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Thursday, May 04, 2006

-PNCR declines over verification
General Secretary of the PNCR, Oscar Clarke (centre), explaining to Co-Chair of the IRO, Bishop Juan Edghill (left), his party's reluctance to sign on to a peace pact/code of conduct for political parties propagated by the IRO and signed by nine other par

The PNCR was not among nine political parties signing on yesterday to a peace pact/code of conduct propagated by the Inter-Religious Organisation (IRO) of Guyana.

General Secretary of the PNCR, Oscar Clarke, arrived on the lawns of Parliament Buildings at the end of the signing ceremony with a letter addressed to Jennifer Dewar, Secretary of the IRO, citing the party's uncertainty over the whole process, and pointing to a need for further dialogue on the IRO document concerning the peace pact.

Clarke told reporters that though the PNCR supported attempts to promote peace, it wanted an amendment to Section 7 of the IRO document which addressed an agreed system of verification to the satisfaction of political parties for the final voters list for the upcoming elections. The PNCR and the ruling PPP/C are deeply divided on the issue of verification of the electoral roll. Clarke told reporters "verification is linked to everything. It promotes confidence and develops trust."

He said the PNCR had received an unsigned letter from the IRO on April 28 "and you know we are doing all sorts of things," so the party could not adequately address it in time. He said there was mention by the IRO of "constant contact and communication (with) stakeholders" but the PNCR had no prior knowledge of the whole process except for some "vague thing in the media. This could not be any serious attempt to get the PNCR involved," Clarke said.

Co-Chair of the IRO, Bishop Juan Edghill, told Clarke that the IRO "even at this moment is willing to entertain any view" on the part of the PNCR.

Khemraj Ramjattan of the Alliance For Change signing on yesterday to a peace pact/code of conduct prepared by the Inter-Religious Organisation. (Lawrence Fanfair photo)

He told this newspaper that there were no judicial implications for any breach of the code, "it was a commitment of conscience to the nation," he said.

The political parties signing on to the code of conduct were: A Good and Green Guyana (GGG), the Alliance For Change (AFC), God Bless Guyana, the National Front Alliance, the People's Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C), Rise Organise and Rebuild Guyana, The United Force (TUF), the Justice For All Party and the People's Bread and Butter.

Dewar said that another opportunity to sign on to the code could be available today at 10 am at the Baha'i National Centre where the IRO will be having its regular monthly meeting.

Among those present at the simple ceremony were United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) representative, Youssef Mahmoud, Chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM), Steve Surujbally, British High Commissioner, Stephen Hiscock, and Opposition Commissioner of GECOM, Robert Williams.

Meanwhile, as the signing ceremony was proceeding on the lawns of Parliament Buildings, so was a protest march of about 40 persons outside the fence where constant chants of "no justice, no peace" could be heard. It was being led by General Secretary of the Guyana Trades Union Congress (GTUC), Lincoln Lewis.

It was originally organised by the GTUC, particularly over the Trade Union (Amendment) Bill No. 1, 2006 which if passed in the National Assembly would bypass the GTUC and consult with the five largest trade unions instead to identify persons for the Trade Union Recognition and Certification Board.

But more and more PNCR supporters joined the protest as the time approached for Parliament to meet to consider a bill to amend the constitution to extend the period between the dissolution of Parliament and the elections by another month. The number of people grew to over 100.

Lewis told reporters that apart from the bill the protest was about "social justice." He said further, "We have to live here, we have to shape it," and added that the GTUC had a responsibility to regulate and influence political, economic, and social justice.

He pointed out that a report carried in the Stabroek News on Tuesday on his Labour Day speech implied that the GTUC had called a three-day strike in solidarity with the GPSU whereas the strike was called in solidarity with some GPSU members shot with pellets by the police outside the John Fernandes wharf in 1999.

He said the GTUC was going ahead being on the offensive. "We don't need the politicians to do it for us." As Lewis was talking to reporters one woman came up and said, "let them know there is a price for peace."

Defining what he meant by social justice, Lewis told this newspaper it meant among other things free education. "Now parents are being made to pay for everything. The question of education is a human rights one. It is something the government is to look after."

Social justice, he said further, meant the right to strike, and "the right to a free, fair, and transparent elections."

A bill was recently passed in the National Assembly redefining the meaning of a strike at essential services to include "sit-ins", "go-slows" and "sick outs".

These forms of protests could still occur but the requisite notice would have to be given as if a strike was being called and other procedures followed.

The mixture of placards in the protest march read: "The bill stinks, bury it". "No home to home verification, no elections". "Verification a guarantee for no conflict elections". "Guyana constitution amendment bill a plaster for a festering sore".

At the IRO code of conduct signing ceremony, prayers were said by Pastor Ronald McGarrell, Sheik Kerry Arthur, Farah Beepat and Swami Aksharananda.

In a part of the ceremony, 'Voices of the children', children called for "political leaders to be tolerant and not see an opposing view as an enemy," and for political leaders "to conduct their election campaigns free from fear and intimidation."

A Peace Pledge was also launched seeking to address "a culture of peace not only among politicians," Dewar said, but also civil society. There were a number of civic organisations represented at the ceremony.

The pledge was recited by those present. It read: "We pledge to one another and to the Guyanese people to uphold and defend the constitution of Guyana, to honour our national pledge, to talk and act in peace with fellow Guyanese, to work hard to promote harmony and peace among members and supporters of all political parties, to help eliminate politically-motivated and all other forms of violence, and to encourage and demonstrate love, forgiveness and protection, especially for children under stress, to develop our native land."

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