The People’s National Congress Reform (PNCR) yesterday held the first in a planned series of meetings with ministers of government for members of the public at its Congress Place, Sophia, headquarters, where a number of people turned up to meet the Public Health Ministers to discuss myriad issues.
“I saw 19 persons and we did not only have persons coming to discuss matters relating to the health sector, we saw people coming to talk on numerous matters, ranging from asking for assistance to acquiring house lots, to jobs, personal issues, you name it,” Minister of Public Health Dr George Norton told Stabroek News after the conclusion of yesterday’s meeting.
“Persons came and had different concerns and we had to let them know that there are other ministers who will be looking at different issues, but we tried our best to ensure that their needs were met and where we could, we helped with referrals,” Junior Minister of Public Health Dr Karen Cummings added.
Both ministers informed that they hoped to soon address concerns raised by persons at the meeting and will be looking forward to other similar exercises across the country.
The PNCR last week had publicised the Friday meetings by way of advertisements in the daily newspapers as well as issuing a press release.
The move has raised concerns, with observers saying that if the party had referred to Members of Parliament, there would have been no problem, but ministers meeting the public in their official capacity at a political party’s headquarters – even their own – was not acceptable.
PNCR General Secretary Oscar Clarke has said that he saw no problem with the potential merging of state and party interests that the situation could give rise to. “It is ministers from the party that will be meeting persons from the public at Congress Place. I am saying that there is absolutely nothing wrong with ministers meeting persons at the party headquarters, absolutely nothing wrong. The ministers are all from this party,” Clarke told Stabroek News, when he was contacted. The PNCR is the major component of APNU, the leading partner in the coalition government.
Yesterday, the public health ministers were referred to interchangeably as MP and minister by staff at the outreach.
Stabroek News spoke to some of attendees.
For two medical students, attached to a private medical school here, their discussion with one of the ministers was to ask for government scholarships to continue their studies, which costs them US$12,000 annually.
Twenty-three-year-old Andrew Cameron told this newspaper that he was currently undergoing the non-clinical aspect of his major in General Medicine, through an internship programme between the Georgetown American University and the Georgetown Public Hospital.
The Edinburgh, Berbice resident said that finding the money to pay for his tuition has been the hardest part of his journey in becoming a medical doctor.
“It is hard to pay and my case is complex because I started studies in St Lucia but the school I was at, St Helena University, closed down and when I came here I could not get into a government programme. I would like to see the minister today to ask if there is any help that can be given in my case. I don’t know if government would give me a scholarship and hold me to a contract because I want to work here in Guyana,” he said.
Cameron added that he would also like to someday specialise in cardiology and to give back to Guyana because of the high number of cardiovascular cases seen here, with numbers increasing daily.
His friend and fellow student, 26-year-old Romeo Singh, also lamented the struggles faced to pay the tuition. Singh holds an Associate Degree in Biology from the University of Guyana and said that he did not get a government scholarship but because of his passion for the field of medicine has sacrificed much to attend classes at the private school.
When asked about the young men’s case, Norton explained that there was not much government would be able to do given that it was private school the two young men were enrolled in. “It is hard and not much at all can be done because we don’t pay for private schools. That was their choice,” he noted.
Another man, Malcolm Embleton, said he learned of the meeting through the media and visited the ministers to inform that he was willing to assist in the area of mental health programme planning.
He said he was glad for the Congress Place meeting because most times when persons visit ministers at their office they are given the “royal runaround.”
“People don’t go to visit ministers just like that because they know from the time the ministers see you, they make up their faces as if they are thinking,
‘Is wuh he come fuh beg fuh?’ It is not easy to see a minister so I was happy they have this here. The ministers always feel that the public is looking for something, ‘They must be want a work, or beg, or something,’” Embelton said.
“But I came to talk about the mental health issue and community mental health programmes. I told minister that awareness has to start with the school system… I can help and I have pledged my willingness to assist,” he added.
A jubilant Marcelle Percival would only say that she visited for a personal matter and was happy that she “got through.”
Norton said that he looked forward to similar meetings and urged the public to go and share ideas or discuss pressing issues affecting them or their communities, especially in the health sector.