…laments reduced parliamentary sittingsAs the State Assets Recovery Agency (SARA) and the Special Organised Crime Unit (SOCU) continue to compile evidence mainly against individuals linked to the former Administration, Chartered Accountant and Attorney Christopher Ram has condemned the parallel police agency, saying that some business persons are operating in fear that they too could come in for scrutiny.Chartered Accountant Christopher RamHe made these comments on Friday at a symposium on the National Budget which was organised by the Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Guyana (FITUG).Ram highlighted that Guyanese have reduced purchasing power owing to a weaker economy, adding that business persons were conducting their operations under fear, especially if they were very successful and would have attained much wealth.“Business people now operate under the fear of alternative police bodies; one called SOCU and other, SARA. SARA is, in my view, the worst piece of legislation that has been enacted in post-independence Guyana,” he stated.The activist claimed that SARA was run by a director who selected the persons he would target.“A political leader, Dr Clive Thomas, who was for many years a champion of the working class, is now head of an organisation where he is bigger than the organisation – he reports to no one, [but] occasionally does a report to the National Assembly. He chooses which person he should target and who he should not,” Ram pointed out.The Chartered Accountant later denounced the reduced sittings of the National Assembly, saying that members have officially met only 16 times under the current Parliament. The trade union members were reminded that three substantive pieces of legislation were passed during 2017, one of which was the Hamilton Green Pension Act, which gave the former Prime Minister his pension, benefits and facilities. Another bill passed was the State Assets Recovery Agency (SARA) Bill 2017, in which Government sought $116 million from taxpayers to assist with the agency’s establishment and support staff.“If this Parliament doesn’t operate for two years, you wouldn’t even notice it – such is the incompetence with which our Parliament operates,” he observed.Ram also claimed that this was the most expensive Government in Guyana’s history with the most Ministers and Ministries, adding further that many persons were indeed enjoying the good life.Ram also reminded the FITUG gathering that the current Administration had given itself, public officers and all other Members of Parliament hefty salary increases shortly after assuming office.“No wonder they love to travel so much; after all you could make a good living. You don’t have to worry about Parliament [because] Parliament meets occasionally,” he quipped.SARA and SOCU have long been accused by the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) of going after its members and associates. In May 2017, several persons attached to the Guyana Rice Development Board (GRDB) were charged and later arraigned at the Georgetown Magistrates’ Courts for allegedly omitting from the general ledger of the GRDB, $362 million while they served on the entity’s Board.These persons were former GRDB General Manager Jagnarine Singh; former Deputy General Manager Rickey Ramraj; Director Badrie Persaud; former Deputy Permanent Secretary (Finance) of the Agriculture Ministry Prema Roopnarine; PPP parliamentarian Nigel Dharamlall and head of the Rice Producers Association, Dharamkumar Seeraj. They were all released on $500,000 bail each.SARA was accused of being run by political directives, but its Head, Professor Thomas saw those accusations as baseless and rejected the claims, stating that there was no evidence to prove they were true. Dr Thomas had also defended the SARA Bill, saying that it had no place for politicians.While noting that the Bill contained some good elements, Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo had observed that his Party would remove the ambiguity about private property.He further added that the PPP would ensure that the head of the unit was accountable to someone else, as opposed to leaving it to Professor Thomas to make his own decisions. The Opposition had also pointed out that the Director of SARA was given powers that are 10 times greater than those of the Police Force.
An additional $20.5 million is earmarked to continue work in the new fiscal year by the Meteorological Service of Jamaica, to develop a comprehensive Bush Fire Warning Index and Management System. An additional $20.5 million is earmarked to continue work in the new fiscal year by the Meteorological Service of Jamaica, to develop a comprehensive Bush Fire Warning Index and Management System.The allocation is contained in the 2019/20 Estimates of Expenditure, now before the House of Representatives.The project, which commenced in April 2017 and is being financed by the Caribbean Development Bank (CBD), aims to enhance Jamaica’s resilience to bush fire hazards in order to reduce the negative impact on economic activities and livelihoods, as well as infrastructure and human welfare and life.It is envisaged that this will result from improved monitoring and predictions of critical bush fire outbreaks, and increased public awareness of these hazards.Achievements, up to December 2018, include: the completion of CDB procurement modules, and evaluation of bids to engage a Data Management Consultant.Programmed activities for 2019/20 include: finalizing the alerting protocol, inclusive of warning dissemination and roles and responsibilities of key stakeholders by August 2019; and completing a communication strategy, baseline survey and public awareness campaign by September 2019.The project, which initially ran until November 2018, was extended to December 2019. It is envisaged that this will result from improved monitoring and predictions of critical bush fire outbreaks, and increased public awareness of these hazards. The project, which initially ran until November 2018, was extended to December 2019. Story Highlights