Facing strong criticisms over an apparent budget deal with the government, APNU leaders yesterday sought to assuage Lindeners’ fears that they have “sold-out Linden” and urged the administration to implement a series of relief measures for the mining town before raising electricity tariffs.
Residents of the Region Ten community have been adamantly opposed to the tariff increases and staged a shutdown of the community on Wednesday in protest. That very day an APNU delegation met with President Donald Ramotar and a government team at the Office of the President and reached a series of agreements, including raising the old age pension to $10,000 per month but there appeared to be no firm agreement to defer the proposed hike in tariffs from July. The government said in this year’s budget that it will be gradually reducing the power subsidy to Linden.
APNU’s leaders David Granger and Dr. Rupert Roopnaraine yesterday sought to allay residents’ fears. “We are trying to make that change work for you,” Granger told residents. “This is not a backroom deal to sell out anybody,” he added.
In a statement yesterday, APNU reiterated its support for the rights of residents of Linden in particular, and Region 10 in general and asserted that it was the coalition that took the initiative to halt the unilateral imposition of increased electricity tariffs in Linden. “APNU insisted that the situation in the region was such that the higher tariffs proposed by the government would cause unbearable distress to residents who cannot afford the new rates under present conditions,” the statement said.
It added that it was out of concern for residents that APNU insisted that certain outstanding measures be put in place in the shortest possible time. These include, among others, the establishment of micro-financing business facilities through the reactivation of the Linden Economic Network (LEN); the liberalisation of radio and television broadcasting, and the installation of systems to bring an end to the bauxite dust nuisance within a specific time-frame.
While APNU secured commitments from the government to address these issues, these did not appear to have firm timelines attached. Problems like the dust nuisance have been on the agenda for decades without being properly addressed and it is unclear whether there will be a change in the short-term. The present bauxite operator at Linden, Bosai has failed many deadlines to implement dust control measures and has given a new one for June 2012 for one kiln and October 2012 for the other kiln.
Yesterday, APNU urged the government to ensure that the systems, whenever they are eventually implemented, place the least of the burden on those least able to afford an increase in rates. The government, therefore, committed to be guided by the principles of “gradualism and selectivity” in its approach to the adjustment of electricity tariffs, the statement said.
In the mining town, the Linden Enterprise Network was filled to capacity as residents sought answers from the APNU leaders. “We really glad he come here fuh we get an understanding of wah really goin on,“ a resident commented. Answers were sought including on the apparent withholding of information from the party representatives in Linden. Speaking with Stabroek News, participants of the meeting expressed concerns about the relationship between the central body and its regional arm. ‘It was a shame that even the MP [Vanessa] Kissoon and others who got to represent we in parliament ain’t had certain information,“ one commented.
Attempting to explain APNU’s position, the leaders told residents that there were attempts over several months to hold talks with the government. “They found every reason not to hold these discussions… and we were presented with the budget of a single political party. The parties have a right to the contribution and formulation of the national budget,” said Roopnaraine.
The leaders assured residents that they will explore every possible avenue to represent residents’ interests and have adopted a position. “Only they can put things in so you have to sit with them… you are free to criticize,“ they said.
Residents were told that the party is negotiating arrangements with two banks to create two funds to help encourage small entrepreneurs in Linden. Accommodating more TV stations in Linden, the dust nuisance, VAT and water were also discussed.
Residents were assured that their leaders will take back to government the position that there will be no discussion until there is action. Noting that it was not a trade-off, the APNU leaders made it clear that Lindeners could not afford to pay the proposed increase. “That is not a sell out, that is a demand,“ emphasised Granger. “We have not come here to dictate to you, we have not come here to make deals,“ he said.
The APNU leader said that there must be freedom of communication and Linden must be free to turn on the TV in the early hours of the morning and not see the president. He said that they are not entering into any deals but are putting those concerns before the government. “We are not pretending to be deal makers,“ he said. Granger added that they want to ensure that Linden and Region 10 is given the best possible representation to the executive.