March 27, 2017

I am having a nightmare and please do not wake me

I was having this dream that authoritarianism was about to be resurrected in my dear land of Guyana and I suddenly woke up. I am upset because I have to imagine what the full dream would have been, as opposed to just relying on memory. I am also upset because the leadership of the Coalition regime has penetrated my consciousness even when I am resting. But I have drawn solace from this dream because most of Guyana is suffering from a national nightmare analogous to what I have dreamt. This sort of experience should occur in a nosocomial environment and not during the day at home.

I do not mean to start the New Year this way, but what the Guyanese public has experienced for the past year has been a nightmare of nightmares which arguably will be repeated this year. I say this because ever since this regime stumbled into power, there have been pantheons of pathological problems which have taxed the very will of even the toughest Guyanese to survive. While some sections of the population have applied a wait and watch approach to this regime, other sections have not been so sympathetic and have used labels like corruption, cronyism, mismanagement, criminality, highhandedness, incompetence and witch-hunting to describe the APNU/AFC coalition. These labels have become so common to many households that satirically speaking, the national motto has now been transformed from one nation, one destiny to omniaparatus – you jump, I jump. What a way to live!

Like so many, I was sceptical when the regime assumed power about 20 months ago and argued in the letter columns of the dailies that its actions were inglorious, lacking substance and reminded the public not to expect much then. I repeat, do not expect much this year either.

My declaration emerged from the assessment of the 100 days manifesto and the appointed Government Ministers. I argued that if the Coalition delivered 20 per cent of what was promised in the manifesto then Guyanese would be floored. I also declared that most Government Ministers lacked political métier and those with experience – the old heads, their nicknames in Guyana – have shown little acumen and determination that they would deliver, other than grabbing the State coffers for themselves. Guyana’s national treasury has become a political feeding trough. How else can one describe Government Ministers grabbing State scholarships for themselves and their families? How else can one describe the handing out of Government’s contracts to favourites with a limited transparent tendering process?

Am I way off to say that the regime has dished out so much rhetoric to the Guyanese public that the nation has reached a tipping point to which the regime refuses to admit? I do not think so, and if you disagree I point to the extremists, propagandists, the die-hard supporters, spokespersons, the activists, the mouthpieces of this regime to support my viewpoints in so far as they are now reeling every day from disappointments with the regime’s failure to deliver. These individuals and outlets have taken an about turn chastising this regime for failed promises. I understand their position. I say welcome abroad and I do hope your reality is not as traumatised as my nightmare.

I am not going to belabour the obvious, but ask readers to just take a cursory look at the many available sources on the performance of this regime and they will see nothing majorly impressive but incompetence and irreversible corruption, such as sole-sourcing in the inner inviolable sanctum of the Government.

There is, too, this fear that the Government is moving with supersonic speed to bring back or rebuild the images of the former Forbes Burnham-led PNC. The regime seems unshackled by old loyalties. Fair minded individuals, Indians and non-Indians, communists and non-communists, and friends and foes in and out of Guyana, I argue, they will find it difficult to distance themselves from the thought that the Red House fiasco is an attempt to physically destroy and desensitise the legacy of CheddiJagan?

If this action is a misjudgement from the regime, I say give the regime a second chance to redeem itself by using Guyana’s system of law and order to resolve what it believes to be a national dishonesty from the PPP to house Jagan’s history at Red House, a State-owned property. I will be proud of this action. If the regime remains stoic to its action, I think we are embarking on a journey that would lead to more ethnic divisiveness and distrust that would eventually dissipate the lip service of any lingering hope of social cohesion in an already ethnically divided nation. I do hope I am wrong.

(lomarsh.roopnarine@jsums.edu)

Red House is about Dr Jagan who was instrumental in our country’s development

Dear Editor,

Please allow me to weigh in on the Red House fiasco, which unfolded when the APNU/PNC/AFC Government pushed ahead with an asset recovery effort. Glaringly, such a drama is a demonstration of how Government ignored the rule of law in preference for absolute power when it attempted to illegally purge the Cheddi Jagan Research Centre (CJRC) from the Red house.

On December 29, Government demanded that the CJRC must quit tenancy within 48 hours. One day later, Government iron-fisted the CJRC when it invaded the premises in a takeover attempt. Employees from Ministry of the Presidency ripped down the “Cheddi Jagan Research Centre” sign and changed the locks. Such abuse of power should never be acceptable and should never be emulated. Government needs to give democracy a chance or else this country will drift into chaos.

By all means it is unsurprising that Government invaded the Red House, given that in all of our history, Indo-Guyanese have been strong-armed. Government needs to be reminded that plenty of civilised options are available if it wants possession of the Red House and they include – negotiation, mediation, arbitration and litigation.

The CJRC is about Dr Jagan, who was instrumental in our country’s history. But Government is way too divisive to tolerate the CJRC in the Red House. Clearly, Government lacks skills, sophistication and sensitivity necessary to run a multi-ethnic society. The impact of such a fiasco is calamitous. Government deals a death blow to racial unity which is necessary for moving this country forward. Guyanese need a Government who can unite this country and not one that divides it.

Like most Guyanese, I too was flooded with repressed memories of the abuse I endured in this country as I watched the Red House invasion. Government obviously lacks the moral standing to move this country forward. Although, Government is in the midst of an asset recovery effort, it is also draining much needed State assets that can never be recovered. How can the G$12 million per month Government spend for a drug bond to store a few boxes of condoms ever be recovered? How can the mega salary increase which Government awarded itself ever be recovered? How can funds used to cover salaries for friends and family ever be recovered? The list goes on and on. Government needs to lead by example. Government needs to know that it is hurting our country. And last but not least, Government needs to apologise to the Guyanese people for the Red House fiasco.

Sincerely,

Annie Baliram

 

 

 

The poor and middle class will feel the pain of drug shortages

Dear Editor,

During the period 2007 to the end of 2011 the management of Drugs and Supplies saw real and credible success and it was because we had the systems and leadership focus that were geared towards improving the supply and delivery of medicines and supplies to all ten Regions in Guyana.

Under the guidance of Minister Ramsammy, we worked closely with our partners to ensure that we build a supply chain system that would ensure 100 per cent availability of vital medicines and 90 per cent of all other supplies in every health facility nationwide. And this was done using a fraction of the current budgeted money for 2017.

Our first step was to ensure the proper training and retention of key personnel; we built strong working relationships with our suppliers and implemented a robust procurement planning strategy that was based on a number of factors that included Guyana’s geographic location, data availability and effective forecasting. But most importantly, everyone at the MMU had a passion and the will to make sure our country is served.

In 2010 we implemented the first ever Public Prequalification system to short-list eligible suppliers for medicines and supplies, and this remained the standard until now. However, a lack of appreciation and understanding for all the hard work done, it was instead forgotten and fell to the wayside. As stated in the BoI it is clear the MMU is in a state of crisis.

We also had a functioning efficacy laboratory for testing the quality of medicines before accepting them from suppliers, and we rejected any medication that was delivered with less than six months shelf life remaining.

There was a donation policy that restricted NGOs and individuals from making Guyana a dumping ground for expired products and it was 100 per cent in effect.

With support from our international partners, we built the pharmaceutical bond at Diamond with the aim of making it a distribution centre and a centre of excellence for not only the Caribbean, but all of South and Latin America. In 2010 we were the envy of the South American countries for having the best distribution system of which countries like Bolivia and Peru were willing to come and learn from us.

Regardless of the unfair criticism and unjust politicking, we pushed on to make sure poor patients are not out of drugs when they need it the most. And I take great pride in having the opportunity to lead the Management of Drug Supply during this period.

Now we have a national crisis on our hands and we must take a minute to truly understand the severity of this problem; it is the poor and middle class that will feel the pain of drug shortages and this will have unforgiving ripple effects on other aspects of these poor families’ economic situations.

I believe there is good intent to fix the system, but it requires more than intention, we need political will, skilled people and visionary leadership if we want to really see improvement in drugs supplied in Guyana. I see this as a bipartisan issue and believe that everyone should come together to solve this problem.

A supply chain solution is required and the Government must act fast before it’s too late. With a G$6.5 billion 2017 Budget, there is more than enough money to ensure everyone that requires public healthcare, gets access to medicines and supplies.

The following are a few things the Government should consider:

* Understand that a Supply Chain System is required and not simply buying, storage and delivery.

* Skill-set is a must and it’s a non-starter if you don’t have the right people in the right function.

* The 2017 Budget has more than enough money to fix the problem.

* Make this a bipartisan issue and remove politics from the process.

* Think about changing to a Supply Chain Department and create a system where you can find and pay for the right skills with some elements of private sector style management.

* Part-time overseas consultants WILL NOT solve the problem, it never has. It needs a local organic approach with people who understand the local system and culture.

I would personally put my politics aside to help on this front.

Sincerely,

Malcolm Watkins

Certified Supply Chain Professional

Guyanese are struggling to make ends meet under the present Administration

Dear Editor,

Time and time again, the APNU/AFC Government has been accused of giving with one hand, while taking much more with the other. We’ve see this strategy unfold with the Administration increasing Old Age Pension from G$13,000 to what it is now G$19,000. But on the other hand, they took away the electricity and water subsidies that pensioners enjoyed under the PPP/C Administration, leaving our senior citizens to pay their own utility bills.

They have improved transportation for children in a few selected communities, allowing them easier access to schools through their “Five B’s” initiative. But on the other hand, took away the G$10,000 ‘Because We Care’ school grants that were given to every child in the public school system.

They have improved Immigration services, making it easier for persons to obtain passports, but increased the cost of this document from G$4,000 to G$6,000 and the Travel Tax at airports from G$2,500 to G$3,500.

While the Income Tax threshold has been increased, and the Finance Minister deserves some credit for this, he must be aware that whatever little savings are gained from these measures are taken away by the additional tax burdens now imposed on every household. Guyanese all over are struggling to make ends meet under this administration.

This year, the cost of living will be tough-going for most families with the 14 per cent VAT now added to water and electricity. Gasoline prices have already gone up. This will soon be followed by an increase in the cost of transportation; tolls have increased; the cost of basic food items are steadily going up; vehicular licences have already gone up since this Government came into being. Fees to transfer the registration of a vehicle have jumped from G$5,000 to G$25,000 or 2 per cent of the value of the vehicle, whichever is greater. Fees for permits and other documents have also gone up; and the cost to obtain a liquor licence has just been increased last Friday. This is not the “good life” that the Guyanese people expected.

Editor, after the Ministry of the Presidency sent in the thugs to take over the Red House, tearing down the CheddiJagan Research Centre signboard with the aim of destroying the legacy of one of our Founding Fathers, followed by the despicable behaviour of persons who disrupted a peaceful candlelight vigil and assaulted a comrade, Jason Abdulla, I’m convinced that there’s nothing more left to go up but the PNC Party Flag flying once more above the Supreme Court. But I’ll be damned if the Guyanese people ever allow this to happen again. And while things continue to go up, the only thing that seems to be coming down is the credibility of this administration.

People are becoming desperate. This is reflective in the escalation of robberies being reported every day in the press. More and more young Guyanese are risking apprehension and incarceration just to survive and provide for their families. Where are the Jobs that were promised during the election campaign by the Coalition?

Editor, listening to the Finance Minister during the debate on the Income Tax (Amendment Bills) in Parliament, he made it sound as though a taxpayer can easily go to GRA and claim monies due to him. This is highly unlikely to happen as my colleague Bishop Edghill alluded to in his speech. Chapter 22 of the Principal’s Act states that “If the tax payable under the assessment is LESS than the tax deducted from any person’s emoluments during the year of assessment, the Commissioner General shall repay the difference to such person, in accordance with Section 107 of the Act.”

There is no time limit set out here as to when a taxpayer will get a refund from the GRA. But Section 21 (1) of the same Act clearly states that if the tax payable under the assessment exceeds the total tax deducted from any person’s emoluments during the year, the excess shall be payable by such person to the Commissioner General within 30 days after that person is served with a notice by the GRA. In fact, what this Act is saying is that if a citizen underpays the GRA, he’s given 30 days to pay up or face the consequences which will be very severe. But when the GRA owes hardworking taxpayers of this country money for taxes overpaid, they have to wait several years until the GRA finally gets around to processing their files.

Since my return to Guyana four years ago, I have dutifully submitted my income tax year after year, but I’m yet to receive a notice from the GRA with a check for the amounts that I have over-paid. And when contacted, I’m told by the GRA that they’re still working on the 2012 returns. There are some who believe that the amount of money owing to the Guyanese taxpayers by the GRA may well exceed G$8 billion. Whether this amount is accurate or not, one thing is certain: When the GRA owes you money, they’re in no hurry to give it back to you. This double standard is yet another exercise in gross mismanagement and incompetence.

Sincerely,

Harry Gill, MP (PPP)

 

Let us embrace peace in this season of goodwill

Dear Editor,

At this time approaching the season of goodwill, I would like to ask all our leaders, at whatever level or persuasion they belong, to remember the following truism that I feel can provide the only avenue for lasting peace and progress in our country.

The prerequisite for peace, harmony and progress in any community is that all the parties that provide effective service are willing to forget differences, prepared to cooperate for the good of all its members, and disposed to forgetting their own preferences and to compromising to find solutions acceptable and beneficial to all.

We may be able to dupe ourselves for a time that we can generate progress by acting in a partisan manner but, as history has demonstrated over and over through the ages, it is only this earnest and selfless desire to join hands within any organisation of whatever magnitude that will result in any real and permanent progress.

Please let us inculcate the spirit of this coming season into all our interactions, and move forward as one Guyana to face the future confidently and remove all obstacles to our advancement as a united nation.

Yours sincerely,

Roy Paul

 

Guyana Times doing a good job at keeping Government accountable

Dear Editor,

Now that the PPP has been removed from office, all the other media houses, except for Guyana Times, have been dormant on the excesses of this present government. Oversized ministries, spiraling crime rates, unwarranted dismissal of public servants, (especially indo-Guyanese) because of their affiliation with the PPP and many other horrible mistakes of this government do not make the pages of the any of the media houses, except for the Guyana Times.

This is what Guyana has become! In spite of the mistakes of the PPP, Guyana has never seen such a terrible spate of crimes under its watch. Nor has there been such vengeful politics as we’re having now. Keep up the awesome job Guyana Times. Without this paper, God knows what this country would have become!

Business in Berbice is really suffering. Imagine stores in Rose Hall closing at 3 pm instead of 6 pm, because of the deadly crime spree. I am fearful for my future under this Government!

In the meantime, except for Guyana Times, the other media houses are in a deep slumber, only waking to attack the PPP.

 

Sincerely,

Rakesh Singh

 

A city in crisis: An open letter to Councillors

Dear Editor,

Permit me the space in your pages for an open letter to City councillors.

Eight months ago we assumed office as councillors of which a large part of our mandate is to consider the general welfare of the whole municipality, the Capital City, Georgetown.

We were already working in our various constituencies and sought to amplify our efforts by aligning with an organisation whose vision and mission closely resembled ours.

We, perhaps, had laboured with utopian hopes that with the added legitimacy a new dynamism would be affected in the communities we inhabit. But such hopes as we harboured remain unrealised, and as our national poet says ‘those miseries you cultivate as yours as well as mine’.

I am certain that you were surprised, as I was, the issues that should have found ventilation before the Council were decided on beforehand and little more than tacit acceptance was required of us, on other issues the body Council was entirely circumvented or ignored; public trust diminished.

What remains an anomaly is that we are a repository of so much talent, experience, and training as councillors that our City should have been on a growth path for success and excellence, less reliance on Central Government, yet before us is a City in crisis on every front.

We have sat at Council in disbelief at what we saw transpiring before our eyes, we have spoken in corridors in hushed tones, or with words whispered in phone calls of the little interest expressed by those in command to chart a different course. Yet, time would have the final word, which brings us to this moment in the history of our Council, and a chance at something great.

As I said to my sons, Jon and Ethan, on the eve of LGE: “The services of a city are essential to its human dignity, whether infrastructure: roads, street lights, drains or essentials like health and fire services or police protection etc. They all have to work effectively and efficiently, geared toward the good life for the citizens who engage them.”

I was hopeful that by the time they grow up they would “appreciate that the things you now freely enjoy were bought these many years ago at a high cost and a long arduous struggle.”

I am afraid now that on our present trajectory your children and mine, your family and mine, the next generation of City councillors, and inhabitants, will only inherit all the struggles we now face. If you are in doubt ask yourself are we better off than we were in April?

My dream and my ardent hope for us as councillors is that we have a greater say in the management of our constituencies, that we are given the tools; empowered to make the changes that are necessary.

My wish is for us to have a City administration that carries out the directives of the Council and for a leadership that listens to our voices; leadership that is both master and servant, transparent and accountable.

Moving forward, President of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana David Granger sets out his administration’s vision for capital towns as engines for economic development of the regions of which they are the nucleus. This is the framework for success that is worthy of our acceptance.

Finally, I call to your remembrance when His Excellency visited with us at City Hall he told us in no uncertain terms that we are not on the City Council to represent our political parties but to represent the people.

In all that is to come we have to represent the interests of the people of Georgetown and the quality of service and leadership we offer them.

There are hard choices ahead of us; we have difficult decisions to make but I have every confidence that when future generations of city residents look back they will say this was our finest hour.

Sherod Avery Duncan,

Councillor

 

APNU/AFC Govt pressuring the poor and working class

Dear Editor,

When the Finance Minister in his 2017 Budget presentation announced that electricity and water bills will attract 14 per cent value-added tax (VAT) on the consumption of more than G$10,000 and G$1500, respectively, from the first dollar, all jaws, rich, poor and the in-between, dropped. It came as a bombshell. It was an unexpected tax, taking into consideration the current government’s much-touted talk of improving the quality of life of all Guyanese.

How could the quality of life improve when the two most basic necessities of any home; electricity and water, are being heavily taxed? The Prime Minister and Finance Minister, in their post-budget press conference, disclosed that their statistics show that 80 per cent of the consuming public consumes less than G$10,000 of electricity per month, as such the implemented VAT will only affect the remaining 20 per cent, who presumably are the more affable of society.

By this disclosure, it is then implied that this government is advocating that the 80% consumers who consume less than G$10,000 per month should never aspire to move above their current level of life, where electricity and its use are concerned. This 80 per cent should not dream of having that additional TV in their home, never dream of having even an 8000 BTU air-conditioning or microwave unit, and never should hope of having a small fridge in their kitchen.

At the same press conference, the two government officials stated that the imposition of the tax on electricity is to encourage conservation. Are they advocating that citizens should take all their lights off in the night when bandits are marauding each and every village in this country?

Or should citizens use kerosene lamps instead? How could the poor afford solar panels to substitute for GPL power? If one wants to see conservation at its best, pass the government houses in the night on Main Street, Georgetown. It’s as bright as Times Square, New York; not on solar power, but from GPL.

Has anyone considered the domino effect of having 14% VAT imposed on electricity? The cost of manufacturing local goods and the retail prices in stores and shops for even zero-rated items will all be increased, and these increases will be passed onto the consumers, because most manufacturing entities and all shops and stores source electricity from the national grid. In actual fact, the overall cost of living will be increased by 14%. Where is the, not only economics, but simple commonsense in the formulators of this budget?

Editor, I find it extremely distasteful for the current government to make heavy emphasis on the increase in the pensioners’ pay. The increase is G$800; yes 800 Guyana dollars. It is G$26 per day. Try giving a vagrant G$26 and see if he will accept it. Contrast the pensioners’ G$800 per month increase or total G$19,000 per month pension to the government’s parliamentary lobbying to pay another pensioner, who is close to them, G$1,750,000 per month, and visualise the government’s perception of equality.

If the government is sincerely desirous of improving the quality of life of all Guyanese, then their thinking and perceptions have to change. They need to manage with reality and develop a more caring approach. The draconian budgetary measures on the imposition of VAT on electricity and water, and removal of VAT exemptions from several basic foods such as milk, flour-based products and medications which were all previously VAT exempted, does not exhibit even an iota of care by this government. It’s shameless for the government to raise revenue to meet its expenses by pressuring the poor through taxes, rather than initiating avenues for foreign direct investment, stimulating investments by the local private sector, and encouraging entrepreneurship to generate growth and expansion in the economy.

The government is hiding behind too much statistics which are obscuring them from reality; from crime statistics to now statistics on power and water consumption.

Yours Sincerely,

Selwyn Narinedatt

 

NAPS to target youths in HIV/AIDS testing drive

The National AIDS Programme Secretariat (NAPS) is re-introducing its national days of testing for HIV/AIDS, ahead of World Aids Day, which will be observed on December 1.

This exercise commenced on Wednesday and will run until Sunday at all 62 fixed voluntary counselling and testing (VCT) sites, as well as the 17 temporary booths countrywide. The initiative, which is being held under the theme “Test and start a new life for HIV Prevention”, is to encourage the Guyanese population to go out and get tested.

However, National VCT Coordinator attached to the NAPS, Debra Success-Hall, outlined that while it is important for everyone to get tested and know their status, they will be targeting youths and young adults during this testing drive period, since the infected population has gotten younger.

She explained that the Secretariat’s programmatic data has revealed that persons between the ages of 15 to 19 and 20 to 25 are infected and are being diagnosed on a daily basis with HIV. This, she noted, calls for urgent actions to be taken.

“We need to ensure that we do something urgently to ensure that we are able to decrease that. We have our in and out of school youths, and we have to probably go back to the drawing broad and develop a new strategy to deal with these (young) people,” she stated.

On this note, Success-Hall urged the Public Health Ministry to engage the Education Ministry so that there can be dialogue on how to go about getting senior students tested. “It is disturbing what is happening (with young people) and we need to take control,” she posited.

Meanwhile, re-launching this ‘week of testing’ initiative was the brainchild of Public Health Minister, Dr George Norton, who underscored the importance of persons being tested for HIV/AIDS.

“I am inviting the general public to know their status. It’s no doubt that many a times there are persons who don’t know whether or not they are HIV positive. Gone are the days when that used to be a sort of death sentence, now it has become a chronic infection because of the possibilities (of treatments) that exist now,” he stated.

Moreover, the Minister noted that the theme of this testing drive can be aptly applied to either of two scenarios. The first being that a person tested negative will have the opportunity to adapt measures to ensure their status remains the same; while secondly, those who are tested positive will now be able to adapt a life-style that can prolong their health.

According to statistics from the National AIDS Programme Secretariat (NAPS), some 40,331 persons were tested for HIV/AIDS from January to the end of July. The statistics for the remainder of the year will be available at the end of December.

It was pointed out that given the high costs of conducting these tests, it has been found that it would be more cost effective to target groups that are in the higher risk categories such as youths.

 

Fighting domestic violence together

Dear Editor,

The tragedy of domestic violence in our community is often examined in the media. It seems all the more heartbreaking when it occurs at our very doorsteps, leaving the community asking how such a thing can happen.

Though it may be a relief to name a person or agency as responsible, to do so vastly oversimplifies the complex reasons why persons continue to suffer abuse.

Even as the society grapples with the reality and the responsible agencies struggle to meet increasing needs with ever dwindling resources, persons, especially women, continue to be at risk. They will still suffer unimaginable abuse and will have changed, and all will seem well until the next tragedy occurs. The cycle will repeat itself until the community comes forward to meet the challenge.

We can all help by becoming educated about the true reasons behind abuse and in turn, educating others in the community. It is time for the communities to become part of the solutions.

I am sure that we have many allies in the fight to stop abuse, agencies that provide mentoring, counselling and adequate housing, outreach to young families, food and job skills training. There are neighbours and family members who can also step in to provide assistance or simply lend an ear to listen. Still, we need more people to step forward and make a commitment, small or large, to ensure that those most vulnerable among us are safe from harm. We cannot wait for the next tragedy before we take action.

 

Sincerely,

Petra Singh