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Guyana’s government says it will undercut river bridge toll

The magic of P3’s all over the world

Guyana’s government said on Sunday that it will let private boat owners offer taxi service across a river near the Suriname border after the opposition-linked company that controls the bridge over it refused to lower tolls.

In its budget presentation last month, the government had ordered that a $10 toll for vehicles crossing the Berbice River bridge be reduced by about $3, but company directors refused and instead asked for a 50 percent increase in rates. The Berbice River Company Inc. has the rights to operate the bridge for 21 years.

On Sunday, State Minister Joseph Harmon said authorities will offer vehicles a cheaper way across the river by allowing private vessels to compete with the toll bridge and will help the boat owners keep rates down by subsidizing their services.

This is how broke Guyana is

To even provide basic needs, it needs foreign aid from other countries.

Guyana’s president says India has pledged USD 60 million to help the South American country buy a large ferry and build a four-lane highway.

President Donald Ramotar says the highway is to connect Guyana’s main international airport to a large highway near the capital of Georgetown that runs to the coast.

He said late Thursday that USD 10 million of the amount pledged will be used to buy a passenger and cargo ferry that would operate between Port Georgetown and remote jungle communities near the border with Venezuela.

India and Guyana have collaborated on other projects in recent years, including a cricket stadium and a hospital.

About 44 per cent of the 736,000 people who live in Guyana are descendants of people from India who came as indentured workers.

About that hospital.  It isn’t going well.

Another controversy has erupted in relation to the design and construction of the Specialty Hospital at Turkeyen, East Coast Demerara. This time, the government announced its intention to terminate the contract with Surendra Engineering Corporation Ltd on the grounds that the contractor had submitted a fraudulent document purported to emanate from the Central Bank of Trinidad. The government has also asked the police to investigate the matter and is pursuing legal action to recover some US$4.3 million it paid to the contractor.

Surendra Engineering has, however, rejected the allegations and accused the government of seeking to back out of its commitments and of being responsible for the stoppage of work. The contractor also stated that it was entitled to recover from the government amounts expended on the project that it was committed to see through to completion.

Now it is getting worse.

The Indian contractor which was sacked by Government in early September over the US$18M Specialty Hospital is in liquidation.

This latest development would bring uncertainty into legal proceedings filed by the Government of Guyana to recover over US$4M.

According to information seen by Kaieteur News, the company which was incorporated on September 8, 2008, is an unlisted public company which has its registered office at Mumbai, Maharashtra. Its last reported annual general meeting, according to records, was held on September 28, 2012. The company has eight directors.

According to Leader of the Alliance For Change (AFC), Khemraj Ramjattan, the Surendra contracts in Guyana have continued to raise shocking questions over the manner in which Government goes about its businesses. SECL was awarded the contract to build the US$12.5M sugar packaging plant at Enmore.

Government then, in 2011, turned around and awarded another contract to the company to supply 14 fixed and mobile drainage pump, for US$4M. That contract was under fire as SECL had no immediate history of dealing with pumps.

Under questionable circumstances again, Government awarded SECL the contract for the Indian-funded Specialty Hospital that is being built at Turkeyen, East Coast Demerara.

There were objections by another Indian firm over the award of the contract, with a complaint later filed with Indian parliamentarians.

“I want to go this far and say that the Bank in India is responsible in not screening the participants accessing its funding;  or doing at minimum a due diligence or minimum scrutiny of the awardee as recommended by these ‘Chatrees’ in Guyana.

“Even a fourth grader could find out the company’s activities from their web site.  It is so appalling to see monies getting misappropriated and images of the people and of the country, Guyana, getting tarnished.” The Parliamentarian made it clear that it will be nigh impossible for Guyana to recoup the monies it paid to SECL for the Specialty Hospital.

“Is it coincidence that the Surendra is in liquidation now? I am not sure what chance, if any, will this corrupt PPP Government or any future Government will have to recover the sum of US$4.5M that Surendra was paid upfront.”

I am not sure what to think.  Obviously Guyana has almost no engineering capacity in the country and that is exploited by either corrupt or incompetent companies overseas.   Of course spending some of that money to get a highly qualified engineer to help with these kinds of projects like cities all across the world do, might stop them from being exploited.  I hate to blame the victim but Guyana seems to be taken advantage of a lot.

What to do with Jonestown

Guyana ponders what to do with the site.

The patch of rainforest in remote northern Guyana where Jim Jones moved his People’s Temple in the 1970s has been almost entirely reclaimed by the jungle.

Locals say if you search long enough, you can still find remnants of a tractor used for transport and agriculture and a filing cabinet that would have kept documents about the community.

The metal drums in which Jones mixed cyanide and fruit punch in preparation for the mass murder-suicide which took place at the site 33 years ago are also still in place.

“We should make sure it’s not forgotten by the young people. They should know what can happen,” says 80-year-old Wilfred Jupiter, a labourer who helped clear the land and build Jonestown in the 1970s.

Guyana is still the undeveloped backwater that first attracted the self-appointed Reverend Jim Jones. A former British colonial outpost in South America, its tropical location has done little for its tourist industry. It lacks the turquoise waters and white sandy beaches of nearby Caribbean islands.

But some Guyanese would like to see the notoriety it gained through its connection with Jones converted into tourist dollars.

Carlton Daniels is the former postmaster in Port Kaituma, a scrappy mining town close to the old Jonestown compound. He’s one of the few residents who remembers what happened there.

“Bringing in some tourist dollars could be good for development. There’s a lot of gold mining right now, but minerals don’t last for ever,” he says.

Not trying to be pessimistic but linking Guyana to Jonestown is not a good tourism idea.

Is Guyana headed towards a dictatorship?

Kaieteur Falls in Guyana

The Jamaica Observer thinks so

Guyana is a country where democracy has traditionally been weak; indeed, for long periods political manipulation has just barely masked some form of dictatorship.

The history of Guyana shows a consistent unwillingness to accept the will of the people as expressed in free and fair elections. The root cause of the undemocratic tendency is the unabated tension between the two ethnic groups, the Afro-Guyanese and the Indo-Guyanese. This persistent, pandemic and virulent racism has become even more perverted and vicious because both tribes see control of the state as a means of distributing scarce benefits in a very poor country.

This practice of racial exclusion from the scarce benefits derivable from the state spawns social and political polarisation.

Guyana has a National Assembly which is a unicameral legislature of 65 members of which 25 members are elected from 10 constituencies by proportional representation and 40 members are chosen also on the basis of proportional representation from national lists named by the political parties.

The president is elected for a five-year term on the basis of parliamentary elections which were last held on November 28, 2011. The president is not directly elected. At the time of elections each party presenting a slate of candidates for the assembly must designate a leader who will become president if that party receives the largest number of votes.

The current situation is that the Indo-Guyanese-controlled People’s Progressive Party won 32 seats in the 2011 election and has formed the Government under Mr Donald Ramotar. A coalition of opposition groups, including the People’s National Congress dominated by Afro-Guyanese, and the Alliance for Change, controls the majority of 33 seats in parliament.

The opposition coalition on August 7, 2014 delivered to the clerk of the National Assembly a motion of “no confidence” against the Government of Mr Ramotar, who knows that this will succeed and new elections will be necessary.

Since the announcement of the intention to have a vote of “no confidence” he has refused to convene a sitting of parliament. Now in a move which undermines the democratic process, Mr Ramotar has prorogued parliament for six months, a move some suggest can be repeated until elections are constitutionally due. This would certainly provoke a constitutional crisis.

His specious justification for this undemocratic act is a transparent farce, claiming that proroguing Parliament was his “sole recourse” to preserving the life of the current Parliament and to bring an end to the opposition’s “political gamesmanship”.

Mr Ramotar also gave the “assurance” that the six months’ prorogation would be used to engage the parliamentary opposition in “constructive ways”. He further stated that if no agreement for “normalcy” was reached, then he would have no choice but to hold early general elections.

All this is clearly intended to maintain himself in power and delay elections as long as possible.

Meanwhile, he has done his country considerable reputational damage. To deliberately create a situation in which the executive is exercising power without a functioning parliament is a subversion of democracy. It is tantamount to the conversion of an elected president into a de facto dictator.

The Economist sees this situation this way.

WHEN 33 opposition MPs took their seats in Guyana’s National Assembly on November 10th for parliament’s first sitting in since July, they faced a bank of empty chairs. In place of government politicians were copies of a presidential decree that “prorogued” parliament until further notice. Governance was barely working before. The suspension of parliament ends the pretence.

The source of the confrontation is the 2011 election, which produced a split result. Donald Ramotar won the presidency but two parties opposed to him secured a single-seat majority in the National Assembly. President and parliament have bickered ever since. Mr Ramotar suspended the legislature to avoid a no-confidence vote, which looked certain to pass. He will now attempt to govern his fractious country of 750,000 people without recourse to parliament, possibly until the end of April, when he needs a new budget for routine spending to continue.

The conflict goes deeper than ordinary political rivalry. It is a big part of the reason that Guyana has remained relatively poor (see chart on previous page). Politics have been polarised by race for 60 years. Most Indo-Guyanese—descendants of indentured labourers who were brought over when the country was a British colony—support Mr Ramotar’s People’s Progressive Party (PPP). Most Afro-Guyanese have backed the People’s National Congress (PNC), now part of the main opposition group, A Partnership For National Unity.

After unrest in the early 1960s, the PNC held power through rigged elections for 28 years. During the 1980s Guyana was briefly nearly as poor as Haiti, the poorest country in the Americas. From the 1990s coalitions led by the PPP formed governments made increasingly complacent by unstinting support from Indo-Guyanese, the largest group of voters.

The co-habitation of the past three years has been no more productive. Mr Ramotar has vetoed opposition-sponsored legislation and refused to call local-government elections—which have not been held since 1994. President and parliament have failed to co-operate on building infrastructure or on enacting needed legislation to fight money laundering.

The immediate prospects are not bright. Without a new budget, which is unlikely to pass, parliament must be dissolved by April, triggering new elections. The likeliest outcome would then be a continuation of divided government or a return to the stultifying rule of the PPP.

But there are hopeful signs. Mixed marriages have produced mixed-race children. Guyana’s indigenous Amerindian population has grown; it is now nearly a tenth of the total. Voters weary of the old politics provide a base for the multi-ethnic Alliance for Change, which took seven of the 65 parliamentary seats in 2011. Some Guyanese want to move beyond stalemate.

It’s lonely being Guyana

From the New York Times

The area’s relative obscurity is not just name-related. With a combined population of less than 1.5 million, the Guyana Three are hardly a hotspot for news. If you know three things about French Guiana, it’s probably these: there’s a pepper (and a Porsche) named after its capital, Cayenne; the notorious French penal colony of Devil’s Island was located off its shore; and it’s the site of the European Space Agency’s spaceport, at Kourou. Suriname? Two things: the Netherlands traded it with the English for New Amsterdam, and it’s the only Dutch-speaking country outside of Europe. Guyana? The Jonestown Massacre of 1978.

But as a set, the three entities are a significant anomaly, and a case study in the way that geology and the environment can combine with geopolitics to shape a region’s history.

Since Belize won independence in 1981, French Guiana is the last territory on the American mainland controlled by a non-American power. But in fact, all three Guyanas are Fremdkörper in Latin America: they are the only territories in the region without either Spanish or Portuguese as a national language. These are coastal countries, culturally closer to the Caribbean.

Moreover, these shores are cut off from the rest of the subcontinent by dense rainforest. And that jungle remains virgin by virtue of the Guyana Shield, a collection of mountain ranges and highlands seemingly designed to conserve the interior’s impenetrability [6]. The shield is best known for its tepuis: enormous mesas that rise dramatically from the jungle canopy and are often home to unique flora and fauna (tepuis feature prominently in Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Lost World” and, more recently, the animated film “Up.”)

But the ultimate scapegoat for the loneliness of the Guyanas is Pope Alexander VI. It was he who decreed the Papal Line of Demarcation in 1493, dividing the new world between the Spanish and the Portuguese. The line ran halfway between the Portuguese-held Cape Verde Islands and the new Spanish possessions of Cuba and Hispaniola. This border was meant to put an end to the bickering between the two Iberian powers, giving Spain rights to all lands west of the line and Portugal to anything east of it. Divide and conquer, indeed.

It gives you an idea of why Guyana, French Guiana, Suriname, and Venezuela are so isolated from the rest of the world.

With a suicide rate higher than North Korea, why is Guyana the world leader in self-inflicted death?

Why is Guyana the global leader in suicides?

So why do people in my home country of Guyana kill themselves so often.

Guyana, a largely rural country at the northeastern edge of South America, has a suicide rate four times the global average, ahead of North Korea, South Korea, and Sri Lanka. Neighbouring Suriname was the only other country from the Americas in the top 10.

There seem to be a number of reasons that Guyana tops the list, including deep rural poverty, alcohol abuse and easy access to deadly pesticides. It apparently has nothing to do with the mass cult suicide and murder of more than 900 people in 1978 at Jonestown, the event that made the country notorious.

“It’s not that we are a population that has this native propensity for suicide or something like that,” said Supriya Singh-Bodden, founder of the non-governmental Guyana Foundation. “We have been trying to live off the stigma of Jonestown, which had nothing to do with Guyana as such. It was a cult that came into our country and left a very dark mark.”

Just before the WHO published its report last month, the foundation cited rampant alcoholism as a major factor in its own study of the suicide phenomenon, which has been a subject of concern in Guyana for years. In 2010, the government announced it was training priests, teachers and police officers to help identify people at risk of killing themselves in Berbice, the remote farming region along the southeast border with Suriname where 17-year-old Ramdat Ramlackhan committed suicide after quarreling with his father, Vijai.

More recently, the government has sought to restrict access to deadly pesticides, though that is difficult in a country dependent on agriculture. In May, authorities announced a suicide-prevention hotline would be established and Health Minister Bheri Ramsarran said he would deploy additional nurses and social-service workers in response to the WHO report.

I think there are some other factors that I blogged about before like the fact that violence against women is widely accepted.

Drug submarine is found in Guyana

So down in Guyana

Narcotics Submarine Seized in Guyana

Authorities in Guyana have discovered a submarine they believe was going to be used to ferry drugs across the Atlantic.

The submarine is 20 metres long and powered by a diesel engine, anti-narcotics unit director James Singh said Friday.

“It is the first time we have discovered a submarine on the Atlantic side and this is startling,” he said. “This seems to be a huge operation by groups which are setting up shop here.”
The submarine was found in Guyana’s northwest coastal Waini Region near the Venezuelan border. Singh said he believes it could have been headed to Europe or Africa. No one has been arrested.

Off to Winnipeg

Air Canada Jazz CRJ200 refueling

I got onto one of these today (an Air Canada Jazz CRJ-200) and flew to Winnipeg where I will be taking some training for Safeway as a part of their transition to being owned by Sobey’s.  The plane isn’t that large but the flight isn’t that long.

The last time I flew into Winnipeg James Armstrong Richardson International Airport, I was on a flight from Toronto with my family that was part our journey north from Georgetown, Guyana in 1975.  Of course that airport is long gone (although Bryan Scott has some great photos of it).

The only bad part of the trip is that while we are in a nice hotel near the airport, I won’t have time to get down to The Forks for some Dahl Puri.  That’s on my list for next time.

Hardest Job in the World?

That belongs to Irfaan Ali, the Minister of Tourism, Industry, and Commerce in Guyana who has to promote Guyana amidst news like this.

Four fishermen from Guyana are feared dead after an apparent attack by machete-wielding bandits who boarded their boat at sea, authorities said Wednesday.

Agriculture Minister Leslie Ramsammy said the attack reportedly occurred off the coast of neighboring Suriname.

The fishing boat’s captain told police that he jumped into the Atlantic as the vessel was being boarded by men with machetes. He told investigators his four crewmates were attacked and apparently dumped overboard.

No bodies have been recovered. But police say the blood-spattered boat was recently found drifting at sea.

Guyana’s fishermen have complained for years about pirates who seize catches and equipment – even their boats. Some of the attacks have been deadly off the coasts of Guyana and Suriname, neighbors on the north shoulder of South America.

Guyana’s government has cracked down on sea piracy in recent years, increasing maximum penalties from five to 25 years in prison.

Authorities have also pushed to have radios and global positioning systems placed on fishing boats to help the country’s coast guard locate vessels during emergencies. But many fishermen have not complied because of the cost.

Earlier this year, the U.S. government donated three go-fast patrol boats to help Guyana’s military battle sea bandits as well as drug and gun smugglers.

On Wednesday, Ramsammy called for greater cooperation between Guyana and Suriname in combating piracy.

Guyana’s third world problems

It’s hard to believe that Guyana is still unable to do basic civic governance.

A total US$31.6 million, which is being provided by IDB and the European Union’s Caribbean Investment Facility (CIF), is to assist the Government of Guyana as it seeks to correct deficiencies, including inefficient equipment, less than adequate operation and management practices as well as high energy costs.

According to an IDB, 50% to 70% of the water produced by Guyana Water Inc (GWI), estimated at 123,241,062 m3 in 2013, goes unaccounted for despite advancements in annual billing, while the current sewerage arrangement covers 48,000 people living in Georgetown. This figure represents just 6.5 per cent of the national population, as the vast majority continue to use septic tanks and pit-latrines.

When asked why the PPP/C administration has taken so long to address these deficiencies, Minister of Housing and Water Irfaan Ali told Stabroek News that steps were initiated to improve GWI’s efficiency some years ago. He admitted, however, that there have been challenges along the way.

With regard to reducing losses, Ali reiterated that the system is old and inefficient but also said that many of the problems are caused by customers. He said many persons continue to tamper with the system, going as far as breaking pipes so as to redirect the flow of water. He noted that several mining operations in Region 8 are known for perpetrating such acts. When this happens it compromises the integrity of the distribution system, opening it up to contamination.

Ali also said there are instances of meter tampering, which means persons are not paying what they ought to for the water they use. The minister added that persons opt not to pay their bills. GWI has stated before that many customers illegally reconnect their water without paying arrears.