D.O.C Mark Archer: Good morning ladies and gentlemen of the media. Welcome our post- Cabinet brief for Friday, February 17th, 2017. The brief will be done this morning by the Minister of State, The Honourable Joseph Harmon. Mr. Harmon
Hon. Min Joseph Harmon: Thank you. Good morning ladies and gentlemen of the media. The brief will cover the matters that were dealt with at Cabinet at its meeting last Tuesday 14th of course you know that was Valentine’s Day and also the second anniversary of the signing of the Cummingsburg Accord and so it was a good day for reflection.
Cabinet on an application by the Minister of Communities approved of the delivery and construction of seven hundred and fifty-eight housing units in Regions Two, Three, Four, Five, Six, Seven and Ten. These units were going to be at a cost of five billion Guyana dollars and it’s the first phase of a program to develop low-cost housing, particularly targeting public sector employees, the youths and low-income earners.
These units will be- some of them will be duplexes and some of them will be townhouses. The project is expected to start almost immediately and it is anticipated that within the space of twelve months it will be completed. This, as I said, is an initial phase as over the next two years we’ll be rolling out housing developments, housing communities in several other communities of Guyana. The important distinction that you want to make is that we are not just issuing house lots; we are building homes within communities for the citizens of this country.
I believe that the Minister of Communities will be elaborating more extensively on this initiative, as I believe it is something that we have been waiting for some time and the ministry I would not want to steal their thunder again by providing all of the details of this program, but suffice it to say that Cabinet approved of the approach and the expenditure of the sum of money.
Cabinet approved the attendance at a signing ceremony for the Hinterland Environmental Sustainable Development Project to be held in Rome, Italy on March 21st, 2017.This project will be financed through a loan of US eight point four six million dollars provided by the International Fund for Agricultural Development- IFAD. The Government of Guyana would provide an additional sum of US two point four three million dollars for the project.
The loan will be signed by His Honourable Mr. Winston Jordan, Minister of Finance and His Excellency Mr. Kanayo Nwanze- President of the International Fund for International Development and it will provide for the following:
1) The development of investment plans for the establishment of local value chains.
2) The establishment of an investment fund for farmers.
3) The execution of a Food and Agricultural study in Region One Barima-Waini and,
4) Institutional strengthening
The project will be executed in all sub-regions, of regions numbers nine and the Mabaruma and Maruka sub-region number one of the Barima-Waini region and it will benefit residents of eighty communities in those sub-regions.
Cabinet has approved the appointment of a new Board of Directors for the Guyana National Broadcasting Authority. These persons whom Cabinet approved were: Mr. Leslie Sobers as Chairperson of the authority, Mrs. Scheherazade Khan, Dr. Rovin Deodat, Mrs. Jocelyn Josiah, Mrs. Aretha Campbell, Mr. Joel Edmonds and a representative a nominee from the opposition. The new board will serve for a period of two years from February 1st, 2017 to January 31st, 2019.
The 2014 audited financial statement of the Central Housing and Planning Authority was submitted to Cabinet by the Honourable Minister of Communities. Cabinet noted the statement and directed that it be tabled in the National Assembly as required.
Cabinet has approved the appointment of His Excellency Mr. Kafi Khadris as non-resident High Commissioner of the Republic of Cyprus to Guyana. Ambassador Khadris will succeed His Excellency Ambassador Lloyd Zies and will be resident in Brasilia, Brazil. Guyana an Cyprus as you are aware have enjoyed cordial relations since the establishment of diplomatic relations in February of 1972 and have collaborated at the political levels in reciprocal support for each other’s territorial integrity.
Cabinet has also agreed that appointment of His Excellency Mr. Do Baku as Non-Resident Ambassador of the Republic of Vietnam to Guyana. Ambassador Do Baku is his country’s serving ambassador in Brazil. Guyana and Vietnam established diplomatic relations in April of 1975 and it is expected at the appointment of Ambassador Do Baku will help to resuscitate and strengthen relations between our two countries.
Guyana will participate in an Industrial Management Programme at Durnham College of Applied Arts and Technology in Ontario, Canada from March 26th to April 1st, 2017.The program will enable participants to acquire skills in industrial engagement, strategic planning and leadership, especially in the areas of on the job training, work placement for students and their transition to being productive employees. Mr. Patrick Chinedu, Assistant Chief Education Officer Technical, Mrs. Renita Crandon-Duncan, principal acting of the Guyana Technical Institutes and Mr. Trevor Graham, senior lecturer Mechanical Department- Government Technical Institute will attend the program.
Cabinet has approved participation in the 50th anniversary celebration of the signing of a treaty, for the prohibition of nuclear weapons in Latin America and the Caribbean. This was held in Mexico City on February 14th, 2017. Guyana that conference was represented by His Excellency to Mr. Riyad Insanally Guyana’s Ambassador to the United States of America.
Guyana will attend the third International Participants Meeting of countries taking part in the World Expo 2017 to be held in Astana Kazakhstan from February 22nd -23rd , 2017. The World Expo 2017 to be hosted by the Republic of Kazakhstan from June 10th -October 10th, 2017 will be attended by over one hundred countries worldwide. Eleven countries from the Caribbean, including Guyana will participate and exhibit in a special CARICOM pavilion.
Guyana’s participation in this preparatory meeting will ensure proper planning for our involvement in the tree month-long exposition. So that Guyana can be properly showcased and the benefits from our attendance at this event maximized- Mrs. Sanchara Persaud, Senior Tourism Officer in the Ministry of Tourism and Business will attend the meeting.
Cabinet has noted the award of contracts by the procurement entities and the National Procurement and Tender Board as follows:
For the rehabilitation of the Guyana Defence Force hanger complex at Timehri- a contract in a sum of fifty-seven million, sixty-four thousand, two hundred thirty-seven dollars. That contract was awarded to Nabi Construction Inc.
For the supply of goods and services for the maintenance of the mobile scanner which is an inspection system for the Guyana Revenue Authority contract for the sum of one hundred and five million dollars awarded to the New Tech Company Limited.
For the upgrade and extension of laboratory facilities for the Pesticides and Toxic Chemical Control Board at the Ministry of Agriculture- a contract in the sum of eighty-three million, five hundred twenty-four thousand dollars awarded to Seeram Civil Engineering and Woodworking Establishment.
For the maintenance and cleaning of drainage and irrigation channels within Leguan Region # Three – a contract for the sum of eighteen million, two hundred and ninety-five thousand dollars, awarded to the Leguan Neighborhood Democratic Council.
For the procurement of vaccines for Maternal Child Health the Ministry of Public Health a contract in the sum of US one hundred forty-seven thousand, Two hundred and forty-seven dollars awarded to the PAN American Health Organization- PAHO.
Ladies and gentleman this brings me to the end of the matters which were discussed at Cabinet and I avail myself for any questions which you may have.
Gildharie: Good morning Minister Gildharie Kaieteur News. Could you give us a little more details- I know that you said that the Minister of Communities would be saying a little more, but could you give us a little more detail as to the house, as to some of the application process and so on?
Hon. Min Joseph Harmon: Well the application process would be the same as those persons would have applied for house lots and housing before. So there are, I believe over twenty-five thousand applications that are in the ministry; the Ministry of Communities- The Housing Department for many years; they have been able to do some sorting and I believe close to one thousand five hundred and something they have sort of narrowed down as being the persons who might benefit from this first, this first initiative but as I said, it is going to be an ongoing exercise and the ministry is very excited about it.
Gildharie: Have they been able to shortlist the contractor; contractors on this particular thing? I know they have been talking to some Chinese from Suriname.
Hon. Min Joseph Harmon: I cannot say specifically but what I do know came up at Cabinet was the fact that the construction of these homes should encourage to a large extent Guyanese businesses; should encourage the purchase of material that’s made in Guyana. So that it can actually generate employment activity in the forestry sector and in some modest sectors that have gone a little dormant over time. So our first priority will be to create an environment and create an atmosphere where local contractors will have the first say and local material in the construction of these homes.
Gildharie: Thank you.
Hon. Min Joseph Harmon: Yes.
Media Representative: Good morning sir, just two questions on the statement. Any word on who might be the nominee- the opposition nominee for the GNBA Board?
Hon. Min Joseph Harmon: I don’t have that as yet. I suppose the opposition will in due course send us their nominee. As you know in the past the opposition had stayed away from naming nominees to Boards and Mr. Jagdeo had made a statement- a public statement that they will start to participate in these events when it is in the view of the opposition –the quote, unquote- witch hunting has stopped. So I trust that he would recognise that this is an important matter for the opposition and that they send a nominee to that board.
Media Representative: Okay and on the issue of the mobile scanner, you said that the contract was awarded to New Tech?
Hon. Min Joseph Harmon: Now this is a company that already provided, in fact, they are the company that provided the scanner, they have provided the training. This is an ongoing contract. So it is not a new contract it is… once you recognise that on the Wharf they had some scanning activity and we intend to expand on it so that we’ll be able to cover not just one port but all of the ports of entry and exit in the country.
So this is a part of the process of ensuring that we can cover these major activities taking place. If any day, any one day that you go on the Wharf any one of the wharves here in Guyana, you will find the volume of activity- containerized activity that’s going and coming and certainly if we want to maintain some control, some amount of influence over what goes in and what comes out and what people declare to be going in and coming out then we would need to have greater investment in this type of activity.
Adam Harris: Adam Harris, Prime News Sir, I want to go back to the housing; now of these seven hundred and fifty-eight housing units you short list people. What is the repayment period that these people would have to pay for these houses and do you have an idea of perhaps a monthly cost because obviously, it would be a hire purchase arrangement?
Hon. Min Joseph Harmon: I don’t have those details, but what I can say to you my understanding is that the units will cost in the vicinity of $5.4M each, that is that is my understanding. I do not have any further details about the payment arrangements those details you will get from the Ministry of Communities.
Media Representative: Sir, in relation… good morning sir; in relation to the Central Housing and Planning Authority report. Sir, is there anything in particular that Cabinet has noticed in the fines and recommendations; anything that has caught your attention? And could you also say what really has influenced government’s decision on the mash route? I see there are reports saying that Cabinet went one way and the Minister of Education went another way.
Hon. Min Joseph Harmon: Well, you noticed I did not report on that, it didn’t come up at Cabinet so the persons who are saying that Cabinet went one way, they probably have another Cabinet but this Cabinet that I am reporting on didn’t discuss that that’s one.
The first question you asked was about the Central Housing and Planning. Well, of course, we are now covering activities of the entities which were under the previous administration and so the 2014 report Cabinet had decided not to make any… too many comments on it because we’re going to lay it in a National Assembly and therefore you will have everybody see what it is.
But certainly there are some things that stand out which really Cabinet did not deliberate extensively on but it is our responsibility as a government; so our responsibility for transparency to ensure that these entities submit their reports and it doesn’t matter what is in there it is our duty ensure that it is laid and the people of this country see what has happened.
At the appropriate time, we will make our comments on it. But really the instruction is being given to all government ministers to ensure that all of the entities under them that they bring their accounting up-to-date so that you’ll get a number of these things coming out. Last week we dealt with the Guyana Lands and Surveys Commission, we also dealt with the National Insurance Scheme and several more of these are coming out.
Media Representative: Minister, Good morning, two questions: is the administration at all concerned about alleged criminal charges to be filed against some of its unnamed ministers as the Opposition Leader put it- who have enriched themselves? And secondly, is the administration taking notes on recent statements and development coming from the Private Sector Commission? Only yesterday I think a statement to the effect where they are saying that they don’t have any confidence in the coalition management or the handling of the economy. How do you respond to both questions minister?
Hon. Min. Joseph Harmon: Well for the first one; I believe that the people of Guyana voted for us and that the appropriate time when there is to be a referendum on our performance the people of this country will make their statement. I would not comment more on the private sector as such because the private sector it is a name called private sector but it does not represent all of the persons who are doing business in the private sector so sometimes when you are hearing these statements you have to be able to disaggregate.
I will go no further on that because I do not believe it is a referendum on our performance but in relation to the statements made by Mr. Jagdeo about filing criminal charges, I almost laughed when I saw that statement because I can say to you now that a number of the persons who the Leader of the Opposition are seeking to deflect attention from most likely he is aware that they are subjects of criminal investigations and I can say to you that there are several matters which are now at the Special Organized Crime Unit and for which they are receiving international help in bringing these cases to the court.
The wheels of justice turn slowly but surely, slowly but surely and I can say also to you that several reports have been laid before SOCU and that they concern the forensic audits which have been done on NICIL, the Guyana Marketing Corporation, the Cricket World Cup, the Guyana Rice Development Board, the Guyana Power and Light, GoInvest, MMA, the Met Office. All of these are matters which touch on concerns of criminal activity and are being investigated now with a view to laying charges against persons in the courts and this has been done by SOCU.
Additionally, the Guyana Revenue Authority/ information has basically been going to them as well about cases in which our tax laws have been breached and significant breaches of our tax laws and so we will get some activities there as well but like I said, in the National Assembly I believe it might have been last year in the debate, well Mr. Jagdeo should be the last person to be talking about filing criminal charges about anything because the Inter-American Council on Human Rights in one case which came before it and in relation to the killings, the periods of the killings when President Jagdeo was the president, they’ve actually cited him as one of the persons that should account.
Then of course you know the report of the Council of Hemispheric Affairs, the COHA report which stated that Jagdeo will go down in history as a man who has done absolutely nothing for his nation while he was in office, that he could only receive the lowest of marks from any independent evaluation through his tolerance of crime, racism and dismal social progress and the report went on to say a number of other things and what I want to say that is different with us is that the report pointed to the fact that there was a reducing amount of funds being spent on education since in Jagdeo’s time and so what we are seeing now – we are seeing the impact of under-resourcing for the educational sector and this is why we have to now get into emergency spending of millions of dollars for the grade six examinations for mathematics and English and so on.
This is what is happening, this is the result of bad spending in the early days that we have to now correct but I can say to you in our 2017 budget, the allocation for education is 17.2% of our budget. In Jagdeo’s time it was 6.1 and 7.2 so we are now allocating 17.2% of our national budget, on infrastructure we’re allocating 14.8%; on health 12.4%, on public security 11.6%.
This is no joke, this is no makeup figures- this is there; It is laid in the National Assembly. So when these gentlemen speak about our commitment to fight crime, our commitment to education, our commitment to health. This is the reality and we are doing as much as we can with limited resources and with international help to focus on these issues which affect the Guyanese people. So that will be my answer to that.
Zoisa Fraser: Good morning Minister Harmon, Zoisa Fraser, Stabroek News. Two questions for you Mr. Harmon: first, since the SARA Bill was taken before the National Assembly a lot of concerns have been expressed. The private sector has called for it to be recalled, there is also a call for it to be taken to a special select committee before it is debated.
Can you say whether or not this matter has been taken before Cabinet or whether or not there has been any discussion with the Attorney General about whatever concerns have been publicly expressed and secondly could you update us on the search for an ombudsman?
Hon. Min. Joseph Harmon: Firstly, the question of the SARA Bill, the SARA Bill before it came to Cabinet was subject to wide consultation. These consultations were led by the Attorney General himself and there were statements which were made, persons who had concerns about some aspects of the Bill and those concerns were taken into consideration before the bill got to the point of being laid in the National Assembly. In the National Assembly it is expected that the Bill will be debated on the 9th of March.
On the end of that if it is that there are issues that have arisen that propels us to go in a certain direction, whether it goes to the select committee or whether we pass it as it is then that is a decision that will be made then but clearly the recommendations that have been made by the private sector, those recommendations were taken into consideration and so now for them to say that it should go to a select committee it’s really, when a matter goes to select committee it is really giving it at the public and several organizations another opportunity to comment on it, and we have given them that opportunity and if as I said at that point in time it is felt that there is a strong enough move to have the Bill go to a select committee then that is a decision which will be made but what I want to say is that when we have an opportunity to comment on things, when we have an opportunity to say things do not stay silent until you get a chorus and then you decide that you know what happen, this thing should go here.
When you have an opportunity ensure also that your membership get an opportunity to comment on these things because you cannot keep legislation moribund just waiting and waiting and waiting. We have to move this country forward, we have to deal with issues in relation to the persons who have actually sequester state assets and we have to have the legal coverage to go after those persons who have actually stolen in many cases, state assets.
Zoisa Fraser: So are you saying sir, if I could just ask a follow-up, that it will be left in the hands of the National Assembly more or less?
Hon. Joseph Harmon: Well, the bill is a government bill. It’s a government bill and the government will determine what happens to its bill. If as I said, because, we are a consensus people we build consensus and if at that point in time it is recognized that there are some issues in the bill which still require clarification then that can be a motivator for us to go that way but as it stands right now we are prepared to go and debate the bill in the National Assembly on the 9th of March.
Zoisa Fraser: The ombudsman?
Hon. Joseph Harmon: The Ombudsman as I indicated to you by the first quarter, that is what I said last year, by the first quarter of this year we will have an ombudsman, and I can say to you that is we are well on track for having that done.
We are well on track to getting that done. The law prescribes a certain quality of person who has to sit in that office and we are going through that, we are making sure that we are in keeping with the law and the spirit of the law as well.
Media Representative: With the government …on the implementation of…Minister Jordan would have said that persons have the choice but the fact is that public schools do not have the capacity to house all these children. Would they re-examine the implementing 14% VAT because this has caused, I spoke with persons from private institutions, this has caused students to drop out in the tertiary sector because they cannot afford this?
Hon. Min. Joseph Harmon: Well, that’s a matter which is engaging our attention. I am not sure that, I don’t know what the figures are about the dropouts but Minister Jordan did allude to the fact that a number of these private schools are, I think, what they call private charter schools and therefore they do not pay taxes- a number of the private schools.
I think the minister and the ministry will come out with some information which basically will lay the case on the table but it is I believe sometimes it is in the implementation of these measures that people try to put pressure on you by saying so many persons dropout and so on. I don’t have the figures, I cannot comment beyond that but what I can say in fact it did attract the attention of Cabinet and Minister Jordan has examined it and he is going to come out with a very clear statement on the matter.
Media Representative: But a private institution that has been paying their taxes according to, they said that it’s affecting their scholarship program of their school, that’s why they’ve petitioned against this.
Hon. Min. Joseph Harmon: I have seen some letters by some private schools they have written, I have received copies of those letters which we are addressing and the persons I have already acknowledged receipt of their letters and let them know that we are addressing it but certainly anytime there is a tax there is always a little pushback on it, this is on private education, not public schools and that is something which the minister will comment on more extensively.
Media Representative: Just a few questions sir. A statement was sent out by the Ministry of the Presidency quoting some figures with regard to procurement fraud, capital flight and the underground economy, all various forms of corruption which occurred under the PPP. Since government came into office to what extent have you been able to reduce some of the losses in the area of procurement fraud, capital flight and the underground economy? That’s the first question.
Hon. Min. Joseph Harmon: Well I tell you that I wouldn’t be able to answer you that now because it’s a very loaded question because a lot of information, a lot of research which has to be gone in there. In fact when you said the Ministry of the Presidency put out a statement-
Media Representative: On behalf of SARU.
Hon. Min. Joseph Harmon: So it was the SARU that put out the statement?
Media Representative: A Statement from SARU but it was sent out by the Ministry of the Presidency.
Hon. Min. Joseph Harmon: Okay, well I can’t comment on that right now and I will have to look at that. I can’t tell you that I will comment on it.
Media Representative: Okay, could you comment therefore on the Commissioner of Information? What’s really going on; has government been able to gather an understanding of what his office is really doing and if we are getting value for money in that regard? And could you provide an update on the Integrity Commission? It’s been over a year.
Hon. Min. Joseph Harmon: I think the Prime Minister did a very clear statement on the question of the Integrity Commission in an address which he did to the formation of the extractive industry of Guyana, the multi-stakeholder group forum, he laid out everything there. I can’t do it better than the Prime Minister did; he was very clear on what happens there. In relation to the other matter you raised was the Commissioner of Information.
Here again, the Commissioner of Information is one of the constitutional entities that had been created so that the members of the public can have access to information which they would not normally have. So on an application to the Commissioner of Information then that activates a process and so on.
My understanding from correspondences I have seen going between the Prime Minister and the Commissioner of Information is that they had been a serious lack of reporting by the Commissioner of Information on his activities and so the government is at this point reviewing the contract of the Commissioner of Information and in due course will make certain statements.
As you are aware the Commissioner of Information has me as a party in an action in the court in relation to his rent so I would not want to say anything else that will prejudice either that or any other matter in relation to the Commissioner of Information.
Media Representative: But reviewing his contract to what end?
Hon. Min. Joseph Harmon: A review is a review- a review could go either way. We could say okay, maybe we should extend it, maybe we should shorten it or maybe we should keep it as it is but there are several things that you do in a review, you can look at the terms and conditions of the contract, there are several things that you can do in a review but all I can say to you now is that the contract is being reviewed.
Media Representative: And lastly sir, there are criticisms coming from a few members from the WPA stating that the government seems to be a modified version of the PPP. How do you respond to that?
Hon. Min. Joseph Harmon: Well I don’t know anybody who in their right sense will say that, that we are a modified version of the PPP. We are, first of all, we are a coalition, that’s to start with. The PPP was a monolithic party. In fact the PPP/C and in the parliament you will recall me saying that it’s PPP and a small C because there’s no C there anymore. It’s the PPP government. We are a coalition and we are a coalition of six parties and therefore it demands almost that you have to always consult with your partners when you’re going to move things forward.
So that to say that we are like the PPP is certainly not, we definitely are different from the PPP in the way we have allocated national resources. I have just pointed out to you how we have allocated resources for education, health, public security in the manner in which we take our responsibility for transparency, the manner in which we take our responsibility for transparency. That’s unheard of under the previous administration and so there are several things which I can say distinguishes us from the PPP most of all of course, is the quality of our interaction here at this press briefing.
Every week I stand before you and I answer your questions and I do not give you long words that sometimes you have to go to the dictionary to understand, I am very clear and very precise on these things, so all of these things are differences which you make.
So I want to thank you very much ladies and gentlemen for your attention today and we’re gonna meet again next week.
Media Representative: One more question sir.
Hon. Min. Joseph Harmon: Okay, I shall indulge you.
Media Representative: The Integrity Commission, sir would you say that whether government minister have been… (Inaudible) and thirdly has government been keeping tabs on the PPP and whether there may be … (inaudible)
Hon. Min. Joseph Harmon: Well I said to you we are different. We are not keeping tabs on anybody as the PPP did. The Prime Minister made it clear in his statement that you have a commission without a head. It’s been headless for all this time and therefore you are submitting your information to a headless organization. We have to fix that and we are trying to fix that now.
Media Representative: How sir?
Hon. Min. Joseph Harmon: By appointing a properly constituted commission by ensuring that the Integrity Commission Act is properly amended to give it some teeth. This commission act has no teeth. All they can do is report that they were reporting to Jagdeo.
They cannot do anything if you do not; all they can do is report. We are looking at a more aggressive type of Integrity Commission, the type like in Trinidad and Jamaica and those places where if you fail to do something there is provision in the act itself for the commission to take action against you.
Thank you very much.
Media Representative: How far along are you from …?
Hon. Min. Joseph Harmon: Very far. Thank you.