2001 in review
A year of boxing glory, dialogue and hope By Neil Marks
Guyana Chronicle
January 1, 2002

THE September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States overshadowed events around the world in the tumultuous year just ended and the fallout is continuing to be felt far from the centre.

For Guyana, the impact was also up close and personal with almost 30 Guyanese among the victims of the tragedy at the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C.

At home, Guyanese tried to cope with the lows and highs, with real economic growth affected largely by the uncertainty that enveloped the country before the March national and regional elections, and the violence that came after the polls.

The ongoing dialogue between President Bharrat Jagdeo and Opposition Leader, Mr. Desmond Hoyte restored some level of confidence among Guyanese that things would get better.

However, while the political scene was the focus of much attention during the year, there were significant developments in other sectors.

Fifteen days into year 2001, Guyana was pitched into uncertainty when Justice Claudette Singh ruled in the Esther Pereira Elections Petition Case, invalidating, or making null and void, the December 15, 1997 elections which had returned the People's Progressive Party/Civic to Government.

It was a case in which 285 witnesses were called over a period of three years. In the end, the Judge found that the use of the voter ID cards was unconstitutional, and this formed the basis of her ruling.

She found "irregularities and illegalities" in the way the elections were conducted, but could not say if these would have affected the results.

After listening to arguments from lawyers representing the country's two main political parties, in a consequential order, the Judge ruled that she was temporarily validating all acts of Parliament and Government until a new Government was determined by the people in General and Regional Elections.

By means of that order, the PPP/Civic remained in office.

Tensions eased in the country as Guyanese celebrated in fine style Mashramani and the Hindu festival of Phagwah.

On March 19, Guyanese voted in General and Regional Elections - two years earlier than provided for in the Constitution.

When the main Opposition People's National Congress (PNC) had refused to recognise the Janet Jagan-led Government that resulted from the December 15,1997 elections, the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) mediated and called for elections by January 17, 2001.

After pulling out all the stops, the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) managed to get all arrangements in place for elections on March 19.

Four days after the polls, the results revealed that more than 53% of those who voted favoured a Bharrat Jagdeo-led PPP/Civic Government.

But the swearing-in of the President didn't follow immediately and violence broke out in parts of the East Coast Demerara where PNC supporters refused to accept the results of the elections.

Like they did the last time, the main opposition party went to Chief Justice, Desiree Bernard (now Chancellor of the Judiciary) for orders prohibiting the swearing in of the President. Their problem this time around was that the votes were not tabulated properly.

While the legal battle ensued, fears mounted again in the country, as PNC/Reform supporters took to the streets. In a city street demonstration, one person carried a placard that read "No Desi, No Country."

Like she did in January 1998, the Chief Justice, on March 30, threw out all orders of prohibition and ordered that GECOM see that the votes be tabulated in the prescribed manner.

On the very day of the Chief Justice's ruling, President Jagdeo, at 37, took the oath of office as Guyana's 8th President. He made a point of stressing that his administration would govern in the interest of all Guyana.

Guyanese waited with bated breath for the start of his proposed dialogue with the Opposition.

The first meeting came on April 24 with Mr. Hoyte. The next day, the newspapers carried photos of a smiling President shaking the hands of a sombre-looking Opposition Leader.

The pictures changed though, on April 26. The two men were smiling broadly as they emerged from another meeting. Progress was being made.

The dialogue continues, even though towards the end of the year, the PNC/Reform and the Office of the President issued public statements accusing each side of attempts to derail the talks.

In the initial phase, the question of the dialogue succeeding in bringing peace to Guyana lingered.

It apparently failed to achieve this purpose, as chaos erupted on the East Coast.

Guyanese of Indian descent suffered in a campaign of terror by rampaging mobs.

At first the events were concentrated at Buxton. Electricity poles were placed across the road. Tyres were burnt. Roads were ditched. Bridges were displaced.

Trucks carrying goods were diverted, drivers were beaten and goods were stolen. Guyanese were stranded on the road - but not for long, for even the bravest turned around.

Those who were fortunate enough escaped being beaten, robbed, or being badly burnt from "channa" bombs thrown into vehicles. Property was damaged as homes became the target of rocks and the "channa bombs."

Despite calls for peace from the country's foremost political leaders, the terror reached its height when Bemchand Barran and his eight-year-old son Morvin were found dead at the Enterprise Backdam, while another 22-year-old farmer, Dhanpaul Jagdeo, was found dead at Lusignan Backdam.

That incident led to tight army and police patrols on the East Coast. The tensions continued for several days and then the situation simmered down.

The Government was then forced to dole out funds to rebuild what was damaged and handed out $150M to assist victims of the post-elections violence.

The Economy, Investment and Businesses
Understandably, the post-elections unrest made 2001 a tough year for foreign direct investment.

About 10 businesses on Regent and Robb streets in Georgetown went up in flames the day President Jagdeo named the Cabinet postings of his new government.

Several of these stores soon re-opened - Kirpalani and Kissoons, for example. The owners of the Alicia's store started over with a $50M complex that now houses some of the burnt-out stores.

On June 15, the Government outlined how it would spend a budgeted $64.7 billion to run the country in 2001.

Not long after Finance Minister Saisnarine Kowlessar made his budget presentation in the National Assembly, Government's flagship programme - housing - received a hard blow when the Ministry of Housing and Water went up in flames.

The financial sector remained stable despite the July 17 closure of Globe Trust and Investment Company. The institution closed doors because of bankruptcy, leaving about 2,000 small depositors uncertain about the status of their money.

Towards the end of the year, the Bank of Guyana applied to the High Court for an order for compulsory liquidation of the entity.

The economy did not perform enough to record a positive growth rate.

Businessmen, either singly or with joint partners (local and overseas), pushed their dollars where they saw fit.

According to the Government Information Agency, more than 3,500 new businesses started operations during the year.

Before the elections tensions rose, a Sri Lankan investor opened Guyana's first coconut milk production plant at the Coldingen Industrial Estate, East Coast Demerara, costing some US$350,000.

For the Tourism and Hospitality sector, the three new additions - Cara Inn on Pere Street, Kitty, Georgetown; La Familia in South Ruimveldt, Georgetown; Hampton View Inn at Buxton - were welcome indeed. The Tourism and Hospitality Association of Guyana continued to attend international trade fairs in order to push the fledgling sector.

Banks DIH Limited added its flavour with the opening of its $130M Quick Serve and Drive Thru Restaurant on Sheriff Street, Georgetown.

Demerara Distillers Limited (DDL) began a US$15M expansion plan with the start in construction of a warehouse at its Diamond, East Bank Demerara (EBD) operations.

DIDCO Trading Company Limited opened its $1.6 billion Feedmill and Rice Export Division on the East Bank Demerara.

Bounty Farm and BEV came together to set up Guyana's first Fish Processing Plant to convert fish and poultry waste into high protein feed, while BM Enterprise of Houston, EBD, opened a US$3.2M Fish Processing Plant.

During the year, the National Milling Company plugged $66M into its EBD operations to increase production.

Of all the businesses which performed exceedingly well, Precision Woodworking Establishment was a company to celebrate about.

The company's Founder and Co-Manager, Mr. Ronald Bulkan, topped 14 other Caribbean nominees to win the Ernst and Young Caribbean Entrepreneur of the Year Award.

Tragedies and accidents
When, as U.S. authorities believe, Osama bin Laden masterminded the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington, local news went into the background.

Twenty-seven Guyanese were killed on that day. Memorial services were organised both here and in New York for those who lost their lives.

A little after then, tragedy struck on the Essequibo Coast, in Region Two, when heavy winds blew off roofs and flattened houses. The Regional Administration with $3M in assistance from Central Government helped the residents in rebuilding.

Later in the year, the East Demerara Conservancy dam at Flagstaff, Cane Grove, broke away, plunging the nearby communities into more than three feet of water. The Government relief effort was spearheaded by the Army while the water receded. Some $15M was distributed to families to help them rebuild.

On the Essequibo Coast, an eroding river reserve at Charity was declared an emergency area, 11 days before the New Year. Residents who were occupying the 200 feet of reserve were urged to remove immediately.

Earlier in the year, an Army BN2 Islander crashed into a mountain in Region Eight, killing Captain Vickram Nandan, Lieutenant Floyd Gittens and Contractor Ravindranauth Sharma.

In 2001 also, the country was shocked at the mid-air stabbing of a local pilot. Young Chronicle reporter, Sharon Lall, is before the court charged with attempting to murder the pilot and a female passenger of the aircraft, who was instrumental in helping the pilot to successfully land the small plane.

Late in the year, four Brazilians hijacked a Trans Guyana Airways aircraft just after it took off from Lethem, Region Nine. No one was injured as the hijackers simply commandeered the aircraft to Brazil, disembarked, and let the pilot fly the crew to their original destination.

2001 was a year of horrific accidents.

Early in the year, eight persons were killed at Corentyne, Berbice in a smash-up with a mini-bus and a Canter truck. Late in the year, a teenager and her boyfriend were burnt alive after their car slammed into a fuel tanker on the Linden/Soesdyke Highway.

While the road mishaps continued, the Government in the last two months of the year conducted countrywide consultations to reform the country's outdated traffic laws. The recommendations were being compiled towards the end of the year.

By the end of the year, more than 150 deaths were caused by road accidents.

Air Transport
2001 saw the collapse of the country's financially troubled National Flag Carrier, Guyana Airways 2000.

However, many others soon became interested in the route. Caribbean Atlantic Airlines started operations in November, offering flights to Barbados with international connections. Universal Airlines began flying in December, initially offering three non-stop flights to New York a week.

El Dorado Air, a joint venture between local and overseas Guyanese, obtained its licence to fly the New York and Toronto routes.

With the September 11 attacks, new and strict security measures were put in place at the Timehri airport, while security at the Ogle airport, as well as at countrywide airstrips, was boosted following the hijacking of the Trans Guyana aircraft.

In 2001, local investors got approval to take over the operations of the Ogle airport, with a US$3M takeoff.

International Funding, Foreign Trade and Foreign Affairs
In August, the Guyana Brazil Trade Agreement came into effect, making it possible for more Guyanese businessmen to sell to the giant neighbour in the south and for Guyanese to import at a cheaper cost.

The agreement was hailed by the local private sector, and significant movement in trade is anticipated with the completion of the bridge across the Takutu River, on which the Brazilian government commenced construction in the year.

Even though China has a huge opening for Guyanese products, the level of exports showed that Guyanese were not taking advantage of the market.

The Guyana/China Trade Agreement, signed in 2001 also, is intended to change this.

New economic opportunities with Venezuela were set for takeoff towards the end of the year.

The governments of Guyana and Japan signed a grant aid pact in the last quarter of the year totalling US$ 4.2M to help in the construction of the Caribbean Community headquarters building at Turkeyen, ECD.

On August 15, Guyana and the United States of America signed an amendment to their bilateral Democracy and Governance programme to the tune of US$1.79M.

On September 20, the Inter-American Development Bank announced the approval of a US$20M soft loan to finance a Poverty Alleviation Programme based on small-scale infrastructure projects and community services.

The proposed visit by President Jagdeo to Suriname did not take place. However, arrangements are being worked out between the Foreign Ministers of both countries for a visit early this year.

Guyana's major embarrassment on the international front for the year happened on October 10, when the U.S. Embassy in Georgetown stopped issuing visas to Government officials, their employees and relatives, because Guyana failed to meet a deadline to accept 113 Guyanese destined for deportation.

In what Foreign Minister Rudy Insanally called a "welcome development," on December 18, the U.S. Embassy announced that the ban was lifted because Guyana had met the benchmarks.

The rate of crime in Berbice was soaring in the early parts of the year and the local police seemed inactive. Residents of Albion took to the streets, protesting against the neighbourhood police station, setting it afire.

Mohamed Shamshudeen, 43, of Albion High Reef was fatally shot when Albion residents protested against police inaction outside the Albion police station.

President Jagdeo intervened. To the jubilation of residents all the ranks at Albion were transferred. The residents cleaned up and painted the police station that they were responsible for scorching.

The Inquest into the shooting to death of three men by law enforcement ranks at Mandela Avenue in Georgetown began in late December. Steve Grant, Antoine Houston and John Bruce were fatally shot by members of Target Special Squad Police on July 29.

On August 14, in what police then said was "a confrontation with BASS (the Berbice Anti Smuggling Squad)," 41-year-old Azad Bacchus, his son Shazad, and his nephew Fadil Ally, were shot and killed.

Relatives and some residents of Corentyne protested outside the BASS headquarters at Springlands, repeatedly stoning it.

Two members of the protesting group were shot dead. Another person was wounded. The ambulance that was taking the wounded woman, Janet Bess, to the hospital, toppled, killing the woman, the driver, and a nursing assistant.

On August 20, bandits attacked a poor Patterson/Sophia family. Thirty-seven-year-old Jagdai Singh who tried to unmask one of the bandits was shot. She died two weeks later.

On September 1, 25-year-old businessman, Gavin France of "B" Field Sophia, was shot dead in his bed by bandits.

On September 15, two bandits were killed by Police who intercepted a robbery attack on a Bourda market stallholder in Georgetown. One of the bandits fired at one of the policeman who managed to fire back, killing the bandit.

Allister Bowman of Pouderoyen, West Bank Demerara, was shot and killed by Police on September 23. The Police said Bowman's actions threatened their safety when they tried to stop the car he and others were in at South Ruimveldt, Georgetown.

On September 24, People's National Congress Campaign Manager for the 1997 Elections, Dr. John Pluck, 47, was shot in his car at Liliendaal, ECD, after he had stopped to check the vehicle. Though shot, Pluck drove to the Georgetown Public Hospital where he was later pronounced dead.

On October 9, Chinese national, Yang-Qi-Yuan, 27, was hacked to death outside a house at DeEdward Village, Berbice.

On October 13, a mother of three who went missing after she left home to bring in her goats was found dead on a dam at Boerasirie Creek, East Bank Essequibo. The deceased, Savitri Prashad, 48, resided at Zeelugt.

On October 23 Sonia Jerrick, of Bee Hive, ECD, was allegedly shot dead by a member of the neighbourhood police group. The matter is before the court.

On October 27, two boats of seven fishermen were attacked and robbed by pirates on the Essequibo Coast.

On November 14, Jennifer Dyal, 27, mother of two, of the Lamaha Railway Embankment, Georgetown, was murdered while waiting for the annual Diwali motorcade.

On November 25, businessman Shahabadeen Kassim, 25, of West Canje, Berbice, was shot dead by bandits.

On December 12, four Brazilians on board a mini-bus from Mahdia to Georgetown were robbed of their money and jewellery and then told to run into the jungle by three gun-toting bandits who were passengers of the bus.

Police killed Toyin Anderson of West Demerara on December 22, after he, reportedly a member of a gang of six bandits, robbed an Alexander Village cambio dealer. Anderson was one of the men implicated in the 1998 America Street robbery that was said to have been masterminded by the late Linden "Blackie" London.

Four days after Guyana joined the rest of the world to observe World AIDS Day (December 1), executives of the New Guyana Pharmaceutical Corporation announced that it is producing anti-retroviral drugs for persons living with HIV/AIDS.

In 2001, Guyana's health sector leaped forward in fighting the eye disease cataract. Diabetes is the one of the largest contributors to cataract in Guyana, and in response the Government announced that it was releasing $200M for a robust eye care programme to be coordinated by the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation.

In the year under review also, a $10.8M agreement was signed for the establishment of a Low Vision Unit at the Georgetown Hospital.

The biggest controversy in the country's health sector for the year was perhaps the denouncing of the New Amsterdam Hospital Administration by Health Minister, Dr. Leslie Ramsammy.

He came out in the open to deplore the hospital administration following reports that there was delay in the treatment of young West Canje businessman, Shahabadeen Kassim, who was shot by bandits and was rushed to the hospital.

Legal Affairs
In July, a controversy enveloped the Ministry of Legal Affairs resulting in the Permanent Secretary, Mr. Ganga Persaud, being sent on leave.

In February, Cabinet had awarded a contract for the printing of the Laws of Guyana to be executed by New Global Consultants of New York with funding from the Inter-American Development Bank.

The Government said the manner in which the contract was executed was "improper" since the external funding of US$220,500 was not sought for by the ministry, and the administration was unsure of how the Permanent Secretary intended to pay for the job.

This year, as the Chief of Staff, Brigadier Michael Atherly reported, the Guyana Defence Force (GDF) made "leaps" particularly with respect to the Marine Corps.

The Coast Guard saw the acquisition of a converted British Minesweeper, renamed the Essequibo to be the Army's flagship vessel, four high seas patrol boats and a new $69M headquarters building.

Police and the Judiciary
The Guyana Police Force was also set to greatly develop its asset base. President Jagdeo, in June, announced that his Government was making available US$1M to buy different types of vehicles for the force.

Wrong information supplied by the Ministry of Home Affairs' Permanent Secretary, Mr. Randoplh Williams, for the tender documents, delayed the purchase of the vehicles.

Towards the end of the year, after publicly apologising for the error on the documents, Williams resigned and was replaced by Ms. Angela Johnson.

On August 30, the first police training centre on the Essequibo Coast was commissioned at Suddie. It was dedicated to the memory of Detective Sergeant Richard Faikall who was killed in the line of duty on November 21, 1997, when bandits robbed the Anna Regina branch of the Guyana National Cooperative Bank.

On September 3, Commissioner Laurie Lewis resigned from the Guyana Police Force, ending a more than four-decade career in law enforcement, 10 years of which he served as Police Commissioner.

Lewis was succeeded by Mr. Floyd McDonald, who was at the time serving as Crime Chief with CID Headquarters.

On May 4, Ms. Desiree Bernard became the country's first female Chancellor of the Judiciary. She was sworn in together with Mr. Carl Singh as Chief Justice.

Days after her appointment to the post, Chancellor Bernard sent Chief Magistrate Paul Fung-a-Fat on special leave, saying he was being investigated for alleged misconduct.

Mr. Fung-a-Fat resigned, and Ms. Juliet Holder-Allen took over as acting Chief Magistrate.

Entertainment and Sports
Guyanese, whatever their sporting persuasion, were given a day off on February 19 to celebrate Guyana's first World Championship title in the boxing arena.

The Albouystown 'Cyclone', Andrew `Sixhead' Lewis knocked out American James Page to become the World Boxing Association Welterweight Champion of the world.

President Jagdeo watched the fight on TV in Albouystown, Lewis' hometown and immediately after the win, promised a house and land for `Sixhead' who returned home to a Guyanese welcome that was nothing short of that deserving of a World Champion.

The Chronicle edition that reported on the big win was sold out.

On September 8, Spanish and English teacher Olive Gopaul, 22, was crowned Miss Guyana and the suave University of Guyana Marketing student moved on to represent Guyana at the Miss World pageant in Sun City, South Africa.

Although she didn't bring home the crown, Olive said she "promoted Guyana with pride."