Death and Death by Violent Means3081 30 Jul, 2012
Mr. R. Persaud: I am quite sure that all of us in this National Assembly, on this particular motion, do carry a heavy heart and a sense of sadness. In any law based society, in any society in which we value human life, human rights, and also in which we protect the constitutional right of our people to protest, the loss of life during those activities is certainly one in which it is tragic, regretful, and one in which it demands that the entire society, the entire nation, should take a step back and reflect. In that spirit, Mr. Speaker, you would recall that, even on the evening of that tragic event, the Government of Guyana, on July 18th, issued a statement, just to recall, and the opening paragraph reads:
“The Government of Guyana sincerely regrets the loss of life and injuries as events took an unfortunate turn for the worse this evening in Linden. The Government extends condolences and sympathies to the families of those who suffered injuries and the loss of life.”
That was also followed by an address to the nation by no other than His Excellency the President, Donald Ramotar, who in his address stated:
“It is with a heavy heart that I address you on the tragic developments in Linden over the past week which has resulted in the deaths of three persons, injuries to others and the destruction of property. I am deeply distressed by these developments. To the families of those who lost their lives, I extend my heartfelt sympathies. I am all too aware that nothing that I say or do can replace your loss but I want to let you know how greatly pained and grieved I am about what took place.”
The President went on to state:
“My Government will do whatever it can to see you through this most difficult period.”
In that address, the President initiated and gave his firm commitment to a Commission of Inquiry as well as to other mechanisms to have the concerns addressed.
Then, too, persons would want to know what the view of the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) is on this particular tragedy. Again, I wish to quote a press statement that was issued by the People’s Progressive Party on 27th July, 2012. It stated:
“The People’s Progressive Party condemns the political unrest in Linden which led to the deaths of three persons and injuries to others. Our sympathy goes out to the relatives of those who died and wish those who were injured a speedy recovery.”
Also, in that statement, the People’s Progressive Party reinforced the commitment of His Excellency Donald Ramotar to a Commission of Inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the shooting events in Linden.
I state, and I recall these statements by the Government, by the President, by the PPP, to make it absolutely clear that on this side of the House there is absolutely no attempt to justify the deaths or even to condone what happened, but rather it is to give due process its time for us to determine what actually happened.
We must ensure that in our deliberations here in the National Assembly, as was pointed out by other speakers, we are not prejudicial or are we pre-emptive. That is why in the Leader of the Opposition… Mr. Speaker I wish to join you in congratulating the Leader of Opposition on his election as the leader of the People’s National Congress, and also Mr. Basil Williams, Mrs. Volda Lawrence, Dr. George Norton and Mr. Bulkan on their positions respectively, as a result of last night’s elections.
We must not allow ourselves to agree to due process and then, on the other hand, here being the highest deliberative body in the land, trying to undermine that particular principle. That is why I wish to speak on the amendment, which has been tabled in the name of the Hon. Prime Minister, to the motion which we are debating, which was tabled by the Hon. Leader of the Opposition.
Before I go into the particular amendments by the Hon. Prime Minister, I wish to state that not only are we aggrieved at the loss of life, but also with the resultant blockades that have taken place in the arteries that give us access to our hinterland has also affected many ordinary Guyanese. It is not only the people of Linden, ordinary citizens, and residents of Linden are affected economically, socially and otherwise, but that impact has been felt and, in fact, it is intensifying right across the country. In that regard, I just want to provide a brief update on the impact so that we understand the extent to which those activities are taking a toll.
In terms of the forestry sector, nearly all of the operations within the Region 10 area…I must say that Region 10 accounts for close to forty-six per cent of all community forestry operation in this country. It is unique. Across our forest estate, there are large Timber Sales Agreements (TSAs), there are also State Forest Permit Holders and, which was developed over the last couple of years, Community Forestry Organisations, whereby persons who, due to the lack of access to forest areas, would have gone about and engaged in illegal forestry. What was done is: that we brought them together, formed an organisation and made available to them forestry areas for them to conduct their activities. Region 10 is the area in which there is close to half of the country’s community forestry organisations. We are talking about a number of community forestry organisations that are currently on standstill. They have produce that cannot be taken to the point of export; they have buyers who are cancelling orders, not only external buyers, but also right here in Georgetown and along the East Bank of Demerara where a number of sawmills were forced to close operation. That impact is already being felt.
In some regard, also, some of the operators have had to use aircraft. Some of the chartered flights have cost close to $250,000 just to shuttle in emergency food ration, five hundred or seven hundred pounds, and that certainly would have taken a financial toll and it has brought many of those operations to a standstill.
The next area of impact, which is direct and immediate to Linden, is the issue of bauxite. As many of us are aware, Bosai plants has been shut down; its mining operation has not been in action for the past nine to ten days. There are two ships which are coming in for Bosai. It will only be able to fill one of those ships and that means that the demurrage cost, and even its obligations to buyers, is certainly in jeopardy. Already the company has indicated that its loss is close to US$1 million or G$200 million. There is close to five hundred workers who cannot go to work and whose income… and there is certainly some level of uncertainty for them and their families.
Regarding the gold mining sector, it is the same. There are three mining districts which are directly affected. There is a lot of mining taking place in Frenchman, Mahdia and Siparuni – just to name a few of the areas. There are close to two hundred dredges that are affected and close to two thousand miners who have had to stop or reduce their operation.
I say so because we need to understand the social as well as the economic impact of what is taking place in Linden. We have been meeting with stakeholders and we have been looking at ways in which we can ease the burden, but, more or less, the expectation of all stakeholders is that we have an early resumption to normalcy.
In that context, Mr. Speaker, I wish to come to amendments which were made and presented to the National Assembly today by the Hon. Prime Minister. We do not disagree with the expressions of sympathy. I think everyone in the National Assembly can agree on that. We do not disagree with the need for a process. Certainly we should not and we ought not to disagree on a process in which all of us will have the confidence that will bring the facts to the table and, as it were, get to the root of the issues that took place in connection with 18th July.
I think that all of us, any reasonable or any sane Guyanese, would want us to, at least, give that process a chance before we find who is guilty and who is not guilty. The fact that the political parties, the fact that many stakeholders themselves, have given that commitment to a Commission of Inquiry as the mechanism through which we can ascertain what took place, who is culpable, what led to what took place, I think, it is logical. It is a reasonable position that we give that a chance to work before we go in this mode of pointing fingers, or certainly as the motion seeks to do, tabled by the Hon. Leader of the Opposition, to have the Minister of Home Affairs removed from office.
If we go to the amended motion tabled by the Hon. Prime Minister, we will see that perhaps there are various strands of commonality between what was tabled by the Leader of the Opposition and what is now being proposed as an amendment. There is a recognition that we need to condemn what took place. We also need to sympathise with those who are bereaved. And we also need to ensure that those who were injured are, in a way, treated well and they have an early recovery.
Also, there is that common recognition that we are all pained as a society. I think in our country we need to put a higher premium, a higher value, in terms of peace, in terms of love and in terms of having affection for our society. We need to recognise this because too often in our history as an independent nation…Just recently, if we look at Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica they celebrated their 50th Anniversary as independent nations. In Guyana, very soon, in several years, we will be doing so. Even those societies, those countries themselves, we have seen that they continue to be stalked, continue to be afflicted, as one can say, by this culture of violence.
Whenever there are incidents and tragedies such as this, it gives us that opportunity to rethink. It gives us that opportunity to step back and look at this whole concept of a culture of violence and whether what we do by acts of omission or what we do not do as acts of omission or commission, we do not contribute in any way to this culture of violence.
I think that what we can draw from this episode, and we hope that the Commission of Inquiry perhaps will point to some facts, are things that we need to do as a State and things that we need to do as stakeholders too, when we lead people, when we organise people, when we mobilise people, the type of messages we give people and see whether or not we are contributing to this culture of violence…
Mr. Speaker: You need to add to the list when you instruct people, as well.
Mr. R. Persaud: Thank you very much Mr. Speaker…because there are ramifications. I want to use this opportunity, Mr. Speaker, if you look at the amendment tabled by the Prime Minister, it is one in which we are trying to promote a culture in which we reject violence, a culture in which we promote tolerance, a culture in which we enhance a law based society. I do hope that as the representatives of the people, sitting in this National Assembly, we will use this defining moment to rethink, to re-engineer and to reassess where we want to take our country.
Anyone who stands up and justifies violence, anyone who stands up and justifies killing in any form or anyone who stands up and justifies, as it were, the restrictions or, as it were, decant of any human rights of our people, certainly would be doing injury to this whole process of promoting a culture of non-violence. I do hope that in our deliberations, in our consideration of this moment, we will reflect. We, on the Government side, through the amendments that are tabled here, it certainly gives us that opportunity to reflect, but it is not only to reflect, but when wrongdoings and where errors have been identified, we will use the opportunity to correct for the future - for the stability of this nation.
All of us, no matter which side we sit on, or from what persuasion we come, when we hear the news in the United States of America, Canada and elsewhere… When we make the news is only when there is some unrest, violence or disturbance in our society. That, I think, is not what we want, as Guyanese, for the international community to view us for. We must think about what all of us, each one of us – political parties, religious organisations, and social groups, no matter which organisation we come from – can do to continue to develop and continue to construct and reinforce a society that gives us that positive image.
I do hope, based on the amendments to the motion that has been tabled by the Hon. Leader of the Opposition and the amendments tabled by the Hon. Prime Minister, it will give us that opportunity to signal and to send that level of maturity, not only to the people of Guyana, but also to the wider society.
In my brief presentation I wish to say, and I wish to submit, that I think it is apt, very relevant, I think it is very constructive, and in the spirit of ensuring that there is a prevailing sentiment, but also for us to create that atmosphere of understanding and of doing things in a way in which we give recognition to due process, that the Hon. Leader of the Opposition, now leader of the PNCR would give serious thought to the amendments, as well as other Members of the Opposition, tabled by the Prime Minister, so that there can be some consensus, some understanding in terms of moving forward and that we can get the commitments that were made by the President. I do know that even up to today there was progress and work taking place on moving forward the Commission of Inquiry so that we can have the entire society be aware of what took place and what needs to be done to prevent such incident from taking place.
With these remarks, I wish to submit that the amendments by the Prime Minister be supported by the Members of the National Assembly.
Thank you very much. [Applause]
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