Govt denies charges of discrimination, extra-judicial killings
-in letter to international trade union group
Stabroek News
August 10, 2002

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The Government of Guyana has written the Inter-American Regional Association of Workers (ORIT) rejecting charges by local unionists of discrimination against public servants and extra-judicial killings.

The government also assured ORIT of its support for democratic values as well as trade union and workers’ rights. The letter followed a fact-finding visit by ORIT here. The government was unable to meet the delegation.

“We will unceasingly pursue this path and hope that the labour movement would find the will to support the government in this endeavour. We are terribly disappointed in the manner in which the visit of the ORIT fact-finding mission was organised recently. This is the first time that such a high ranking delegation of labour leaders visited Guyana and members of the delegation were not given the opportunity to pay a courtesy call on the Minister of Labour,” permanent secretary of the Public Service Ministry, Dr Nanda Gopaul, wrote in his letter to ORIT dated July 31.

An ORIT delegation was in Guyana from July 8-10 to investigate allegations of government’s transgressions of trade unions rights and human rights.

After the mission was completed, general secretary of ORIT, Luis Anderson, stated that the delegation was leaving Guyana with a worse picture of the political, economic and social situation in the country than what was reported to them.

Anderson had said that it was regrettable that the delegation did not get to meet with government so that a clearer understanding of the Guyana situation could have been grasped.

Gopaul stated in his letter that government has been advised by the leaders of the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union and the National Association of Agricultural, Commercial and Industrial Employees that the schedule set for the ORIT team did not allow for their input.

He stated that there was also no consideration given for flexibility in time and venue as regards meeting with the ruling People’s Progressive Party.

“We are also disappointed that the ORIT delegation did not find it useful to meet with the Commissioner of Police and the Director of Public Prosecutions on the issue of allegations of extra-judicial killings,” Gopaul stated.

He noted that though protocol was breached when the Office of the President received a faxed correspondence on June 29 requesting a meeting between the ORIT delegation and President Bharrat Jagdeo on July 10, the head of state sought to accommodate the mission on July 11, only to learn that some of the members had already left Guyana.

“The government is prepared at all times to be reasonable and treat the labour movement and other civil society groupings as partners in the development process of this country. We will, however, not be intimidated or bullied by any grouping, neither will we surrender to undemocratic norms, conduct or threats which are intended to undermine our democracy and retard progress in our country. The overwhelming majority of our Guyanese population yearns for a better way of life. The government, since it has taken office, has delivered on its promise to the people and will continue to do so.”

Without merit

Gopaul stated that any allegation that public servants have been discriminated against in recent years by the current government is without merit and is soundly refuted by an examination of the facts on public service salary increases granted over the years.

He said the positive effects of the steady increases in nominal public sector wages on the disposable incomes of the employees is further consolidated by the recent success in bringing inflation under control.

He pointed out that annual inflation has been reined in from consistent double-digit levels in the 1980s to consistent single-digit levels since 1992.

He added that in 2001 actual inflation was restricted to 2.6% by a menu of prudent monetary and fiscal policies.

“The combination of rapid and steady increases in nominal public sector wages and the success in restraining inflation and deterioration in the exchange rate have resulted in public servants being decidedly better off in 2002, relative to their status in the 1980s and early 1990s. These policies and increases implemented by government debunk the claim of discrimination against public servants.”

Gopaul stated that government has maintained dialogue with the Guyana Trades Union Congress (GTUC) over the years and expressed disappointment that the organisation has stopped attending meetings and embarked on a campaign with political activists, which it charged, was aimed at destabilising the government.

“The government record of support for the GTUC is seen not only by its involvement by the leaders of the movement in dialogue but by its regular substantial contribution on a yearly basis to the labour movement especially in the area of workers education and for the administration of the GTUC itself.”

He said the last such contribution of $2 million was made in April this year following discussions with the leaders of the GTUC and government.

He contended that government has done a lot to foster harmony between government and labour despite the fact that the labour movement itself is divided and compromised.

Gopaul stated that the labour movement had a constant input on the fixing of wages in many sectors such as shops, liquor premises and service station employees.

He recalled that government officials, including President Jagdeo, would meet with the leaders of the labour movement on a frequent basis to discuss issues of concern to them.

He noted that a bilateral sub-committee, comprising Head of the Presidential Secretariat Dr Roger Luncheon and himself for government, and GTUC’s general secretary Lincoln Lewis and president Carvil Duncan for labour, has been meeting at least twice weekly with success on crafting a way forward to the benefit of the labour movement, government and the people of Guyana.

Escalating crime

On allegations of extra-judicial killings, Gopaul disputed this stating that the Guyana Police Force has to cope with an escalating crime situation where criminals are armed with sophisticated weaponry, some of whom are hardened convicts deported from the United States.

“The government of Guyana would never support an abuse of power on the part of its security forces over the civilian population. We believe and uphold the rule of law and the freedom of the citizen as well as all the fundamental rights guaranteed to the individual, both under the Constitution and those governed under international covenants. We wish to reassure ORIT of our abiding faith and support for these internationally recognised tenets governing fundamental human and trade union rights,” he declared.

Gopaul noted that persons are being encouraged by political activists and television talk show hosts and this situation has led to the near disintegration of law and order in certain parts of Guyana.

He pointed out that eight police officers have been targeted and killed over the last few months in the country.

He argued that on the vast majority of occasions criminals and law-breakers have been apprehended with the minimum of force.

“Whenever killings occurred, these took place after the police were forced to defend themselves. In all cases where unnatural deaths occur, an inquest has to be conducted and this has to be ordered by an independent agency outside of the government,” Gopaul stated.

ORIT’s general secretary had said his organisation would be taking up the issues with international institutions for them to urgently come up with proposals for solutions.

Anderson said one of the major concerns was the breakdown of dialogue between government and the opposition and civic organisations like the GTUC.

He had stated that the image prevailed of a deterioration of the economic, political and social situation in the country and the increased violence by what he described as paramilitary forces acting with impunity has led to this and the government seemed unconcerned.

Anderson said he would be sensitising the Organisation of the American States, the Inter-American Development Bank, the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund about the situation in Guyana.

The ORIT fact-finding mission was facilitated by the GTUC.