By Abena Rockcliffe-Campbell
The Board of the Guyana National Broadcasting Authority (GNBA) has explicitly and unanimously decided that former President Bharrat Jagdeo illegally distributed resources “belonging to the people of Guyana”
when he granted radio licences to his friends and family in 2011.
On the grounds of such a consensus, the Board has decided that it must and will make moves to make those licences null and void.
The Board held its first press conference yesterday at GNBA’s Kingston office. Members present at that forum were the Chairman, Leonard Craig, and Directors Anthony Vieira, Vic Insanally, Jocelyn Josiah, Abiola Wong-Inniss and Ameena Gafoor.
Craig said that the Board is cognizant that the issue regarding the licences issued by Jagdeo, shortly before demitting office and prior to the coming into force of the current Broadcasting Act No. 17 of 2011 has attracted the greatest interest relative to the Board’s function.
He said that the Board, at all of its statutory meetings, to date has discussed this issue and decided that the said licences appear to have been issued contrary to and in violation of good administrative practices. He pointed out that the licences have been arbitrarily issued to persons and entities with close ties to decision maker and without regard to prior existing applications.
Craig said that Jagdeo’s decision would have pre-empted the application of the Broadcasting Act which was already assented to but was awaiting a date to come into operation. He said that the operationalization of the Act was entirely within the authority of Jagdeo who held the portfolio of Minister of Information as provided for by Section 1 of the Broadcast Act.
Craig told the media that the issues relating to licences pose difficult questions “which ought only to be determined after deliberate consideration of the legal options available which includes but is not limited to litigation.”
The Chairman added that the Board has been in consultation with Senior Legal Practitioners on the issue. He also said that that it is the Boards intention—in keeping with its mandate to regulate, supervise and develop the National Broadcasting Systems—to make a decision “as soonest.”
Kaieteur News questioned the Board about the hold up in the decision-making process and whether the public would have to wait another six months for a clear-cut decision.
Director Wong-Inniss told the press conference about the intricacies surrounding the matter. She also sought to make it clear that is not a case where the Board is undecided on its view of the matter, but one where it is forced to consider all possible counteractions to actions that the Board might want to take.
Wong- Inniss reiterated that the radio spectrum belongs to the people of Guyana.
It is the belief of the Board that the distribution process used by Jagdeo, or the lack thereof, made the licences vulnerable and subjected to challenges, she added.
She said that the Board is well aware of its inheritance and is looking to address such. However, she said that the problem is to select the most suitable method to do so.
She said that both legislation and litigation face the possibility of being time consuming.
Making her point about the delay in the court system the Director said that one applicant for a radio licence, Enrico Woolford, had long filed a complaint in Courts, but that matter is still to be heard.
“I can assure you that a decision will be made shortly…A decision has been made to challenge it. The question is the manner in which we can go about doing so,” said Wong-Inniss
She also said that since the composition of the new board, no licence fees have been accepted from any Broadcaster.
Director Vieira said that there is an absolute need to make strong moves, moves that cannot see the GNBA being defeated on this issue. He said, “The moment we move to revoke a licence we are going to receive an injunction restraining us from stopping this person from broadcasting… We are trying to put together a case to avoid that.”
Vieira said that himself, Director Insanally and Director Wong-Inniss have been in constant consultation with Queen’s Counsel, Sir Fenton Ramsahoye on the issue “and within a week or two you can start seeing the result of the advice received.”
He said that it was Sir Fenton who recommended the parliamentary route “but that can be a long drawn out procedure so we are up for a clear cut case to take the bull by the horn and go to the High Court.” But, Vieira said that in doing so the Board wants to makes sure that it develops the strongest possible case.
“That is what is holding things up, we want to make sure that it is not easy for anyone to file an injunction to set aside our decision to withdraw the license,” said Vieira.
When the dust is settled, and GNBA has its way, all those desirous of having a licence will have to reapply.
Chairman Craig said, “My expectation is that everybody will have to reapply and in the re-application process you will be considered on the merit of your application.”
He explained that the licensees would not have to physically reapply “Will not give you a new form and say well you have to full this up again.” He said that reapplication in this case simply means that existing applicants will be reevaluated solely based on merit that has been clearly set out in guidelines for granting of such licences.
The reevaluation process is not limited to radio broadcasters. Craig said that the same will go for cable and television operators. This, he said, will be done in keeping with the GNBA’s plan to reorganize the local broadcasting landscape.
Craig said that this process can result in a number of the stations ending up on different area of the plan.
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