—is not interested in a third term
President Bharrat Jagdeo says he is stunned by the murder of gold dealer Dweive Kant Ramdass allegedly by three soldiers, and says that he can’t guarantee “it will never happen again” because the security services import the same problems found in the society when they recruit ranks.
The President spoke of how horrified he was by the murder following an address to members of the Private Sector Commission (PSC) at a formal dinner on Friday night at the Pegasus Hotel. His comment came as he was fielding questions from the floor.
The meeting with the PSC was arranged for the President to discuss the country’s Low Carbon Development Strategy (LCDS) with stakeholders in the private sector, but as he entertained questions Jagdeo also spoke of breaking the monopoly on radio; the difficulty in stemming migration; the Sexual Offences Bill; what he referred to as the media tainting the country’s image abroad, and the fact that he had no interest in a third term in office.
“I can’t promise you that this will never happen again, I can’t promise, because we recruit people from the society, we train them and sometimes the same problems we have in the rest of the society we import into these structures,” Jagdeo said in response to a question posed by Public Relations Consultant Kit Nascimento.
Nascimento, who addressed the President in his capacity as Commander-in- Chief of the Guyana Defence Force, opined that the country’s development is seriously threatened when the public has trouble trusting the security forces.
“I think it’s fair that there is not a person in this room who is not horrified at what occurred in the Essequibo River,” Nascimento said while registering his concerns to the President. Jagdeo nodded in response and said that he agreed with him.
The President stated that all crimes are atrocious, but stressed that “it makes it even worse when they are committed by people who you turn to for help.” He said that the accused soldiers are people who have a duty to protect and serve and that they swore an oath.
He said too that the gravity of the crime is intensified because the accused persons are in uniform. He noted that his comments on the issue are restricted because the case is now in court.
Further, he noted that he has asked GDF Chief-of-Staff Gary Best to meet with residents in the communities affected by the murder because the people there have fears. He added that in the coming days the administration will publish what powers are extended to Coast Guard ranks in keeping with the laws. This, he said, includes what they can request of people and what they cannot. The notice would be published in the newspapers shortly, he added.
On the issue of whether government should consider probing the possibility of similar deviant acts occurring, Jagdeo said that the administration is willing to probe any cases once they have been identified. He said also that people need to report such incidents if they are happening with regularity.
Jagdeo called on the PSC to support the liberalization of the telecommunication sector, and the question was posed as to whether the administration will also urge them to support the freeing up of other monopolies such as the power company and radio broadcasting.
The President responded that once they pass broadcast legislation next year radio would be liberalized. He stated there are, “twenty something television stations right now and we are not going to have a repeat of squatting on the airwaves like we had with the TV.”
He observed that Guyana Power and Light had been privatized and that government reluctantly had to take it back.
“We did not want to take it back, but the Irish investors just walked,” he continued. The President said also that the foreign investors had appeared concerned solely with the financial packages offered in the management contract and that there was very little development in that period.
Fielding a question as to how his administration intends to stem migration, Jagdeo replied that people are seeking better opportunities. He said “we came out of a very repressive past and I am not stopping anyone from going wherever they want in this world to seek a better life.”
The President said that if the young people who are in Guyana are unable to find a good enough remunerative job then they are likely to migrate, but he questioned who the major employers in the country are, saying that if that particular businessman feels “so strongly about the issue then he can increase salaries significantly in the private sector and be as competitive as their counterparts in Barbados and the US.”
“…but I would say you wouldn’t be able to do that, if you do that you bankrupt your companies, you wouldn’t make money and it’s the same thing with the government,” he said outlining that the administration cannot significantly increase wages in the public sector.
At the level of government, Jagdeo said he has decided that migration is something the administration will have to live with. He noted that they will continue to train doctors, teachers and nurses.
He is also of the opinion that a major national policy on migration will stop the flow, but he observed that there may be other avenues to explore to curb the problem.
Sexual Offences Bill
In response to a question on when the Sexual Offences Bill would be passed as law, Jagdeo said that it is not for him to determine when, and that he is not going to undermine the parliamentary processes. However, he expressed hope that it would be after the parliamentary recess.
But he stated that the absence of the opposition in parliament “will slow everything.” According to the President, government’s legislative agenda needs to be assessed in looking at the issue. He said that the administration has passed some 40 pieces of legislation within a year and a half, around twelve in the security sector.
Jagdeo said also that there are limitations in the system since the drafting section of the Attorney General Chambers currently lacks personnel. However, he indicated that he is pleased with what is happening with legislation surrounding children.
The head-of-state felt the need to address the issue of the constitution possibly being amended to extend presidential term limits following several comments on Friday night about him being re-elected if he runs in 2011.
“I have no interest in another term… all that speculation out there is just that, speculation. The media has been in a frenzy,” Jagdeo said.
He opined that the speculation might be triggered by persons who fear that he may endorse a particular individual.
Saying that sections of the media play up crime in the country and fabricate stories daily to keep the issue on newspaper front pages while tainting the country’s image, Jagdeo said that the media are blowing things out of proportion.
He made reference to Jamaica and Trinidad in the region saying crime in both countries is much worse than here, but that such stories are often not played up. He noted that Jamaica has millions of tourists, but that the crime rate there is five times as high as it is here on a per capita basis.
“I was with Bruce Golding [PM] one weekend when forty people were killed in that weekened… and when I look at the papers over the weekend, it was all tucked away inside; here if you look at the Kaieteur News or some of the others, every day they create a story when they don’t have stories, they break back the last week stories on the front page,” the President said.
He referred to an article in the Kaieteur News about a GDF rank accused of murder who the newspaper reported was at Lindo Creek when eight miners were killed, saying that the report was fabricated.
Jagdeo said that when the story was investigated the soldier was never at Lindo Creek, adding “he said he never told them that he was at Lindo Creek.”
“I will criticise but I also defend the media’s right to publish because it is a free society, I will defend their right even to lie,” he said.
Jagdeo told the audience that the new reports are often blown out of proportion, but noted that he has seen a number of people come back here with a totally different perception of what is reported. He said that the country has problems which the administration does not underestimate.
“It harms our image significantly abroad,” the President said, then he charged that the private sector contributes to the problem because they advertise with the media houses.
He said that they are advertising when their businesses are also being harmed in various ways. He mentioned tourists saying that if they do not visit then it affects tourism and persons selling on the streetside, among others in the society.
“But we don’t speak out enough about these things… we can’t change it we have to live with it recognizing where we came from when people could not speak out,” he added.