Nearly two years after a deal was brokered to end the bloody blockade of Linden, Region 10 and the government are continuing to trade blame for the lack of progress on key agreements, including resolving the contentions around a proposed hike in electricity tariffs that sparked the unrest in the town.
The status quo in relation to the payment of electricity tariffs is being seen as the major achievement from the protests, in which three Lindeners died on July 18, 2012.
In January of this year, 16 months after the August 2012 agreement, Regional Democratic Council Chair-man Sharma Solomon wrote President Donald Ramotar informing him of the region’s intention to pursue the terms of the agreement unilaterally, in light of government’s demonstrated “unwillingness” to fulfil its obligations under the pact. He, however, added that the region remained open to government’s input and continued participation.
Under the agreement, government went back on a decision to take away the subsidy it provides on the region’s electricity tariffs. A Technical Committee was also to be established to work out an energy plan for the region while an Economic Committee was tasked with studying the region’s current economy and suggesting programmes to boost economic activity.
A Land Selection Com-mittee was also to be es-tablished towards enabling the region to take control of the administration of its lands for housing and other purposes.
None of the three committees have completed their mandate although some work has been done on all fronts.
Solomon points out that Lindeners continue to pay subsidised electricity tariffs because of the non-realisation of the terms of the 2012 agreement. Currently, Linden residents pay $5 per kWh while the rest of Guyana pays $64 per kWh. The tariff will not be changed until an amicable plan is worked out by the Techni-cal Committee, which is currently without a chairperson and therefore not operational.
Solomon says that the issue is not that the people of Linden are unwilling to pay increased rates; instead, he argues, they cannot afford to pay higher electricity tariffs.
Region 10 Member of Parliament Vanessa Kissoon, however, has said that despite the government’s failure to honour all its obligations under the agreement, the decision not to hike electricity tariffs represents a victory for Lindeners.
She too continues to criticise what she sees as the lack of will on the part of government to fulfil its obligations.
Lack of progress
Solomon had said that government has insisted that the work of the Economic Committee, which is also without a chairperson and not operational, be delayed until the new head of the Technical Committee is appointed and it begins functioning again. The two sides have been at odds as to who the chairperson should be and are blaming each other for the lack of progress.
With regard to a plan to bolster Region 10’s economic development, Solomon says regional officials have engaged a range of experts, including chartered accountant Christopher Ram, former DDL Chairman Yesu Persaud, Director of the Critchlow Labour College Rawle Lucas and A Partnership for National Unity (APNU), which “has demonstrated a willingness to have an economic programme developed.”
These independent efforts have become necessary, Solomon explained, saying that “the government again is exercising its unwillingness to honor the constitutional rights of its citizens in allowing the region to shape and fashion its own economic path
He did, however, report making gains with the Land Selection Committee. As recent as April of this year Solomon had told Stabroek News that though established, the committee had not accomplished much as there was a need for the Lands and Surveys Commission to provide technical support towards the furtherance of the committee’s work.
Solomon is now saying that the region held a “very progressive meeting” with senior officials of the Commission two weeks ago, during which the officials demonstrated a willingness to work along with the committee to get several things done.
He said that the Committee is currently working to analyse identified lands to determine what purposes they are best suited for. “We started that process; we had several meetings and we are very encouraged that the Lands and Surveys Commission would have demonstrated the willingness to work along with the region to ensure land matters are properly handled,” he explained.
Under the agreement, a dish and transmitter that were given to the Linden community were also supposed to be handed over to the Region 10 Regional Democratic Council within 14 days of the signing of the agreement. It was also was agreed that Region 10 would apply for a broadcasting licence and the government will facilitate the granting of that licence in keeping with the law.
After the deadline lapsed, Solomon said only the dish was eventually handed over and the region has acquired a transmitter on its own. Presidential Advisor Gail Teixeira, however, has said that both items were turned over.
Solomon added that the region has already set up the infrastructure needed for its television station and it is now awaiting its broadcasting licence to operate.
The region sent its application to the Office of the President (OP) for action but Solomon was eventually told that the region improperly applied for its licence as it sent the application to Cabinet Secretary Roger Luncheon at OP. Solomon had told Stabroek News that the application was sent to Luncheon as he had promised to forward it to the Guyana National Broadcasting Authority (GNBA) for processing.
But Teixeira pointed out that OP was not the agency to which the application needed to be sent. Solomon has expressed disappointment at what he sees as a deviation from the agreement between the region and the government. He said that government undertook to facilitate the process of getting the region its licence but is now backpedaling on that undertaking. Solomon believes the region will receive the “royal runaround” if it is made to seek the licence through the GNBA. In March, he nevertheless expressed willingness to reapply to the relevant agency.
He was told, however, that no further broadcasting licences would be distributed until a matter surrounding the distribution of licences currently before the court is settled.
Meanwhile, Teixeira has knocked Solomon’s complaints and public utterances as incorrect and accused him of continuing to misinform the public, particularly the people of Linden.
Embrace a constructive engagement
In March, she pointed out that there are nine areas of the August 2012 Agreement, four of which are to be executed solely by the region, and which are still outstanding. Additionally, three responsibilities were to be carried out solely by government, while the remaining two were to be joint endeavours.
Teixeira says that postponing any increase in electricity and continuing electricity tariffs in Linden until the Technical Committee finished its work; handing over the TV dish and transmitter to the region; and having the West Watooka area drained by the National Drainage and Irrigation Authority (NDIA) were responsibilities of government and have been fulfilled.
Meanwhile, she says the region is delinquent in fulfilling its own obligations. She said that the RDC was to establish the Regional Land Selection Committee. Solomon said this committee is stalled because government has not supplied the technical personnel as promised, but Teixeira has said the committee is yet to be established. She also said the region is yet to properly apply for its licence and has not submitted economic projects for consideration.
Lastly, she said the region was supposed to “propose and develop modalities to work closely with the relevant ministries and communities.” This too, she pointed out, has not yet been done.
Teixeira also contended that Solomon failed to mention a host of areas to which the joint meetings directed attention. She listed the Moblissa Road Rehabilitation, the Region 10 Bai Shan Lin project, the Linden-Soesdyke Highway lighting, Region 10 roads, drainage in Linden, the Supreme Court Registry and Christianburg Magistrate’s Court usage dispute, reconstruction of One Mile Primary School, Wismar, the Linden Hospital issue and the ambulance services in the region.
Despite the delays with the committees’ work, Teixeira urged Solomon to “embrace a constructive engagement.”