New Amsterdam businessmen want Town Day called off
Cite crime wave By Daniel DaCosta
Stabroek News
September 14, 2002

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Several businessmen in an around New Amsterdam are calling for next month's Town Day celebrations to be called off in view of the crime wave sweeping the country.

The Town Day is scheduled to be held from October 20 to 27 under the theme: 'The Glories of New Amsterdam, Past, Present and Future.'

But leading New Amsterdam businessman and President of the Regional Chambers Of Commerce, Ramdial Bookmohan, told Stabroek News that he would like to see the celebrations called off because of the present crime situation in the country. He recalled that in late July, a band of 14 heavily armed criminals invaded Rose Hall and held citizens under siege for approximately two hours while the police were unable to do anything. "What security guarantees can the police offer the business community and people of New Amsterdam over the eight days?" he asked. According to Bookmohan, the resources of the Guyana Police Force are already spread thin and such an event would definitely place additional strain on those resources. He also referred to what he described as "unsatisfactory financial accountability" surrounding last year's activities.

In 2001 the celebrations were marred by several incidents involving the spraying of mace and the murder of a West Berbician at an open-air party at the New Amsterdam Technical Institute. Many revellers were also robbed during the massive "street jam."

Norman Semple, public relations officer of the Town Day Planning Committee described the concerns as "ill-founded." He said the committee was expected to finalise a draft programme at a meeting yesterday, and that "all of the activities will be held during the daytime."

Commander of 'B' Division, Assistant Commissioner, Paul Slowe in an invited comment said he had expressed some concerns of his own at a meeting of the committee held last week. According to Slowe the police should not have any difficulties in managing the activities if they are held during the daytime. However, no permission would be granted for any activity to be held during night. The senior police officer said he was given the assurance by the committee that his concerns will be addressed.

The Street Fair attracts thousands of revellers from across the country and usually runs late into the night. Last year the police were forced to close the street party after several incidents involving the spraying of mace and robberies. Over recent weeks a number of individuals have been robbed in various sections of the town even during the daytime. Some have reported being robbed at gunpoint.

Semple said businesspersons should not leave the security of their premises only to the police but should put measures in place themselves to protect their properties. He urged those persons who had raised their concerns with this newspaper to instead attend the chamber's meeting and discuss their worries at that forum. The programme, he said, had not yet been finalised and those businessmen who had fears should wait to see the timings of the activities.

The businessmen and individuals who spoke with Stabroek News said while they would like to participate in another Town Day they believed the climate in the country was not conductive to such activities particularly during the Street Fair where thousands of people gather along the Main Road. "Now is not the right time," one argued. Another referred to the damage to property and infrastructure during the celebrations and the loss of revenue during the activities. Others complained about the huge pile-up of garbage along the main thoroughfare following the celebrations; the playing of loud music for several hours in residential areas; and the influx of vendors and criminals from the city.

One member of the chamber told this newspaper that he was not against the celebrations being held but was of the view that the crime situation was worrying. "Maybe next year we could have the celebrations at a central area, possibly at the Burnham Park or Esplanade Park, away from the main housing areas, where it would be easier for the police to control the crowd and maintain order."

A number of questions also remain unanswered over the manner in which the finances garnered from last year's activities were handled. A new committee under Co-ordinator, Barbara Pilgrim, a former mayor and a PNCR regional councillor and Chairman, Mayor Claude Henry, has been appointed to run this year's activities. It includes representatives from the Regional Administration, the Chamber of Commerce and the Town Council. Some of the activities planned include an Inter-faith service, a march though the town, exhibitions, concerts, a cultural festival and a pageant. The major activity, the Town Day Street Fair and Exhibition is scheduled for Saturday, October 26.