Director of Communications Mr. Mark Archer: Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen of the media. Welcome to the Cuyuni Room, which is the presidential press centre in the Ministry of the Presidency, welcome to our press conference.
Today we have His Excellency Brigadier David Granger, President of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana; Minster of State, the Honourable Joseph Harmon; Minister of Communities Ronald Bulkan.
His Excellency will now read his statement.
President David Granger: Good morning ladies and gentlemen of the media. These elections are very important to all Guyanese; some people regard elections as an opportunity to flaunt their personalities; some have proclaimed that it is an exercise in ethnicity, but we say it was an exercise in democracy.
The Local Government Elections of Friday 18th March were not only the duty of our government, but were a victory for democracy and an opportunity for inclusionary governance. The elections were a return to constitutionality after a lapse of nearly two decades under the previous administration. Citizens’ entitlement to participate in the decision-making in their municipal and neighbourhood councils has now been restored.
The Coalition, comprising A Partnership for National Unity and the Alliance For Change, struggled on the street, in the regions, and in the National Assembly for the restoration of local democracy. We are happy to have achieved this democratic objective in less than ten months after entering office. The historic elections were a reassurance of the Coalition’s commitment to continue our work:
• First – to empower our citizens in accordance with the Constitution of Guyana, to freely exercise their right to elect representatives of their choice to local councils;
• Second – to ensure that the three levels of government: central, regional and municipal through regular General and Regional Elections and Local Government Elections, can begin to work for the common good; rather than against each other;
• Third – to establish new towns at Mabaruma, Bartica and Lethem to provide public services and to propel the economic development of their regions and to make sure that each region is administered by a ‘capital town’ with its own mayor and town council;
• And fourthly, to enable the ten regions of Guyana to embark on coherent economic development programmes in concert with both the central government and municipal administrative organs.
The Coalition would like to thank all Guyanese for the purposeful and peaceful manner with which they participated in the elections. We thank all candidates who competed for office. We thank all political parties, groups and individuals for their participation. We thank the Guyana Elections Commission and its staff for their sedulous preparation and supervision of the elections. We, all of us Guyanese, can now look forward with confidence to a new era of democratic governance of our country.
I thank you.
Mark Archer: The Minister of State, Mr. Joseph Harmon will now make a brief statement.
Honourable Joseph Harmon: Ladies and gentlemen of the media I fully endorse what His Excellency, President Granger has said. I would like to add three points to what His Excellency has just said:
• First is that I want to underscore the point that the people of Guyana won these elections, that it was a clear demonstration of what we in the APNU-AFC administration, and what His Excellency had termed the year of ‘democratic renewal’. At the level of central government we had General Elections where we had democratic renewal at that level. Then secondly, in a short space of time after we came into office, we had elections for the Toshaos Council in this country and now at this final level of renewal; the Local Government Elections for neighbourhood democratic councils and the towns so that at every level of political organisation in the country, in a very short space of time, we were able to ensure that democratic renewal.
• Secondly, we are very encouraged by the number of young persons who came out to challenge for leadership in their communities. We believe that this is a very positive step and that, as an administration, as a government, we wish to embrace all of these persons irrespective of which political party, group or… where they came from. We wish to embrace all of them to ensure our communities are better managed and that they are part of that process where they contested.
• Thirdly, the question of the organisation of these elections by the Guyana Elections Commission is something that I think is worth commending. It was much better organised, even in the polling places. The organisation was a little different and in my view, it was very efficient. So I believe as we move forward as a nation we are getting better [at] a number of things; the administration of elections are becoming as it should in any democratic country, a part of national life and therefore, there should be no shockwaves every time an election comes around. In the next three years we will have another set of Local Government Elections and so the lessons that have been learnt from this exercise will be one that will benefit all of Guyana as we move forward. So like the President, I would like to congratulate all of Guyana for embracing this opportunity to be a part of local government and to be part of the exercise of managing the communities in this country. I thank you.
Mark Archer: Mr. Ronald Bulkan, the Minister of Communities will now make some brief remarks.
Minister of Communities, Mr. Ronald Bulkan: Thank you very much. Your Excellency, good afternoon ladies and gentlemen of the media. The successful holding of Local Government Elections yesterday marked and made yesterday a historic day in the history of our country. It represented a victory for the two-decades-long struggle for the return and restoration of local democracy. I wish to take this opportunity to thank and congratulate all of those [persons] who participated in this process beginning with all of the candidates who volunteered and who stepped forward to offer themselves to serve their communities in positions of leadership on a voluntary basis.
Next, I would like to also congratulate all of the voters who participated in this process arising out of their desire to see improvements in the conditions within their communities; and to see that there is improvement in the management and development of their communities. It is by participating and electing councillors that they will be able to achieve this and thirdly, I would like to congratulate the successful candidates who will now become councillors within our 62 NDCs and nine municipalities upon whose shoulders will rest perhaps, onerous duties of discharging the responsibilities to ensure that our towns and communities are safer, cleaner and viable.
As both the President and the Minister of State have said, the results of the elections of yesterday do not represent a victory for any party, but rather they represent a victory for the people of Guyana. If I may say, as far as the coalition candidates, as well as successful ones in particular are concerned, those results represent an opportunity for those persons to serve the residents of their constituency which if you [will] recall, is how Your Excellency described the results of the 2015 General and Regional Elections namely that they represent an opportunity for the administration to serve the people of Guyana.
It also, as far as the successful Coalition candidates are concerned, offers them an opportunity to participate and to lead in the process of the renewal of our communities and the reversal of the decay that has beset our communities as a result of the collapse of the local government system and as a result of the stresses that has been placed on it.
As far as the Ministry of Communities is concerned more particularly, yesterday’s exercise represents the first of three components in the restoration and the repair and the rehabilitation of the collapsed system of local government namely:
• The democratic renewal of the life of our councils
The other two main components that have been identified and articulated by me previously are
• Secondly, to ensure that there is institutional strengthening and building of capacity within the councils and the corps of councillors who are coming into office with a great degree of enthusiasm, but who are probably lacking the requisite experience to be able to manage the affairs of their communities and therefore, they are going to need support from the central government and in particular from the ministry.
• Thirdly, the third component that rehabilitation efforts will be the question of financing as to how our respective councils… have access to sufficient financial resources, which will largely determine how successful they are in discharging their responsibilities towards the residents of their communities.
Of course it is no secret that the APNU, when in Opposition, had placed the question of local government and the return of local democracy at the centrepiece of our efforts and you will recall that it was then Leader of the Opposition himself, Brigadier David Granger, who had personally led picketing exercises on the street just outside of this compound, for an extended period of time, calling for the holding of Local Government Elections and our President has been able to deliver on that commitment… in ensuring that these elections [were] held within ten months of coming into office and largely I believe out of his unshakable conviction that local democracy and human development are not only intertwined, but that there are inextricable… I have here with me one of the many booklets that have been authored by His Excellency which of course, shows him participating in those picketing exercises last year.
So yesterday was a historic day in the history of our country and we do believe that the presence of meaningful local democracy will be a very important vehicle in achieving the social cohesion that is so necessary for us to be able to not only move forward, but to progress as a society and to, if you will, ensure that the lack of that social cohesion, which has largely eluded us in the last 50 years that meaningful local democracy can successfully assist in that quest. I know that the President has alluded to some influential stakeholders in our country seeing [those] issues in terms of ethnicity, but as I said our councillors contested those elections on the unshakable principle and belief that they see their role [as] to serve our communities, that these councils will not be a rival to the central government.
I note that the Leader of the Opposition [Mr. Bharrat Jagdeo] in public remarks yesterday stated that he sees as a priority of his political party to intensify their campaign to regain the seat of central government and I would just like to say that it is unfortunate because local government is an important vehicle; it is not meant to be a rival to the central government and it is actually a gateway to the good life and this is what our successful candidates to the council intend to discharge to the people of their constituency. Thank you very much.
Mark Archer: Ladies and gentlemen, we will now entertain questions. I will ask you to state your name and the media house you represent and [to] use the microphone. I recognise Mr. Jomo Paul
Jomo Paul – Demerara Waves: From the reports we have seen thus far about the elections, it would appear as though persons that were backed by the two major political parties the PPP and the APNU-AFC have won in their constituencies. Mr. President, do you think this is so because those persons received the endorsement of those political parties?
President David Granger: Thank you, Mr. Paul. Those persons share our vision for clean, ‘green’ communities. They share our vision for an integration of the work of central, regional and municipal councils in the achievement of a high quality of governance. They share our vision for strong regions, that is what I saw coming out of the persons who came over to the side of the Coalition.
We have never prevented or obstructed any individual from participating or any group from participating; but yes I would say that people who share our vision will receive our encouragement.
People who try to divide and obstruct us, well we are not going to encourage them to obstruct us but we didn’t move against them. So you are quite right, there were people who want to see Guyana become clean again; they have seen the example of the Georgetown municipality and many people in New Amsterdam and Linden and Bartica and Mabaruma would like to see their towns develop along those lines. You are quite right, Mr. Paul.
Kurt Campbell – News Source: Good morning Mr. President. Two days before yesterday’s elections the APNU withdrew its support from Mr. [Winston] Harding. The results in his constituency shows that he would have won; could you say if the APNU would take a decision to recall him once he gets a seat in council?
President David Granger: The matter will be discussed within the PNCR and our partners with the APNU before we proceed. An announcement has already been made and we stand by the announcement that has been made and at this time I cannot go beyond that announcement until it has been discussed within the PNC councils and within the APNU.
Zoisa Fraser – Stabroek News: Good morning Mr. President two questions – with relation to the voter turnout based on the feedback we would have gotten from the ground, a lot of people did not turn out to vote. Your concerns about this and what might have been the deciding factor and with relation to Mr. Harding, there have been calls for [Minister of Social Protection] Ms. Volda Lawrence to resign from her post as the minister, how do you respond to that?
Minister of State, Mr. Joseph Harmon: The question of the voter turnout- historically at Local Government Elections the voter turnout has been lower than they are for the national and regional elections. So that the turnout this time around in our view, was even better than had been anticipated; the intensity of the campaigns in particular in the townships, you will find that there was a higher turnout in the township as opposed to the other NDCs and this is so because of the vibrancy of the debates which took place.
The fact that there were challenges from independent groups, political parties and other individuals – that in fact I believe energised the population, but this might have come a little bit late because I believe people had actually not voted for so long in Local Government Elections [that] a number of them felt that well, you know, this was not necessary. Some of them felt that well they just voted in national elections and therefore they have the government of their choice; and therefore they don’t need to do this. I think that now the process has started again that people, after they recognise what is happening in their communities and the fact that the people who have been elected are the ones who will have to champion their causes in the communities, I believe it will augur well for the next round which will take place in the next three years.
So it is really a fresh start almost, where Local Government Elections are concerned and, as I said, we hadn’t has these election for over 17 years so a number of the persons who are actually voting were voting in Local Government Elections for the first time. So that the low turnout it has been attributed to a number of things; some people have said that the voter education component of these elections was not enough, that more ought to have been spent on it; but in my humble view and in my own experience, I have found that in Local Government Elections that in the last two or three weeks that is when people get busy and irrespective of how much voter education you actually put out there that they only get busy in the last two or three weeks.
Additionally, the type of voting which took place, we had the PR component and then you had the constituency component – all of these things needed to be explained and I believe it was not until very late that some people got the message and then they decided to come out. Some others did not get it, but what we believe is that the whole result of what has happened here… yesterday will encourage other persons to offer themselves up for leadership in their communities and will encourage other persons the next time around to ensure that they vote.
You see in the communities also there is another power, which is a power if in the event that your representative are not representing you well, you have the power to have them recalled by calling for a vote in your communities. So that this is something which people will now get to understand what is the real power of local democracy; what is the power of Local Government Elections and the reason why they should come out in larger numbers the next time around. So as I said the numbers were in fact low, but I don’t think that they were lower than other time when we had elections. I believe in fact in the townships that the turnout was even higher than they were in the last elections, the last Local Government Elections.
Minister of Communities, Mr. Ronald Bulkan: I think it’s a bit premature to pronounce on the level of voter turnout because I know that GECOM has not yet given an overall percentage in relation to the turnout. But on the Essequibo Coast, where I spent the greater part of yesterday after having voted in my constituency, namely Constituency Nine in the Eccles/Ramsburg NDC, I am of the belief that the turnout on the Essequibo Coast was probably close to 40% and if indeed the overall turnout of these elections, when that figure is known, is in that vicinity or probably even a little higher – I noticed that in today’s paper there is a speculation that it is below 50% – I would see that as a very high turnout.
It may be recalled that at the last Local Government Elections in 1994 the turnout was then about 32%. Many persons may also be aware that in the recently held General Elections in Jamaica the turnout was only 47%. So if our Local Government Elections is anywhere close to that, I think it is an indication that people are interested in the process and even though it is a fact that yesterday was only the second Local Government Elections in the last 45 years, it shows that our people still want to participate in this process. So I think we should wait on the final and, outside of that, there are a few communities in our country that are not currently an NDC area or have a local government organ or are a local government area.
Principally we have the area along the Soesdyke-Linden Highway from Yarowkabra… all the way to Linden, which has never been made into local government areas, and it has been identified that now that these elections have been held those areas and it is intended that the boundaries will be demarcated and local government areas will be created along that stretch of the highway. There are also a few other communities; a few that come to mind are Rockstone in Region 10 and then we have a few other areas including in the Rupununi – the names escape me, but there are a few other mixed communities in our hinterland areas that have been calling to be made into NDC areas and this will also be a priority area of the ministry.
President David Granger: If I can just add, only a fortnight ago the Minister of State and I were at Kortberaad on the East Bank Berbice and they were asking to be included in an NDC. So there are communities, rural communities, which are not entitled to vote; so they couldn’t vote although they were on the General and Regional list. They were not able to vote yesterday and don’t forget there is a whole region, Region Eight. There is not a single Neighbourhood Democratic Council or municipality in the entire region; so the numbers are misleading if one attempts to compare the number of persons who voted yesterday to the number of persons who voted in the General and Regional Elections.
There are huge areas of our population which were not entitled to vote yesterday; so I think that the claim of ‘gloom and doom’ and flawed elections, I think, are completely misplaced and I agree with the Minister of State that we should wait until GECOM makes an announcement because every Guyanese was not entitled to vote yesterday.
Minister Lawrence, Ms. Fraser, yes I heard the call and I was told that the call was made to the President. The President has received no such call, but what I could say is that I will seek an explanation from Ms. Lawrence about the circumstances under which Mr. Harding was selected.
Vanessa Narine – Citizens Report: Minister Harmon, a quick follow-up on what you just said. Earlier you mentioned that yesterday’s vote was a demonstration of democratic renewal. How do you reconcile that with the low turnout and the calls for yesterday to have been made a holiday?
Minister of State, Mr. Joseph Harmon: I don’t think the three things are connected, but I will respond. Democratic renewal …democracy is now being renewed at all levels and so when you have something happening for the first time in some communities you have some hesitation; sometimes you have some scepticism about what it is all about, but eventually I believe education solves that and the people’s experience in their communities; and so I would say that the call, the democratic renewal and the numbers as we indicated, while we don’t have specific figures as yet officially from GECOM… from what we have within the APNU-AFC I do believe that the turnout was satisfactory.
In fact, if you check the elections in Canada where the Prime Minister of Canada was elected you know what was the turn out there? Thirty something per cent and they elected a Prime Minister. So that in our communities we are going to have to intensify this level of voter education and involvement of people in the administration of their communities and so I don’t believe that the two things are connected.
The third one about a holiday you said? Well I think that was a decision which was made by the administration that there was no need for a holiday. I think that when you look at what actually happened that it is a decision that was vindicated. Some people actually went to work, some left early so that they can have the time after work to go and vote. I rather suspect that some persons took the opportunity to come to work and then take the half of the day as a sort of a holiday so that they would have taken their lunch hour and then go to vote and then say, ‘well look the rest of the afternoon is my voting time’; that might have happened.
You know Guyanese are very creative, so you don’t have to call a holiday for them to take a holiday but what we did in fact say – in fact I think we did put out a formal statement- was that people were entitled to vote and that employers were encouraged to give them time off to allow them to exercise that right and we are happy to note that that call, by and large, was embraced by not only government ministries but by private corporations and some mining companies.
A few days ago we were told that there are some mining companies that… had some issues about their workers not getting the time to come and vote. We had a conversation with them and I believe that eventually we were able to resolve these differences and people were able to come out and vote. In fact, there is one newspaper article today which quotes, I believe it was the Guyana Goldfields, as saying how much they actually spent to ensure that their workers were able to come to their NDCs to be able to vote. So, I believe that these demonstrations of corporate citizenship and corporate responsibility is something that is going to catch on and that the next round I believe will be even better.
Mark Archer: Iva Wharton and then one final question.
Iva Wharton – Capitol News: Minister Bulkan, now that the elections are over, could you say when exactly he local government commission would be implemented and if you have begun identifying commissioners?
Minister of Communities, Mr. Ronald Bulkan: The operationalisation of the local government commission is expected to be fairly imminent. We have been engaged recently in a search for suitable premises and we have not been able to identify any government properties that are suitable for this purpose; so it may require rental of suitable premises, but it is expected that that commission will be operational very shortly.
Mark Archer: Final question, is that going to be you, Jomo?
Jomo Paul: Mr. President, we are hearing reports that Ms. Chase-Green, Oscar Clarke and Sherod Duncan have been shortlisted as possible mayoral candidates in the Georgetown municipality; any comment on this?
President David Granger: The Mayors would only be elected when the councils convene and this hasn’t happened as yet. I have been credited with some powers of prophecy, but I cannot at this point in time indicate who will be the Mayor in the various municipalities, the nine municipalities that we have now created.
Jomo Paul: Any favourites from you?
President David Granger: No, no. I am a democrat you know. I let the people speak.