January 8, 2014 issue

Guyana Focus

Challenging year ahead for govt

It is expected that 2014 would be a watershed year for Guyana. The ruling PPP/C party would face insurmountable roadblocks as it tries to implement its agenda, forcing it to make compromises with the APNU/AFC opposition alliance which holds a one-seat majority in parliament.
Although the opposition alliance has showcased its “power” over the past two years by holding the government at ransom, it would wield a bigger stick this year as its confidence has increased in the wake of major gains in 2013. This would make 2014 much more challenging.

Moreover, the opposition alliance would leverage to its advantage mounting evidence of corruption and a lack of transparency in government dealings – past and present. In fact the struggle against corruption – with and without political reason - would likely bring the government to its knees and would not only manifest itself in opposition resistance in parliament but also on the streets through mass protests. That is, unless the government gives in to opposition demands.
Major initiatives which were either scuttled or put on ice last year, including the Anti Money Laundering Legislation, the Specialty Hospital, and the modernization of the Cheddi Jagan International Airport would continue to simmer in the political cauldron until charges of corruption and a lack of transparency are resolved.
But additional questions would be raised about the government’s investment in the Berbice River Bridge; the Marriot Hotel; the award of various mining contracts; the use of the Consolidated Fund as a government slush fund; the role of National Industrial and Commercial Investments Ltd. (NICIL); various deals cut by former President, Bharrat Jagdeo; the “take-over” by the Chinese; and the unexplained wealth of certain politicians.
Incidentally, it would not be unlikely if pressure is put on the government to take legal action in suspected cases of corruption. While sufficient evidence might not be available to do so, the opposition alliance might no longer be willing to tolerate acts of willful blindness on part of the government and would force its hands to investigate specific cases of corruption.
The truth is: the opposition alliance would be out “to draw blood” and even well thought out and prudent government programs and policies would face its wrath – often just for the sake of opposing and in certain instances based on its quest for answers about perceived corruption or for a genuine lack of transparency.
Bottom line though is that the opposition would be willing to cut deals – whether or not those deals have corrupt agendas. As a result, the establishment of a Procurement Commission would materialize, appeasing the opposition as well as removing some of the existing doubts about potentially corrupt activities.
The establishment of a functioning Integrity Commission would also be put on the front-burner to win favor with the opposition and improve the government’s image. And both the Procurement and Integrity Commissions would be put on the table at an opportune time for the government, such as when approval of the Anti Money Laundering Legislation and the 2014 budget become pressing.
The assumption to office of the Ombudsman who will be responsible for representing the interests of the public by investigating and addressing complaints of maladministration or violation of rights, in conjunction with establishment of the Procurement and Integrity Commissions would effectively send a strong message to the population that the government is serious about dealing with issues that have dogged the ruling administration since 2011.
But perhaps, one of the biggest opposition beefs would be resolved with the possible holding of local government elections. The local government bill which was approved in August last year in conjunction with the quest to win votes for the Amaila Falls Project set the stage for the elections.
However, the failure to win approval for the Amaila Falls project in spite of the passage of the local government bill is an indication the opposition has other motives – that is the desire for power. Therein lies the real challenge for the government as there would be no guarantees that cutting deals with the opposition would guarantee its co-operation.
Beyond the government/opposition impasse, the Guyana economy would continue to perform well, growing at above 4% in 2014. Inflation is expected to remain relatively stable. Development initiatives would continue apace with the exception of those that need parliamentary approval.
The mining sector, particularly gold and bauxite, and to a lesser extent agriculture would fuel economic growth. Gold production would continue to be strong on the back of increased mining activity while production is expected to pick up in the revitalized bauxite sector. The mining sector as a whole would remain attractive to foreign investors who would continue to pump more money into it.
The performance of rice would remain strong while sugar production is expected to suffer from ongoing mismanagement. The growing services sector would keep on flourishing on the back of a relatively strong economy but it is anticipated that growth in the private sector would remain flat in the uncertain political climate. Foreign investors would remain watchful in the wake of political uncertainty, with the exception of mining. However, the unsettling border dispute with Venezuela could trigger a more cautious approach by foreign mining companies.
Although alternative energy will remain a priority on paper, there would be no significant developments in this area. Oil exploration activity would continue in spite of disappointing results so far and it would be another couple of years before actual black gold begins to flow.
Tourism would remain a central focus and would grow appreciably. However, actual measurement of the performance of the industry, beyond rhetoric, would not be forthcoming.
Infrastructure spending on projects of national importance such as sea defence, roads, healthcare and education would continue apace although prioritization of specific projects would come under increased scrutiny as opposition parties seek to fulfill their self interests. This would make passing the 2014 budget a challenging task once again.
The country’s debt level would increase as it will continue to borrow, albeit to a lesser extent to finance development initiatives. Its debt servicing cost would also climb higher in 2014, and so would its budget and trade deficits.
The country’s underground economy would continue to flourish, accentuating the ever widening rich-poor gap.
At the very least, transparency and accountability should improve and there should be reduced scope for nepotism under the watchful eye of the opposition. As well, corruption at the government level should diminish but would remain entrenched at lower operational levels. Narcotics trafficking would continue unabated in spite of efforts to curtail it and crime is expected to pick up, spurred by opposition led chaos.
Social condition would remain stable with selected areas benefitting from government-led initiatives heading into general elections next year. All parties would commence jockeying for support as the year unfolds.
Conditions in Guyana would remain challenging throughout 2014. But at the end of the day Guyanese would not be worse off in 2014 – although opposition propaganda would make it appear that way.

 
Guyana gets US$4.3M mobile scanner from Chinese govt
The new state-of-the-art mobile scanner

Georgetown – Guyana is the beneficiary of a new vehicular mobile scanner donated by the Chinese government. The modern state-of-the-art scanning equipment was unveiled on Monday on the tarmac of the National Park, Thomas Lands.
Among those at the unveiling were Minister of Finance Dr. Ashni Singh, the Chinese Ambassador to Guyana, Mr. Zhang Lamin, Commissioner General of the Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA), Mr. Khurshid Sattaur and the Chairman of the Guyana Manufacturers and Services Association (GMSA), Mr. Clinton Williams who serves as the local representative of the Chinese firm NUTECH.
The Chinese firm is the sole manufacturer of the state-of-the-art scanner valued at US$4.3M. It is the most modern scanner available on the market since it uses the latest technology in x-ray imaging.
Mr. Williams expressed the view that the new scanner comes at a most opportune time, since there have been several complaints as to how long the other scanners would take to scan containers. The time taken would now be vastly reduced, as the new equipment can scan several containers in an hour.
The mobile scanner is the third edition to the GRA’s arsenal of technological equipment.
Williams suggested that to move containers from one place to another does incur a lot of expenses, and as such, the mobile scanners will assist in reducing this inconvenience.
He added that since there have been several American Coast Guard officials only recently on the shores of Guyana to ensure compliance with international maritime regulations, the new scanner will assist in ensuring that Guyana continues to conform to these laws.
Ambassador Zhang expressed how pleased he was to be associated with the presentation of the new scanner and though China itself is facing challenges, it will always be willing to contribute to the economic development of other countries.
The envoy had presented the acceptance certificate for the vehicular mobile scanner to the Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA) in December 2013.
Finance Minister Dr. Singh expressed his delight at being a part of the occasion.
“There are in fact two distinct perspectives of which I derive my satisfaction. Firstly, the special scanner represents a most valuable addition to the hardware of the government, and for the GRA, it helps in ensuring compliance with tax and trade laws and protection of our revenues.
“It brings Guyana into compliance with international standards as some of the major metropolises of the world, including the USA, now require universal scanning of incoming containers. So the scanner enables us to be in compliance with those obligations.”
“This scanner represents an important part of our artillery in order to protect goods and the integrity of trade in Guyana and ensuring the accuracy in completeness of declaration and enhancing revenue collection efforts. Therefore it represents a very important part of the strengthening of the GRA’s ability to discharge its responsibilities effectively.
“At the same time, the acquisition of this scanner which has the value of US$4.3M represents the latest manifestation of the highly valued relationship between Guyana and the Republic of China.”
The Minister also reminded the Private Sector of their obligations to bring themselves constantly in compliance with the laws of the country, in particular with the trade and tax laws.
“Oftentimes one hears how long it takes for a particular transaction to process, but this often results because there is not completeness in the declaration in information to the GRA, and so I would like to urge for this to be improved.”
Last year, Commissioner-General Sattaur had said that the high quality scanning images and powerful software tools of the scanner, would be able to detect contraband concealed in containers and the scanner can also inspect a container in approximately one minute.
At Monday’s unveiling those present saw how the scanner operates. They were also invited into the cabin of the mobile facility to view the image produced by the scanner after it scanned a container which was on site.
A representative of the Chinese firm explained that the new scanner when scanning a container, projects an image on to one of the computers in the cabin. This image is reflected with a colour scheme. The varying colours, he said, represent the density of certain objects. With that identified, one can be able to determine what the objects are.

 

Good year for gold mining, not so for miners – GGDMA

Georgetown – The year 2013 has been a record breaking one for gold with 481,000 ounces declared, but it has not been the best for miners. This sentiment was expressed by the President of the Guyana Gold and Diamond Miners Association (GGDMA), Patrick Harding at the Association's first meeting for the year held at Regency Suites on Monday.
Among those in attendance were President Donald Ramotar, Minister of Natural Resources and Environment Robert Persaud, Minister of Finance Dr. Ashni Singh, Executive Members of the GGMA, and a delegation of over 250 persons including small, medium and large scale miners.
Of the numerous challenges faced by the mining sector, Harding pointed to the lending institutions which are reluctant to assist miners with loans. He said the industry has been carrying the economy for several years, with successive increases in growth every year culminating with the highest in 2013 at approximately US $725M dollars. He submitted that the industry is the direct provider of jobs for in excess of 16,000 persons and indirectly provides for over 100,000 persons.
But the Association's President lamented that miners have been struggling to find ways of cutting costs and ‘staying alive’ in an industry where, in moving away from the use of mercury and utilizing newer technology to capture more gold, it costs a lot more for persons to diversify.
This, he argued, has to be reconciled with covering overhead costs and dispensing taxes and royalties to the government amounting to seven percent, something that the GGDMA says it will be approaching government to decrease in 2014.
The GGDMA President bemoaned the recent drop in gold prices by 50 percent, something which he said would “devastate” any industry.
He highlighted the “horrifying” spate of crime that include murders and robberies, taking place in the mining industry and lamented that the police are of no real help since they only “come after a crime is committed or on a patrol where they benefit more than the miners.”
Harding spoke also to the impassable roads of the interior. According to him, finding contractors who are prepared to take up the challenge of building roads within the interior is a herculean task.
He also highlighted plans to negotiate with the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC) to share the cost of reclamations (cost attributed to restoring mining sites) which he described as extremely high.
The GGDMA President called on government to intervene in providing duty free fuel for the entire mining sector, reducing the rental cost for mineral property by 50 percent, opening more mineral areas for mining, clamping down on illegal shops and mining camps, and improving access roads and bridges among other things.
In his presentation, President Ramotar lauded the miners for their high production level, and expressed concern with the falling prices of gold. He was optimistic that the drop in prices is temporary and will move “sideways” for a while, then increase.
In relation to some of the concerns of the miners, Ramotar committed his government to intervening with the lending institutions to increase loan capacity to miners, as well as put in place legislation to provide protection for hire purchase payments. Noting that reclamation is critical insofar as protection of the environment is concerned, Ramotar committed to helping small and medium scale miners in this regard, but stated that large scale miners would have to facilitate reclamations independently.
He further committed duty free concessions on environmentally safe technology procured by gold miners to ply their trade.
He said that a small committee will be established shortly to discuss the issues affecting miners.

 

Smuggling of firearms, ammo into the prison; flashback to 2002
Minister Clement Rohee

(DemeraraWaves) – The Home Affairs Ministry on Thursday feared that firearms and ammunition are being smuggled inside the Georgetown Prison as part of a plot being hatched to cause mayhem.
Home Affairs Minister Clement Rohee vowed that every effort would be made to disrupt those plans by searching for firearms at any prison.
“Nefarious plans and conspiracies hatched in or out of prisons to disrupt the peace and good order in our society will be exposed and disrupted,” said the ministry in a statement.
Only recently a man was caught allegedly attempting to smuggle two shotgun cartridges in a shoe into the Georgetown Prison. He was arrested and charged with illegal possession of ammunition.
The Home Ministry said the Guyana Prison Service has informed of an attempt by persons bent on derailing law and order in Guyana to smuggle several rounds of ammunition into the Georgetown Prison.
“This is not the first time such attempts have been made and uncovered thanks to the alert Ranks of the Guyana Prison Service.”
Rumours that a firearm or components of a firearm have been smuggled into the Georgetown Prison are being taken seriously by the ministry.
“The Ministry of Home Affairs and the Guyana Prison Service wishes to reassure the general public that no effort will be spared to uncover and to find any illegal firearm or components thereof at any prison location.”
Late last year, inmates attempted to burn down the Georgetown jail after police and prison wardens searched for an object that someone had hurled over the fence.
Concerns about a jail-break linger in the memories of those who recalled that on February 23, 2002 five inmates shot their way out of the city jail, marking the beginning of a violent spate of crime by heavily armed gangs that had been ensconced in the East Coast Demerara village of Buxton.
Hundreds of persons in neighbouring villages and lower East Coast had been killed, robbed or kidnapped by gang members. They included sugar industry workers, Trinidad and Tobago water utility workers and an American diplomat who were all kidnapped. Several sugar company workers were killed but the Trinidadians and the American were subsequently freed.

 

Neglect, sexual abuse top the list of child abuse during 2013
Minister Jennifer Webster

(GINA) – The Child Care and Protection Agency of the Ministry of Human Services and Social Security continued to respond to, and investigate child abuse reports in 2013 and found that neglect was the main category followed by sexual abuse.
There were 1473 cases of neglect, while 574 sexual abuse cases were reported during the year. The agency investigated those and removed the children from abusive situations.
Speaking at a press conference recently, Minister of Human Services and Social Security Jennifer Webster said that it was recognised that there is a trend, where parents are neglecting their children, leaving them without supervision. She added that the Ministry intends to pursue the law to deal with this issue.
Minister Webster added that there are currently 212 children in the state’s residential care receiving psychosocial support, due to a lack of adequate parental care.
In addition, with the registration and licencing of more than 200 day care facilities throughout the country, 207 children are currently in the foster care programme with 121 parents, while 600 children were consigned to privately run homes and orphanages.
Minister Webster further added that the National Commission on Family conducted 20 parenting workshops in Regions 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 aimed at developing better parenting skills in 2013.

 

Three Guyanese face Ghanaian justice for narcotics importation

An Accra High Court has sentenced a Guyanese, Miller Ronald O’Neil and a Ghanaian, Seth Grant to a total of 35 years imprisonment for their roles in importing 400 kilograms of cocaine into the country late last year. O’Neil, Captain of the Guyanese ship that was used in the crime as well as Grant, were convicted on their own plea and sentenced to 20 and 15 years respectively, on each of the three counts leveled against them.
The sentences are to run concurrently.
Two other Guyanese – Percival Curt and Saint Praimchad – and Australian Samuel Monty who were also allegedly involved in the crime pleaded not guilty and are expected to appear in court on January 10, to stand trial on the alleged offences.
They were all accused of engaging in a criminal conspiracy to commit an offence by engaging in a business relating to narcotic drugs, importation of narcotic drugs without lawful authority and possessing narcotic drugs without lawful authority.
The five were arrested in the Western region aboard a Guyanese ship, “ATIYAH, George-Town”, containing 21 bags of substances with a street value of 50 million dollars.
The ship was intercepted following a tip-off from Ghana’s international security partners.
The ship was travelling from Guyana when it was arrested and escorted by Ghana Naval Ship, Yaa Asantewaa, to the Sekondi Naval Base.

 

Cop fatally shot attempting to recapture robbery suspect
Georgetown – Detective Corporal Seburn Elias has died after he was shot while attempting to recapture robbery suspect Delon Abrams who had minutes earlier fled custody with the firearm of another rank while at the GPHC for medical treatment.
Reports say the unarmed policeman was shot to the abdomen during a scuffle with the escapee. Elias died Monday night while receiving medical treatment at the hospital.
The 23-year old suspect who fled with his escort's .38 service revolver was recaptured near Fourth and Cummings Street, Cummingsburg at around 6.20 pm Monday.
Reports are that the suspect allegedly broke into a Sophia home earlier in the day, was caught and beaten. He had been taken to the hospital to have his wounds tended and reportedly said he wanted to use the washroom. While being taken there a scuffle broke out between him and the rank during which time the police was disarmed. He was reportedly without handcuffs at the time.
In the search, during which he was recaptured, he fatally shot the unarmed Elias. Reportedly, a senior police officer, who was with Elias at the time, did not intervene in the scuffle between the detective and Abrams.
 
Five held in death of taxi driver
Georgetown – Police have detained five persons in connection with the gunning down of a taxi driver from Beterverwagting, East Coast Demerara.
Rafael Campbell, 30, whose body was found at Liliendaal, ECD on January 3, died from gunshot injuries to the head.
According to Deputy Police Commissioner, Seelall Persaud the five persons were arrested after police traced the car to the owner who had rented it to Campbell. Campbell was using the vehicle as a taxi up to the time of the incident.
The Chief of Criminal Investigations said the five men were arrested after they had refused police orders to stop on the Linden-Soesdyke Highway. Police followed the car until it ended up in a ditch.
 
Guyanese drug-laden trawler held

Georgetown – A Guyanese trawler with a large quantity of marijuana has been intercepted in international waters and six Guyanese along with one Surinamese have been arrested.
The operation was carried out through cooperation among United States, British and Guyanese agencies last weekend. The identities of the men have not yet been released.
Guyanese authorities received information that the vessel ‘Kaminey’ was returning to Guyana from either Jamaica or Haiti when it was intercepted off the coast of Venezuela under the umbrella of the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative (CBSI).
Sources said it is more advantageous to nab vessels in international waters and have the occupants prosecuted in the United States, for instance, where the chances of all of them being sentenced to very long prison terms are greater.
When Guyanese-registered vessels carrying marijuana and cocaine are intercepted in international waters, the occupants are more likely to be successfully prosecuted in other countries.
Two Guyanese - Yugool Persaud, 61, and 54-year old Desmond Wilson - were convicted in a US court last November for the smuggling of 1,265 kilogrammes of marijuana aboard the MV Miss Tiffany in September.
Last month, five Guyanese pleaded guilty in a Ghanaian court to the importation of 400 kilogrammes of cocaine worth US$50 million, The drug was found aboard the Guyanese Atiyah Ex Alisam in late November.

 

Charged for murder of ex-girlfriend
Georgetown – Jermaine Maynard allegedly gunned down his ex-girlfriend on New Year's eve and was Monday arraigned on a charge of murder. Maynard was remanded to prison until February 10 when the Preliminary Inquiry would begin to determine whether he should face trial by a judge and jury.
The accused was not required to plea to the charge which was read to him by Chief Magistrate Priya Sewnarine-Beharry.
Police said that between December 31, 2013 and January 1, 2014 at Croal Street, Georgetown he murdered 20-year old Carlissa Matthews.
Police Prosecutor, Corporal Bharat Manrgu told the court that Maynard and the deceased had been in a relationship that ended several months ago. The prosecutor related that at about 11:50 on New Year's eve, Matthews was standing by KFC, Stabroek Market area when Maynard shot Matthews to her head. She was pronounced dead about 2:15 am on New Year’s morning while receiving medical attention at the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation (GPHC).
Maynard, who is represented by Attorney-at-Law, George Thomas, was nabbed on January 2 at Springlands, Corentyne near the back track route from where it was believed he was about to leave Guyana illegally for neighbouring Suriname.
 
Shooting at bar in Albouystown
Georgetown – Four persons were last Friday shot at ‘Ghetto Flex’ bar, James and Albouys Streets, Albouystown shortly after 2 am. Those wounded are 29-year old Courtney Sandy, 20-year old Nikita Glasgow, Randy Bharrat and an unidentified female. Sandy was shot to the shin bone, Glasgow to one of her feet and Bharrat to his left side and lower back.
Reports say the shooting was sparked off by a misunderstanding between Bharrat and six other persons including known characters. A number of them have links to Suriname.
 
Teenager feared drowned at Kitty
Georgetown – Jerome Sturge, 16, of 32 East Ruimveldt Front Road, Squatting Area is feared drowned after he disappeared from the Kitty Jetty shortly before 6 pm Thursday, his mother Margaret Persaud said.
Sturge’s mother said she first learnt of her son’s fate when a man from the area went to her home and delivered the sad news.
The mother learnt that he was in the company of two other teenagers when a high wave lashed him overboard.
When Persaud visited the Kitty Police station, police took out her son’s clothing that he had worn Thursday and showed her.
The woman said that as far as she recalled he did not have any major disagreements with anyone.
 
Cocaine in false-bottom suitcase
Georgetown – Members of the police force’s narcotics branch at the Cheddi Jagan International Airport nabbed a Canada-bound male passenger at about 1:45 am yesterday with a quantity of cocaine concealed in false bottoms of both of his suitcases..
The man is assisting in the police investigations.
 
Soldier charged for GDF pistol theft
Georgetown – Lance Corporal Devon Harris, a Guyana Defence Force soldier was yesterday arraigned for allegedly stealing a firearm from the GDF and allegedly being in illegal possession of the same gun. The gun was found at the soldier's home at Friendship, East Bank Demerara.
Harris allegedly committed the offence between December 4, 2013 and January 4, 2014 at Base Camp Stephenson. The 34-year old was also accused of being in illegal possession of a firearm without being the holder of a gun licence.
He was refused bail and the case was transferred to the Providence Magistrates’ Court where he would appear on January 13.
At the request of Defence Lawyer Patrice Henry, the file would be sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) for advice.
Police Prosecutor Bharat Mangru said Harris was charged after an inventory was conducted and the firearm found in his possession was discovered missing.
The Prosecutor successfully opposed bail based on the prevalence of the offence and the penalties that could be imposed.
 
First 2014 domestic violence killing
Georgetown – Guyana recorded its first reported domestic violence-related death for 2014 with the killing of a mother of two by her common-law husband last Friday night.
Dead is Malaika Adams of Dazzell Scheme, Paradise, ECD.
The suspect, Paul Scotland of Mahaica Squatting Area, surrendered at the Enmore Police Station and he was later transferred to the Cove and John Police Station.
Police sources said the two had an argument and Scotland picked up a knife and stabbed the woman.
More than one dozen women were killed last year during domestic disputes.
 
Fire on WBD leaves 11 homeless
Georgetown – A West Bank Demerara family of 11 persons face a bleak future when their wooden house at Goed Intent was destroyed by fire early yesterday morning.
Homeless are Harry, his wife Shanti and their nine children- the eldest being 17 years old and the youngest two years.
The cause of the blaze at Murphy Dam/Saw Pit Road was not immediately known. Damage is estimated at GUY$10 million.
Villagers and fire fighters who live in the area formed a bucket brigade and extinguished the fire as response by fire fighters was hampered by heavy traffic on the Demerara Harbour Bridge according to a senior officer of the Guyana Fire Service. The official said the tenders from Georgetown took about 30 minutes to cross the east-west link. He said that the delay was compounded by the fact that GuySuco’s land rover tenders at Wales Estate are being serviced.
 

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