Parliament approves motion to make Official Gazette widely available
Stabroek News
July 12, 2002

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The National Assembly on Wednesday approved motions moved by GAP/WPA MP Sheila Holder to make the Official Gazette more accessible to the public and urging that the performance of the power company be examined by the public utilities body.

Holder's first motion called on the government to make the Official Gazette available to the public at cost from bookstores and other government agencies and for copies to be displayed at identified post offices, regional offices and other public places. Her colleague from the Guyana Action Party/Working People's Alliance (GAP/WPA), Shirley Melville, seconded the motion.

Holder said that making the Official Gazette more accessible to the public in a timely manner would help to stamp out the practice of the rightful owners being relieved of their land and other immovable property without their knowledge as a result of fraudulent acts. She charged that persons working in the Deeds Registry help to facilitate the fraud and that Guyanese resident overseas are the most vulnerable to this practice. Holder said that innocent buyers are made party to this scam, which starts with a forged power of attorney being used to obtain the relevant information from a Notary Public, which is then taken to the Deeds Registry to access the relevant information.

Holder noted that the system of conveyance is based on notification in the Official Gazette and only constant checks of it can curb this illegal practice.

She said that to do this the gazette should be on sale at locations other than the Office of the President.

Prime Minister Sam Hinds in supporting the motion agreed that the Official Gazette needed to be more accessible and committed the government to reviewing the present procedures for its printing and distribution.

He explained that presently about 400 copies are printed but that the allocation for its production would have to be doubled to conform to the level of distribution envisaged in the resolve clause of the motion.

The Prime Minister noted that cost recovery would have to be a factor in setting the price at which it will be made available at the bookstores. Holder suggested that it is worth the effort for the government to exhibit some degree of generosity.

Hinds said that the Office of the President is also looking at the possibility of posting the gazette on the worldwide web but noted that this would involve additional costs.

The legality of printing the gazette in sections so that members of the public can buy those parts in which they are interested is also being explored.

Government and legal notices, government orders and regulations, public auctions, transfer of titles to land and divorce notices are among information, which by law must be published in the gazette.

The other motion moved by Holder as amended with her approval by the Prime Minister called on the National Assembly to urge the Public Utilities Commission to examine and remedy issues of non-performance on the part of the Guyana Power and Light (GPL). Holder's initial motion called on the assembly to disapprove the recent increases instituted by the power company.

Moving this motion, Holder said that the right to the services provided by a public utility plays a major role in defining the quality of life of its customers and at times is used as an index of how democratic a country is.

She said that the agreement reached with the government partners in GPL falls short of the recommendations of the conference of consumer groups among which are effective regulations and the need for constant monitoring to prevent the consumers being exploited.

She declared that the 1999 Electricity Sector Reform Act (ESRA) insulates GPL from effective monitoring. She argued that the consumers' experience with GPL is that of an unfair and exploitative relationship in which they are paying for line losses and inefficient management. She said that the line losses exceed the industry standard by 40 per cent.

GPL has been unable to lower its commercial and technical losses as agreed in the privatisation agreement and this has led to a public debate on what penalty should be applied to it.

Holder asserted that the government should have installed a framework that encourages competition before it deregulated the power company as the successor company now operated as a monopoly.

Supporting the motion, Hinds said that the GPL has a right of first refusal in the transmission and distribution of electricity as the ESRA provides for self-generation by persons or companies other than GPL. In fact, he said that after 2004 the legislation provides for GPL to invite private individuals to help to provide its projections of needed power.

The Prime Minister said that the ESRA also provides for individuals to generate and distribute power in those areas where GPL is unable to do so but that the rate charged must be that obtaining in the areas serviced by GPL. He said, too, that individuals who generate their own power also have the right to supply persons in their immediate vicinity.

Commenting on the economics of GPL's operations, which drew the comment from Holder that he is a good advocate for the company, Hinds said that of the 120,000 customers serviced, 400 of them took half the power generated. Another 60,000 pay what he called the "life-line" rate.

Another factor he said is that at the moment self-generation is cheaper than GPL's supply and if it withdrew then the cross-subsidisation of residential rates by the commercial rate would no longer be possible.

Holder winding up the debate said that the Guyanese public was entitled to a reliable, safe service and redress from GPL when it damages the consumers' equipment.

She also pointed out that GPL's actions discourage potential investors from getting into the electricity business, as the PUC is unable to get information about the sector from it.