July 24, 2013 issue

Guyana Focus

Decline in non-traditional agri output

The dramatic decline in non-traditional agricultural output over the past ten years in indicative of the fact that government efforts to stimulate the sector have failed. This is not necessarily due to a lack of diligent effort on the part of the government but more so due to poor strategic planning and implementation.
To make matters worse, the government has periodically given the false impression that the non-traditional agricultural sector has been performing well in recent years – apparently fuelled by occasional spurts in production which use a low base for comparison. For instance, in 2010 cassava production

was 22.7% of what it was in 2000. But if production were to quadruple in 2011, it would still be below 2000 output as shown in my last column. However, a typical government announcement would read: “Cassava production increases by 400% in 2011.” Such “statistical lies” – though true for the current period, are misleading to the average person in terms of long-term growth in production.

Yet government’s expectations for non-traditional agriculture have been high, so much so that it recently made a pronouncement that it aims to be the region’s main food supplier. In reality, the country is no further ahead than it was when it first laid claim to its potential as “the food bowl of the Caribbean” more than a half of a century ago.
There is no doubt that it makes sense to emphasize non-traditional agriculture. From a strategic standpoint, increased output enhances food security, an issue which came to the forefront a couple of years ago in the wake of high food prices. As well, the potential for exports is high, which has been a key government objective in its quest to develop the sector.
However, broad-based success in non-traditional agriculture has been evasive – for the current as well as past governments. Its development hinges on the extent of government commitment and the existence of a comprehensive plan to guide the sector’s growth. Government commitment – at least verbally and financially – apparently exists, but planning is ad hoc. A comprehensive strategic plan that guides the development of the sector is unavailable.
Past experience shows that there has been weak integration of implementation efforts, resulting in sporadic ventures that have engendered limited success. In fact, over time there have been more failures than successes in a broad spectrum of non-traditional sub sectors.
Although Guyana has the physical resources to ensure success in non-traditional agriculture, it would not be prudent to ignore the reasons for failure. Output has been affected by the vagaries of weather, diseases and floods, which have led to production shortfalls and substantial losses by farmers who have become increasingly disenchanted.
Ironically, the traditional rice sector which is highly vulnerable to poor weather conditions has significantly outperformed all other food crops over the past ten years – a fact that casts some doubt over poor weather as being a major contributor to declining output in the non-traditional agriculture sector. Chart 1 compares the performance of the rice sector with the government-controlled sugar sector. Rice production has been greater than the benchmark year 2000 in ten of the twelve years between 2001 and 2012, while sugar production, which has declined steadily over the past six years has outperformed the benchmark year in only four of the past twelve years.
Comparatively, as shown in my last column, production in most non-traditional sectors has on average declined over the past ten years.
The questions that beg to be asked are: Is government involvement a contributor to declining production in sugar? Can the answer be attributed to non-traditional agriculture? The answer is probably no, but forces one to think otherwise.
What is important to note is that the contribution of agriculture to GDP has not declined since 2000, giving the impression that the sector continues to do well.
While the government has been addressing some of the underlying problems in non-traditional agriculture – the biggest of them drainage and irrigation – areas such as transportation, storage, refrigeration, tertiary roads, supply of inputs like fertilizers and chemicals, credit, research, extension support and land ownership rights are other areas which remain critical to the success of the sector that must be addressed with heightened intensity.
Another important problem that affects the development of non-traditional agriculture is the preference of Guyanese for foreign goods, which ultimately limits the expansion of domestic industries. In as much as foreign imports can force local industries to be competitive, if local industries are not given some form of protection to develop as part of a feasible business strategy, then they will not prosper. Import quotas and an appropriate tariff mechanism can be supportive of domestic infant industries in non-traditional agriculture.
Since 2000, the value of food imports has almost doubled (See Chart 2). This trend is more pronounced during the five-year period, 2004-2008, during which the value of household food imports jumpe d by more than 85%. Part of the reason for a greater food bill can be attributed to higher import prices but it is evident that supposedly higher domestic food production which is the focus of non-traditional agriculture has not had an impact on the consumption of foreign goods. Unfortunately, food export statistics are not readily available for comparison.
Part of the problem could be that rural Guyanese are abandoning traditional agriculture in favor of the more attractive service sector – largely due to infrastructure, support and service weaknesses discussed earlier. On the other hand, government expectations that large foreign investors would pick up the slack have not yet materialized.
At the end of the day, venturing into non-traditional agriculture is not only expected to increase food production but will also reduce the country’s vulnerability to its traditional industries, create jobs and enhance its overall development prospects. Serious planning devoid of political rhetoric will no doubt allow the government to achieve its objectives. Arguably, the government has made some headway but production statistics indicate that it is losing the challenge.


Firearm licence racket uncovered; officer, others removed

CoP Leroy Brumell

Georgetown – A senior officer and other members of the police force have been removed from a section of the Police Commissioner’s office that handles firearm license applications after they allegedly took monies to fast-track processing.
Police Commissioner Leroy Brumell last Wednesday confirmed that Home Affairs Minister Clement Rohee has spoken with him about police allegedly benefitting from inducements to fast-track the processing of firearm licenses.
When asked whether an officer and other members of the police force were transferred from that section, the Police Commissioner said: “We have heard things but then I have looked at my administration and if I am of the view that moving them away from the administration would make it a little easy for me, I will do it.”
Police sources earlier this month said the racket was uncovered during a probe into the killing of a sawmill supervisor at Land of Canaan, East Bank Demerara. When the sawmill owner was called in for questioning, it was revealed that the man was a licensed firearm holder.
But checks by officials at the Home Affairs Ministry resulted in several red flags being uncovered including a breach of procedures in the issuance process. It was noted that the man was among several persons who were not on a list of persons which was in the possession of the ministry.
This resulted in an internal probe at Eve Leary in which the senior official and staff were investigated and checks determined that they played a major role in the licences being issued without the involvement of the Home Affairs Ministry.
It was at this point that ministry officials received information from persons in the public domain that monies were paid to persons at the Eve Leary unit in order to speed up the issuance of their licence applications but same were never issued.
According to the source, the senior police officer who worked closely with the Police Commissioner was subsequently transferred to the West Demerara area while staffers were also removed from the unit.

'Harass' traffic offenders: Top Cop

Georgetown – Police Commissioner Leroy Brummel on Wednesday told traffic cops that they must engage in “harassment” of offending road users to control the “terrible” situation that has claimed more lives.
“When you enforce, you hear harassment. If that is the way for us to bring it well, we must do that but we are not calling it harassment. We are calling it firm investigation and interrogation,’ he said.
He suggested that traffic police ignore claims by some road users that they are being harassed. The Commissioner, however, did not address the issue of bribery or requests by police for inducement so that they could turn a blind eye to offences.
Addressing the annual awards ceremony at the Tactical Services Unit’s drill square, Brummell noted that there has been a 30 percent increase in the number of road deaths this year so far.
Latest statistics revealed by the Police Commissioner shows that 59 persons died in 56 fatal accidents for this year so far compared to 45 in 43 fatal accidents in 2012.
Touching on the recent spate of gun-related robberies, which peaked last week Monday with at least four in one day - the Police Commissioner said that a number might have been in collusion with staff members. “Many of the robberies that you have, when you look, there is some inside collusion in it,” he said.
He urged business persons and residents to be conscious about their surroundings and take action to stem criminal activity.


Supermarket, pharmcist robbed

Georgetown – A Chinese supermarket at Cummings Street and North Road was robbed of GUY$3.2 million by two men, one of whom was armed with a shotgun, police said. The name of the robbery victim has been given as Cahannnan Jaing.
Police were told that the bandits struck during heavy rainfall at the weekend. One of them concealed the shotgun in an umbrella while entering the premises.
No one was injured and no shots were fired. Police up to Monday morning have not arrested anyone in connection with that robbery.
Police also reported that a pharmacist, 25-year old Marilyn Samaroo, was robbed at gunpoint while going to work at the Davis Memorial Hospital Sunday night.
She was robbed around 7 pm by a man who rode up on a motorcycle, took away her cellular phone and GUY$6,000.


House fires: one dead, one homeless

Georgetown – Two fires of unknown origin have left one miner homeless and another man burnt to death. Police said that a man whose only name has been given as Martin was killed by fire that also destroyed his house at Grant 1780, Crabwood Creek, Corentyne, Berbice on Sunday at around 1;40 am.
Investigators are also probing the fire that destroyed the home of Patrick Vyphuis at Soesdyke Back Road at around 11:40 pm on Saturday night. His house and its contents were burnt just hours after the 34-year old man left for a gold mine.
No electricity was connected to the dwelling. A woman who neighbours saw entering the house twice has been arrested.


Marijuana hidded in the crotch

Georgetown – Police on Sunday nabbed 42-year old Sean Campbell allegedly with 20 ziploc bags of marijuana in the lower region of his body while he was walking in the Swan, Soesdyke Highway. He is expected to be charged for being in possession of narcotics for the purpose of trafficking.
The Soesdyke/Upper Demerara area is considered to be a haven for marijuana cultivation. Although police have destroyed hundreds of acres of plants and and several camps, few persons have been caught during those operations.


Taxi carjacked, driver shot in face

Georgetown – Samuel Pinder of Albouystown, a 43-year old taxi driver, was shot to his face before his car was hijacked on Tuesday. He is recuperating at the Georgetown Public Hospital.
Police said the two robbers escaped with the car after one of them shot Pinder to his left side face.
Investigators said that shortly after the taxi driver picked up the men on Robb Street to go to Tucville, he was attacked around 9:30 Monday night on Go-Slow Avenue.


Port Kaituma woman stabbed
Georgetown – A Port Kaituma woman was Friday night stabbed by her common-law husband at the Port Kaituma bus park and admitted as a patient at the area Hospital. She received stab wounds to one of her arms and her abdomen.
Her assailant, Sean Jones, a porter, has been arrested.
The two reportedly had been in a domestic dispute two months ago. At the centre of the dispute, is her alleged unfaithfulness.
Joint opposition votes down
hydro-power Bill
President dubs move "act of terrorism" against national development
President Donald Ramotar
Georgetown – The opposition AFC and APNU, who jointly hold majority control in the House, last Thursday voted against the Hydro-Electric Power (Amendment) Bill 2013 [Amaila Falls] and a motion to increase guarantees under the Guarantee of Loans (Public Corporations and Companies) Act. The bill would have brought the local law into conformity with the IDB’s environmental policies while the motion would raise the government guarantee on borrowing from GUY$1B to GUY$150B.
The parties tied passage of the legislation to that of the four local government bills which they brought forward in the sitting before the Amaila Falls legislation. They have since sought to justify the unprecedented move by saying they had indications that the government would not have passed them all had they (the govt) secured the opposition’s support for the Amaila legislation.
The President has labelled the opposition’s voting down of a bill and the motion an “act of terrorism” against national development. That description on Monday prompted AFC leader Khemraj Ramjattan to walk out of the parliamentary select committee that is considering amendments to the 2009 Anti Money Laundering and Countering of Financing of Terrorism Act (AML/CFT).
Ramjattan's argument is that "since the Committee was preparing legislation to catch terrorists and prevent their financing, and since the President would have to Assent the legislation for it to become law, then it was most regrettable and repugnant that I, as a 'terrorist' should continue to be an author of this anti-terrorist law."
The AFC leader said he would not participate further until the President retracts his description of himself and all the Opposition Parliamentarians as a terrorists.
But APNU’s Carl Greenidge says the opposition will return to the committee at the next meeting. “I don’t think we have sought to do anything other than register a protest at the most inappropriate behaviour on behalf of a president who claims to be asking our assistance on something of national interest,” he said.
Calling Ramotar’s utterance “irresponsible and insensitive,” APNU leader David Granger said the opposition would decide when to return to the committee because “we have not said that we are permanently walking out of the meeting.” He said the opposition’s return was not hinged on an apology from the President.
On the subject of the legislation being reintroduced in the House, the AFC says it is prepared to pass the hydro-electric bill it opposed but that it needs more guarantees before it okays a motion to raise the debt ceiling.
At a press conference last Friday, AFC's Nagamootoo told reporters: "The AFC has taken a principled position that we would approve all Amaila related laws once the IDB, which is undertaking a technical and other review of the project's feasibility, give the Amaila Project the green light.
"It would be irresponsible for us to guarantee borrowing to the tune of $150 billion and not have informed guarantee that the project is feasible. And this remains our position. To do otherwise would be to abandon the people of Guyana, and to place them in a vicious trap of future debts."
The IDB, a potential financier of the project, is still doing due diligence on the investment with the capacity of Guyana Power and Light Inc., the economic viability and environmental feasibility of the project still being studied.
APNU on the other hand, said they are not opposed to the rejected hydro-electric bill being returned to the House this session but that the government needs to move on the measures adopted by the National Assembly to ensure good governance.
"I would support any move to bring it back to the floor but at the same time the government must support legitimate demands of the two opposition parties and that hasn’t happened," Granger said.
He identified President Donald Ramotar’s assent to bills passed by the opposition with its majority as a key element in their demands. The president previously indicated that he would not assent to bills that did not include government input and recently rejected two such bills stating they were unconstitutional.
"I don’t want to give you a shopping list but definitely the assent to outstanding bills is critical. We have a situation where the Constitution is being paralysed by the president’s failure to assent to bills which have been passed by the majority and of course there’s been other resolutions.
"We have not seen any movement on the Public Procurement Commission, we have not seen any flexibility on the access of the opposition to the state media," the opposition leader said.
However, he was reluctant to say whether having their demands met was the only way through which they would support the hydro-electric bill saying instead that the government had failed to make good on past commitments.
According to Granger, they have to come to an understanding that when the majority of the House passes measures which do not collide with the Constitution the president has an obligation to assent to them.
Local gov't bills "dropped"
Speaker Raphael Trotman

Georgetown – Debate on the long-awaited reformed local government bills was Thursday afternoon deferred after the government refused to proceed with the order voted for by the opposition. At the start of consideration of government business APNU’s Basil Williams moved to bring the four bills up to the top of the Order Paper, displacing the Hydro-electric Power (Amendment) Bill 2013 and a motion seeking to raise the government guarantee of loans from GUY$1B to GUY$150B.
Both are integral to the Amaila Hydropower Project which the government has been calling on the opposition to support.
The government voted against the move to reshuffle the Order Paper but the opposition prevailed 32 – 31 when the vote was called. However, when Speaker Raphael Trotman called on Local Government Minister Ganga Persaud to proceed with the debate on the first bill there was silence from the government benches. Trotman then asked Prime Minister Samuel Hinds if the government intended to proceed with the bill and was again met by silence.
The House was then suspended for about 30 minutes for Trotman to meet with the Party Whips and upon resumption he indicated that he could not order the minister to proceed. Clerk of the Assembly Sherlock Isaacs, in following the procedure, again called on the minister to read the bill and the silence continued.
Trotman then indicated that the bill would be dropped from the Order Paper until a date was set. Nothing changed when the Clerk called on Persaud to read the other three bills and they too were dropped.
Government MP Gail Teixeira then rose and indicated that they were prepared to debate the bills on Friday but at the end of the sitting Hinds moved that the the House be adjourned until next Thursday. The APNU called for the government to stick to Friday but their counter motion was defeated after the AFC abstained on the vote giving the government a 31 - 25 margin in favour of next week.
The Fiscal Transfers Bill 2012; the Municipal and District Councils (Amendment) Bill 2012; the Local Government (Amendment) Bill 2012; and the Local Government Commission Bill were before the House for the first time since exiting a Special Select Committee.
The reforms were seen as necessary before the holding of local government elections which were last held in 1994. Representatives of the diplomatic community and civil society have been calling for the bills to be passed and the polls held this year.


'Skeldon factory will be fixed, we know where the problems are'
Labour Minister Gopaul assures Sugar Corporation
graduating students
Georgetown – Delivering the Feature Address to graduates of the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) Port Mourant Training School on the Corentyne recently, Minister of Labour, Dr. Nanda Kishore Gopaul assured that the problem-stricken Skeldon ‘Modernized’ Sugar Factory will perform “very soon”.
The Skeldon Sugar Factory has been problem-plagued from its inception. Dr. Gopaul said that like any new factory, the Skeldon Factory has problems and “it will be fixed – we know where the problems are – it’s just a matter of time.”
He said that the government was “cursed and abused” for opening the factory “and we were told that we were pumping money in our support area by some of those politicians and we were only doing so because we wanted to protect our interest and our votes…but it is far from the truth.”
He stated that despite the fact that “we [in the sugar industry] are going through hard times which have been caused by a number of factors; the importance of the sugar industry cannot be underestimated.” The government, he stated, continues to “pump billions of dollars into this industry because we have faith and we know that this industry can, one day very soon, bounce back to life.”
Dr. Gopaul served as Chairman of the GuySuCo Board and helped pilot the Strategic Plan for the Blueprint of the Resuscitation of the sugar industry.
“We believe that this industry can bounce back to life and be the beacon industry of this country.”
He said that the challenges of the sugar industry “are many.”
Dr. Gopaul opined that a major problem being experienced by GuySuCo is getting the canes from the fields into the factory.
The management team, he stated, is one of the finest and he praised them all. He underscored the importance of having a heavily mechanized industry especially as it relates to “growing sugar under many difficult conditions” such as weather factors and work force. Work- force problems, too, are hindrances.
“The mobility is so great that many leave the industry at a moment’s notice to go into the gold fields and different areas of activities, and so, there are a number of vacancies especially in the agricultural areas…which we have to look at.”
He appealed to workers that for the industry to rebound and do well, their sacrifices will be necessary “and that we must be able to show some of the militancy which we have seen over the past few years and resort to more dialogue.”
While there are good shop stewards, workers and union leaders, Dr. Gopaul said that “sometimes we get emotional as workers and sometimes we try not to see things objectively.”
The Minister said that it pains him a lot to see a lot of canes going to waste “and left to rot in the punts; spoiled – already cut and we can’t grind….we are a poor country. This is not a Capitalist master we are serving…we must never allow that wastage to occur.”
He alluded to the world markets which “took away our preferential price for sugar, costing us billions of dollars. Many persons, he stated, have called for the privatization of the industry but this is not in the workers’ interests. The government, he added, is doing everything possible “to resurrect the industry.”
Dr. Gopaul praised the investment the company has made into the Port Mourant Training School which will see a spending this year of over $173M with about $80M for improvement of infrastructure alone. The School, he stated, is one that trains and equips young men and women for a career in the sugar industry.
Gunmen rob City gas station
A week after another station owner ambushed
Georgetown – A city gas station was robbed of GUY$1 million by two men during the 10 minute ordeal last week Monday afternoon, according to the owner of the decades-old business enterprise.
Steve Cheong, who operates a Rubis-branded outlet on Vlissengen Road and Eping Avenue, Bel Air Park, believed that the attack was an inside job.
“I suspect this but I can’t tell you definitely that it so,” he told the media. He explained that the incident occurred around 4:30 pm shortly after electricity supply had been restored and the morning’s sales were being balanced.
He said the video surveillance recorder has to be restarted whenever power is restored. In this case, the recorder was not restarted before the robbery.
The two men entered the unlocked office and fired shots in the roof before escaping on a motorcycle with the cash - the first robbery for the year.
Cheong, who is the ex-president of the Guyana Petrol Dealers Association, seized the opportunity to call on the Guyana Police Force to deploy periodic patrols around gas stations.
“We are just left open to doing a good job and serving the public and making sure everyone gets gasoline and the little profit that we make is being taken away from us,” he said.
He lamented that gas stations and their owners are not being treated as an essential service.
Cheong’s call came one week after fellow gas station owner Cecil Gajadar and his employee, Vincent Da Silva, were ambushed on Water and Cowan Streets, Georgetown as they were heading to a city bank.
One man has been charged with murder in the course of committing a robbery of GUY$8 million belonging to Gajadar.

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