When President David Granger arrived at the Public Buildings yesterday to address the National Assembly, he was met by his own cheering section as well as protestors calling for the release of severance payments to ex-sugar workers and members of the Rastafarian community who are awaiting the promised decriminalisation of possession of small amounts of cannabis.
The first sitting of the Assembly since the end of the annual parliamentary recess saw hundreds lining the barricades around the Public Buildings.
Among them were A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) supporters, who said they were present to show their support for the president, who they described as accountable, transparent and a man “who always keeps his promises.”
“We are here to support our president who is here to make an address and a motion is going by the Minister of Finance to ensure that the sugar workers are paid their severance. Our President is a president of transparency and accountability and when he makes a promise he keeps it. So, I don’t know why the PPP out here fooling the sugar workers and telling them to protest. They don’t have to protest. Our president is a man of his word,” an APNU supporter said, while emphasising that he and fellow supporters were not protesting, only showing support for Granger.
The PPP/C protestors explained that they were making representations and standing in solidarity for the ex-sugar workers, who are still to be paid the remainder of their severance. Thousands of laid off Guyana Sugar Corporation workers are owed the remainder of their severance payments after an initial payout of 50% earlier in the year.
“My concern is about the sugar workers because many children have to be sent to
school and some are at university and knowing that you don’t have a job and you have to pay student loans and all of these things really concerning me. I never worked in the estate but I am just here to support the sugar workers,” a woman, who identified herself as Melissa Ferguson, from West Coast Berbice, said.
Another PPP/C protester, Tazin Drepaul, voiced similar sentiments and said he was only present to support the ex-sugar workers in obtaining their remaining severance pay. “I am here to ensure that I give my support to the affected sugar workers with regards to their severance pay, primarily. I mean, my God, these people work so much and so long and constitutionally, according to the laws of this land, once they are terminated they need to have their money and that hasn’t happened. They have promised them but they don’t need promises. What they need is their money and they should get it. There is nothing binding about promises,” the man explained.
Meanwhile, members of the Rastafarian community said they were present to restate their stance on the decriminalising of possession of cannabis for personal use. They also said that they were there to remind Granger that he had made a promise to them on the campaign trail in the lead up to the 2015 polls as well as recently when he said government would address the laws on possession of small quantities of cannabis.
“This day, with one voice, we demand the decriminalisation of marijuana. I and I see it necessary that the government reconsider and take a look at the constitution of Guyana and see where our rights are being infringed. The government’s denial of I and I to practice our culture outwardly is not accepted by the constitution of this country which states that religions have rights to practice their culture outwardly,” President of the Guyana Rastafari Council Ras Simeon said.
He also explained that they are also demanding amnesty for all prisoners that are incarcerated for marijuana-related charges.
“We also need the Rastafarian community to be exempted from marijuana-related charges. The Director of Prisons (Gladwin Samuels) spoke last night (Wednesday) and he said that it hurts him to know that taxpayers’ money has to spend so much on remand prisoners for small amounts of weed. So he himself is aware of the injustice and state of discrimination,” he added