D.O.C Mr. Mark Archer: Good morning ladies and gentlemen of the media. Welcome to the post-Cabinet brief for Friday February 10th, 2017. This morning the brief will be done by the Minister of State, the Honourable Joseph Harmon. Minister Harmon.
Hon. Min. Joseph Harmon: Thank you Mr. Archer. Good morning ladies and gentlemen of the media and welcome to the post-Cabinet press briefing for today. The post-Cabinet press briefing covers matters dealt with at Cabinet on Tuesday the 7th February, 2017.
Cabinet at that meeting approved of Guyana hosting the 28th Intercessional Meeting of the Conference of Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community- CARICOM. The meeting will be convened from February 16th-17th, 2017 in Georgetown under the chairmanship of his Excellency, President David Granger. His Excellency assumed responsibility as Chairman of the Conference in accordance with the rotation schedule approved by the Conference of Heads of Government.
Cabinet also approved of a budget submitted by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to allow for the successful hosting of the meeting. His Excellency, President David Granger attended the inauguration ceremony of His Excellency, President Jovenel Moïse of Haiti that was held in Port-au-Prince Republic of Haiti on February 7th, 2017. His Excellency attended both in his capacity of Head of state as well as the sitting chairman of CARICOM.
Cabinet granted its approval to a request by the Honourable Minister of Natural Resources to enable the engagement of a legal consultant to review The Kimberly Process Certification Scheme in Guyana.
The Kimberly Process Certification Scheme was launched in 2003 in a bid to clean up the international diamond trade after it was recognized that diamonds were used to finance wars and terrorism. It requires member states to set up an import-export control system for rough diamonds.
Over seventy five percent of the world’s diamonds producing, trading and manufacturing countries participated in this scheme. The K.P.C.S as it is known in Guyana is administered by Geology and Mines Commission with cooperation from the Customs Trade Administration and the Guyana Revenue Authority. The last report of the K.P.C.S was submitted in 2014.
Cabinet has approved the request of the Honourable Minister of Finance to remunerate the members of the Bid Protest Committee of the National Procurement and Tender Administration. This Bid Protest Committee was established by the Ministry of Finance to facilitate appeals for the review of contracts awarded by the Tender Board Administration.
Each request for review attracts a non-refundable fee of fifty thousand dollars plus one percent of the complainer’s bid price. Cabinet therefore approved of the payment of fees in the sum of 80,000 for the chairperson and 60,000 for the members of this committee and these payments are made per case. So once the case is dealt with then they are paid that fee.
The Honourable Vice President and the Minister of Public Security reported that he secured the approval of Cabinet to honour outstanding payments for a security specialist at the Guyana Forensic Science Laboratory. Many of you would know that this is a science laboratory that has been there ostensibly completed in the previous administration but basically incapable of carrying out the functions for which it was meant to carry out.
The firm I.E.B Security which is a Barbadian firm was responsible for installing security systems at the lab by way of a contract in 2012 and providing additional consultation oversight in 2013 in phase one of the project.
The security firm is now required to take certain steps to operationalize the laboratory and in this regard Cabinet approved a payment in the sum of thirty-two thousand, five hundred and twenty four united states dollars which was owed to the company and so that will now see them coming and completing of the laboratory; complete the training for persons who are going to operate it and so that we can have a functioning forensic lab.
Annual reports for The National Insurance Scheme for 2014 and the Guyana Lands and Surveys commission for the year 2010 were submitted to Cabinet by the Honourable Ministers of Finance and the Honourable Minister of State, respectively.
These submissions are part of an ongoing process of updating the records of state agencies and making them transparent and accountable. You would recall now that you would see the dates that we are covering 2010- we still have to do 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015 as well as 2016 but this is basically part of our commitment to this nation that we will ensure that all of these state entities that they’re transparent in what they do and that they account for the work which they do in those agencies. Cabinet accepted reports by these two ministers and approved their submission to the National Assembly.
Cabinet has approved participation in the 7th Cohort of the Caribbean Leadership Development Programme to be held in Barbados on March 13th-17th , 2017 this is ongoing- an ongoing program designed to strengthen the next generation of leaders of the public service in the Caribbean thereby enabling them to contribute more effectively to regional integration and economic growth.
The following persons have been selected for this Cohort by the Caribbean Leadership Project and endorsed by the Government of Guyana. In previous years the numbers of persons that we had that were made available for this project was very low and as a result of the case that we made to the Caribbean Leadership Project we were able to get an increased number of Guyanese to attend this training programme it is very important for persons at the level of the permanent secretaries and deputy permanent secretaries so that we train them at that level and they are able to interact with their colleagues in the region on a regular basis.
The persons who have been identified for this cohort are Mr. Kemo Benjamin- Human Resources Manager, Department of Public Service; Mrs. Natasha Chase- Human Resource Manager, Department of Public Service.
Ms. Soyinka Grogan- Manager, Scholarships Department of the Public Service; Miss Sharon Charlotte Alexander- Director of Industrial Development, Ministry of Business and Mr. Sheldon Daniels Principal Personnel Officer of Ministry of Social Protection
Cabinet has approved participation at an International Communications Technology Application Forum organized by the Commonwealth Telecommunications Organisation in Kigali Rwanda from February 15th-16th 2017. This forum is designed to promote the value and availability of ICT applications in developing countries to assist in the developing ICT’s and E-government or E-governance capacities of participating countries and to forester a specified international market place for the global application industry.
It is expected that Guyana’s participation will assists in the promotion of local ICT entrepreneurship as a new frontier of business activity. Mr. Clarence Garraway of the Ministry of Public Telecommunications will attend the forum.
Guyana will attend a preparatory meeting for the 4th Global Conference on the Sustained Education of Child Labour- Eradication of Child Labour to be held in Buenos Aires, Argentina from February 22th-23rd, 2017.
The meeting will plan activities for the 4th Global Conference on the Sustained Eradication of Child Labour to be held in Buenos Aires, in November of the same year. Mrs. Karen Vansluytman- Assistant Chief Labour Occupational Safety and Health Officer will attend the meeting.
Cabinet has approved participation in the workshop entitled: Optimizing the Competitiveness of Geographical Indications and Origins Linked Products- OLP’S to be held in Trinidad and Tobago from February 14th-16th, 2017. The workshop will provide intensive training for producers, groups in the leveraging of intellectual property tools for a successful marketing.
It will also help producer groups to turn their commodities into successful brands using various modern management tools. Mrs. Florence Larose- Management Development Officer of the Ministry of Indigenous Peoples Affairs and Mar Dennis Wilson a former representative for Santa Rosa Village Maruka Region # One will attend the workshop.
Approval was granted for attendance at a training program on Industrial Engagement Change Management and Industrial Relationship Building to be held in Canada from March 26th to April 1st. The training programme will help to properly equip technical instructors and graduates with shills to manage administrative and institutional changes and to respond to market demands. Mr. David Glasgow- Assessment and Certification Officer the Technical and Vocational Unit of the Ministry of Education will attend the program.
Cabinet also approved attendance at a regional training workshop on research on science, technology and innovation in the Caribbean. This workshop is organised by UNESCO and will be held in Trinidad and Tobago from February 20th-23rd. It is expected to build capacity and infrastructure in science, technology and innovation in the Caribbean. Mrs. Petal Punalall Jethoo will attend this workshop and she is from the Ministry of Education.
Cabinet continued to grant no objection to contracts and these contracts were as follows:
For the construction of six living quarters at the Mazaruni Prison- Guyana Prison Service lot #1 in the sum of forty-one million, one hundred and twenty-seven thousand, nine hundred and thirty dollars contract awarded to N&A Construction. Lot #2 for the sum of thirty-five million, eight hundred twenty and thousand dollars- a contract awarded AV Ragoobeer General Construction.
For the drilling of three wells at Sophia, Diamond and Sparendaam Region #4 for the Guyana Water Inc. a contract in the sum of one hundred and twenty-one million, six hundred and twenty- eight thousand dollars awarded De Reiter Groundwork Technique of the Netherlands.
This is a company that successfully operated in Suriname and in the Netherlands and bring particular skills in this regard and from the information that we have received that the costs associated with this project is almost half of that of companies that previously bid for this.
It is anticipated also that there will be some technology transfer and that the local component of this project will see a fifty-fifty split of Guyanese workers as well as foreign workers for this regard.
Cabinet gave its no-objection for repairs of culverts at Vlissengen Road and Carifesta Avenue and Minister of Public Infrastructure that some work is going on there because there is some underground main that is broken and there are some issues with respect to the road.
The Minister of Public Infrastructure has indicated that they have some very nice plans for that area and which they will put out in a very short space of time. For the procurement of; in fact the contract for that was in the sum of one hundred and twenty-eight million, one hundred and one thousand dollars and it is awarded to Colin Talbot.
For the procurement of service connection material for Guyana Water Inc. Lot#1 contract in the sum of twenty-two million, nine hundred thirty-seven thousand dollars awarded to Y2K Construction.
For the supply of four mini buses for the Ministry of Indigenous People’s Affairs contract in the sum of twenty-three million dollars awarded to El Dorado Trading.
For the provision of technical support services training onsite for the E-Governance Network Ministry of Public Telecommunications contract in the sum of one million, one hundred and forty-five thousand United States dollars contract awarded Howay Technologies TNT limited. It must be noted here that this is the company that had actually done the infrastructure work of the E-government system laying the cables, setting up the systems and therefore there was a training program- a training component of the first part of the contract and this is basically an extension of that in addition to doing some additional training for Guyanese who will not have to operate the system.
For the maintenance and clearing of twenty three thousand, one hundred, forty-six rods of drainage and irrigation canals between Vreed-en-Hoop and La Jalousie, West Coast Demerara Region # 3- contract in the sum of fifteen million, two hundred ninety eight thousand dollars awarded the Vreed en Hoop/La Jalousie Water Users Association.
And for the maintenance and clearing of drainage and irrigation channels from Vergenoegen to Namrick on the East Bank of Essequibo Demerara Region #3, a contract in the sum of twenty seven million, nine hundred and fifty-seven thousand dollars and that contract awarded to Vergenoegen/Namrick Water Users Association.
Ladies and gentlemen of the media, these are the matters that were discussed at the Cabinet and I now avail myself for any questions which you ask.
Zoisa Fraser: Good morning Zoisa Fraser, Stabroek News. This question is in relation to the forensic lab and the additional work that is supposed to be done. Is the lab functioning? Are any testing being done there or could you say whether or not the electrical issues that were detected have been sorted out?
Hon. Min. Joseph Harmon: Well what I can say to you is that the lab is not functioning, that the technical and electrical issues are meant to be cleared up by this company but the company is owed some money and therefore we have to pay them that money then they come to do what they have to do and complete the training; complete the electrical installation and things like that.
So, this is the step where we are at and we believe that once this payment is made, that within a month or so, this is the impression I got from the Minister of Public Security, that the lab should be up and running and there are several things which the lab has to do; it has to be able to look at DNA; it has to be able to look at crime scenes- the analysis of evidence collected from crime scenes and so on at a technical level. So this is very important in our fight against crime.
Zoisa Fraser: Just to follow up, just to clarify, no testing is occurring at this moment?
Hon. Min. Joseph Harmon: Well not that I am aware of; I shouldn’t say that no testing is being carried out because I can’t say whether some low level testing is being done but what I can say is that the minister’s information to Cabinet was that in order for the lab to be fully functioning we need to have this sum of money paid and the company come and complete the work.
Zoisa Fraser: And how soon would you average that lab would be at this stage should government want it to be?
Hon. Min. Joseph Harmon: Well, I did indicate to you just now that the minister indicated that in a month or two or thereabout that once the sum of money is paid that the contractors are back on the job to complete what they have to do. We are looking at a time frame…….
Adams Harris: Adam Harris, Prime News. Sir, the Kimberly Process, this was, I think supposed to track what they call ‘blood diamonds’; diamonds used to fund all sort of things but is Guyana’s diamond production so high that it warrants or it can actually have an effect on diamond trading in the world?
Hon. Min. Joseph Harmon: Well it’s not just about the diamond production in Guyana; it’s the fact that you could have infiltrated into the Guyana diamond production, diamonds that are from what you called blood diamonds source. What it does in fact is try to clean up the blood diamonds by infiltrating the local market and then it actually goes on sale on the international market.
So this process is really meant to ferret out that type of diamonds because there is some special technique which they employ for determining which of these diamonds to ensure that they do not contaminate the local diamond production and create a situation where the actual diamonds produced in Guyana and sold internationally that the international buyers have some credibility of these diamonds.
Devina Samaroo: Good Morning Mr. Harmon, Devina Samaroo from the Guyana Times. Could you say in relation to the Bid Protest Committee the next course of action government would be taking in light of the report produced on the topical matter and could you say when Cabinet would no longer be granting its no-objection for contracts?
Hon. Min. Joseph Harmon: That’s a good question. The Cabinet will stop granting it’s no objection when the Public Procurement Commission is ready to work. I think it is public knowledge now that they have been looking, advertising for staff for the commission and the CEO and some other ancillary staff.
Those matters I understand are well advanced but I cannot give you a specific timeline when it’s going to be finished but certainly once the Public Procurement Commission says to us that we are ready to function then cabinet will cease doing anything in that regard. But in the meantime, since these are public infrastructure projects that have to be executed we cannot basically just sit and wait.
We had an early budget, our 2017 budget was passed in 2016 and therefore the intention is to ensure that these public infrastructure projects that they can be off and running very early and we can recognize from the number of advertisements you see in the newspaper on a daily basis that the ministries have actually gotten their act together and there’s actually putting out requests for bids and so on that are always; it’s out there right now. So I would say that once the Public Procurement Commission indicates that they are ready then the Cabinet will basically pull back. That’s the first one.
The second thing is with respect to an appeal in the Topco matter. It is still now in the domain of the Public Procurement Commission, since we have a commission now. We have a National Procurement Tender Board Administration, we have the National Procurement Commission and it’s out of government’s hands right now, alright. So it’s not something that government can do and say, ‘look, give the contract to that person or give it to that one’. It’s in the public procurement commission area and they would have to take the necessary steps.
Devina Samaroo: But sir, the report that came out from the Bid Protest Committee recommended that the company be compensated which would mean that government would have to compensate the company. So could you say how government will be acting on the contents in the report?
Hon. Min. Joseph Harmon: Well, in that event the AG will advise government but I’ll say that basically it is a matter for the public procurement process. They will have to make that determination and when the advice comes our Attorney General will of course advise the government as to what steps we need to take.
Fareeza Haniff: Fareeza Haniff, Guyana Chronicle. Can you say what is the total budget for Guyana to host the CARICOM Intercessional Meeting?
Hon. Min. Joseph Harmon: For the total budget, I can get that figure for you. It’s not really immediately available but I can get that before this press conference is finished.
Royden James: Minister, Royden James, Nightly News. Minister, last week Newsday reported that Trinidad and Tobago wants to help Guyana refine its crude oil. We know there have been many conversations about Guyana having its own oil refinery.
Could you say whether the government is willing to take up Trinidad’s offer or whether the government will be going ahead to have their own oil refinery? And secondly could you say what is going on with the teachers and the duty free concessions especially those who are eligible since 2009?
Hon. Min. Joseph Harmon: One is that the question of oil refinery is still in early days, quite preliminary in nature. Any offer or any recommendation or so on are quite preliminary in nature. As you recall last week we had the area manager for EXXON here as well and some of the senior management personnel from Texas and they were here explaining to us the processes that are involved with moving from here onto the point of production, and so the question of oil refineries I think they are just exploratory in nature and do not require at this stage a decision from the government. They are exploratory and we will take everything on board and in due course give it the consideration which it deserves.
The teachers, you said the duty-free concession for the teachers? As far as I am aware that matter was dealt with by the government. I think it went to the Guyana Revenue Authority where a favourable consideration was given to those teachers who were affected, not by their own doing but because of administrative sloth in the past and therefore the feeling was that those teachers should not suffer because of administrative sloth and I think that the administration and the Guyana Revenue Authority took that position that they were going to look favourably upon those applications and ensure that the teachers were granted their concessions.
Derwayne Wills: Sir, Darrell Wills from Demerara Waves. As it relates to the topic of the Public Procurement Commission; I just wanted to know sir; are the commissioners currently receiving salaries in spite of the commission not really being fully functional?
And while we’re on the procurement process, the parking meter contract, sir, the …dissent continues to grow for the project altogether and some of the persons who are supporting the protest are sort of transferring their anger to the central government itself, saying they will withdraw all their support from the central government in the coming election but sir don’t you think it is time for government to seriously pull back from that parking meter contract considering the negative impact possibly on its roadways.
Hon. Min. Joseph Harmon: Well, two things. One, the Public Procurement Commission- Yes, the commissioners has been paid. I believe they’re being paid. I haven’t seen a pay slip from anybody but clearly from the time they were appointed, they are entitled to those salaries.
The parking meter issue is of course one which we take very seriously and you would recall that His Excellency the President invited the Mayor and the Town Clerk to his office a few days ago to discuss the issue of the implementation of this parking meter.
The matter did in fact have the attention of Cabinet extensively, an extensive discussion was undertaken. Cabinet of course took the decision that the city council was an independent body and therefore they must not be seen to be interfering in the work of the city council.
However because of the strategic nature of Georgetown being the capital city it was felt that the President needed to call the parties together and to get a better sense as to what is happening, having regard to the fact that the protests that were taking place and persons were expressing their views.
We understand this, we understand the people, we understand the feel of the people and that is really what brought us into government and we want to give the nation the assurance that we will not take lightly on any issue which will affect a large number of Guyanese. That’s important.
Now, the President I said did invite the city council for them to give an explanation as what is happening and based on that engagement the city council was asked to have a fresh look at the implementation of the parking meter system to ensure that they have wider consultation with stakeholders and that in the process of doing so, examine some of the recommendations which have now been made by persons who had not previously made recommendations and to ensure that those recommendations are taken on board.
My understanding is that the city has actually taken certain steps. In fact one of the first steps I understand they have taken was to basically suspend the punitive aspects of the parking meter program. That is to say the clamping and so on of vehicles; I believe that they have indicated that that’s going to be suspended and that they will engage with stakeholders to see how best the program of the parking metres can be adjusted.
The city council of course made the plea that they still have to run a city; that you have a city that requires, citizens require resources and citizens require service from the city. Citizens require that the garbage is collected on a timely basis.
Citizens require that streets are lit in a proper way that streets are properly done, that they are marked and several other services which the city has to provide for which sufficient funds do not come from a subvention from the government.
It is recognized also that the limits of the city had been expanded a few years ago without the concomitant expansion of resources to the city. So you had a city that was expanded to a larger area but fewer resources and so with less we are expecting more from them.
So we are mindful of that situation also with the city. These are persons who had been elected by the citizens and we are here to support. We made that very clear to the city that we are prepared to support them to ensure that the services which they have to provide for the citizens of this country that they can provide those services in a timely manner.
This city council of course indicated that this- the parking meter was one way of raising revenue to do its work. It is not as if this was revenue just to put into the till of the city council but when they looked at the overall cost of running the city they had a big gap between the resources which are available and the work which has to be done and they’re looking at finding creative ways of bridging that gap.
So we believe that there’s a healthy outcome. We recognize also that there’s been protests and we support the fact that citizens who feel aggrieved can come out and support and protest, we believe that is part of the democratic right and that is part of the democratic culture which we are fostering in this country and we do not hold anything against anybody who feels that they have an issue and if they want to put that issue in the public domain by some means even if it includes protests, well it includes protects but we respect the rights of those citizens who have gone out there to say that they are affected by the parking meters and they want something done about it. So I want to make that very clear as well.
Derwayne Wills: Sir, as it relates to the suspension of the punitive aspects which come …and finding and …consultations, sir when does the suspension really come into effect and does it really have anything to do with the court order that has been brought through the courts?
Hon. Min. Joseph Harmon: Well, I had read something in the papers today but I didn’t know there was an order as yet. There is an application, there is a matter before the court; I don’t think there is an order as such but what I’m saying is that the city council that they are engaging, they are engaging citizens and that is the important thing.
That what we want is an outcome that is acceptable to both sides. That is what we are looking for. We are not looking for a court order and all of these different other issues. We are looking for an outcome that says this is where we are, this is what the citizens require and this is what we’re trying to do to try and find a medium.
Derwayne Wills: Sir, when does the suspension come into effect?
Hon. Min. Joseph Harmon: Well I can’t say but I believe that the city council would make that notice at that point. The question earlier about the cost for the CARICOM meeting, the sum is thirty-nine million, five hundred and ninety two thousand, four hundred and sixteen dollars and seventy-three cents.
Gildharie: Gildharie, Kaieteur News. Sir, a follow up on the parking meter again. Could you say whether it was intimated to the government during that meeting whether that parking meter contract is ironclad, unbreakable and therefore the direction that we start looking at is the reduction of fees rather and secondly, there’s a school of thought that maybe the city council doesn’t have money so maybe they …are also saying that- look you have a whole bunch of …money that they’re not collecting tax on and therefore that is the direction that they need to go in. So was that raised during the meeting with the President?
Hon. Min. Joseph Harmon: Yes, a good question.
Gildharie: And the second thing is the specialty hospital, what is happening with that?
Hon. Min. Joseph Harmon: Alright, one: we should start dealing with the parking meter before we go to specialty hospital or anything like that. The question you asked about whether the contract was ironclad or whether we looked at reduction in rates and all of these things, as I said, these are all issues which are on the table to be dealt with by the city council.
We did not put any restriction, any barriers on the city council insofar as what they can do in their negotiations with citizens and stakeholders and so if it means modification of the contract, if it means reduction of the rates, if it means special areas that are exempted and all of that then it is well within the competence of the city to do that but what we are saying is that we must find an acceptable outcome to this matter. I think that is really where the parking meter stands.
Now the question of the specialty hospital; I thought that’s an old matter and you’d recall that there was a loan for the specialty hospital which we inherited form the previous administration. That loan was cancelled last year. The government however had to repay the sum disbursed under the loan which was approximately 4.2 billion dollars United States Dollars.
The Indian Government is processing a new loan in the sum of eighteen million dollars to finance three primary healthcare facilities at West Demerara, Suddie and Bartica. The specialty hospital is not a priority for this government at this time and we will not be pursuing it as such. Therefore we are looking at the primary healthcare facilities and this is really what we are asking the Indian Government to fund.
Media Representative: Minister Harmon, could you say what would be government’s next step in finding a replacement for the Region Nine REO?
Hon. Min. Joseph Harmon: Well, the process basically requires, our law says that a person is innocent until proven guilty. So an allegation has been made, a charge has been made against the REO as a preliminary step to allow for the investigation of the offences to take place as the Minister of Communities has indicated that the REO will not be performing his duties but we have assistant REOs, we have people in the system that can actually step up and perform those duties and I am sure that it is well within the competence of the Ministry of Communities to deal with that matter but as I said a person is innocent under our law until proven guilty and we should await the outcome of the court matter.
Adam Harris: Sir, you talked about construction of living quarters at Mazaruni Prison, that would suggest that they are increasing the residential facilities for prison officers but when you visited there you also talked about the expansion of the Mazaruni prison sir. How is that going?
Hon. Min. Joseph Harmon: Well you would recall last year in our budget we had budgeted certain sums of money for the Mazaruni Prison so we had two components, one had to do with the actual physical infrastructure, the prison and the second had to do with the living quarters for the prison officers.
When we visited with the President, Minister of Public Security and myself; we had a good opportunity to look at the conditions and what we discovered was that the living quarters for those prison officers were in a deplorable state and needed attention. So what we find was that as soon as the prison officers were off of duty they were finding their way, if they lived on West Berbice or wherever it is, they’re going home and it cost them about ten thousand dollars every time they have to travel.
So if you look at the salary of a prison officer and the fact that he needs to go home to go and check with his family and so on and the cost of traveling, we needed to do something to ensure that the conditions under which these officers lived and worked at the facilities improved and so there are three lots which we are looking at.
What I announced today was lot one and lot two and in these two lots you have nine residences. In the third lot, we will maybe have another three but the important thing is to ensure that we create the condition in that facility where the prison officers, they feel comfortable, they can work in a certain level of comfort and that they don’t have to think about running home every weekend and so we can have better level of supervision of the inmates at the prison.
So thank you very much for your questions and do have a wonderful weekend.