The APNU/AFC promised the Guyanese people the ‘good life’. Is this the ‘good life’ — causing this family to expend scarce resources to travel from the Essequibo Coast to Georgetown to obtain this service which should have been provided in the county of Essequibo itself? This speaks volumes to the level of maladministration that is taking place in our country.

It is our sincere hope that by highlighting the plight of this family, action will be taken to ensure that the nation gets value for money. Is it unreasonable to conclude that after spending G$605 million dollars, we perhaps only got G$250 million worth of drugs and medical supplies?  Answers are urgently needed.

 

Yours faithfully,

Bishop Juan Edghill

 

Town Clerk should proceed on leave

Dear Editor,

The Minister of State has indicated the Government’s policy is to ensure that officers do not accumulate annual leave and in turn request pay in lieu of such. He said that this was the practice that they have embraced since they came into office and this sounds quite reasonable.

But why then doesn’t this same law apply to the Town Clerk of Georgetown, Royston King, who has years of annual leave accumulated.

Indeed, there could be no better time than now, for him to be made to take his leave, as there has been a suggestion that an audit in some shape or form may soon be undertaken at the Council.

Additionally, with the Minister of Communities suspending the operation of the by-laws, which governs the parking meter project for three months to allow for the review of the agreement, again it would be a good idea to have the Town Clerk, a major player in the process, recused because of a potential conflict of interest or lack of impartiality.

There is an old saying, “What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.” Or is King above the law? One gets the feeling that he is indispensable, and should he take his leave then the entire City Council would collapse. Time off work is important for health and well-being, and it also helps increase productivity. Creating an environment that encourages taking accrued holiday leave offers the opportunity to improve the mood and productivity of workers.

The Human Resources Manager of the Council should be sanctioned for encouraging this malpractice and unprofessional conduct.

Sincerely,

Mateo Phelephe

 

AFC has lost credibility and political support

Dear Editor,

In my conversations with Guyanese voters in travels around Guyana over the last several months, I found that the AFC has lost its credibility and virtually all of its support in its coalition arrangement with the PNC (APNU=PNC as the other parties in the coalition have no support).

The population had much faith and confidence in the AFC to lead the country away from poor governance. Instead, the AFC has been seen as contributing to, and aligning itself with, the worst form of governance since independence in 1966.

The political goodwill that people had for the AFC has been completely frittered away because of the party’s inability or unwillingness to rein in the PNC from its corrupt acts and dictatorial ways. Many describe the party’s behaviour as opportunistic and unworthy of continued support. AFC supporters complain about the AFC endorsing and supporting the PNC-led coalition regime’s policy of terminating workers, many of whom supported the AFC; and of victimizing those who are perceived as PPP supporters, while at the same time protecting PNC supporters.

As found in surveys and obtained from so many conversations with people from all walks of life, those who supported the AFC in 2006, 2011 and 2015 (in coalition with the PNC) spoke of how the leadership has failed to deliver on promises and carry out the Cummingsburg Agreement. They say the party has betrayed them by entering into a coalition with the PNC and by failing to force the PNC to honour its commitments in the Cummingsburg Accord — sharing political power and office.

If an election were held now and the AFC were to contest as a separate entity, it would be hard-pressed to win a seat. However, many of those (former PPPites) who supported the AFC are not returning to the PPP. They say they will not vote for the PPP unless the party completely reforms and sheds some of the characters in its leadership. Some of the former AFC supporters say they will support the URP or some new political movement, because they can’t bring themselves to return to the PPP that ill-treated them. Those PNCites who crossed over to the AFC have returned to the PNC, with a small number saying they would stay out of another election unless there is a new political party that is worthy of their support.

For the AFC to redeem itself and recover lost support, it would have to take a tough line against the PNC, withdrawing support for policies of the PNC that have been hurting its supporters and the nation at large.

Yours truly,

Vishnu Bisram

Some Govt Ministers not suited for those positions

Dear Editor,

I would like to express my sincere thanks and gratitude to the President for being the only President in our country’s history to clearly outline the requirements for someone to fill the vacant position of Chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission. Bravo, Mr President!

Now that you have done that, can you now let us know what is/are the requirement(s) for someone holding the position of a Minister of the Government? It would appear to me that most of the persons currently serving as Ministers may not be able to confirm with your standard. Some of them are total failures and an embarrassment to our Government and people.

While you are at that, Mr. President, it would be helpful if you can also let us know what qualities a person must possess to respectively be President and Prime Minister of our country. My gut feeling is that the current holders are not qualified to hold those positions.

I need your help, Mr President.

Sincerely,

Charles Sugrim

 

Guyana Govt’s decision to VAT private education is immoral

Dear Editor,

The Guyana’s Private Schools United is heartened by the support we received for our first peaceful protest exercise outside the Finance Ministry. The turnout, we hold, is indicative of the groundswell that is emerging against the imposition of VAT on education. Our presence also confirms that the Government’s intention to have a more socially cohesive society is being spurred by what we hold is not only a wrong, but immoral, decision.

We reiterate that education is a right and we should not be penalised for our choices. We, like all right-minded parents, are only seeking to have a ‘Good Life’ for our children. Our body holds that the issue of tax compliance is a red herring meant to distract from the additional burden that is being placed on our already overburdened backs. The Government and the Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA) should fulfil their mandate and not seek to make us victims of their laxity.

Our movement as is demonstrated is made up of persons from all strata of society and united in a common cause against this injustice meted out against us. Important as we forge ahead and trumpet our clarion call is the need for us to encourage others to join our movement. Do not be despondent and afraid; let us not be lulled. In unity, there is strength and our strength will take us to victory!

We need to be the voices for our children and as the Song of Guyana’s Children says let us show: “What Guyana’s sons and daughters can be”.

 Education is a right! No to VAT on education!

Sincerely,

Dr Brian O’Toole

 

APNU/AFC scared of running against Jagdeo

Dear Editor,

Withoutdoubt, the greatest obstacle to an APNU/AFC re-election bid in 2020 is the man who now holds the strategic positions of Leader of the Opposition and General Secretary of the People’s Progressive Party, Mr Bharrat Jagdeo!

Now that the Guyana Court of Appeal has cleared the way for his re-election, the PNC/APNU fear of Jagdeo is justified; and for good reasons. That is why this ruling will soon be challenged in the nation’s highest court, the Caribbean Court of Justice.

Although the PPP/C has not made a decision as to who the presidential candidate will be, the thought of running against this political maestro must be nerve-racking for the coalition leadership.

For many years while in opposition, the APNU/AFC cleverly executed a long, sustained campaign of destroying the character and credibility of the People’s Progressive Party by painting the Party and its leadership as corrupt and racist.

The questions remain: Was the PPP/C Administration corrupt? And is the former President and now Leader of the Opposition, Mr Bharrat Jagdeo, a racist? Who else is more qualified to answer these questions than someone who had, for a long time, been a major critic of both the PPP/C and Bharrat Jagdeo?

You see, years ago, while living in New York, I was a known critic of the Jagdeo Administration, writing regular letters to the press demanding transparency and accountability. But back then I had allowed myself to be influenced by all the negative news coming out of Guyana from the independent press, and the daily criticism of the Jagdeo-led PPP government by Mark Benschop on his Internet radio, a medium popular among Guyanese in the diaspora.

Over the years since, I’ve tried to right a wrong and to recognise and support the PPP/C for good governance; for rescuing Guyana from economic disaster caused by the policies of the then Minister of Finance in the PNC Government, Carl Greenidge; and for improving the quality of life of every Guyanese, more so those living in opposition strongholds like Linden and Buxton, and our Amerindian brothers and sisters who have long been neglected by the PNC regime.

I had good reasons to justify my apologies to former President Bharrat Jagdeo for the harm I’ve caused to his credibility and character. For without knowing the facts, I had committed an injustice by judging him too harshly.

As a PPP/C Member of Parliament, I am living proof that the man holds no grudge, and is committed to work with anyone who genuinely holds the national interest at heart. Knowing Mr Bharrat Jagdeo as I do now, the conditions under which he was able to transform a bankrupt Guyana into a thriving economy while dealing with an obstructionist, non-cooperative PNC parliamentary Opposition has strengthened my resolve and confidence in his leadership, his love of country, and his desire to improve the quality of life of all Guyanese, regardless of race or ethnicity.

And despite the many accusations made against him by his enemies, I can honestly and unequivocally say that Bharrat Jagdeo is not racist. The APNU/AFC will be convinced of this after the 2020 elections results are announced.

The attack on Jagdeo’s character is a deliberate, sustained effort to undermine the PPP by discrediting the Leader of the Party.

Sincerely,

Harry Gill, MP

(PPP/C)

 

Where is the change that I voted for?

Dear Editor,

I am writing in protest of action to be taken by the APNU/AFC Coalition Government that would, I believe, threaten my rights and freedoms as a Guyanese citizen, especially since this action is to be taken without any form of consultation.

When I voted in May 2015, it was clear in my mind that I wanted change: I wanted to see different people in charge of the Government, different people leading policies, and different people engaged in solving our problems. Now, nearly two years later, I must say that I am somewhat disappointed, because the coalition Government has taken a piece of legislation that was essentially drafted by the previous PPP government and has decided to bring it into law without public debate or sensitization. What arrogance!! The piece of legislation has far-reaching implications for everyone, smokers and non-smokers alike.

The Coalition Government is considering the passage of the Anti-Tobacco Legislation which, as it stands now, proposes a ban on smoking in public places, including one’s home. Nothing is wrong with a ban on smoking in public spaces, but as I understand it, the legislation defines my private home as public space if persons are employed by me as general help, gardener, babysitter, or household help. If any one of these persons is employed in your private home, it is subject to the full force of the new legislation.

Therefore, if you are a smoker like me, and you happen to employ one of those persons listed above, under the new legislation you are not allowed to smoke in the your own home because of the presence of your employee(s). This renders/renders your home a “public space” subject to the vagaries of the legislation.

The ban on smoking in public places also prevents you from smoking in your private vehicle, if the said vehicle is being used to transport others.

Declaring what is public places and private spaces is already a controversial topic. However, when one’s home and private vehicle are added into the mix, it becomes an issue about which every Guyanese should be concerned.

This legislation proposes to trespass upon our constitutional rights and freedoms, and the Government doesn’t see it appropriate to have an open debate on its implication for the entire society. One of the many disappointments taken from this situation thus far, as it unfolds in the days or weeks ahead, is that I really don’t see the change I voted for in the way the Coalition Government has so far approached the pending Anti-tobacco legislation.

Sincerely,

Concerned citizen

 

Public Health Ministry has failed to build on improvements made by previous government

Dear Editor,

It is clear to everyone that this Government has officially conducted more questionable purchases of Drugs than they had accused the PPP of. For nearly two years now the MOPH has failed to build on the improvements made by the previous Government in strengthening the Supply Chain System of medicines and supplies nationwide.

What makes it more glaring, is the fact that they have established a Procurement Commission while the actions with regards to drug purchases has gotten worst. The recent so-called emergency purchase of drugs for GPHC at a whopping G$605 Million, plus an additional G$900 Million for other hospitals are only recent events of gross misconduct in the Procurement System.

We had the infamous bottom house bond being paid over G$12 Million per month to store condoms and a few other items. It is still unsure whether the items stored in that bond are even valued more than the rent itself.

Some say that Minister Lawrence is new to the role and she should be given some slack on this matter, but I say that’s a very expensive price for the tax payers. I would like to remind you that Minister Lawrence was the Chairwoman of the Public Accounts Committee for several years while the PPP was in power and she led an overly aggressive fight against the PPP led Ministry of Health for what they called gross violations in the health procurement system. Now the violations she chastised the PPP for is nothing compare to what’s happening now.

But more interestingly, is the fact that this Minister has chosen to take lower level procurement staff and throw them to the fire that APNU started.

We must also take note of the large sums of tax payer’s money that is now being paid to foreign companies like AnsaMcal, while Guyana is drained of foreign currencies. The people must realize sooner than later, that APNU is not a Government for the people but more a Government for foreign companies.

Sincerely,

Malcolm Watkins

 

SARU has succeeded in politically polarising the Guyanese society

Dear Editor,

The recent outburst of Major (Rtd) Aubrey Heath-Retemeyer, CEO of the State Assets Recovery Unit (SARU), is the latest example of the constant denouncing of groups and individuals who have expressed reservations about aspects of the SARU Bill. This behaviour reinforces an impression that the agency is not overly concerned about putting in place the impartial, broad-based national anti-corruption programme that Guyana so urgently requires.

Indeed, SARU’s constant and excessive allegations are fragmenting the broad national consensus on anti-corruption which contributed significantly to the A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC) coalition electoral victory. From what ought to be the easiest issue on which to generate formidable national support, SARU has succeeded in politically polarising the society, as reflected in the heavy list of speakers that forced consideration of the SARU Bill to be postponed in the last session of Parliament.

SARU by these and related actions is succeeding in creating the impression that it seriously lacks the political judgment and skills needed to assure the success of the technical and legal aspects of its mandate. The price of the evangelical animosity towards the major Opposition party employed by the head of SARU since its inception and taken up recently by its CEO will be counted in terms of constitutional reform, electoral issues and all matters that require cooperation of the major Opposition.

Major Heath-Retemeyer’s criticism of the Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA) in questioning “where the GHRA was when hundreds of young men lost their lives with no steadfast commitment to pursue justice…” is a trite and quite misplaced response to the GHRA’s comments and criticisms of sections of the SARU Bill.

For his information, while acknowledging the need for the nation to confront those deaths, the GHRA is at least on record at the time as having denounced them. Which prompts the question as to where the zealous Major and his military organisation were at that time. This new-found sensitivity to “the tears of parents and wives and children” stands in marked contrast to its silence when the deaths were generating the tears.

The GHRA collaborated closely in the early stages of setting up the SARU. This civil society organisation continues to fully support a vigorous anti-corruption programme, incorporating preventative measures as well as asset recovery and criminal action.

However, the anti-corruption drive is contaminated when corruption is effectively interpreted as beginning and ending with the last Administration. Rehabilitating the impartiality of SARU will be an up-hill task, notwithstanding Major Heath-Retemeyer’s belated assurance that members of the current Administration suspected of corrupt acts would also be pursued.

There are many imaginative and indeed successful anti-corruption programmes in existence around the world. Guyana does not have to re-invent the wheel. The common feature running through them is that while anti-corruption is a crowd-pleaser, it requires shrewd political skills to achieve.

Sincerely,

Executive Committee

Guyana HumanRights Association

 

Organisers of Phagwah celebrations in New York should be commended

Dear Editor,

The presence of large numbers of Indo-Guyanese and other Indo-Caribbean Hindus in selected locations in America and the organising skills of community leaders have made it possible for Phagwah to be celebrated with the same traditions as brought to the West by their ancestors from Mother India to the Caribbean (Guyana, etc) and from there to America. The spirit of Holi has truly traversed a great distance. Phagwah or Holi is the most popular Hindu festival observed in New York City attracting the largest crowd of revellers with Guyanese in the thick of things – as organisers and celebrants. This weekend, NY Hindus celebrated Holi with a mela on Saturday evening at various mandirs, including AryaSamaj, Tulsi, Trimurthi, Lakshmi, etc. Parades in Queens, the Bronx and Jersey City were scheduled for Sunday. Hindus in Florida will also celebrate the festival in the Orlando area. It is because large numbers of Hindus are settled in these areas that Phagwah and other popular Indo-Caribbean festivals are celebrated there.

The organisers of Holi celebrations across the USA need to be applauded for their hard work in making the Phagwah festivities possible. They put a lot of time and effort and their personal money to ensure the success of the planned events. They have helped to institutionalise traditional Indo-Caribbean customs and traditions in this new land. It is through their vision that Indo-Caribbeans are able to celebrate this and other festivals just like they did or do back in Guyana.

For Phagwah, unlike in the Caribbean, it is not possible to go house to house to celebrate Phagwah. It is not a public holiday. Instead, people come together in one central location (as in Florida or Richmond Hill or Bronx, or Jersey City) to observe the festival. Hence the focus on a parade and a mela in a public park. The parade has always been observed on the Sunday (Phagwah falls on Sunday this year) after its official observance and is usually a time of extreme excitement and revelry (singing, dancing, etc.).

These central celebrations bring together tens of thousands to observe the colourful festival with people splashing colours on each other. It fosters unity among various groups of people promoting a common feeling of togetherness. As in Guyana or Trinidad, Hindus, Muslims and Christians all partake in the celebrations in a true show of strength of the Indo-Caribbean community in the city. There are also many non-Indians at the celebrations which help to promote harmonious ethnic relations. It also gives non-Indians an opportunity to understand one aspect of Indian culture.

For the last 19 years, Holi has been celebrated in grand style with the annual parade which takes on a carnival-like atmosphere. The parade was launched in 1990, thanks to the work of Kali, PanditRamlall, PanditSatish, etc) and it has now become institutionalised as part of the celebration of the Phagwah festival attracting politicians and community leaders. Thus, the initiators of the Liberty Avenue parade deserve the highest praises for conceiving the parade, which showcases the community’s numbers and gives political recognition to the community. An aura of Holi is in the air.

In addition to the parade, there are also Phagwah festivities at various clubs, temples, mandirs, and catering halls. There are glittering cultural variety shows, pageants with modelling of latest Indian designs and other festivities during the weekends preceding and following the official observance of the festival. Temple members have been engaging in chowtal singing over the last several Sundays. Some temples held celebrations to coincide with the holiday on Wednesday evening. The melas and the parades help to advance a sense of togetherness that enhances pride and admiration for the rich cultural heritage that was handed down by the indentured servants from India.

On Sunday, the celebration culminated with the parade. Delicacies (bara, gulgula, phulourie, bigany, mango or tamarind chutney, potato ball, prasad, channa, ghoja, mahambhoog, kheer or sweet rice, among others) and beverages were served.

Yours truly,

Vishnu Bisram