Charges of marginalisation are without substance

Guyana Chronicle
June 3, 2001

(The following is a response by Dr. Dale Bisnauth, Minister of Labour, Human Services and Social Security to a letter headed: `Resentment in East Coast villages springs from justifiable causes' by Mr. Desmond Hoyte published in the Stabroek News of May 27, 2001.)

THE examples of "marginalisation" provided by Mr. Hoyte (SN: 27/5/01) give me the opportunity to show that these claims that have consistently been utilised by the PNC/R to abuse the democratic process in this country are without substance.

Indeed, over the years, the PNC/R has manufactured this and similar positions to help secure its traditional support. What differentiates the PPP/C from others is its capacity to provide responsible leadership.

In our delicate situation leadership with concepts of "slow fire; more fire" is destructive. The people of Guyana recognise that the PPP/C has moved our country forward: every village has benefited.

Given the decrepit state of the country we inherited; there is still much more to be done. However, the rebuilding process cannot take place in an environment where acts of violence, destruction, disruption, robbery and general disrespect for law and order are encouraged.

The PPP/C has been and will continue to be a responsible political party, rooted in the working class but committed to all our people. Our history and record of achievements require that we vigorously defend ourselves against Mr. Hoyte's insidious campaign to portray the Government as racist and insensitive to the needs of ordinary working people.

Mr. Hoyte's attempt to blame the PPP/C for the economic destruction of the village backlands is his most outlandish. By the time Mr. Hoyte came to office the economic viability of the backland of most of these villages was history.

A thriving pig-rearing industry died under his tenure. However, during the past several years, these communities have again become major suppliers of cash crops and ground provisions. The claim that "drainage and irrigation systems have been neglected and allowed to go to wrack and ruin" is an accurate description of what existed before 1992.

Today, the situation has improved significantly that farmers have returned to lands that had been abandoned for decades and others have expanded their farming activities. A mobile pump, established in January 2000, now drains the main drainage system in Buxton and its adjoining villages.

The maintenance of secondary drainage falls under the Regional and Neighbourhood Democratic Councils, which have been in PNC control over the past eight years. Central government has been most responsive to requests from these councils.

For example, for the single year March 2000 to March 2001, $9M helped the Buxton/Foulis NDC to grade and shape 6,594 rods of access dams in the Buxton/Friendship farmlands; weed, clean and excavate about 25,900 rods of drains in Buxton, Friendship, Melanie, Bachelor's Adventure, Enterprise and Paradise; and to rehabilitate kokers at Company and Pond dams.

Mr. Hoyte also claimed that the children of Buxton were "being herded in a building that used to be a market where fish, vegetables, and other commodities were sold; the nursery section is in the part where fish was vended." What he omitted to mention was the fact that the use of the market at Buxton was a temporary measure employed by the Ministry of Education to facilitate the construction of a new and modern primary school for children of the Buxton community.

The choice of the market was made in consultation with parents; it was not an imposition on the community. Recourse by the Ministry of Education to buildings not designed for education purposes is common and is not limited to any particular communities. For example, at Anna Regina, Essequibo Coast children were decanted at five locations including a discarded Industrial Arts Building.

A similar situation obtained at Taymouth Manor, Essequibo where four bottom-houses were used. The Overwinning Market Centre was utilised to facilitate the construction of the new Overwinning Primary School. The ministry's ongoing capital programme will of necessity result in less than ideal temporary dislocations.

Under the PNC, health centres for the East Coast of Demerara were only established in communities from which it drew significant support: Plaisance, Beterverwagting, Buxton, Melanie, Nabacalis, Victoria, Ann's Grove, Mahaica, etc. That is now being corrected to provide equitable access to health care for residents.

In addition to establishing other facilities, a number of health centres, including the one at Buxton, was rehabilitated and now has adequate medical supplies. Regarding the opening hours for the clinic, the Region Four Democratic Council, which the PNC controls, is responsible for the day-to-day operations of that clinic.

For the record, Enmore and Enterprise do not have government health centres. These are Guyana Sugar Corporation (GUYSUCO) dispensaries, which are accessible only to GUYSUCO employees.

The Guyana Water Authority (GUYWA) has already corrected the false impression that water is being diverted from Buxton to other communities. I must point out that the PPP/C Government has spent $47M to install and repair pipelines as well as to refurbish the pumps at Buxton and Friendship. The residents of Buxton can testify to better water supply.

Mr. Hoyte's constant harping on "police provocation and harassment" is intended to demoralise the hardworking law enforcement ranks. Instead, he should have commended them for their professionalism in face of provocation and other distractions. The government does not and will not condone police excesses.

However, Mr. Hoyte must appreciate that the Police Force must be allowed to use such force as may be necessary for it to efficiently and effective discharge its responsibility. With reference to the activities of the security forces in Buxton and other areas during the post-election unrest, it is regrettable that Mr. Hoyte did not provide facts.

The police only act on information or after the prevalence of criminal activities in the specified areas. This has been so from time immemorial. Mr. Hoyte, as a former Minister of Home Affairs, knows this.

He also knows of the hundreds of unwarranted politically motivated raids against PPP and other opposition supporters and leaders.

On the issue of distribution of firearm licences, there are laid down criteria, which are followed by the Guyana Police Force before a recommendation is made. The claim that 1,000 licences are distributed a month is preposterous and a figment of Mr. Hoyte's imagination.

The Government supports the formation of Policing Groups in all communities and probably Mr. Hoyte may want to encourage other communities to organise such groups. A policing group may help to address the concerns of the residents of Buxton about the presence of drug camps aback their village.

Not surprisingly, Mr. Hoyte did not care to say what he did for the communities, he now so violently defends, during his Presidency. Let me remind him: roadways in the villages were neglected; no major drainage and irrigation work was done to help the farmers of the backlands; economic activities slowed to a stop; extension services to farmers ceased; the rate of poverty spiraled to 85% across the nation; thousands of public servants, many from those communities, were laid off; local democracy was hijacked with the last local government elections being held in 1970; the overall socio-economic decline took its toll on every community.

The political stance of the PNC/R has led to violence against innocent law-abiding citizens and to blatant breaches of the law. Sadly, Mr. Hoyte seems unrepentant about the scores of Guyanese, mainly persons of Indian descent and PPP supporters of African descent, who were beaten, robbed and their properties destroyed: not to mention his party's callous disruption of the nation's social and economic life. All Guyanese are and will continue to pay the price of this disruption.

Further, the report of the Joint Committee on depressed communities should be instructive.