The Alliance For Change (AFC) yesterday announced that it is planning to raise several critical matters during the coming session of the Parliament, including revisiting the 2011 controversial allocation of radio and cable licences.
The National Assembly is due to reconvene in October.
According to Vice Chairman of the Alliance For Change (AFC), Moses Nagamootoo, his party remains convinced that the 2011 allocations of radio and cable licences, days before former President Bharrat Jagdeo stepped down, smacks of nepotism and corruption.
“…That your government can give away national assets to cronies and friends, is no equivocation to the fact that these should be recalled…be rescinded, cannot just be swept under the rug.”
Nagamootoo had served as a former Minister of Information, before it was brought under the control of the Office of the President.
AFC is not discounting revisiting the Broadcast Act and dismantling the current board. However, this will have to come hand-in-hand with the people raising their voices as part of the objections.
Revelations that the licences, with multiple frequencies, went to mainly friends and for party members, sparked protests and calls for the allocations to be rescinded and the process reviewed. There was anger also that established media houses like Kaieteur News, Stabroek News and Capitol News, were all bypassed, raising questions about the fairness of the process.
Under agreements with the Opposition, new radio and television licences could not be granted unless new broadcasts laws were passed and an authority established to overlook the process. Although the laws were passed when Jagdeo, as Minister of Information, approved the licences that among other things, included five frequencies to his personal friend, Dr. Ranjisinghi ‘Bobby’ Jagdeo, the authority had not become functional until several months later, in 2012. Critics argued that the process was unfair and broke political trust, giving the Government a monopoly.
“Here you have the Broadcast Authority headed by Bibi Shadick, a sitting Member of Parliament… a former Minister of the Jagdeo (President Donald) Ramotar Government. That shows clearly and betrays a conflict of interest.”
“The authority should be shaken up. There is no room for a politician to head it. It needs independent experts who know how to deal with issues like the electromagnetic spectrum. We are saying that the there is no competence in the authority to deal with the allocations. We also have to come back to whether the authority is properly composed.”
That the licences were allocated to those especially “in bed” with the government, is not only immoral, but wrong. “This is wrong… this is unlawful… this violates all decencies and known principles of which you could judge fairness and equity and justice, because all you would have done is hive off national resources to your friends.”
According to Nagamootoo, allocations of the licences are tantamount to the worst crime that a regime can commit. “It enjoys and promotes incestuous relationship, with its own friends and cronies. This is not the way to go because there are many persons granted licences here and there… the question is do they have the capacity to invest?”
So far, of the 11 radio licences granted, only three have started broadcasting. Licences. Five frequencies each also went to the PPP newspaper, The Mirror, and to an overseas-based sister of senior Government Minister, Robert Persaud. Licences, but with single frequencies, also went to some others.
“Where there is a monopoly… there is no competition; where there is a no competition, there is no fairness and no fair playfield. It means the game is rigged. The mighty will strangle the small.”
The AFC official added that the allocations went against the grain of what was originally envisioned. The idea, he explained, was to establish community radios, including one at the University of Guyana. “This is where the culture, way of life can be reflected in a homogenous facility. The monopolies of radio stations as reflected by the allocations take away from these intentions.”
An overhaul and new regulations were also designed to benefit the “lowly” and the “mighty”. “That is what is called a quality democracy; not a cowboy, sheriff-come-to-town, wild-west tradition where the sheriff decided who gets the gun. That was the characteristic of the Jagdeo Government in the name of executive authority.”
According to Nagamootoo, the fact that applicants with a certifiable track record were overlooked while “Johnny and Jennies-come-lately” were approved, compound the insult and strengthen the claim that there was executive lawlessness.
Applicants who were not considered by the Jagdeo administration have been asked to reapply. However, there have not been any decisions as yet by the Broadcast Authority to address new applications for radio and television liences.
A former executive of ruling People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) who resigned after differences, Nagamootoo disclosed that the long overdue appointment of members of the Public Procurement Commission and a proper functioning Integrity Commission are also top priorities of the AFC.
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