– does not rule out snap elections, but hopes it is a last resort
“We are not running a casino-type of operation…where two gang men sit around a table and say ‘I take this and you take that’.”
BY LEON SUSERAN
President Donald Ramotar has said that after lengthy and fruitful discussions with mutual understanding between government and the Leaders of the Opposition Parties, they [the opposition] returned the next day and [suddenly] changed their minds, a move that was unexpected by his government.
He was addressing members of the Berbice business community at the Albion Estate Senior Staff Club where he met, discussed issues, and listened to the concerns of the three Chambers of Commerce in Region Six.
The President was accompanied by several of his ministers including Minister of Agriculture, Leslie Ramsammy; Minister of Public Works and Transport, Robeson Benn; Minister of Housing and Water, Irfaan Ally and Minister of Finance, Dr. Ashni Singh.
Also present was Chairman of the Private Sector Commission, Ramesh Dookhie and Region Six Chairman, David Armogan.
President Ramotar used the occasion to lambaste the opposition parties, Alliance for Change (AFC) and A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) for the budget cuts.
He urged the businessmen and three Chambers of Commerce to issue a joint condemnation of the cuts since they would directly impact their businesses and that of their members.
“We had talks with them and talks began with power [electricity].”
He noted that when APNU came to the bargaining table, “they were under the false impression that we were cutting all subsidies to Linden completely.”
Ramotar said that the government explained that they were not doing so, “since we recognised there was a historical development with how power developed in Linden, but we also recognised that this is totally unsustainable…when over the last few years, we have been supplying practically free electricity to Linden- because I think they pay $5 per KWH while the rest of the country paid $65 per KWH–and because of the whole historical thing, we recognised that that had to be a gradual development.”
He said that the price for oil has risen since those cheap charges were laid and “also because electricity was so cheap in that location, there is no incentive for people to conserve…..the per capita household consumption in Linden is almost three times the rest of the country.”
The government, he said, cannot sit and do nothing “but we know we have to do it in a gradual way”. The subsidy was reduced so that Lindeners would pay $25 per KWH. He said in spite of that, APNU wanted the government to work out a package, which he said the government did “and they talked about giving more TV licences…lower interest rates loans.”
On the issue of cutting Value Added Tax as proposed by the opposition, he said he told them there should be a study done first to find how the cut would impact revenue collection
According to the President, he recommended an increase of zero-rated items while the study of the impact of the VAT cut was proceeding. The opposition, he said, was reluctant and lukewarm to these suggestions.
On the raising of the pensionable age, Ramotar noted that he had suggested discussions and consultations first with the labour and trade union movements, “otherwise it can create a big dislocation within the country and instability which nobody wants at this point in time.”
About the recommendation by the opposition for a 10 per cent increase for public servants, he noted the double standard behaviour of the opposition “in accusing us of undermining the industrial relations and collective bargaining process and they coming and telling us that we should do these things…this is a very sacred principle in the labour movement.”
Ramotar said that he urged the opposition to let the bargaining process “take its course and let the unions negotiate with the Public Service Ministry.
Speaking on the opposition’s calls for the reduction of the tolls on the Berbice River Bridge, the President said that the prices of tolls were not arrived at overnight but were concluded after lengthy considerations and numerous studies by experts. He added that the ferries have resumed operations across the Berbice River “so that those who have been disadvantaged, we will correct the disadvantage that they have been facing…”
He noted that his colleagues in Parliament “answered every single one of their [the opposition’s] questions…we did not shirk from any of the questions. they can’t say they did not know what they did because we gave them the list of every single contract worker and they even knew before….and so they made these cuts that are possibilities of closing us down”.
Ramotar lashed out at AFC Leader, Khemraj Ramjattan’s “cock- eyed politics” for saying “we [the PPP] trying to fool people and budgeting for money we don’t have”. The President was speaking about the LCDS money which Guyana earned and which is in the World Bank, which comes in to Guyana each year. “Every year, we budget for money we don’t have…a budget is an educated guess…how in the name of God this man can come and say that we trying to fool people and we budgeting for money we don’t have?”
In responding to David Granger’s willingness to go back around the negotiating table to discuss the issues, the President said that he is not “running a casino-type of operation…where two gang men sit around a table and say ‘I take this and you take that’.”
Earlier in the day, during a TV Interview, when asked whether snap elections could be called for, the President, said that if the opposition continues to deliberately block development in the country, he will have no other choice but to call for snap elections but hopes it would be a last resort.
The various Chamber Presidents raised several concerns which they urged the President to look at. These include difficulties that businessmen face such as the risky trip with their firearms to Police Headquarters, Eve Leary to have their guns stamped; the Guyana- Suriname Backtrack service; sawmilling on the Upper Corentyne; the hassle businessmen have to face to get their imports certified and dealt with by the relevant authorities; the poor state of the Number Sixty- Three beach; poor state of fire hydrants in the Berbice area; poor lighting on some of the roads in the region, among many other issues. The President of the Upper Corentyne Chambers of Commerce recommended that the old Skeldon Sugar Factory be put into operation once more so that the industry can still process canes and make sugar even though the new factory is experiencing numerous problems right now.
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