Guyana Diary

May 2009

Monthly Newsletter of the Guyana Embassy, Caracas, Venezuela

Quinta Roraima, Prados del Este, Caracas 1050, Venezuela
Telephone: 58-212-977-1158; 58-212-975-3687
Fax: (58) 212 976-3765

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Posted May 2009 - Issue No. 64 - Back to Embassy page

Previous Guyana Diaries are available here.

Anti-money laundering legislation approved

The Anti-Money Laundering and Countering of Financing of Terrorism Bill was passed unanimously in the National Assembly on April 30.

The legislation includes parts that address the criminalising of money laundering, as well as an administrative structure for the purposes of implementing the Act, such as the establishment of a financial intelligence unit of the supervisory authorities.

The Bill also provides for the freezing and forfeiture of assets, through the criminal proceedings as well as through certain provisions which also provide for international cooperation in anti money-laundering and countering the financing of terrorism.

It also provides for the reporting of transactions and the application of certain penalties to act as sufficient deterrent as well as a punitive effect. In addition, it protects legitimate third parties who might have prior claims on assets, or who might have established interest in assets that might fall, some time in the future, within the ambit of the bill.

Finance Minister Dr. Ashni Singh who introduced the Bill in the National Assembly noted: “The Bill in fact goes beyond the traditional confines of what is perceived to be money laundering. It provides for going beyond the traditional licensing of financing institutions, banks, etc., and provides for reporting entities to cover not only the traditional licensed financial institutions, but also of insurance business trust companies, money transfer agencies, cambios, credit unions, bringing all of them under the ambit of and under the supervision of the relevant authorities within this Bill.”

National infrastructure boosted

The Guyana government, in its thrust to regional development throughout the country, has budgeted more than $14 billion for the construction, extension and rehabilitation of several infrastructural projects throughout the 10 administrative Regions.

Region One (Barima-Waini) has a budgetary allocation of over $1.07 billion this year to undertake critical works, and at present, roads are being upgraded in Barabina, Wauna-Yarikita and Moruca. A road is also being constructed to link the communities of Baramita and Matthews Ridge.

Region Four (Mahaica-Demerara) has a budgetary allocation of $2.4 billion and works have already started under its current programme, including in the areas of drainage, irrigation, roads and public works. For drainage and irrigation, 40 percent of its capital works have been awarded to various contractors. Roads will be rehabilitated and constructed in Buxton, Ogle, Vryheid’s Lust and Enterprise.

Meanwhile, for Region Five (Mahaica-Berbice) over $1.39 billion has been budgeted for the maintenance and construction of infrastructure. Road works in the Mahaicony, Hopetown and Bath areas have commenced while rehabilitation has started on the Karamat Primary School in the Mahaicony River area.

The contracts for the construction of a pharmacy and physiotherapy centre at the Mahaicony Hospital have been awarded and works are expected to commence shortly. In addition, several “roll over” projects are expected to be completed soon, including the Blairmont access bridge and the No. 8 Secondary School.

For Region Three (Essequibo Islands-West Demerara), more than $2.3 billion has been allocated to aid its infrastructural development. Several current projects have been awarded including the weeding and cleaning of several areas and the supply of cleaning materials for the West Demerara Regional Hospital. Contracts for rehabilitation of several roads, schools, bridges and health centres have also been awarded.

In Region Seven (Cuyuni-Mazaruni), work has started on the construction of teachers’ quarters at Wax Creek, Upper Mazaruni at the cost of $7.5 million, and sanitary blocks at Kamarang Secondary School at a cost of $2.5 million. In addition, furnishings for schools and medical equipment for the Bartica Hospital have also been procured. Rehabilitation to the Kaikan Primary School and the Amerindian Hostel at Bartica is expected to commence shortly. A bridge at the Batavia water front, Lower Mazaruni, and river defence works at Byderabo have also commenced.

The Region has already purchased four outboard engines to be used for health, education and administrative purposes and a solar panel system for the Waramadong secondary school, Upper Mazaruni was purchased.

Guyana gets rave reviews from UK tour operators

Destination Guyana has won more rave reviews for its tourism products from the United Kingdom (UK) group of tour operators who visited the country in March.

During their stay, the members saw this country’s pristine rainforests, rich, unique biodiversity and wildlife and diverse culture and people.

The trip was organised by Wilderness Explorers, in collaboration with the Ministry of Tourism, Industry and Commerce, Guyana Tourism Authority and other local tour operators.

Before their departure, the visitors expressed optimism about Guyana’s tourism potential and highlighted their experience of exploring the rainforests and enjoying the warmth and friendliness of people of different cultures.

Mr. Chris Parrott, a founder owner of “Journey Latin America”, the largest UK operator in South America observed that, apart from wildlife and beautiful scenery, there are other things that Guyana can be proud about and can genuinely offer a different type of tourism.

“Birding is a big industry but it is not what Guyana can offer exclusively. It can offer all sorts of things,” he said. He maintained that Guyana has a lot more to showcase than birding and said he would like to see that being sold to customers.

Parrott said the welcome they received from the people, communities and individuals whom they met, has been astonishingly friendly and helpful.

Minister gives assurance on survival of agriculture sector

Agriculture Minister, Robert Persaud, has reported that exports in the various sub-sectors, for the first quarter of 2009, have generally remained stable, with instances of significant increases.

Speaking at a roundtable discussion on the global financial and economic crisis last month, he said 45,000 tonnes of rice were exported, slightly doubling the amount sold overseas for the corresponding period last year. He said earnings from the grain for the three months in 2009 were about US$25 million, more than three times the US$7.3 million earned the previous year.

In the area of non-traditional crops, the minister said close to 2.5 million kilogrammes of fresh fruits and vegetables were exported in the first quarter of 2009, compared to the 1.8 million kilogrammes in 2008. However, he explained, although the value this year was lower than that of last year, Guyana still received G$329 million, $4 million more than obtained in 2008.

The minister told the gathering, of private and public sector representatives, that, even though the global economic crisis has an impact on agriculture, it will not be in a destructive proportion.

He explained that agriculture accounts for 34 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and is largely export oriented. Like many other countries, it is not immune to the prevailing international circumstances and the concomitant problems, their solutions and resulting market openings need to be examined.

Indigenous peoples of Guiana Shield agree on action plan

Elected indigenous leaders of French Guiana, Suriname and Guyana ended a five-day conference in Guyana in April with several resolutions and agreements for spearheading the struggle to prevent deforestation of the Amazon rainforest, parts of which fall within the three countries.

“All actors must recognise and act accordingly, that forests are not merely tradable commodities in climate change and or carbon sinks but represent other values for indigenous peoples who have cared for them over many centuries. We will simply not allow mining or massive infrastructure projects or any other schemes which violate our rights and interests,” one resolution stated.

The meeting addressed the issues of climate change, mining and the massive developmental project, the Initiative for the Integration of the Regional Infrastructure of South America (IIRSA), as major threats to the rainforest and the indigenous peoples’ way of life.

Delegates also resolved to take steps for ensuring that government decisions on issues which affect the ecological diversity of the rainforest are arrived at with the participation of leaders of the indigenous communities and in keeping with the principles of free prior and informed consent.

The issues on which they want consultation include climate change and the action for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD).

Delegation heads also spoke about a series of activities in which they will be engaged over the next few months, among them sensitisation of their communities on the issues at the grassroots level and increased collaboration with governments and non-governmental organisations in accordance with their objectives.

During their deliberations, it was revealed that the Amazon rainforest is home to 400 different tribes of indigenous peoples, at least 60 of which live in voluntary isolation from the dominant society.

Another revelation was that the rainforest spreading across nine countries, Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana included, plays a vital role in stabilising weather patterns and restraining climate change, while supporting the greatest diversity on Earth.

New Skeldon sugar factory fully operational

The new ultra-modern sugar complex at Skeldon in East Berbice, dogged by start-up problems which delayed its scheduled formal commissioning, is now fully operational.

Dr. Nanda Gopaul, chairman of the interim board appointed by the government to help turn around the beleaguered Guyana Sugar Corporation, said while there may be minor problems and adjustments, the factory will be able to produce sugar once canes are available.

At the formal presentation of a plan to turn the crucial industry around in about three years, he announced on April 15 that the Skeldon factory should realise its “true production level” by 2013 by churning out about 110,000 tonnes of sugar annually.

The commissioning of the US$180 million plant earlier this year was put back because it failed test runs and the corporation filed for consequential damages of more than US$5 million.

The delayed opening of the Skeldon complex aggravated a drop in sugar output last year and the goal was to get the factory fully functional in time for this year’s first sugar crop.

The government had stressed that it will not accept the complex from the Chinese company building it unless it was fully operational.

The Skeldon project covers a new sugar factory with a capacity of 8,400 tonnes of sugar cane per day, the extension and modernisation of the existing sugar estate, civil engineering design and construction, design and supply of equipment for the factory, and erection of factory equipment.

The funding for building the factory was partly provided by the World Bank and the Caribbean Development Bank.

Gopaul said the interim board had to pay attention to the difficulties and, despite all the forecasts that it would not have been ready until the end of the first crop, the factory is fully operational.

He said the board worked with management and technical persons and at times took leaders of the sugar unions to visit and inspect the work at the factory on an ongoing basis.

Guyana gets US$27.9M IDB housing loan

About 12,000 or eight percent of Guyanese households are targeted to benefit from a new US$27.9 million agreement between the Government of Guyana and the Inter-Development Bank (IDB).

The pact for the second Low Income Settlements Programme (LISP) was signed on April 17 at the Ministry of Finance in Georgetown.

Finance Minister, Dr. Ashni Singh and IDB Resident Representative, Mr. Marco Carlo Nicola affixed their signatures to the loan documents in the presence of Minister of Housing and Water, Mr. Irfaan Ali and other functionaries.

The LISP has three main components: development of new sites with services, consolidation of existing housing schemes and upgrading squatter areas; implementation of pilot programmes to address the issues of affordability and sustainability in housing; and strengthening the Central Housing and Planning Authority.

Under this programme, a total of 3,766 serviced lots will be realised on 11 sites in Regions Three (West Demerara/ Essequibo Islands), Four (Demerara/ Mahaica), Five (Mahaica/Berbice), Six (East Berbice/Corentyne), Seven (Cuyuni/ Mazaruni) and Ten (Upper Demerara/ Berbice).

The improvement of 4,900 lots on eight sites in Regions Three, Four, Five, Nine (Upper Takutu/Upper Essequibo) and Ten will also be facilitated. In addition, approximately 1,350 lots in five regularised squatter settlements in Regions Four, Six and Ten will be upgraded and US$2 million will be allocated for off sites investments.

Heritage park development at Mainstay

Ten Amerindian women from the community have formed the Mainstay Development Group and embarked on a project to develop a heritage park, against the background of poor or non-existent collection controls threatening the survival of many plant species used in traditional and modern medicines.

The venture, for which they obtained funding from the European Commission, is sited on 20 acres of forested land at Mainstay/Whyaka, about five miles west of Anna Regina on the Essequibo Coast.

The aim is to have identifiable varieties and other exotic types at a central location for preservation purposes. According to the Toshao of Mainstay, Ms. Yvonne Pearson, who heads the enterprise, the hope is that, in addition to generating income, it will also benefit the health and well-being of both the ecosystems of which they are part and the local people who depend on them.

She explained that the move to establish the business was out of fear that the older Amerindian generation will die with all the known tribal secrets of the cultures and beliefs, leaving no legacy to pass on to the younger generation.

Those involved include Jackie Allen, Mona Pearson and Isabella Allen, all over 50-years-old like Toshao Pearson, as well as Zena Allen, Eulene and Basmath De Jonge, Dianne Sandy, Shereen Buchoon and Sumanda Fredericks, ranging in age between the 30s and 40s.

They have, to date identified some 500 kinds of plants: “Plants to hold you, plants to cure you and plants to charm you,” according to Toshao Pearson, who said they have all been tested to ascertain their values.

She said they have also been tapping into the knowledge of the community elders to identify some more.

A section of the park is known as the herbal garden where plants with medicinal values are cultivated. Another attraction in the park is a 580 feet long bridge built by men in the community across a swampy area with wood from the forest.

Lethem hospital equipment installation completed

The Guyana government is positioning Lethem to take up its role as a significant frontier town to facilitate increased trading between the borders of Guyana and Brazil as a result of the erection of the Takutu Bridge. In order to ensure the necessary infrastructure is in place, the government has built a multi-purpose complex at Lethem which will serve as a port authority for added security and control, and the new Lethem hospital. All civil works and equipment installation have since been completed.

The Lethem hospital will be the leading health institution in Region Nine as it will be outfitted with modern equipment and will be offering a range of services. It will boast operating theatres, in-patient and out-patient facilities, a pharmacy and a laboratory.

The Ministry of Health is at present training hundreds of nurses at the three nursing schools located in Georgetown, Linden and New Amsterdam. Among the lot are students from Region Nine who are slated to return to Lethem to serve at the new institution.

The new hospital will be initially run by the staff from the old hospital and the Ministry of Health will periodically send in “roaming visiting teams” to complement its work.

Poverty reduction ventures in Region 2

The Guyana government, through the Ministry of Regional Development and Local Government, is to undertake four community projects in Region Two (Pomeroon/Supenaam) shortly. The undertakings will be in depressed communities, with the aim of reducing poverty and creating employment for the residents. The places identified for the execution of the projects are Charity, Airy Hall Sands, Lima Sands and Bush Lot, all on Essequibo Coast, which are targeted for pig, poultry and sheep rearing.

Each group of 50 families will be given resources worth $1 million to start their ventures and there must be proper accountability and record keeping. Spearheading the enterprises and to oversee them will be a regional steering committee headed by Regional Chairman Mr. Alli Baksh.

UG receives book donations

Deputy Vice-Chancellor of the University of Guyana Mr. Tota Mangar on April 30 expressed gratitude for a donation of books valued at $18.8 million to the university’s library. The handing over ceremony took place in the library’s foyer on the Turkeyen Campus. The library, Mangar said, had been diminished by the flood of 2005.

Professor Seodial Frank Deena of the Department of English, East Carolina University, donated 2,796 titles valued $7.9 million. He also presented 3,764 titles, valued $9.5 million on behalf of Dr. Oscar Ronald Dathorne, his widow and their children and staff from the same university.

And Mr. Hans Barrow of the Central Demerara Lions Club presented, on behalf of Dr. Shamir Ally of Greenleaf University, 247 titles valued at $1.4 million.

Takutu Bridge not open - Says Foreign Affairs Minister

Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mrs. Carolyn Rodrigues-Birkett, on April 27 said that the Guyana government, up to that time, had not concluded arrangements with the Brazilian government for the opening and functioning of the Takutu River Bridge.

At the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, she spoke at a press conference with reference to media reports that the overpass had been officially opened to vehicular traffic on April 26. She said on April 24 the Ministry of Foreign Affairs received information, through the Brazilian Embassy in Georgetown, that “Civil Office of the Presidency of the Republic of Brazil is taking steps in order to allow the provisional settlement of pedestrian and vehicular traffic on the Takutu River Bridge”.

“The Embassy further advised that ‘as soon as this matter is resolved, the Ministry will be duly informed in order for the necessary measures to be taken, at the consular and immigration sectors, in Lethem’,” the Minister declared.

She stated: “The Government of Guyana wishes to advise the public that the Takutu River Bridge is not yet accessible from the Guyana side of the border between Guyana and Brazil. The Guyana government remains in consultation with the government of Brazil with a view to finalising the arrangements for the opening of the bridge to traffic and its subsequent inauguration.”

She went on: “We do not have a likely date in mind as yet. We are working with the Brazilians and have indicated that whatever date is proposed, Guyana will make itself available or the President will make himself available for the inauguration.”

The Minister assured that officials are in contact with the Brazilian Ambassador in Guyana.

She reminded that the bridge is a project between the Federal Government of Brazil and the Government of Guyana.

National Assembly passes Former Presidents Bill

The Former Presidents (Benefit and Other Facilities) Bill of 2009 was on April 30 passed in the National Assembly despite opposition from representatives of the People’s National Congress Reform (PNCR) and the Alliance for Change (AFC).

Finance Minister Dr. Ashni Singh, in whose name the Bill was presented, told the Assembly that the legislation preserves the dignity and respect of erstwhile Heads of States as well as to statutise their benefits, in keeping with government’s thrust of ensuring greater accountability and transparency. Through this bill, the government sought to make statutory provisions for benefits and facilities that are currently provided by custom and practice or through Cabinet decisions.

In essence, former Presidents, already by custom and practice, are eligible and have been or were enjoying:

* Vehicles and the use of vehicles that were owned and maintained by the State

* Facilities provided by utility companies free of cost

* Household support (household staff)

* Medical expenditure taken care of by the State

* Security at their homes and personal to them

* Tax exemptions on the procurement and the purchase of items, household and personal effects.

The current Act specifies that the facilities and amenities to former Presidents include payment of utilities at place of residence, services of personnel, technical and household staff, payment of health-care related expenses for self and dependent family members, full time personal security and Presidential Guard Service arrangements at their residences and taxable status identical to that of the serving president.

It also empowers the Finance Minister to make necessary regulations for giving effect to the proposed legislation.

Singh pointed out that the benefits included in the legislation are not new and the Act itself aims to make certain predictable benefits and other facilities are available to former constitutional holders of the highest office in the land.

However, PNCR Parliamentarian Winston Murray said while his party does not have any qualms with former Presidents enjoying certain benefits from the state, the PNCR disapproves the legislation because the benefits it outlined are open-ended.

Those mentioned, he contended, should be quantified and not be subject to adjustments by the Finance Minister.

He emphasised that his party wholeheartedly welcomes the statute-based approach by the government on that and other matters, but said they should have consulted the Opposition to reach a consensus.

According to Murray, no former President has received tax exemption status equivalent to that of the serving Head of State, and he questioned that should a President go into business and makes million, if the money earned will be tax free.

Alliance For Change (AFC) Co-Leader Khemraj Ramjattan said that his party is not against the benefits for former Presidents, but firmly rejects the uncertainty of those contained in the Act.

However, Guyana Action Party/ Rise Organise and Rebuild (GAP/ROAR) Parliamentarian Everall Franklin supported the Bill, stating that the dignity and respect of the Office of the President must be held in high regard. He said the President after he demits office should be able to live a life comfortable enough to not seek employment. Franklin contended that a monetary value cannot be placed on the sacrifices and contributions made by the Presidents in their service to the nation.

News Briefs

Credits: Stabroek News, Chronicle, Mirror, Kaieteur News, GINA

Compiled and edited by Evangeline Ishmael

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