By Leonard Gildarie
People’s National Congress Reform (PNCR) Presidential Candidate, Brigadier (retd) David Granger has declared intentions to privatise sugar, reduce the number of state-owned companies, like GuySuCo, GuyOil and the state media, and explore the reduction of the 16% value-added tax (VAT).
Addressing bankers and other business leaders including Dr. Yesu Persaud of the Demerara Distillers Limited and Hemraj Kissoon of the Kissoon Group, Granger also signaled his endorsement to limit the powers of the President; the establishment of a Coroner’s Court and to allow local businesses to have more say in the country’s decision-making processes.
Making his presentation during a one-on-one session at the Pegasus, Granger who has been accused by the ruling People’s Progressive Party/Civic of having “blood on his hands” during the turbulent years under the Burnham administration, again categorically denied any role in the killing of three Berbicians during the 1973 elections, reportedly by army forces, saying that he was not in charge at the time. A special commission, he insisted, had cleared the air on the issue.
“I don’t know what else to tell the man (President Bharrat Jagdeo)…I was not the Chief of Staff…”
The session was the second in a series of luncheon-interactions with the main presidential candidates hosted by the Guyana Manufacturing and Services Association Limited (GMSA).
Already, the Alliance For Change (AFC)’s Khemraj Ramjattan has met with the private sector body, and the PPP/C’s Donald Ramotar is scheduled to unveil some of his plans on May 25 at the same venue.
Detailing his plans to improve the country’s fortunes within a five-year period, the former army chief highlighted security, education and an increase of agro-processing activities as key to firing up the economy.
Granger was critical of the seeming practice to fill the diplomatic service with unqualified persons and “widow” of “somebody” in the service.
Elaborating on the plans to improve security, Granger noted that every 12 hours there is an armed robbery in Guyana, with the murder rate double that of the United States. This, he stressed, was despite several reports which recommended necessary changes.
He promised that changes will come; changes such as not having an Assistant Commissioner of Police operating from Eve Leary yet in charge of several districts in other areas; retraining of police officers; restricting contraband and the flow of illegal guns into the country, and stepping up the fight against the narcotics trade.
Regarding education, Granger lashed out at government over the existing state of affairs, noting that at least 15 schools were closed by students, teachers and students for deplorable conditions.
“In one school, a teacher was in charge of 97 students, this is an unacceptable position.” The country, he argues, would need innovative thinking, with subjects adjusted to meet the requirements.
The paddling of students in the hinterland for miles and the continued use of VSO and Peace Corps to bridge the shortfall in teachers all need to be addressed, the PNCR presidential candidate emphasised.
He also promised to re-examine the current practice of retiring teachers at the age of 55, and said that housing for teachers also needs attention.
The PNCR will be looking to align the education thrust to fit more in line with the country’s demands, citing as an example that more agricultural subjects should be introduced.
Regarding the economy, Granger said that it was unthinkable that there could be wastage in Guyana. “Every fruit, vegetable, cassava and fish should be processed and this would be key to the country’s development.”
He asserted that his administration will be focusing on more solar power and other renewable energy sources to help propel the economy.
The use of biogas and wind turbines, are all possibilities that will be examined in the new government, according to Granger. He is also convinced that Guyana has the money to improve the livelihoods of its citizens, but it has to be spent wisely.
Granger said his administration will definitely reduce the number of ministers from the current twenty-two (22). He did not rule out the possibility of adopting a government similar to India and Trinidad and Tobago where there Prime Minister gets more power. Responding to questions on his party’s plans for Linden, Granger pointed to “the strategic location of Region 10 with its wide lands” and the possibility of its becoming a centre for agro-processing.
On the issue of the Presidential powers which has been coming more and more under scrutiny by opposition parties, the Presidential Candidate emphasised that he will ensure the functioning of the Constitutional Reform Commission. There will also be a review of sentencing policies, as well as improved conditions for judges and magistrates.
The PNCR official was also questioned about his perceived “rallying” presence at a recent ex-soldiers function, a move which was criticized by government.
He noted that the event on May 1 was with the Guyana Legion, in which retired soldiers, veterans and even ex-policemen are part of, and “… many of them were concerned about the mandatory retirement age, there were concerns…concerns that could be addressed by a new government”.
Chairman of the Private Sector, Ramesh Dookhoo, was clear in his message to Granger and the PNCR, on what the country’s businesses will be expecting from any new administration.
These include more political exchange, increased access to local financing, better labour conditions, more skilled and unskilled labour, as well as better electricity and roads.
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