The Year in Review 2005


Guyana Chroncle - Stabroek News - Mirror - Government Information Agency

Re- Guyana Chronicle - January 2006

Disastrous floods, bitter-sugar, fighting crime, the year of the CSME

By Neil Marks

2005 DAWNED with Guyana and the world engulfed in the catastrophe of the Asian tsunami, but little did some 300,000-odd citizens on the coastland, glued to their TV sets watching the devastation, realise they would experience nature’s wrath as never before felt here.

However, a sense that Guyana was going to pull through its worst disaster in a century came just a month after the January 17 torrential downpours that wrecked lives and cancelled the country’s most flamboyant national festival - Mashramani.



SMOOTH TRAFFIC: The country’s first four-lane highway, seen here from Mandela Avenue, Georgetown.

In mid-February, President Bharrat Jagdeo welcomed into Guyana two South American leaders including Brazil’s Lula Da Silva and brought Heads of Government from the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) to inaugurate the Liliendaal headquarters of the regional integration bloc.

The military played a significant role in recovery after the floods, but towards the end of October, as the Army prepared to mark its 40th anniversary, it joined the Guyana Police Force in “Operation Stiletto” to root out criminal elements and seize illegal weapons and ammunition from the East Coast village of Buxton, thought to be the holding ground for dangerous criminals.

A month before the close of 2005, Guyana’s efforts as part of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) group of countries to get the European Union to change its mind about making a drastic cut in sugar prices failed, and the country braced itself to the reality that it stands to loose US$37M in revenues annually.

These four key events were arguably those that defined the fifth year into the 21st century for Guyana.

FLOODS


FLOOD FRUSTRATION: President Bharrat Jagdeo speaks with a woman about to leave her home on January 18 because of flooding.

On January 17, President Jagdeo woke up to find the lawns of his official State House residence covered with water and soon he realised that 40% of the people of the country faced the same situation and worse.

Many thought it was just a worsening of the floods plaguing Georgetown, but as the media tracked the coastland it became clear that the water would not drain off in a hurry and that citizens in Regions Three, Four and Five would be in for the long haul.

President Jagdeo declared the three affected regions national disaster areas and made State House the operation centre from which he would manage the national response to the disaster and called in his government ministers, the Opposition, Georgetown Mayor Hamilton Green and appointed several high level committees to assess the situation and coordinate the relief effort.


SUSTENANCE: Minister Satyadeow Sawh delivers a relief hamper to a Good Hope resident.

The massive floods that spawned the coastland were brought on by torrential downpours that accumulated on the land and the drainage system was not designed to take-off the several feet of water lodged in the city and in villages on the East and West Coast of Demerara, East and West Bank Demerara, East Bank Essequibo and West Coast Berbice.

The United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) estimated that about 70,000 households were affected by the floods.

The government soon set in motion a national relief plan which saw many being evacuated to shelters, which were mainly school buildings, and being sustained by supplies of dry rations and potable water as they looked with tearful eyes to the slightest drop of the water level and a longing to return to their homes, if they still had a place to call such.

For those stuck in the upper flats of their homes, cooked food and dry rations were supplied by the government and countless organisations and individuals who reached out. Assistance came from across the country and from the Caribbean, South America, North America and Europe.


HEADING OUT: Families moving out of their flooded Good Hope, East Coast Demerara on January 18.

President Jagdeo himself was constantly in the communities to listen to the plight of the people and his government ministers, even Prime Minister Samuel Hinds waded through water to personally deliver relief hampers with dry rations.

Amidst the floods, the country was spiralled into further alarm with the killer disease Leptospirosis, and several lost their lives. A 40-member team of Cuban doctors and technicians visited to boost the work started by local and other health officials to contain the outbreak of diseases.

In total, some 34 persons lost their lives as a result of the floods.

The country appealed for boats, canned food and inflatable dinghies as the relief effort kicked in and the government approved the waiver of duties and taxes on all goods required for the flood relief programme. LOADED: Bodyguards join Prime Minister Samuel Hinds to take in relief supplies in Vryheid’s Lust, East Coast Demerara during the January floods.

Schools were closed as were the University of Guyana and the Cyril Potter College of Education.

The United Nations launched a `Flash Appeal’ for about US$3M in response to the emergency humanitarian situation created by the widespread floods in coastal communities here.

Work on five new outfalls to help drain excess water from the East Coast Demerara began as the government accelerated plans to avert a repeat the disastrous floods.

 

`WALKING FISH’

FISH FROG: The crapaud fish in its tadpole stage that created a stir on the East Coast during the floods.

On the lighter side of the flood, pictures of fish with legs drew shock and enthusiasm, triggering speculation about their origin. A reader, in an email, suggested that the “walking fish” may be a young version of the dreaded predator called Snakehead.

But retired Senior Scientific Officer of the Department of Biology at the University of Guyana, Mr Mike Tamessar, put the issue to rest when he declared the strange creatures were really “the tadpole stage of the pseudi paradoxa frog...commonly known as the crapaud fish in its tadpole stage.”

After weeks of pumping water out to the Atlantic Ocean, the flood waters eventually receded and citizens started to rebuild their lives.

“These coastal regions were under water for an extended period from the unprecedented levels of rainfall. This resulted in severe hardships for many of our citizens. The economic loss was massive,” President Jagdeo said.


TO THE PEOPLE: Head of the Presidential Secretariat Dr Roger Luncheon rides
in a makeshift boat to deliver water to residents at Enterprise, East Coast Demerara.

The President on March 18 announced a $2.8B short term recovery package to assist thousands of Guyanese and rebuild infrastructure and strengthen the drainage system. The three-month package was funded by the government with assistance from the donor community.

To oversee the implementation of the plan, a Planning Recovery and Implementation Secretariat was set up at the Office of the President with Commissioner of the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission Robeson Benn as head.

The plan envisaged providing grants of $10,000 to each household affected by the flood. At the end of the exercise, 70,580 cheques for that amount were handed out, the government reported.

Cheques for different amounts were handed out to rice farmers (1,674), agricultural farmers (6,895) and owners of small businesses (2, 322), the Government Information Agency reported.

In key sectors, the plan provided for recovery. For the education sector, school furniture damaged was being replaced and this process is continuing. Textbooks are also being replaced.


PUNT FOOD ANYONE? Sugar punts converted into cook shops to
carry hot meals to those confined to their homes on the flooded East Coast Demerara.

In health, 16 health centres were repaired.

In drainage and irrigation, Head of the Special Task Force Ravi Narine said $800M allocated under the plan was utilised to carry out emergency works to the East Demerara Conservancy dam and drainage systems in the three affected regions.

More than 20 roads damaged as a result of the floods are being repaired.

On the day the President announced the flood recovery package, the local Pan American Health Organisation/World Health Organisation (PAHO/WHO) office emphasised that that there was no threat from flood-related diseases here and Guyana was safe for visitors.

This came against complaints by tourism officials that advisories by the British and Canadian High Commissions and the United States Embassy against their citizens visiting Guyana after the January floods, led to a slump in tourist arrivals.

“In spite of the suffering and the misery the flooding caused, our people rose to the occasion,” President Jagdeo said at the end of the year, satisfied that Guyana handled well this natural disaster which all hope would never return.

The United Nations has calculated that Guyana needs G$93B to recover from the floods.

However, if the January floods were not enough, more set in. Throughout the year there were reports of flooding along the coast and in the city whenever it rained. But the losses were minimal.

On Christmas Day, residents within the Mahaica/Mahaicony rice grid began reporting floodwaters in their homes, kitchen gardens and rice farms. Officials said the flood was caused by heavy rainfall upstream the Mahaicony River. One day before the year ended, the President announced an $80M plan to assist those affected.

This was besides the $400M assistance package announced for rice farmers along the coast as fears of the flood woes rose in Mahaicony. The year ended with the waters receding in the three rivers.

BITTER SUGAR

NO SUGAR DEAL: EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson (right) on a trip to Guyana in January took time off from pleas by Guyana to dissuade Europe from imposing drastic price cuts to sugar, sips cold coconut water. Was it sour?

In early January new European Union Trade Commissioner, Mr Peter Mandelson, arrived in Guyana to pleas from the Guyana Sugar Corporation (Guysuco) to help stave off a grave threat to the sector from the EU.

However, lobbying efforts by Guyana and countries within the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) group of countries failed and doom set across the sugar producing countries when the EU announced that it was cutting the price for sugar by 36 per cent over four years.

This would deprive Guyana of US$37M in revenues annually, but Guysuco and the government are confident that Guyana would be among a few countries able to withstand the blow due to deep reforms of the sugar industry rooted in the Skeldon Modernisation Project.

In January, the government acquired a G$6.4 billion loan on confessional terms to finance the co-generation plant that will be an integral part of the Skeldon sugar modernisation project in Berbice. Finance Minister Saisnarine Kowlessar signed what was deemed to be the single largest loan agreement with the People's Republic of China for the immediate provision of the funds.

The sugar industry is planning – and the plans are under way – to build on its current success and increase its contribution to the economy further by building a new factory and co-generation plant at Skeldon by improving productivity throughout its operations, diversifying, adding value through its branded sugars (such as Demerara Gold brand), and alcohol production and expanding its markets in CARICOM and further afield.

The new factory will have a production capacity of 110, 000 tonnes annually, nearly three times the capacity of the present factory, and along with an expanded cane cultivation and factory improvement programme, annual national production will be upped to more than 450,000 tonnes for which suitable markets, within a range of sugar product qualities, have been identified.

At the end of March, St Kitts announced the closure of its debt-ridden sugar industry, ending 300 years of sugarcane processing. It was the impending EU sugar reforms that influenced the decision said Komal Chand, head of the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU), which represents most sugar workers in Guyana.

FUEL

FUEL LINE: Soaring gas prices in May created lines at the city’s gas stations as many hurried to full up before another increase.

The rising cost of fuel internationally burned significant resources from the national treasury as the government dropped consumption tax to cushion the effect of the increase prices at the pump on the pockets of Guyanese.

The price for gasoline tipped $1,000 per gallon and a shortage at stations of the Guyana Oil Company (GUYOIL) caused panic when outlets were forced to close down. The soar in prices saw a rush for gasoline at retail outlets and long lines of vehicles as consumers rushed to fill up.

FIGHTING CRIME

OPERATION STILETTO: Police and Soldiers in the East Coast backlands during the anti-crime operation in October

On November 25, the National Law and Order Commission was set up with 26 members. The National Commission on Law and Order is an advisory body that will review and make recommendations to the Government of Guyana when necessary or from time to time to treat with the high crime rate and violence and that which would foster wider public confidence and support.

In October, the Guyana Police Force and the Guyana Defence launched Operation Stiletto to clean Buxton, East Coast Demerara of criminals and illegal weapons and ammunition.

In a statement backing the Police/Army operation involving more than 400 ranks, the leading private sector body, the Private Sector Commission (PSC) hailed the operation and said it “looks forward to a sustained and unrelenting campaign being maintained to uphold and enforce the rule of law in our society until every form of organised crime, wherever and however it has become entrenched, is confronted.”

The PSC took its position in the face of strong criticism of the anti-crime exercise from the main Opposition People’s National Congress Reform (PNCR), the Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA), the small Working People’s Alliance (WPA), among others.

The Police tackled a number of gruesome murders in 2005 and twice the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) got involved.

These were in the murders of American missionary couple Richard Hicks and Charlene Hicks at Lethem in March and the December Georgetown hotel murder of American health care consultant Hubert Daniel Thompson.

Thompson’s death saw a 12-member FBI team here and claims of corruption within the Police Force rose when the private Kaieteur News displayed a sketch of a wanted man in the murder two days before it was officially released to the media.

In March, U.S. drug agents trying to stem the mounting flow of cocaine and other narcotics to that country said they were keeping a closer watch on trafficking rings here.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration in a report disclosed that joint U.S.-Guyana operations in combating narcotics were “quickly compromised due to corruption”, triggering a growing interest and involvement here by the DEA.

It said there was corruption within the Guyana Police Force and the Customs Anti-Narcotics Unit (CANU). The Guyana Government appealed to the U.S. to share information.

President Jagdeo reiterated Guyana’s commitment and willingness to fight narco-trafficking but declared that the U.S. has to help more in the battle against this illicit scourge.

Minister of Culture, Youth and Sport Gail Teixeira officially took over these matters and the overall security sector when she was made Minister of Home Affairs following the resignation of Minister Ronald Gajraj in May.

Minister Ronald Gajraj

On April 4, the Presidential Commission of Inquiry set up in May 2004 to look into allegations that Gajraj was linked to extra-judicial killings said it found no credible evidence against him.

President Jagdeo and his government re-instated Minister Gajraj to man the national security sector, but following criticism from opposition groups and international governments, Gajraj asked the President to be relieved of his duties at the end of May.

Gajraj was later appointed Guyana’s High Commissioner to India and is now in New Delhi.

Minister of Public Works Anthony Xavier was transferred to the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sport, and career public servant Harrinarine Nawbatt was sworn in as Minister of Public Works.

 

REGIONAL INTEGRATION

 


CARICOM leaders outside the new CARICOM Headquarters at Liliendaal, East Coast Demerara

On February 19, the country took a breather from the floods to register its strong commitment to forging a wider regional community.

With evidence of the worst natural disaster in this country still stark in the watermark of several feet on fences along the road to Liliendaal, CARICOM Heads of Government headed to the new headquarters site of the CARICOM Secretariat for its inauguration.

“This is indeed a proud moment for all Guyanese, especially for me, as it represents the fulfilling of a promise made more than 30 years ago when the regional integration process began”, host President Jagdeo told the gathering at the opening.

“The event must certainly rank among the more significant occasions in the life of our integration movement”, he added.

Surinamese President Ronald Venetiaan, then chairman of the group, said the US$8M secretariat headquarters “symbolises the unity and aspirations” of the people of the community and called its opening a “joyful moment”.

Present at the inauguration ceremony was Chilean President Ricardo Lagos who pledged to build closer relations between South America and the Caribbean.

His trip followed that of Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva who paid a one-day state visit pledging to restart the long-stalled border bridge project and to push plans for a highway between Georgetown and Boa Vista.

In April, government and opposition politicians from across the region gathered in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad for the inauguration of the Caribbean Court of Justice.

President of the Court, on which sits two Guyanese judges including the country’s first female Chancellor Desiree Bernard, Michael de la Bastide said the CCJ would not be subjected to political interference from any CARICOM member country.

The inauguration of the CCJ paved the way for the creation of the Caribbean Single Market and Economy and at the end of the year President Jagdeo signed documents signalling this country’s readiness for the free flow of skills, goods and services across the region.

AMERINDIAN AFFAIRS

On March 17, the Amerindian Ministry formally moved into a spanking new home and Amerindian elders lit a traditional blessing fire at the commissioning of the new $44M ministry building at Thomas and Quamina Streets, Georgetown. It became the ministry’s own quarters since its establishment in 1993.

As Minister of Amerindian Affairs Carolyn Rodrigues settled into her new office, she paddled past heated controversy surrounding the Amerindian Bill and piloted it through its first and second reading in the National Assembly, where it now rests with a Special Select Committee which was agreed to on October 20 following a marathon debate in the House.

FINANCE

On February 21, Finance Minister Saisnarine Kowlessar unveiled the flood-delayed 2005 national budget. The $86.4 billion budget reflected a 14 per cent increase over 2004’s $75.6 billion estimates, and promised to promote long- and short- term measures to ensure growth and development in Guyana.

In late January, the Executive Board of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) announced that it has approved the immediate disbursement of about US$14.1M for Guyana under the Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility (PRGF).

At the end of the year, the IMF completed the assessment of the first group of countries eligible for relief under the historic Multilateral Debt Relief Initiative (MDRI) and named Guyana among those to benefit. In a statement after the discussion, IMF Managing Director Mr Rodrigo de Rato announced that Guyana is among 19 countries that will benefit from 100 per cent debt relief.

TOURISM

In March, Guyana’s push to establish a viable yachting industry bore fruit with the arrival of seven yachts at Baganara Island Resort in the Essequibo River.

On April 18, Guyana welcomed another group of tourists when the MV Bremen docked at the wharf of the Guyana National Industrial Corporation (GNIC), Georgetown for a 24-hour stopover. About 116 passengers of the vessel disembarked with the objective of seeing as much of the country as they could in their short stay.

INFRASTRUCTURE DEVELOPMENT

WALKOVER: President Bharrat Jagdeo and others walk across the new Mahaica Bridge after its opening on May 26.

Major work on the country’s first four lane highway was completed this year and commuters breathed relief with travelling time to Georgetown significant reduced.

The US$16M project was executed in two phases. Phase one entailed construction of the four-lane highway, valued at US$10.6M, while phase two covers the construction of the West Bank Demerara road valued at US$5.4M, from Schoonord, (Demerara Harbour Bridge) to the Vreed-en-Hoop intersection.

The East Bank Highway project is being extended to Providence.

The new Mahaica and Mahaicony bridges were officially opened to traffic on May 26 by President Jagdeo. Each bridge was built at a cost of US$3.5 million.

The Mahaica bridge stretches 440 feet over the Mahaica River, replacing the old railway bridge, which was shunted some 50 feet away and will be restored as a heritage site.

The new Mahaicony bridge, 450 feet long, is located immediately north of the old existing bridge.

The Mahaica and Mahaicony bridges, along with several smaller ones along the coast, were constructed under a US$22M bridges programme funded by the government through a loan from the Inter-American-Development Bank (IDB).

On March 18, 1998, the Guyana Government secured a loan from the IDB for the replacement of 32 bridges and 50 culverts from Timehri to Rosignol and the construction of the two pre-stressed concrete bridges across the Mahaica and Mahaicony Rivers.

Guyana’s preparations for Cricket World Cup 2007 were expedited this year and major progress was made in the construction of the stadium at Providence, East Bank Demerara for Guyana’s hosting of the quarter finals.

The stadium is being built at a cost of US$25M and when completed would be able to seat 15,000, but there would be the installation of 5,000 temporary seats for the event. The tournament would be the single largest event ever hosted in this country.

CONCLUSION

National life this year will be influenced by four key national undertakings: the completion of the Providence Stadium for Cricket World Cup 2007, national and regional elections due by August 4, the Rio Group meeting, and the celebration of the country’s 40th Independence anniversary.


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