Communications Officer of the Guyana Tourism Authority (GTA), Chevon Singh has criticized a Stabroek News report on preparations for Friday’s Guyana Festival and says that the booths referred to were only at phase one with two more phases to go.
In her letter yesterday in the Guyana Times but not sent to Stabroek News, Singh said that the entire structure would benefit from “reinforcement works” which she says “will be carried out once the framework has been set and the exhibition spaces allocated.” These works, she said, constitute phase two of the preparation phase. Phase three is to include, among other things, beautification.
She also charged that Stabroek News intentionally sought to misinform the public in the article in its August 4th edition which critiqued preparations for the Guyana Festival.
The article raised concerns on several issues including the material to be used in the booths as well as steel spikes that have been driven several inches into the National Stadium’s parapet to secure the tents under which booths will be housed.
In the letter in yesterday’s Guyana Times, Singh accused Stabroek News of distorting the “truth” with regards to preparations for the Festival. Further, Acting Tourism Minister Irfaan Ali sent a statement to this newspaper yesterday after his ministry was contacted saying that the article “demonstrated blatant disregard for staff of the Guyana Festival.”
Prompted by concerns expressed by members of the public about the preparations ahead of the Festival which kicks off in two days, Stabroek News visited the National Stadium parapet on Sunday, where the Festival is slated to take place. Once there it was noted that wooden panels used to construct booths for the event seemed frail and dirty.
In fact, several of the panels were knocked out of place, presumably by heavy rainfall on Saturday night, and high winds, which are characteristic of the Providence, East Bank Demerara (EBD) location.
Following a trip to the site on Sunday, Stabroek News attempted to contact Minister Ali, Singh, and GTA Director Indranauth Haralsingh. Each was called on at least two occasions on Sunday but none could be reached. Follow-up efforts were also made on Monday August 5th. Of the three, only Haralsingh could be reached and he stated that he was in a meeting at the time and could not speak.
In her letter though, Singh said that “the claim that the efforts to make contact failed and that calls were not returned are mischievous and is viewed as selfish on the part of the publication.” She also said that the article “raised concerns of credibility and accuracy and reflected the sheer inability of the Reporter and the Editor to present the facts to the nation.” Instead, she charged, “the publication…opted to distort the truth and mislead the populace.”
Yesterday Stabroek News visited Singh’s office at the Sophia Exhibition site with the intention of soliciting the information that was being sought since Sunday but she declined to see the reporter. An employee of the GTA greeted the Stabroek News reporter who visited the office and communicated his presence to Singh, who was sitting, in clear view, in front of a computer in a nearby room.
After conveying the message, the employee emerged several minutes later from the office in which Singh was sitting and explained that she was much too occupied to meet with the
reporter. The reporter then explained to the employee the intent to clarify the statements made in her letter, and to ascertain how preparations for the Festival were progressing. The employee, again, went into Singh’s office where he spoke with her for another two minutes before emerging and explaining that asking for a minute with Singh was “a little bit difficult to ask.” The reporter then left and made a follow-up visit at the site of the upcoming Festival.
Singh subsequently called Stabroek News expressing an interest in providing the information that was being sought. During the call the paper sought to ascertain the basis of her claim that no calls were made to her and Ali. Singh said nothing for a few moments, then declared that she would not be addressing the contents of the letter in the Guyana Times, and that she had called to provide whatever information was being sought by this newspaper. When the reporter persisted with a line of questioning on the content of her letter, Singh accused the reporter of being belligerent and iterated her refusal to discuss the content of her letter. The reporter then provided Singh with an email address to which she promised to send information on the status of preparations for the Guyana Festival.
What came was the statement from the Acting Tourism Minister in which he accused the paper of demonstrating “blatant disregard for staff of the Guyana Festival.”
His statement said: “It is unfortunate that you chose to tour the stadium today to seek redress for the damaging article and that you demonstrated blatant disregard for staff of the Guyana Festival.
“Now that your lies have been exposed, you sought to find a way to justify the negative reporting, and this will not be accepted; professional journalism is based on truth, respect, and fact not sensationalism and lies.
“As was stated before, you never contacted any committee member before you penned the article and after the damage was done you now seek to do so.
“We recognise that in any society there abounds negativity, but the Guyana Festival Team will not fall prey to negativity and we reinforce the fact that all of our efforts are singularly dedicated to the successful hosting of this grand event – We welcome all Guyana on board!
“If you choose the negative path, we will not sap our energy running after you; the success of the Guyana Festival will be unprecedented.
“In relation to the sharing of information, Stabroek News was invited to every event and information was provided on every aspect which the media was invited to cover, you chose to stay away. Do not blame us if you failed at being proactive, as your only action was to be negative.
We welcome you to a successful Guyana Festival 2014.”
Stabroek News Editor-in-Chief Anand Persaud in a comment said that the report on the booths was intended to point out that days before the scheduled start much work was still be done. Persaud said the ministry admitted as much in Singh’s letter to the Guyana Times. Persaud added that he was satisfied that attempts were made by the newspaper on Sunday and Monday to contact officials from the ministry for a response to the concerns.
During a follow-up visit to the site yesterday some of the dirty, frail-looking boards were freshly painted and the ones that had been knocked down were refitted. However, some of the boards did not appear to be sturdy enough.
Each stall bore indications of the persons/entities which would be occupying them, but there were no signs of any “reinforcement works.”
Further, the issue of steel spikes which have been driven several inches deep into the National Stadium’s tarmac remains. Stabroek News was informed that the steel spikes had to be drilled so as to secure the tents that have been set up.
According to a source involved in setting up the tents, the Providence area is extremely breezy and failing to secure the tents in that way could result in the tents being blown out of place. In addition to steel spikes driven to secure three larger tents, twelve smaller tents, each secured with three steel spikes, were erected up to yesterday afternoon.
In her letter, Singh said “With reference to the “damage on the tarmac” of the National Stadium, as is customary, the Tourism Ministry takes full responsibility for rectifying any disruption that may occur while infrastructure is being installed and hastens to assure that no permanent defacement has occurred.” According to a source, there is a need to continue to perforate the tarmac to secure tents because the facility was not built to properly facilitate such events.
The source said that tarmacs in other countries, including Barbados, are fitted with hooks to that tents can be secured without doing damage, even temporary damage. In addition to the damage caused by the current spikes, Stabroek News noted that several holes remained from previous events. Grass was seen growing out of one of these unfilled holes.