Death and Death by Violent Means3134 30 Jul, 2012
Mr. Hinds: This has been a long debate. It is a debate that fills me with a certain amount of sadness, not only for the deaths of the three persons in Linden, but because it reflects, as Hon. Minister Rohee pointed out just now, the width of sentiments and opinions that exists within our society.
Mr. Speaker, Hon. Members, it is, indeed, with a heavy heart that we in Government have been reflecting on the tragic development of twelve days ago in Linden which resulted in the deaths of three of our fellow citizens, Ron Somerset, Shemroy Bouyea, and Ivan Lewis, and the wounding of about a score more. We are indeed sorry and regretful that things reached such a head. There is nothing of gain to us. No one of us, not the Minister, no one in this Government, could think that there would be something of gain to us, the People’s Progressive Party/Civic, in the occurrence of that event. Indeed, there is no gain to anyone within or outside of this House. There is only grieving, suffering and loss.
To the families of those who lost their lives, I, on behalf of our Government, again extend my heartfelt sympathies. We are all too aware that nothing we may say or do here, in this House, in the streets in Linden or elsewhere in Guyana, could undo those tragic events of the evening of 18th July. Our thoughts are as well with those who are still hospitalised and all those who were traumatised by the events which unfolded during last Wednesday’s protest action. We wish for every injured person a speedy, full recovery.
Mr. Speaker, Hon. Members, on learning of events in Linden, His Excellency brought many members of Cabinet together within a few hours to review what was known of those events. Without hesitation and without any prompting, and before any calls for such, our Government committed us to a full and independent investigation into the events that occurred, including, and most of all, the deaths of the three persons.
We have been ready to and have been meeting with all national and regional stakeholders, the Opposition political parties in the National Assembly in particular, and we have been meeting, repeated times, with a number of stakeholders, including the Chairman of the Regional Democratic Council (RDC) and other stakeholders in Linden. We believe that progress is being made; we believe that we must make progress and come back from this precipice which was reached on the night of July 18th.
On hearing the call for an international presence on the Commission of Inquiry our Government is so committed and we anticipate that the inquiry will be comprehensive in its coverage, including examining all aspects of this tragedy. Our Government expressed its willingness to meet with the bereaved families of the deceased to discuss matters relating to the post-mortems and funerals. We know that has occurred and we know that there has been the presence of a pathologist from outside of Guyana.
Following on, on meetings with the Regional Chairman, Mr. Solomon, and others accompanying him, to meet with the President on a number of occasions, we have sent and other relevant parties, for their perusal and review, a draft statement addressing the question of the convergence of electricity tariffs in Linden, the tariffs prevailing across our country and special economic initiatives for Linden and the Government looks forward to a response from the Chairman.
The Government has committed to putting on hold July 1st as a date from which there will be some increase in tariffs. The Government has proposed that a technical team, with members named by the two sides, be established quickly to review all available and practical options and attendant implications, financial and otherwise and to report back quickly, preferable within two weeks of being established.
With respect to the economic initiatives, the Government is reiterating its commitments made in the April Budget 2012 talks with APNU, with regards to restarting the Linden Enterprise Network (LEN) programme and encouraging and incentivising our banks to Women Of Worth (WOW) and other micro credit schemes to Linden, in particular, and all of Region 10. Additionally the Government is encouraging the Regional Chairman and the RDC to submit their priorities for economic activities which should bring benefit to Linden and Region 10.
The Government will have the Ministry of Agriculture work with the West Watooka and other farmers to take agriculture, in Linden and across Region 10, to a still higher level.
The Government fully supports the first “BE IT RESOLVED” clause in this motion, except that it would want it to be left to a finding of the Commission of Inquiry that the police force killed the persons.
This Government, ever since it entered office, has always had the development of Linden and Region 10 and all their citizens therein as an important and major task. We have always been aware of the particular difficult challenges of our old industries, both bauxite and sugar, and their communities, industries which in earlier times brought us great pride and glory and which for many years brought us much income, but which face challenges in the current times. Indeed over the last three or four decades they have been facing challenges. Aware of their history of great challenge during the previous decades, and aware too of the programmes which we found in place, we recognised that they would require careful attention and nurturing to manage the many anxiety-filled transitions which would be entailed in refashioning them to be profitable and, wherever possible, to give birth to a range of modern activities springing from their achievements of earlier times of which we are justly proud.
In the particular, the case of Linden, I can recall, very early in our time in Government, a young economist, one Bharrat Jagdeo, leading a team of a number of mostly young economic and sociology professionals on an in-depth study of Linden, a study which informed our approaches to the European Union (EU) for support for Linden Economic Advancement Programme (LEAP). We have spoken from time to time, and I have spoken from time to time, about that we have not ever overlooked Linden in our programmes; that Linden has shared equitably in all that we have been doing.
I would like to refer to the results of the 2002 Census which shows that, on many counts, Linden is ahead of many other regions in our country. Let us look. In net secondary school enrolment: Region 10 has a figure of 87.5 per cent compared with some 75.2 per cent as an average for all the regions and indeed 87.5 per cent is the highest figure. In the area of illiteracy rates, Linden, again, is one of the lowest. Indeed, on the census for 2002, Linden is the lowest. This shows that the provisioning for education in Linden is at a minimum comparable with the others. I want to speak to this and I need to speak to this issue because an important consideration in the events that took place, the sad and tragic events which took place in Linden, is the diet that the people in Linden are being fed steadily. Even just now as Hon. Member Williams spoke, he spoke about people being made economically suppressed and depressed and then they go to protest against it. This issue of the diet those leaders in this country keep feeding the people in Linden, and more generally, Afro-Guyanese, that this Government discriminates against them, suppresses them, is the biggest weight on them. This created, in the minds of the citizens of Linden, the feeling that led to their actions. This is something that I think must hang as a heavy stone around the Members of this House and others in this country who feed that sort of diet to the people. They do them no good. It is a self-fulfilling diet that they feed them; that they should not partake because they cannot win and then they do not partake and they say, “You have seen what we told you.”
Our hope lies in these results here that they seek to suppress. Our hope lies, and our motivation lies, and our justification lies, and our support for the Minister lies, in this sort of information that is in the 2002 Census. We have heard a lot about unemployment in Linden being seventy per cent and seventy-eight per cent and we have here the census on the unemployment figures. I would admit that it is higher than in the other regions, but it is nowhere, the unemployment as reported in this census, close to seventy per cent and seventy-eight per cent. It is 15.2 per cent. The only places in which that level of unemployment is exceeded are in Region 1 and Region 2 which have 16.6 per cent and 15.5 per cent. Also there is in Region 8 the number of 19.3 per cent. There is unemployment all across our country, but there is nothing as seventy per cent and seventy-eight per cent.
These numbers are important because they go to the crux of the problem as being put out by the Members on the other side. When we go to these real numbers there is no basis for all that is being said. These numbers are most important. [Mrs. Lawrence: They are outside. You should go and tell them.] Maybe, I should break my flow and speak this question about us not going to the people. We have heard of what just has been said, there, that the people are outside and we should go to them. We have heard, along the way, as we speak, of what the situation is, people on the other side, who claim to be leaders, making a retort, “You go and tell them that. You go and tell them that.” Those are statements of totally abandoning their responsibilities as leaders and the abandoning of the people of Linden. That is what those statements reflect. Those statements reflect their total abandonment their responsibility as leaders. [Interruption from Opposition Members.] Say it again Hon. Members, say it again. “You go and tell them.” We will go and tell them. We will build a Guyana for everybody in Guyana.
The Leader of the Opposition, in introducing this motion, said that the Linden killings were shocking but the fuse was burning for three months, and those were very true statements, and if followed on, we must focus on the fuse and the lighting of the fuse. I want to speak to the lighting of the fuse, three months before. The fuse was lit with this statement that I read in National Assembly. This true statement that I read in the National Assembly and I think, even though the night is far gone, even though some people are fighting with Morpheus, that the lighting of the fuse is so important that I need to read it once again. Let me read it.
“Mr. Speaker. Hon. Members, I would like to report that this morning the Government continued the discussions requested by Hon. Member Mr. David Granger, Leader of the Opposition and of the APNU with His Excellency the President, Mr. Donald Ramotar, to avoid unnecessary collision in the exercise, we are engaged in, of approving the nation's budget.”
That was good.
“The discussions also followed on from the question asked by Hon. Member Volda Lawrence of the Minister of Finance in this honourable House on Tuesday, 17th whether Government would be willing to meet with the Opposition in relation to the budget Estimates. The Hon. Minister of Finance confirmed Government's continued availability to receive views from stakeholders and to consider these, provided that the matters to be discussed were documented and that the schedule for consideration of the Estimates was adhered to in its entirety.”
The Government believes that these meetings have been useful in creating a wider and better understanding of the inevitable, specific trade-offs in the fashioning of our nation's budget and in avoiding unnecessary collision.
I want to acknowledge and express appreciation also for your own efforts, in keeping relationships from breaking down.
Today’s discussion revolved around the ongoing considerable allocations to the electricity sector which are intended to cushion the impact of cost recovering electricity tariffs on our people and acknowledging the special, historical circumstances of Linden. Today's discussion focused on Linden and what could be done to ease and make good the transition of Linden into a regular Guyanese town, and the greater inclusion and participation of all of Region 10 into the programmes and fortunes of Guyana as a whole. More specifically, the matter of Linden electricity tariffs along with other issues relating to Linden were discussed.
In relation to electricity tariffs, it was agreed that alignment with the Guyana Power and Light Inc. (GPL) tariffs and elimination of the Linden electricity subsidy was necessary. It was also agreed that the tariff adjustment will proceed from 2012, guided by the principles of gradualism and selectivity with a transition to the aligned tariffs being introduced in a differentiated manner that cushioned the impact on the most vulnerable consumers. It was further agreed that the first stage of tariff adjustment, this year, would be implemented along the lines outlined and in a manner that would ensure adherence to the allocation provided in Budget 2012, bearing in mind applicable budgetary constraints.
In relation to the promotion of accelerated growth in economic activity in Linden, Government undertook to explore ways in which small business activity could be encouraged. In particular, Government undertook to reactivate the post-Linden Economic Advancement Programme/Linden Economic Advancement Fund (LEAP/LEAF) facility, now known as the Linden Enterprise Network (LEN), aimed at promoting affordable access to financing by small businesses in Linden and Region 10. Government also undertook to engage the financial services sector on the possibility of establishing small business financing facilities in Linden, along the lines of the Women Of Worth (WOW) programme, also aimed at promoting more affordable access to financing.
In relation to television stations, seen in Georgetown and the coast, being available in Linden and across our country, our Government will, shortly, be granting, on application, additional over the air television broadcast licences all over Guyana, including Linden.
In relation to the continuing dust problems, the Government will firmly hold BOSAI to its commitment to President Ramotar to complete the installation of the dust collecting system on the first kiln by the end of June this year and on the second kiln by the end of September this year.”
[An Hon. Member: Who was it signed by?] It was signed by me and it is a true presentation of representation. More than that, as I came in, the two friends over there, my two honourable colleagues, asked to see it before I read it read and I showed to them and they suggested at least two changes which I made.
I am not saying this to put anyone on a spot because I am aware that as leaders that often we must make a step forward with the hope that we can bring our people along, and as a leader too I want to give people room. In a matter like this when we have the kind of presentations that we have had on this motion, when our integrity has been put to question, I am afraid that I had to come back to this statement. One just has to look at what happened after I read the statement. There was no immediate objection. Mr. Greenidge was there too. Mr. Harmon was there. There was no immediate... In fact, if you go through the reports on that online news radio, Demerarawave.com, you would see how it developed. In fact, the best judgement around is that it was accepted by Messer Granger, Roopnarine, Hon. Members Greenidge and Harmon, but then all hell broke loose. It was either Hon. Ms. Member Kissoon who ran out to call or it was Mr…. [An Hon. Member (Government): Ramjattan.] …Ramjattan, who ran out with a statement, with a call, to Linden. Once that happened the fuse was lit. That was when the fuse was lit. That is what honourable Leader of the Opposition had to be talking about when he said that the Linden killings were shocking, but the fuse was burning for three months.
Brigadier (Ret’d) Granger: Mr. Speaker, I rise on a Point of Order. Hon. Member Ms. Kissoon has already spoken of this matter during this very debate. She pointed out that the protest was going on prior to this announcement; she pointed out that there were demonstrations prior to this announcement. She made that very statement this evening.
Mr. Hinds: Mr. Speaker and Hon. Members, I want to speak to that. We were aware that, ever since the Minister of Finance read…, people were reacting in Linden and, therefore, we had wanted to speak with somebody and we spoke with the leaders in this House who represent that area and it was expected that when we spoke with them they would have sought to carry the day. As I said before, Mr. Speaker and Hon. Members, I recognise, and all of us leaders should recognise, that each of us, at times, make some steps ahead of our people to take them in what we think is a good direction. Therefore it is with some amount of regret that I am making this representation here, because I want to maintain the capability of all of us to be able to lead our people – leadership. The issue is one of leadership… [Interruption]
Mr. Speaker: Hon. Members, it is 1.30 in the morning. Are we finishing or are we not finishing? We need to allow the …
Mr. Hinds: We had some presentations that were very emotive. We had the presentation of the Hon. Member Mr. Nagamootoo and we had a number of other presentations on the other side. I think the Government needs a good opportunity to respond, not in the same emotive way, but maybe a bit more calmly. This is where and how the fuse was lit. [Interruption]
Mr. Speaker: Hon. Members, I need to have the Prime Minister conclude his presentation.
Mr. Hinds: This event should be of some lesson to us and I am willing to say that, perhaps us, the Government, the PPP/C and the APNU, although the question was raised in this House by Hon. Member Mrs. Volda Lawrence for meetings, and the AFC was present and aware of it and could have similarly asked,… I think that the only lesson could be taken from this is that maybe we should have demanded that the AFC sits in at that meeting. I am concerned that, even today as we go forward to arrange for the Commission of Inquiry, the AFC is holding itself apart, again, and outside
Is it that it is reserving for itself the same position as when we spoke about the Linden rates that it ran out and said to people that they have been sold out by the APNU and by Mr. Granger? Is it that it is reserving for itself, a second time? I am concerned.
We need to speak also, we need to look also a bit more calmly, at what occurred on the 18th of July. We need again to look back at it. There is some bit of overlap in what various people have presented. I think when we reflect on the various presentations, and when we reflect on what the media reported, the Kaieteur News and the Stabroek News, in particular,… [Ms. Kissoon: …and the Guyana Chronicle.] I would leave the Guyana Chronicle out, because you may have your reasons to be suspicious of it, but let us reread the Kaieteur News and the Stabroek News…
When we reflect on it, even what Hon. Member Mr. Morian said that people were not intended to stop on the bridge, but they did. They wanted to drink water, but they happened to have tents, and they happened to have many things with them.
When we read about the reports on the police being rebuff and thrown out at the ten o’clock time…, and there has been also the report that Hon. Member Vanessa spoke about, which was picked up, I think, by some other speakers later, which states that a number of people were injured with rubber bullets, but those three people were killed with slugs to their heart.
I listened to the presentation of Hon. Member Mr. Morian, earlier, who maintained, and I believed him, that he was there. Did you hear what he said? He said that at the end when the shooting started, or before, it was preceded with tear gas, and persons could not have seen. There was no seeing and a young man next to him, in the midst of this tear smoke, fell down dead. He had to lift him up, but that poses a question. How could he have got shots to the heart and he was some distance away, I understood, in such exact shooting in an atmosphere of tear smoke? It raises questions. There are a lot of questions. I make this submission that there are a lot of questions that need to be considered in a different atmosphere from this one in his House, this evening, and therefore we need to have the Commission of Inquiry. We all need in this House to give that Commission our unreserved support. That is what we need to do.
There are some other things here which were not accurate issues about the electricity provisions in Linden, and so on, that people said, from time to time, but I would prefer that they be left to that Committee that we are talking about, so that it could address them.
I would like to point out that we had a presentation that spoke about problems with the way our police behaved, from even long before my colleague became the Minister of Home Affairs. There were problems long before and we in the Government have been on a programme of reform. We in the Government have been in a programme to improve the performance of the police and the security forces. We must recognise that we have a society where there is a high tendency to violence. All of us tend to have great or to put great emphasis on issues of being a man, we all tend to put great issues on that, and respond in exaggerated ways. The challenge facing us across our nation, as a whole, is to gradually and steadily improve our people and the way we relate with each other. This is the challenge, not only for the police force. This is a national challenge. The police force behaves as the people of Guyana behave and this is the challenge. The people in the police force come from our own society. We have been working at bringing about reform and improvement.
There is a list of the things which we have been doing. We have been working to make law enforcement more effective and we have a record of twenty-nine pieces of legislation passed in this National Assembly. We have been working at establishing a police change team to execute reforms within the Guyana Police Force, under the Citizens Security Programme, and to monitor, evaluate and to implement those reforms. We have been working to significantly improve the ICT architecture within the Guyana Police Force. We have been working on the remodelling of police stations to facilitate greater confidentiality with respect to reports. We have been working to enlist the communities to support the police to maintain law and order at the local level, and there is the programme that seeks to provide training in life skills for young persons, launching of rapid impact projects, and so on.
We have been working. This is a work in progress. The improvement of the police force in Guyana is in a work in progress, and we would maintain, that in material things, we are much better off. This Government has been making significant provisions all along and we are working to change the nature of our people. We are working to bring a new attitude to all our people. We think we are making progress. With this background of the situation in Guyana, we see no reason to call upon the Minister to resign or to ask the President to request his resignation.
England is okay with its history. The United States of America is okay with its history, but we have to make judgement within the context of Guyana. We have to make judgement on the basis of improvements being made in Guyana, all around and in the police force. This is what we have. Those people who died, the three dead, in my view, the responsibility lies just as much on my honourable colleagues over there who lit the fuse or who did not set out to out the fuse. Let me rephrase that. It is who did not set out to out the fuse. If we are talking about responsibility, the responsibility is no less. Therefore, this Government, we on this side, feels quite satisfy…
Brigadier (Ret’d) Granger: Mr. Speaker, on a Point of Order, responsibility for what? We are speaking about the death of three persons. Are you accusing the APNU of being responsible for the shooting of the three persons?
Mr. Hinds: No, my honourable colleague. I am speaking to your words that the Linden killings were shocking, but the fuse was burning for three months and I am saying that I was greatly let-down that you did not join with us in outing the fuse. That is what I am saying. On that basis, if the Hon. Leader of the Opposition and if the other Members of this House, out there, are going to insist on this motion, calling for the Minister to resign, then they should do the honourable thing and lead with their resignations.
On that note, Sir, I conclude. [Applause]
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