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Guyana's Joint Parliamentary Opposition Parties seek calls for CARICOM intervention in political crisis in Guyana

PRESS STATEMENT

BY
The Joint Parliamentary Opposition Parties
 Thursday 22 May 2008
Parliament Buildings, Georgetown, Guyana
The Leaders of each of the Joint Parliamentary Opposition Parties – Mr. Robert H. O. Corbin, MP, (the People’s National Congress Reform - One Guyana) Mr. Raphael G. Trotman, MP, (the Alliance for Change) and Mr. Paul Hardy (Guyana Action Party/Rise Organise and Rebuild) signed a joint Petition, on Wednesday 21 May 2008, to the CARICOM Heads Of Government
“….inviting CARICOM to make recommendations to the President and Government of Guyana to meaningfully address issues affecting the well-being of the citizens of Guyana….”. The Petition calls on “…the leaders of our sister Caribbean countries to uphold our shared ideals of freedom, peace and justice by furthering the legitimate aspirations of our people for a society free from debilitating conflict, violence and fear of the future.”
The Petition would be circulated, in all of the Regions of Guyana, inviting citizens to sign indicating their agreement with the thrust of the Petition.
The Petition brings, “to the attention of CARICOM Heads of Government, for their consideration, the following matters of concern to citizens of Guyana:
a.                  The unilateral and arbitrary decision by the President of Guyana, in his capacity as Minister responsible for administering the Wireless and Telegraphy Act, inconsistent with the spirit and letter of the law, to suspend, by a procedure that was manifestly unfair and contrary to natural justice, the licence of CNS TV Channel 6, a private local television station, for four months.
This action by the Government is but one example of its continual contumelious and contumacious behaviour, since 2001. There have been:
-         threats to, and closure of, HBTV Channel 9;
-         threats to, and the undermining of, the economic interests of VCT Channel 28, by forcing the removal of a Lottery Broadcast contract from that station to the state-owned Channel 11 and, later, the cancellation of the TBN religious broadcasts in Guyana which were managed by VCT Channel 28;
-         vilification and physical abuse of C.N. Sharma, the owner of CNS TV Channel 6, by the Governing Party’s activists with no redress in the courts; and
-         removal of advertisements, by Government, from the privately owned Stabroek News, for more than seventeen (17) months.
The action of the President, in the above-mentioned capacity, is made more objectionable by his total disregard for the Memorandum of Understanding that he had signed, as President, with the late Leader of the Opposition, Mr. H D Hoyte, that established an Advisory Committee on Broadcasting (ACB), the main purpose of which was to ensure that the Minister responsible would act only in accordance with its advice and that that body would be independent and autonomous. There has been no advice, tendered by the ACB, recommending the suspension of CNS TV Channel 6.
b.                  Prolonged inaction or outright refusal to enact Broadcast Legislation and establish an Independent National Broadcasting Authority, based on the recommendations of the Joint Committee on Radio Monopoly, Non-Partisan Boards and Broadcasting Legislation. The Report and recommendations of the Committee were adopted by the President and the late Leader of the Opposition, Mr. H. D. Hoyte, in December 2001. The objective was to ensure that political control over media in Guyana was completely removed.
The effect of the inaction, described above, was compounded further by the breach of a renewed commitment, in the Communiqué of 6 May 2003, signed by President Bharrat Jagdeo and Mr. Robert Corbin, Leader of the Opposition, committing the Government to introduce Broadcasting legislation within four months of that date. Regrettably, approximately five years later, this remains yet another unfulfilled commitment by President Jagdeo.
c.                   The unlawful appointment of the Integrity Commission by the President, in breach of Section 3 of the Integrity Commission Act No. 20 of 1997. All attempts to have this matter determined by the Courts, over the last four years, have proved futile. The Integrity Commission was established to promote probity in public life.
d.                  The extension of the life of an improperly constituted Ethnic Relations Commission (ERC), in 2006, by the President, in violation of Article 212 B of the Guyana Constitution. The ERC has its origins in the St Lucia Statement and is one of the mechanisms designed to promote better relations among the various ethnic groups in Guyana.
e.                   The contempt displayed by the Administration for the fundamental rights of citizens, as illustrated by:
·        The arrest and detention of, and the subsequent laying of unsustainable charges of sedition against, Oliver Hinckson, retired Lieutenant of the Guyana Defence Force, (GDF).who has been refused bail while his case has been repeatedly adjourned at the behest of lawyers for the prosecution.
·        The arbitrary arrest and detention of citizens on various pretexts – the common practice being to detain persons late on Friday so that they remain in custody for the weekend and are then released on Monday without any charge being brought.
·        The use of brutal torture, by the Security Forces, against citizens, including Victor Jones, Patrick Sumner and David Zammett, in contravention of the International Convention Against Torture ratified by the Government.
·        The unlawful destruction of property by the security forces, particularly at Buxton where the sanctity of homes has been violated with impunity, personal property wantonly destroyed and farms irreparably damaged.
·        The unlawful killings of citizens by the security forces and the disappearance of others without a trace. The most recent examples of unlawful killing are those of Tyrone Pollard of Lot 81 Buxton Sideline Dam and Donna Herod.
f.                    The reluctance of the Government to commit to the enactment of Freedom of Information Legislation.
g.         The domination of the state-owned television and of the monopoly radio station by the ruling Party, excluding all others, and the refusal of the Government to issue licenses for the establishment of private radio stations.
h.      The failure of the Administration to provide any concrete measures for
genuine relief to Guyanese workers who are experiencing severe hardship, caused by the spiralling cost of living, with an inflation rate of 34% in 2007 and the increase in wages of only 9%, while the Administration expends limited financial resources for social extravaganza of lesser import. We believe that the VAT could be significantly reduced as a short term relief measure.
i.          The refusal of the Government to proceed with consultations on Inclusive Governance, notwithstanding their commitment to do so, as expressed in the Communiqué, signed on 6 May 2003, and their acceptance of the National Development Strategy (NDS) of 2000 which emphasized good governance as a prerequisite for national development.
j.          The apparent reluctance by the Government to pursue the implementation of the Guyana Security Reform Plan in a holistic manner which includes, inter alia:
                                                                          i.      “Linking Police Reform with actions in other areas of the security sector;
                                                                       ii.      “Strong linkages in particular with the ongoing programmes in Justice Reform and Citizen Security;
                                                                     iii.      “A need to address the root causes of criminal and political violence: poverty and unemployment..”
The Petition, therefore, is calling on the Heads of Government of CARICOM “…. to consider the matters therein carefully in the light of the stated CARICOM objectives for the Region and for Member States, and, in accordance with those considerations, to:
A.                 MAKE recommendations to the President and Government of Guyana to address meaningfully the issues, including:
§         the removal of the suspension of the license of CNS TV Channel 6, owned by C N Sharma;
§         the withdrawal of sedition charges against Oliver Hinckson and his immediate release from custody;
§         the urgent enactment of Broadcast Legislation, based on the recommendations, contained in the Final Report of the Joint Committee on Radio Monopoly, Non-Partisan Boards and Broadcasting Legislation, submitted, on 7 December 2001, and adopted by President Jagdeo the late Leader of the Opposition, Mr H.D. Hoyte;
§         the licensing of private radio stations;
§         equitable access, by Parliamentary Parties, to the state-owned media;
§         the re-constitution of the Integrity Commission in accordance with the Integrity Commission Act No. 20 of 1997;
§         an immediate end to the denial of the fundamental rights of the citizens of Guyana as illustrated herein; and
§         the immediate enactment of the Freedom of Information Legislation.
B.                 Generally, use CARICOM’s collective influence in relation to Guyana’s affairs to facilitate the creation of an environment of peace and social stability, particularly as it relates to the advancement of the issue of Inclusive Governance/Shared Governance in Guyana, as a necessary prerequisite for progress, development and the security of Guyana and its citizens.”
The Joint Parliamentary Opposition Parties urges all Guyanese to support this Petition which represents, yet another opportunity for the Government of Guyana to respond positively to the legitimate demands of the People of Guyana for a peaceful resolution of the problems which, unless resolved, represent barriers to the achievement of peace, justice, security, progress and development.
Joint Parliamentary Opposition Parties
Georgetown.
Thursday 21 May 2008