I am obliged to respond to the article ‘Setting the record straight on Linden television’, by Mr Imran Khan, Director of Public Information, which appears in the Guyana Chronicle of Wednesday March 29.
Mr Khan’s article should be seen for what it is, a veiled attempt to excuse the non-implementation of the APNU+AFC’s campaign promise and an excuse for the failure and inability of Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo to successfully conclude this initiative so far. Further in doing so he sought to take a swipe at the former PPP/C administration.
We are nearly two years into our APNU+AFC coalition and Linden TV is not yet up and running. Mr Khan wrote that, “During the 2015 election campaign the Coalition Government made a commitment to the people of Linden that it will deliver on the agreement and ensure that the television station is returned to the community for their full ownership, management and control”. You might have expected that Linden TV would have been up and running within six months of the coalition being in office! Note however that Mr Khan ends his article hoping “that come March 31st (2017) this problematic hurdle will be overcome and the process will move forward and be concluded”. He goes on further to state “the ball has always been and remains in the court of the Linden stakeholders”. Was it not much the same when the PPP/C was in office?
Obviously there have been problems – problems which one might have expected to disappear with the PPP/C out of office. As I have written before, the PPP and the PPP/C are not all that is wrong and bad for bauxite communities, Guyanese and Guyana. Indeed, I am ready to argue that we (PPP and PPP/C) have been good for all Guyanese and Guyana.
Let me acknowledge that a lot of anger and hostility to us might have been earnest, but as is the case here a lot of it was not well founded. True, Green Construction Company in that time of foreign exchange difficulties arranged the purchase of the equipment/technology of the day (early 1980s), its delivery and setting up. They put in a bill for it. It was not free and not a Green gift to anyone. Note that from then to 2012 the technology supplied then was superseded many times over; some was destroyed in a fire and any remainder was no longer useful. Just consider the large thirty-foot receiving dishes on Richmond Hill, Linden and at Versailles (of VCG 28/TVG) and the small two feet and less satellite dishes of today.
There was/is no Green TV to “return to the community for their full ownership, management and control”. It should be considered that handing over the present day NCN TV station in Region 10 presents a precedent for every RDC to plead for our central government to grant them a TV station in similar manner.
Editor, I beg my turn to set the record straight with respect to the proposed increase in electricity rates which proved to be the occasion for or cause of those protests which ended so tragically. The proposal was for an increase from about $5 to $7 per kWh to about $27.50 per kWh, about 50% of what customers of GPL were paying then. This proposal was to be the first step in a staged reform over a number of years which would end with the responsibility for electricity generation and supply in Linden being merged into GPL. We did not come up with such a position out of the blue and all by ourselves. Such a policy had been accepted and adumbrated since 1976 by then Prime Minister Forbes Burnham, during a speech in Linden to mark the fifth anniversary of the nationalization of the bauxite company there.
The steadily, more heavily subsidized electricity offered to the community began in the days of Demba, when the Linden area was truly a company town. Then, apart from households of employees of various government arms, nearly every other household contained one or more employees of the bauxite company. As the bauxite company lost profitability, responsibility for financing this electricity subsidy was turned over to central government, and as the bauxite operations shrunk and Linden grew, the number of households containing a current employee of the bauxite company is now likely less than 10%. Meanwhile with crude oil prices rising past US$100/bbl by 2012, the electricity subsidy to Region 10 had risen to $3 billion per year, mostly for Linden. This subsidy, reduced by the lower oil price, continues uninterrupted to today.
Recall that the budget for year 2012 having been read, our PPP/C administration was in meetings with APNU (AFC having dropped out) on possible amendments to the budget. Recall that for the first day of the debate the Minister of Finance read to the House a statement on the compromise reached to raise the old age pension even higher than we had proposed. That compromise proceeded smoothly.
During the second day of discussions, we (PPP/C) proposed the reform of electricity rates in Linden as outlined above noting that the average electricity consumption in Linden was twice that of GPL customers, most likely because of the negligible rate. We wanted Linden developed, but Guyana could not sustain a Linden developed on electricity rates that were negligible and would entail ongoing calls on the Treasury.
I quickly wrote up a paper to read to the House announcing the initiation of a reform of electricity in Linden. I showed it to the then MP in opposition Dr Rupert Roopnaraine and the then Leader of the Opposition David Granger who were seated next to each other. MP Roopnaraine suggested two word changes which I accepted and read the amended statement to the Assembly with no objections.
Things started falling apart about two hours later when it was rumoured that one of the two AFC leaders sitting in the House had phoned then Chairman of the RDC 10, Mr Sharma Solomon, saying that Granger and APNU had sold them out to the PPP/C. Subsequently it appeared that telephone calls were being received by the leaders of APNU and Members Granger and Roopnaraine hurried to Linden amidst rumours that people in Linden were ready to burn even “things green”.
It is irresponsible for Mr Khan not to have given an indication of the electricity rates which were being increased and to claim that the “three persons” were ruthlessly gunned down (by the Guyana Police Force) as they proceeded peacefully. Has Mr Khan not heard of the Commission of Inquiry which was demanded and the report of that commission? The commission found that the protestors were not peaceful at that time and much responsibility for those tragic events had to be placed on the shoulders of the organizers of those marches and protests.
Editor, I ask where today are the “heroes” of those marches and protests which ended with those tragic events? Where are the then RDC 10 Chairman, Mr Solomon and then MP Vanessa Kissoon? They have been dropped from the political scene. It has been a great misfortune of the Linden community that the social-political-economic struggles there have often led to tolerance even encouragement of behaviour and actions which are neither acceptable nor helpful. Many persons including potential leaders have often been misled. The dropping of Solomon and Kissoon are plainly a rapping on the knuckles for the tragic events of 2012; those deaths should not have been; those marches and protests cost the Linden community a lot, and they cost Guyana lot. Those events are to be regretted, not celebrated if Linden is to be built soundly. Mr Khan is doing a great disservice to the people of Linden in his attempt to smear the PPP/C.
Samuel A Hinds
Former Prime Minister, former