Jagdeo radio licences facing court challenge

-Woolford cites ‘willful and inexplicable’ delay of 16 years in dealing with his application

Broadcaster Enrico Woolford yesterday moved to the courts to quash the decision of former President Bharrat Jagdeo to grant radio and television licences to 10 persons and entities, saying that his actions were unconstitutional.
Attorney-General Anil Nandlall is named as a respondent in the case to show why the court should not squash Jagdeo’s decision. Managing Director of the National Frequency Management Unit (NFMU) Valmikki Singh is named as the second respondent to show why the court should not nullify the decision of the Unit to assign frequencies for radio and television broadcasting to the ten persons on the grounds that the decisions were premised on the “unlawful and unconstitutional” distribution by Jagdeo and were unfair, unreasonable, capricious, irrational, procedurally improper, ultra vires, null, void and of no legal effect.

In his Affidavit in Support of the Motion, Woolford who is the Managing Editor/Owner of EMW Communications/Capitol News said that in October 1997 he applied to the National Frequency Management for an FM and AM Radio Broadcast licence to broadcast on the 88-108 FM frequency and 5-9-1240 AM frequency. “I received no reply to my application for the FM Radio Broadcast Licence and to date I have received none,” he said, while adding that he had also applied for a TV licence and on the 7th November, 1997,  he received a letter from the NFMU granting him UHF T.V. Channel for broadcast in Georgetown.

Woolford also referred to a written communique of 6th May, 2003, between Jagdeo and then opposition leader Robert Corbin quoting that it was agreed “…that the National Frequency Management Unit would issue no more licences for FM Radio and Television broadcasting until the new broadcasting legislation comes into effect.” He said that between May 2003 and November 2011, Jagdeo publicly adopted the agreement and on several occasions repeated in public that no more licences for radio and television would be issued until the new broadcasting legislation comes into effect.

He said that eight years later, on the 27th September 2011, the Broadcasting Act 2011 was enacted and received the President’s assent but was not brought into operation until the 28th August 2012, eleven months after receiving the Presidential assent. Woolford said that the government being in sole control of radio and TV licensing process, its failure to have a “speedy, efficient, objective and non-discriminatory” handling of his application for FM Radio Broadcasting licence is an infringement of his freedom of expression.

Enrico Woolford
Enrico Woolford

Woolford also accused Jagdeo of acting in bad faith a few days before demitting office in November 2011 by “purporting” to issue 22 radio broadcast licences. He said that for 16 months after the purported allotment of the radio licences, the names of the persons to whom licences were purportedly allotted, remained “a dark secret within the bosom” of Jagdeo until Prime Minister Samuel Hinds was obliged to disclose the names, following questions raised in Parliament by AFC Parliamentarian, Cathy Hughes. He noted that in the written reply, Hinds said that in November 2011, Jagdeo issued 22 FM Radio Broadcasting Licences and frequencies and 17 were allotted and assigned to the President’s “friends, family and known political cronies.”

Woolford also pointed out that 15 of the FM Broadcasting Licences and frequency assignments were made to three companies including Radio Guyana Inc., which is owned by Dr. Ranjisinghi Ramroop, a close friend of Jagdeo  “who has received … preferential treatment from the government including but not limited to being the sole supplier to the Government of billions of dollars worth of pharmaceutical and other medical supplies.” Ramroop was granted five radio broadcast licences and assigned five frequencies in the FM band – 89.3, 89.5, 89.7, 106.9 and 107.3MHz.

Woolford also said that Telecor and Cultural Broadcasting Inc., was also granted five radio broadcast licences and assigned five frequencies in the FM band 89.7, 90.1, 91.5, 104,9 MHz and 103.3. He noted that the directors are Kamini Persaud, wife of Robert Persaud, Minister of Natural Resources and niece of Jagdeo; Ruth Baljit, sister of Persaud; Omar Lochan, Deputy Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment and Secretary of Telecor, husband of Jaya Manickchand, who is the sister of Priya Manickchand, the Minister of Education.

Woolford also said that the New Guyana Co. Ltd., a company owned by the People’s Progressive Party – Jagdeo’s party was granted five Radio Broadcast licences and was also assigned five frequencies in the FM band 91.1, 90.7, 90.5, 105.9 and 105.3MHz. He noted that for NTN Radio 89.1 MHz, the contact person named by the Prime Minister is Anand Persaud who is the owner and Chief Executive Officer of National Telecommunications Network Inc. (NTN), a close friend of Jagdeo and a strong supporter of the People’s Progressive Party. He pointed out that Hits and Jams was granted 94.1 MHz, with the contact person named by the Prime Minister being Rawle Ferguson “an active supporter” of the PPP.
He also said that after 6th May, 2003 when the communiqué between Jagdeo and Corbin was signed and before November 2011, the Government under Jagdeo allotted to NCN, three FM Radio Broadcast frequencies and additional television frequencies in the UHF band on Channel 27/Cable 78 resulting in nine Television Broadcast Channels 11, 27, 8, 13, 15, 21, 25, 50 and 40.

He said that during the same period, Jagdeo permitted and later licensed cable operations Quark Communications which is owned by a good friend Brian Yong to operate on the 2.5GHz and E-Networks to operate on the 2.5GHz. Woolford said that E-Networks is owned by Vishok Persaud, the son of the late minister Reepu Daman Persaud, who served as a PPP Member of Parliament and advisor to Jagdeo.

Woolford argued that the sole and predominant purpose of the government in granting 15 FM Radio Licences and assigned fifteen FM frequencies to three companies was to “colonise and control the broadcasting spectrum and airwaves” and at the same time “overcrowding” the radio spectrum to hinder other qualified applicants from having an opportunity to obtain a FM Radio Broadcasting Licence and frequency assignment.

In his affidavit, he said that Jagdeo acted inconsistently and in bad faith with the promises he made in the written agreement with the leader of the opposition and shortly before demitting office in November, 2011, Jagdeo purported to issue FM Radio Broadcasting Licences and frequencies rather than awaiting the issuance of licences by the Broadcasting Authority already established under the Broadcasting Act In September, 2011. “The said representations or promises were ‘unambiguous and unqualified’ and had given rise to a legitimate expectation of a benefit “which was substantive and frustrated my fundamental right to freedom of expression, enshrined in Article 146 of the Constitution,” Woolford contended.
He noted that the Kaieteur News, Stabroek News and Capitol News, which had applied for FM Radio Broadcasting Licences and frequencies were not allotted any.

Woolford said that the assignment of a single frequency to any one licensee for Radio Broadcasting may be used nationwide with several repeater stations at different locations resulting in blanket coverage by that licensed broadcasting station and there is no need to assign multiple frequencies for Radio Broadcasting who wishes to get nationwide coverage.

He contended that he had a legitimate right to have been considered by the Broadcasting Authority established by the Broadcasting Act, 2011 together with all the persons and companies to whom Jagdeo purported to grant licences and assigned frequencies.

Woolford said that he was advised by his attorneys that where a government or public authority has made or issued a promise or adopted a practice which represented how it proposed to act in a given situation or area “the law would require the promise or practice to be honoured unless there was good reason not to do so.”

He said that the government failed to give any reason for acting inconsistently with the representation or promise made by Jagdeo which had given rise to a legitimate expectation of a benefit which was substantive.

Woolford said that a radio or TV broadcasting licence and the assignment of a frequency on the spectrum are property rights within the meaning of Article 142 of the Guyana Constitution and that by frustrating his legitimate expectations of the right to acquire a Radio Broadcasting licence and the assignment of a frequency for broadcasting is a “deprivation, without my consent, of my right to property guaranteed by Article 142 of the Constitution.”
He contended that the conduct of Jagdeo was unjustified and unexplained and he was treated in a discriminatory manner in contravention of Article 149(1) (b) of the Constitution.

Woolford said that he was advised by his attorneys that the “willful and inexplicable” delay of 16 years in dealing with his application for a Radio Broadcasting Licence was a hindrance of his fundamental right to freedom of expression in violation of Article 146 of the Constitution and the government by the conduct of Jagdeo in the purported performance of his office treated him in a discriminatory manner in contravention of Article 149(1) (b) of the Constitution.
Woolford contended that the government has “willfully and intentionally” denied him the right of equality before the law or equal protection and benefit of the law in contravention of his  fundamental right enshrined in Article 149D (1) and (3) of the Constitution.

He contended that transparency in any public process goes a long way in achieving public expectations of equal treatment. “Lack of transparency in any public process is in itself sufficient to hold that the process is a nullity and void “ab initio,” he added.

Woolford contended that the conduct and action of Jagdeo as the Chief Executive Authority of the government by purporting to grant Radio Broadcasting Licences and frequencies to companies and individuals shortly before demitting office in November 2011  when there was already established by Section 3 of the Broadcasting Act, the Broadcasting Authority and the action as unconstitutional, made in bad faith, without or in excess of jurisdiction, arbitrary, capricious, irrational, unfair, procedurally improper, unreasonable, ultra vires, null, void and of no legal effect.

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