February 24, 2017

Archives for February 10, 2017

Govt’s new foreign trade policy could destroy economy – Jagdeo

Government’s intention to tighten “foreign currency trade” will have destructive consequences on trade and commerce in Guyana, Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo has warned.

PPP General Secretary and Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo

PPP General Secretary and Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo

Guyana Times International understands that on Monday the Government issued a circular to Cambios and the local banking sector informing them of the regulated rates for foreign currency. However, this did not go down well with Jagdeo who lashed out at the Government, describing the move as “absolute madness.”
Jagdeo, who is an economist by profession, told this publication on Monday evening, that this move now means that Government is hastening the decline of the economy.
The circular issue will limit the spread of US dollars and other foreign currencies to a $3 bracket.
Meanwhile, the parliamentary Opposition in a statement on Monday, also stated any attempt to control the flow of foreign currency in the economy will be counterproductive and will lead to more capital flight, greater hoarding of foreign exchange and even less foreign as well as local investments.
The Party reminded that the People’s National Congress (PNC) Governments in the past had embarked upon this route before, but the outcomes were devastating.
“On the other hand, we have witnessed how the economy grew and how the Private Sector rapidly expanded in an environment of economic liberalisation and free trade,” the PPP noted.
The Party is urging the Government to stave off its plans to impose restrictions and undue regulations on the movement and circulation of foreign exchange in the economy.
“Rather than blame the Private Sector and foreign companies for the shortage of foreign currency in the country, the Government should first accept its mismanagement of the economy and recognise that the shortage of foreign currency is due not only to its incompetence but also to its regime of policies and measures which are undermining the Private Sector, destroying commerce and trade and sapping confidence from the economy – replacing it with fear, intimidation and uncertainty,” the PPP explained.
Commenting on the circular, an influential private sector operator told this publication that such a move will drive a lot of business underground as already being unfolded in the mining sector with the new taxation measures.
Government has also received scathing criticisms from the Private Sector Commission (PSC) over its announced intervention.
According to the organisation, the new regulations will only drive investors away, warning that the stated intentions of Government to introduce restrictions will specifically affect the repatriation of earnings of foreign companies operating in Guyana.
“Foreign Direct Investment in the economy has already slowed and a policy which prevents the repatriation of the earnings of these companies has the potential to move the influx of investment from a trickle to a halt,” the body noted.
The PSC also reminded that Guyana had gone down this path before with disastrous consequences to the economy.
Minister of State, Joseph Harmon during a post-Cabinet press briefing announced that the Bank of Guyana, as the regulatory body for banks and non-bank cambios, was instructed to respond with stricter regulations and closer monitoring of the foreign exchange market – following reports of foreign exchange as well as foreign currency hoarding.
“The Bank of Guyana is, therefore, expected to issue a number of guidelines with regard to the new regulations and monitoring,” he said.
Harmon said these would include ensuring that exporters repatriate their export earnings at the banking system as is required and conducting close monitoring and examination of bank and non-bank cambios to maintain orderly market behaviour and stability.
According to Harmon, Finance Minister Winston Jordan was adamant that there was no foreign currency shortage but rather “disequilibrium in the market”.

Govt buckles to pressure to reduce “burdensome” parking meter fees

President David Ganger has ordered that the parking meter fees be lowered following a meeting late Wednesday evening with city officials.

Communities Minister, Ronald Bullkan

Communities Minister,
Ronald Bullkan

President David Granger

President David Granger

Guyana Times International was told on Wednesday evening that Communities Minister, Ronald Bulkan was expected to meet with the Mayor and City Council and Smart City Solutions (SCS) to iron out the details for the lowering of the rates.
Hundreds of persons turned out again  on Thursday calling for the scrapping of the project.
On Wednesday, widespread criticism continued against the highly controversial Parking Meter Project and Attorney General Basil Williams said that he believes that the current rates being charged for parking in the Capital City was over “saddling” the working class and called for it to be furthered reduced.
In an interview with reporters on Wednesday, Williams reminded that since his initial review of the parking meter contract, he recommended that the fees for paid parking be lowered but lamented that even the adjusted rates are too burdensome.
“I recommended that there is nothing unlawful but what they had to do was rework the figures, but even so, the reworking seems to be saddling the ordinary working class person, and I suppose they will have to have a look at that again,” he stated.
The Attorney General added that, “G$50 for 15 minutes and G$1600 a day and the workers work five days, so you multiply the $G1600 by five; I don’t think their salaries can accommodate that.”
While maintaining that he has no authority to call upon the Georgetown Mayor and City Council (M&CC) or the parking meter company – Smart City Solution (SCS) – to change their rates, the Attorney General said he will be meeting with a delegation to discuss the pricing structure in light of the public outcry.
The Attorney General told media operatives that the By-laws were completely vetted and approved before Communities Minister Ronald Bulkan signed them. He explained that Minister Harmon was out of the country at the time and therefore was uninformed when he made the announcement.
Last Thursday, the Minister of State told media operatives at a post-Cabinet press briefing that “in as much as it is signed off by Minister of Communities, (the By-laws) still have to go through the process of the Attorney General vetting it and checking to ensure that it is consistent with the laws of Guyana and that the rules, which require certain levels of fairness, are all embedded in those By-laws.”
On the other hand, the public outcry against the paid parking system continues as more authorities begin to crumble to the pressure of citizens and the People’s Progressive Party/Civic Opposition.
In fact, the Alliance For Change (AFC) arm of the coalition Government called for the suspension of the project. Despite refusing to support the parliamentary Opposition when it brought a motion to debate the contentious Parking Meter Project in the National Assembly, the AFC came out expressing concerns over the Georgetown Municipality overreaching its authority on a number of matters, including taxation arrangements, traffic arrangements and road ownership.
It also expressed concerns that the current arrangements do not appear to be in the best interest of the people of the city and that the handling of the project from its inception to its current stage lacks sufficient prior public consultation; is absent of transparency and of a competitive bidding process; and lacks of proper planning with regard to exemptions and the pricing and penalty structures.
Commenting briefly on the AFC position, Williams said the party is allowed to have its independent thoughts on any matter of national concern.
However, while its governing partner has made its concerns public, the A Partnership For National Unity (APNU) is yet to pronounce on the issue. Moreover, Government as a whole has not taken a stance on the issue and appeared unmoved by the public’s plights.
Marked as a unique moment in Guyana’s history, a mass protest by disgruntled taxpayers was conducted on Friday last against the Parking Meter Project. Many have already complained of the injustices meted out against them from employees of the parking meter company.

Meeting between Govt, Opposition on interpretation of Constitution unfruitful

The much anticipated meeting between Government and Opposition representatives to iron out the interpretation of the Constitution with regards to the appointment of a Chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) got underway on Wednesday and was proven to be unfruitful.

Attorney General, Basil Williams

Attorney General, Basil Williams

The Opposition appointed Attorneys – Priya Manickchand and former Attorney General Anil Nandlall – met with current Attorney General Basil Williams following a proposal made by President David Granger to Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo, for legal minds from the two sides to meet and discuss the appointment of a GECOM Chairman.
When contacted on Wednesday, Attorney General Williams told Guyana Times Internationalthat during the meeting, he heard submissions by Nandlall and asked for some time to review the submissions in order to arrive at a proper conclusion.
“I spoke with Mr Nandlall respectfully, he made his contention and he cited authorities; and I said I’ll take what you say safely by reading the authorities and then we’ll respond to his submissions,” Williams stated.
Meanwhile, in a statement to the media, Nandlall disclosed that during the meeting, the Opposition lawyers proffered their interpretation of Article 161 of the Constitution, in writing, and supported their position with a number of case law authorities from Guyana, the Caribbean and the Commonwealth.
However, Nandall pointed out that the Attorney General was “unprepared” to put forward his or the Government’s interpretation of Article 161 of the Constitution, despite several requests for him to do so.
“Instead, he indicated that he will need time to interpret our contentions and prepare his response. All of the interpretations offered by us (Wednesday) were fully and publicly ventilated in the media… I am disappointed by the lack of preparedness of the Attorney General, which resulted in nothing tangible emerging from the engagement,” the former AG asserted.
Nandlall went on to say in his statement that “Quite frankly, I was hoping that the Attorney General would have been ready with his position on the matter today (Wednesday); that may have resulted in this matter being concluded with dispatch and decisively. In the meanwhile, Guyana’s democracy continues to hang in the balance.”
Moreover, Nandlall stated that the Attorney General could not identify a date for a second engagement on the issue, which the Opposition considers a matter of great national importance.
“The meeting ended with the Attorney General being unable to identify another date available in his diary for us to meet again,” he noted.

Wales sugar workers take to streets over non-payment of severance

As a group of irate sugar workers who were supposed to receive their severance packages since last year protested at the Guyana Sugar Corporation’s (GuySuCo) Wales Sugar Estate, their representative union has refuted claims that definitive conclusions on the workers’ future were decided.

“Give us severance” – These workers rejected proposals to transfer to the Uitvlugt Sugar Estate

“Give us severance” – These workers rejected proposals to transfer to the Uitvlugt Sugar Estate

Speaking with Guyana Times International early Monday morning, the workers stated that they have had enough of the uncertainty over their owed payments and reiterated theirrejection to be transferred to the Uitvlugt, West Coast Demerara (WCD) Estate. The frustrated workers demanded that their severance packages be paid immediately, which were reportedly promised to them since December of last year.
It was after GuySuCo’s meeting with the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) on Wednesday last, that the sugar corporation disclosed to the public that there is a demand for labour at the Uitvlugt Estate, which will start its first crop later this week. According to the workers, they were informed last week Friday that the Union reportedly agreed for employees to be transferred to Uitvlugt, but the sugar workers stressed that they are not prepared to go anywhere, citing distance as their key reason.
“It (Wales) abandoned, let we get we severance, we deserve it,” one worker told this publication.
“They give a paper Friday saying for we to go to Uitvlugt but we cannot go there,” another man indicated.
The workers further explained that they were also against the transfer, as they cannot be compelled to travel beyond 10 miles to their place of work.
“They seh they not forcing anybody to go Uitvlugt and now dem eating back dem word,” worker RahemS eepersaud noted.
Meanwhile, Michael Chotoo, who worked at Wales Estate for 25 years, explained that the 22-mile journey from Uitvlugt to Wales every day is too far for him to commute.
“From [Wales] to Uitvlugt is 22 miles, leaving out how much [more] you got to go in de backdam. You think every day a worker could travel 44 miles to go and come? What gan happen to he body?” the worker highlighted.
Chootoo further lamented that traffic also factors into the extensive travel to the West Coast Demerara Estate.
Joshua Fernandes, who worked with the Estate over 20 years, also noted that many of the workers’ plans for alternative means to earn a living are on hold. He explained that a few of his colleagues managed to secure jobs on sea and in the interior, but they are currently left at a stand-still, waiting on the sugar corporation to pay them their severance.
Fernandes also called for more representation from the workers’ representative union.
Meanwhile, GAWU in a statement on Monday professed that it was indeed “puzzled by media reports” as quoted by GuySuCo to the effect that some 650 workers from Wales Estate would take up employment at the Uitvlugt Estate.
“The Corporation’s statement, as reported, appears to be definitive, but is certainly not reflective of the discussions and conclusions reached at the GAWU-GuySuCo engagement,” GAWU stressed.
GAWU, seeking to clear the air, disclosed that at the meeting, which had taken place at the LBI Training Building on Wednesday last, the Corporation had informed the Union’s delegation that “it was seeking to have some 420 workers – cane cutters and the workers engaged in transporting the canes from the fields to the factory – taking up work at Uitvlugt Estate to augment that Estate’s labour pool.”
The Union further explained that the shop stewards “advised” the Corporation’s representatives at the meeting that they and their fellow workers were seeking to be paid severance as cane production was discontinued at the Wales Estate. The Union also noted that the parties agreed to engage the 420 workers on the Corporation’s proposals tomorrow (Wednesday) and Thursday. The Union also corroborated allegations the workers disclosed to this newspaper that Management at Wales reportedly instructed the cane cutters to take up duties at Uitvlugt.
In early 2016, Guyana Times broke the news of Government’s intention to close the Wales Factory. Shortly afterwards, Government confirmed the end of sugar operations at Wales Estate, citing cost as the main factor for closure. It was later disclosed that rice will be planted as part of the diversification plan, but it remains unclear when the first rice crop will be reaped.