Apr 28, 2011 News
– President to become ‘figurehead’
By Leonard Gildarie
The strengthening of the country’s Integrity Commission to tackle corruption among government official is one of the main priorities of Alliance For Change (AFC) party… if it wins the government in the coming General Elections.
Additionally, the Public Procurement Commission, which opposition’ parties have been clamouring for, over the years to improve transparency in the award of government contracts, will be one of the top things-to-do.
The disclosure was made yesterday by AFC’s Presidential Candidate, Khemraj Ramjattan, as he fired the first salvo in the campaign for the 2011 General Elections.
The Business Luncheon event was hosted by the Guyana Manufacturing and Services Association Limited (GMSA) at the Pegasus and attended by the likes of Dr. Yesu Persaud of the Demerara Distillers Limited (DDL); Robert Badal, owner of the Guyana Stockfeeds, and a smattering of top business leaders.
Half-hearted Integrity Commission
Describing the current Integrity Commission as “half-hearted”, Ramjattan was critical of the system which calls for politicians to submit their assets, cars and bank accounts but fails to ensure proper verification.
Ramjattan noted over a 50-year period, few Ministers in Guyana were sent home because of corruption. This is in stark contrast to a number of neighbouring countries like Trinidad and Tobago where Prime Minister Patrick Manning reportedly sent two of his Ministers to the Integrity Commission there, for questionable activities.
AFC would not be immune to suggestions to move away from the current Westminster model of government, reducing the powers of the President to more of a “figurehead” one, while increasing the powers of the Prime Minister.
He argued that the growth of the country since Independence, “is the result of a history which has suffocated the blossoming of an entrepreneurial class.”
Making a reference to the 2007 World Bank Report on Guyana’s Investment Climate, the AFC official, a former Parliamentarian for the ruling People’s Progressive Party (PPP) pointed out that the country was ranked bottom (117 out 117 countries), regarding the pervasiveness of money laundering through the banks.
The brain drain problem, irregular payments on public contracts and reliability of police services also saw the country ranked at the bottom, he said, referring again to the report.
“The Alliance For Change supports an approach which is private sector-led, and state-facilitated. It has a team which is committed to ridding the major and minor irritants of businesses—the red tape, a sluggish bureaucracy, arrogance of officialdom, arbitrary use of discretion rather than adherence to a rule-based system, and corruption from on high as well as low.”
The AFC Presidential Candidate believed that the business sector must be more integrated in the decision-making process at the highest levels.
To move forward, Guyana must “unlearn” the stifling regimentation of the past 50 years, Ramjattan warned.
“Firstly, there will have to be a more secure and stable environment rather than the present crime-ridden one where almost daily, businessmen are killed or robbed. The resources offered by both the USA in setting up a DEA officer here and the British Government for a Security Sector Reform will be accepted.”
Ramjattan signaled AFC’s willingness to appoint a full complement of magistrates and judges with more resources. Of course, there will be demands for performance.
“The AFC believes that there is a fundamental nexus between the rule of law and growth and development.”
He noted that there is a disconnect between the International Police (InterPol), the US’ Drug Enforcement Agency and a number of key global bodies. AFC would even be willing to use Britain’s Scotland Yard to help in crime fighting.
Regarding the struggling University of Guyana, the official said that the institution must be restructured to cater more to the needs of the country.
Touching on the party’s economic plan to take Guyana forward, Ramjattan said his party will immediately move for a cut in the Value-Added Tax (VAT) to 12% to spur the availability of more disposable income; in the manufacturing corporate tax from 30% to 25% and a reduction of the commercial corporate tax from 40% to 35%.
More attention will be paid also to clamp down on illegal smuggling and slashing the number of Government Ministers.
In the latter case, Ramjattan argued that his party will scale back on payments for “super-salaried” consultants, who in some cases are earning in excess of US$225,000 annually.
“By reducing questionable advisorial positions at the Office of the President, and reducing the number of Ministries there will be huge savings and an end to nepotism…”
Regarding the borrowing costs, AFC is hoping to cut these by establishing a state development bank; the creation of the liquid and “broader stock market” along with mechanisms for short and long-term financing.
AFC also have plans to cut the energy costs, which represents a significant clump of foreign exchange for Guyana.
“This will be done by implementing a portfolio of renewable energies such as small/medium scale hydro-electric plant, ethanol from sugar, bio-diesel from coconut and bagasse electricity from the increased sugar production for ethanol…both by GuySuCo and foreign investors who will produce in the Canje basin.”
Ramjattan, however, warned that while there must be encouragement for large hydro-electric projects, the AFC is not optimistic that the Amaila Fall hydro will reduce business energy costs.
“There will be serious cost overruns, and the dubious nature of the contract awarded to Fip Motilall will have serious cost implication that will have to be billed into the unit price of electricity.
“This project must be thoroughly re-examined to clear up the suspicions surrounding it.”
In the areas of foreign investments, Ramjattan plugged the diaspora as playing a more integral role. “We need large corporations that can form business linkages with Guyanese investors and suppliers. We need the technology transfer and a superior management discipline that come from large multi-nationals.”
He warned that AFC would not be prepared to allow investors in who simply wants to “make us hewers of wood and drawers of waters. They must be involved in tertiary and value-added production.”
The independence of the Bank of Guyana and the stability of the exchange rates were also high on the priority list of AFC, the Presidential Candidate said.
GMSA’s President, Clinton Williams, stressed that the event is a historic and unprecedented one in which the private sector will have a major opportunity to have face-to-face discussions with the Presidential Candidates before elections.
“It is our sincere hope that today’s discourse would contribute in no small measure to a significant change in our political culture. There has in the past been a disturbing tendency during an election year for increased rhetoric, insinuations, innuendos, hollowness, vulgarity and insensitivity.”
The private sector, this time around, has taken the first step towards ensuring that the political climate would be characterized by informed discussion and discourse.
Williams pointed out that while the private sector has long been considered the engine of growth in Guyana, “we are yet to realize our full potential, and to deliver on the increasingly critical role we have to play.”
GMSA has not been idle, meeting with Ambassadors of both China and Brazil, two economic giants, to explore more business cooperation.
On May 11, Presidential Candidate of the People’s National Congress Reform (PNCR), Ret’d Brigadier, David Granger, will present his case for that party while on May 25th, Donald Ramotar, the PPP’s Presidential Candidate will also appear before a GMSA-hosted crowd.
The coming election is a historic one in many ways.
The three candidates will for the first time, in their individual capacity, campaign for the highest office in Guyana. It will also be the first time in over 50 years, that the two main parties-PPP and PNCR— had to elect a Presidential Candidate.
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