Govt committed to creating just society
- President -pledges to probe PNC claims

By Courtney Jones
Stabroek News
July 16, 1998

President Janet Jagan has underscored her government's commitment to the creation of a just and safe society for all Guyanese.

The President made the remarks Wednesday at her first press conference since assuming the mantle of leadership of this country on December 19, 1997. The conference was called to brief the media on her attendance at the 19th Summit of Heads of Governments of CARICOM held in St Lucia from June 30 to July 4, 1998.

"I wish to reiterate here the commitment of my government to working towards the creation of an environment in which every citizen of Guyana would feel safe and confident in the conduct of their daily life," President Jagan said.

The Head of State, flanked by Information Minister, Moses Nagamootoo, and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Clement Rohee, told journalists in the Credentials Room of the Presidential Secretariat that, in what was in effect her inaugural address to the heads, she emphasised the need to maintain democracy in CARICOM countries.

"I placed emphasis on the need for the respect for and the maintenance of democracy, adherence to the rule of law and the respect for the political, economic, social and cultural rights of our citizens," the President said, adding that these are principles which were echoed by all her CARICOM colleagues at the opening of the conference.

Mrs Jagan said that as a consequence, much time was spent discussing the serious political crisis which had engulfed Guyana after the December 15 elections.

In response to a question relating to claims by PNC leader, Desmond Hoyte--who was invited by the heads of the St Lucia Summit--of rampant corruption, discrimination and victimisation by both this and the previous PPP/Civic administrations, the Head of State said that in any government there are corrupt people and those "who don't fulfil their mandate".

"I do recall that in St Lucia, when Mr Hoyte raised some of these questions he was told by some of the prime ministers 'look this is what we have before us every day. All of us have this problem ...they have to all be investigated before we know the truth,'" Mrs Jagan said.

She said that in the same way, her administration was committed to investigating every single PNC claim, since her government came in office to, among other things, clean up corruption.

"We would do our best to see that no-one in Guyana ever again suffers from discrimination and the scourge of corruption is something we are fighting every day," the President assured.

She said she saw no contradiction in her party's repeated call since December 15 and before, during the administration of the late president Cheddi Jagan, for Guyanese to put the past behind them and plans to observe the killing of the "Berbice ballot box martyrs" today and the activities of the Guyanese Indian Foundation Trust (GIFT).

"Healing is a long process. The past is here and we can't wipe it out and it is also a guide for us never to repeat its mistakes," Mrs Jagan said.

The President also cleared the air on PNC claims that the document she signed early this month declaring Georgetown a "riotous area" was not a proclamation of a state of emergency in Guyana.

"I signed a proclamation so that the police would be empowered to place heavier charges on those persons breaking the law and those who are harming people so that we would not have inconsequential charges made on persons who did something pretty bad...," Mrs Jagan said.

And Nagamootoo emphatically said that the proclamation was still in force, noting that it had been laid in Parliament as is required under the laws of Guyana.

The President added that when the need for keeping the proclamation in force was gone, "the instrument that brought it into force will be removed".

On the issue of the stipulation of the St Lucia Agreement that constitutional reform be completed by July 16, 1999, the President stressed that this depends on cooperation from the opposition PNC camp.

"If we have cooperation, we should be able to finish it on time, I do hope we have cooperation. This is what we have been calling for," the President observed.

She reminded that the PPP had suggested that the best way of facilitating the work on bringing about a new Constitution depended on all parties going into Parliament.

"The Herdmanston Accord made it clear that Parliament started the process, therefore it has to end the process. So if the PNC had seen the necessity earlier, we would have started earlier," she added.

The PNC had stuck adamantly to its guns that the Herdmanston Accord and indeed the CARICOM Intersessional in June did not in any way bind it to going into Parliament to enable the government to set up mechanisms to start the constitutional reform process.

The President said her party intended to cooperate fully with the process and saw no reason why cooperation by all parties would not result in the deadline being achieved.

The Head of State, on the much talked about question of her meeting with PNC leader Hoyte, noted that there were many moves and offers by various groups and persons to bring about such a meeting.

"The more recent one and the one I appreciate the most was the one by the TUC [Trades Union Congress]. I thought their offer afforded the best possibility to bring about a meeting.

"However, that was just a few days before St Lucia ... I still have to go back a little bit to find out if the TUC still wants to be the promoter of this meeting," Mrs Jagan said.

She said she told TUC General Secretary, Joseph Pollydore, that perhaps she needed to take up Hoyte's suggestion and work out, perhaps with the help of the TUC, an agenda for such a meeting.