Outgoing Head of the European Delegation to Guyana Geert Heikens believes that less strict adherence to political party lines and more accommodation for the sharing of views would assist in the creation of a healthier political scene.
Speaking at a media briefing at the EU building at Croal Street and Sendall Place in the city yesterday, the outgoing EU Ambassador said that Guyana’s parliamentary functions and the constitution in general were good. In response to a question on governance and democracy in Guyana, he said the country has a young democratic structure which “came from dark days” and he described democracy as a work in progress and “it’s not from today to tomorrow”.
Heikens said that while there is democracy in the society, “there are issues which one would like to see some easiness in dealing with”. He added that “so quickly lines are drawn according to the line or level of the political parties.” He said he would prefer to see more tolerance and accommodation between parties as this would “help in easing the political scene”.
While he was reserved on issues regarding this year elections, Heikens said members and staff of the delegation will play a “watch role… We will be watching the elections.” He said the body is working to tie up logistics with the Guyana Elections Commission in this regard, and where the elections are concerned, he said “one would hope that they are free and fair”.
As regards programmes for which the EU has been providing financial support, Heikens noted that the sugar sector was the largest with some 18.8 million Euros provided for this year to the authorities in the form of budgetary support. While he did not elaborate, Heikens noted that a lot is being said about the Skeldon sugar factory.
He said that since 2007, the EU has made available to the government 165 million Euros for the development of the sugar industry; some 90 million between 2007 and 2011, while another 75 million Euros is available from this year to 2013.
He expressed hope that the monies go towards restructuring and modernization of the sector “so that we have a competitive sugar industry”.
Heikens said sugar is doing well this year, noting that there is set target which is being approached. He said Guyana took a bold step in 2000 to develop the sector while other countries in the region and around the world opted to diversify. Heikens said Guyana is paying sugar workers a decent salary, noting that there are other competitive economies where the salary is below what is paid here to the workers.
“I think [there’s] some work to be done to restructure further…, more measures can be introduced,” he added.
With regard to the development of the sector, the Dutchman said he did not think money would have been thrown into something that would not materialize. “[I] have no note or email or confidential note to Brussels, no I think sugar can do it and [we] have a task to assist the industry.”
As regards the grey areas within the sector which needed to be examined, he said an increase of production as well as upgrading of the sugar would be of benefit to the industry.
Turning to the much debated Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) which was signed by Cariforum during the early years of his four-year tenure, Heikens said it was not his brightest moment in Guyana.
But he noted that when Guyana signed the agreement, the government took a responsibility to sign onto tariff reductions and it was one of the first countries in the region to have done so. He noted that the country and the Caribbean have benefited from the agreement, including in the area of free trade.
Meantime, the EU will soon sign a second sea defence programme with the government for in the vicinity of 15 million Euros in budget support. The programme relates to the maintenance of the sea defence and Heikens said the EU will continue to assist the mangrove project, in which it is the major financer. Speaking about that project, he said that “sometimes the results are good and sometimes difficult” but he noted that many plants were planted and survived. Next year, the secretariat is set to replant the species stretching some 10km along the coastland.
The EU is also the major financier of the Ogle airport enhancement programme and Heikens noted that the project, which is more than a year past its deadline, is expected to come to fruition soon. He said that yesterday, he was told that the last slab of concrete was being laid on the extended 4000 feet runway at Ogle but noted that there are other related works to be carried out there.
Some 10 programmes aimed at the development of Amerindian communities in the areas of access to water and health care among other issues are being undertaken by the EU.
Heikens will leave Guyana at the end of this month and he noted that he has been enthused and will always recall the rich heritage and warmth of the Guyanese people. He will be succeeded by Robert Kopecki of Czechoslovakia, who served as his country’s ambassador to Uzbekistan. The new ambassador will take up his post at the beginning of next month.