Deal which ended Linden power unrest still to produce results

…16 months on

More than sixteen months after a landmark deal was signed between the government and Region 10 to end five weeks of unrest on electricity tariffs which saw police killing three protesters, none of the committees set up have  produced results and the long-awaited TV station is still not on air.

Region Ten (Upper Demerara/Upper Berbice)  officials say that they have all the equipment and financing required to get the region’s TV station going but that government is unduly stalling the licensing process.

Regional Chairman Sharma Solomon on Friday told Stabroek News that the region held a Radiothon three weeks ago and was able to raise the money it needed to finish the facility which will house the television station, and fit it with the equipment needed to supplement the TV station’s operations.

The licence needed to operate the station has not been granted though, and Solomon said that Presidential Advisor on Empowerment Odinga Lumumba has informed the region that the licensing process will be difficult to pursue further until the court matter challenging former president Bharrat Jagdeo’s November 2011 decision to issue radio licences to twelve persons/companies is concluded.

Last year, several media proprietors, including Kaieteur News owner Glen Lall and Capitol News owner Enrico Woolford, instituted legal proceedings against the government for what they saw as prejudiced distribution of licences. Their proceedings challenge the relevant authorities to show just cause for the distribution of licences to a select few persons/entities, while withholding same from persons/entities which applied years ago.

According to Solomon, Lumumba’s sentiments were made known to the Region by the TV station’s Company Secretary Roysdale Forde. But, he says, Forde has argued that the matter before the court has no bearing on the broadcasting licence process, and therefore should not be stalling it.

These sentiments, Solomon told Stabroek News, were expressed to the government when the two sides met during a November 29th 2013 meeting.

The broadcasting facility will soon be at operating capacity, Solomon said, and added that he Region has submitted all the documentation that has been required of it  under the new broadcasting legislation that is in place and should not be inconvenienced by matters irrelevant to the region’s application.

Attempts were made by Stabroek News to contact Presidential Adviser Gail Teixeira, who sits on the government’s team with regards to the agreement, but she could not be reached.

The granting of a broadcast licence to the region for it to operate its own TV station is part of the August 21, 2012 agreement struck between the government and Region Ten. In the aftermath of the agreement, it was expected that the TV station would be on air within weeks. This has not been the case. Region 10 had insisted on TV access as the only station it had access to is state TV NCN.

Other elements of the agreement involved the setting up of an Economic Committee, a Technical Committee and a Land Selection Committee. However, none of these bodies has produced results.

 

Economic Committee

 

Solomon said that a Chairman for the Economic Committee, university lecturer Joycelyn Williams, has finally been appointed. This is a significant development since the government and the Region were deadlocked for months on who should fill the position. The Region was pushing for either Williams or Desiree Field-Ridley while the government was keen on having Clinton Williams, Rajendra Rampersaud or Roger Rogers take the Chairmanship.

But this is about all the progress made since not much else has been accomplished. The committee is tasked with examining all studies, all plans, all sectors and their resources in use, new resources and human resources and developing a sustainable development plan for Linden and Region 10.

It is also supposed to review all initiatives, including the Linden Economic Advancement Programme and  the Linden Enterprise Network with the aim of gleaning the lessons to be learnt from these initiatives and make recommendations for new initiatives. It will look at Linden and Region 10′s facilities and capacity for food self-sufficiency and to the extent feasible develop a plan for self-sufficiency as part of the Regional Development Plan.

The committee is to  examine the employment situation of Linden in particular and Region 10 in general and make appropriate recommendations, among several other things. But Solomon said that the committee is yet to begin its work, although decisions have been taken to extend its life-span from three to six months, as well as increase the remuneration packages of those who will serve on the committee.

 

Technical Committee

 

The work of the Technical Committee has been stalled for more than a year following the resignation of its Chairman Narvon Persaud, who tendered his resignation in October of 2012 following his appointment just a few months earlier. For the few months the committee operated it completed a lot of work, but work cannot re- commence until the government and Region agree on a replacement Chairman.

The region is insisting on Region Ten Interim Management Committee Councillor (IMC) Charles Sampson, while the government wants Chairman of the Energy and Power Committee Clinton Williams.

The technical committee is tasked with reviewing the existing provision and consumption of electricity in Linden, including the history, the costs, the tariff structure, and the subsidies; considering arrangements to provide electricity to the Linden community and the tariffs to sustain such arrangements within a sustainable time frame; examining Region 10′s economic circumstances inclusive of the affordability of the increased cost; looking at the advantages and disadvantages of the integration of the supply of electricity in the Linden area into the national grid; and, making recommendations on cost saving measures and options for alternative energy, including the facilitation of conservation education and conservation. At the time Solomon spoke to Stabroek News  on this matter on October 7th 2012, the committee was supposed to be submitting fortnightly reports and was supposed to present a final report of its work sixty days later.

 

Land Committee

 

Similarly, the Land Committee has not budged much since this newspaper interviewed Solomon in 2012.  Solomon says that although the region has gone about reviewing maps and identifying new areas for land use before, the committee cannot really begin to satisfy its mandate until the government provides it with its full Terms of Reference.

He also explained that representatives from government agency – the Guyana Lands and Surveys Commission – also have to be supplied to work along with the committee as it seeks to fulfill its mandate. Solomon said that requests have been made to the Natural Resources Ministry for these persons to be supplied since the Commission falls under the Minister.

After the police shot dead three protesters on July 18, 2012 the protests over the power tariffs escalated and went on for weeks during which the interior was cut off from supplies and access to Linden was closed down. The August 21, 2012  deal saw the reopening of the town and calls for the terms of the deal to be honoured.

There was also a separate Commission of Inquiry into the killings which stated its view that the police were responsible for the deaths of the three protesters.

 

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