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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

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Electricity consumers to benefit from improved services

Georgetown, GINA, March 30, 2010

The Guyana Power and Light (GPL) is in the process of implementing new systems that would reduce the time between the date that meters are read and the issuance of bills among other improved services to customers.
Bills are expected to be issued within an average of seven days after meter- reading as opposed to the current billing arrangement where bills are issued approximately 32 days after.
The company is also implementing a modern Customer Information System (CIS) which is aimed at improving the quality of service to customers. The project, funded by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) under the investment component of the Loss Reduction Programme is expected to be fully implemented during the second quarter of this year.
The CIS is expected to provide major benefits to consumers as it provides for immediate allocation of a customer account and number on receipt of an application for electricity supply and immediate allocation of any payment made against an outstanding balance at any of GPL’s commercial offices
In order to facilitate a smooth transition from the existing system to the new CIS, the company will be issuing two bills within a six-week period. The bills will represent consumption between January to February and March that will be due for payment during April.
Originally the bill reflecting consumption for January and February would have been issued in March while the February to March bill would have been issued in April and May respectively.
Due to this transition, GPL will not conduct any disconnection activities during April for outstanding balances on these bills, rather it will continue to conduct its disconnection activities on previous unpaid balances. The situation will return to normalcy during May where one bill will be issued per month.
However, GPL is encouraging customers to continue settling their accounts in a timely manner.

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Finance Minister hails code of banking practice as another step towards modernisation of financial sector

Georgetown, GINA, March 30, 2010

The introduction of a Code of Banking Practice by the Guyana Association of Bankers represents another step in the modernisation and transformation of the financial services sector. This sentiment was expressed by Minister of Finance Dr. Ashni Singh at the launching of the Code at the headquarters of Republic Bank.
The Minister emphasised the importance of strength and soundness and competitiveness in the banking sector to realise the growth potential and aspiration of Guyana.
“The task of promoting competitiveness in our economy, the task of promoting growth is not one that resides solely with government and the regulators and the supervisory agencies. Indeed while government can and has taken a number of steps to ensure the establishment of an appropriate legislative and regulatory framework, the establishment of an environment that is conducive to competitiveness and increased competitiveness and growth by the private sector,” Minister Singh said.
He noted that while government has taken a number of steps in this regard, it is important that the private sector is responsive to this environment and much potential resides in the hands of the private sector to, by its own action, contribute to competitiveness itself.
The Minister pointed out that Government has put in place the legislative environment and regulations and guidelines for the industry and banks have responded favourably to the regulators over the years.
He noted that given the global reality, it is important for the sector to reflect on ways in which it can promote competitiveness.
“We have witnessed in this country a remarkable embrace of technology, a remarkable transformation in the range of quality services offered to customers in the banking sector. Just a few years ago the use of debit or credit cards, ATM cards was nonexistent…we have seen now a remarkable proliferation of ATM cards, point of sale terminals in merchants throughout the length and breadth of the country,” Minister Singh said.
There are many initiatives that have been implemented by the banking sector which can help to achieve the objective of providing a competititive industry. Noting that Republic Bank will be converting all of its ATM cards to Visa cards, the Minister stated that this is an initiative worthy of emulation since that bank has tens of thousands of customers, who with this service, will be able to use their cards for many transactions including purchasing items through the internet.
He stated that he was pleased that the bank announced its work to establish the electronic switch that will allow shared access to the ATM system and will promote inter-connectivity and reduce duplication. He pointed out that with the establishment of branches in different parts of the country, each bank will have to invest millions of dollars to have its own ATM machines. With the introduction of the electronic switch customers from any bank will be able to use the machines to conduct their transactions at a minimal cost.
The Finance Minister urged that the banks reflect on ways in which the greater use of technology can be promoted in the sector so that access can be further improved whereby persons who currently do not have access to banking services can have access and extend its range of services.
The banking code is expected to bring efficiency and promote considerable benefits for consumers as it sets an acceptable benchmark by which all commercial banks agree to be bound. The objectives intended to promote good banking practices, focuses on describing standards of good practice and services, for example the advisability of a customer reading the terms and conditions applying to a bank service, promoting disclosure of relevant and useful information to a customer, provides mechanism to resolve disputes between banks and customers.
Chairman of the Guyana Association of Bankers John Tracey noted that the recent global financial crisis has witnessed the failure of some leading financial institutions, the near collapse of others and led to a general lack of confidence in the financial services industry.
“Consequently, in an effort to prevent future similar scenarios, there has been brought to bear on the financial system new rules that are intended to curb the ability of banks to operate outside of their established ambit and to reinforce the level of confidence that is so necessary for its smooth functioning,” Mr. Tracey said.
He noted that the region was spared any bank failure out of the crisis since the banking system remains rooted in relatively sound banking practices with a set of rules that is well enforced allowing customers to feel confident that the system is secure.
“While it may seem wise to be comfortable in this situation, the Guyana Association of Bankers in holding to its mandate to improve the standards of commercial banking operations in Guyana and has pledged to a set of guiding principles as its members seek to enhance the environment in Guyana. We believe that it is our duty to meet the high expectations of our customers and all other stakeholders and we pledge to continue to observe best practices for our industry,” he said.
He pointed out that the code is not new to financial institutions, since its contents has always guided actions in the sector as it relates to banking transactions. He stated that the GAB recognises that the changing environment demands greater information sharing between financial institutions and their customers so as to foster a more harmonious and fruitful relationship that is mutually beneficial.
Over a year ago, the GAB met and agreed to  formally document banking practices in dealing with customers which gave birth to code which was fashioned using the Trinidadian code as a model.
            The objectives of the code take cognisance of the need to safeguard confidentiality and integrity of information having regard for governing legislation. He stated that the code is regarded as another step to remove any pre-existing myth about banking practices as it seek to bring transparency and acceptance to banking products.
            The GAB Chairman stated that the association is working to bring more convenience to customers, and its main effort right now is directed in a feasibility study for the switching system which would allow for shared access to the ATM system.

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‘Jagdeo investment paying off’…Dr Ramsaran
-Cuban-trained, local doctors to serve hinterland

Georgetown, GINA, March 30, 2010

The investment made by government in the field of medicine through the Cuba/Guyana Partnership is paying dividends and has augmented the cadre of medical professionals available locally to provide critical healthcare services throughout the regions.
Local medical practitioners, trained in Cuba, will now be given a chance to give back to their fellow citizens when they are dispatched to several hinterland areas to serve.
            Minister within the Health Ministry, Dr Bheri Ramsaran made the disclosures today during a press briefing to announce the departure of Dr Irv Chan to the Lethem Hospital in Region Nine.    
            Dr Chan is the first of his batch of 64, to be dispatched to reinforce the number and services of medical personnel in the region and another indication that the pulse-beat of the ministry is strong and healthy.
“Over the past few years, the Government of Guyana has been dispatching to Cuba, for training, hundreds of young people. The investment is paying off; they have started to come back to Guyana as graduate doctors and as final year medical students,” Dr Ramsaran remarked.
He said that last July, 66 doctors graduated and were inducted into various hospitals on the coast with the aim of equipping them with experience in the local healthcare system before deploying them to remote areas.


Cuban-trained Guyanese practitioner, Dr Irv Chan chats with reporters during an interview with the Government Information Agency (GINA) just before his deployment to Lethem Hospital. March 30, 2010.

            “Today the Ministry of Health will be saying a temporary goodbye to Dr Chan from the coast for the next year or two. We are going to be deploying Dr Chan to one of our newly constructed and commissioned hospitals that is the hospital, in Lethem.”
            Dr Ramsaran disclosed that Dr Chan, who has a strong background in primary healthcare, is part of a group of doctors who returned recently and are now being deployed.
“That is why we are deploying them down to the primary healthcare level right down to the periphery. So Dr Chan will be departing Georgetown tomorrow for his stint in the hinterland and in subsequent days and weeks, more doctors will be sent to other locations,” the Health Minister revealed
Over the last few months, the ministry has already dispatched doctors to places like Mabaruma and Lethem.
On a continuing basis, young, dedicated doctors are sent to regional, district hospitals, to help manage the system and give services on the periphery.
“The ministry is happy to report that the investment made by the Jagdeo Government in the so-called ‘Jagdeo Scholars’ especially in the area of health, that is, the training of graduate doctors, that investment is paying off,” Dr Ramsaran said.
He pointed out that during the recent spate of diarrhoeal diseases in Moruca, Region One, a group of graduate doctors, including Dr Chan, voluntarily responded and were deployed by the ministry.
“We need to highlight the contributions of these young people and the significance of the investment being made, especially in the area of health,” Dr Ramsaran said.

 

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Paramakatoi farmers benefit from apiculture training
-to boost production

Georgetown, GINA, March 30, 2010

The Ministry of Agriculture has been conducting training programmes for farmers and vendors countrywide to increase their knowledge of proper agriculture practices.
Deputy Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Agriculture, George Jarvis, while addressing media operatives today at a handing over ceremony of pumps to Region Seven said that a training programme was recently completed in Paramakatoi, Region Eight where over 20 farmers benefited from apiculture (honey production) training. The training dealt with techniques on how to trap wild bees and making and managing hives.
Farmers in Imbaimadai, Region Seven will also benefit from a similar exercise which will commence in a few weeks’ time.  
            He noted that the idea is to embark on such activities, as well as other crops that can withstand harsh weather patterns allowing farmers to have increased benefits.  
Government has been investing huge sums to ensure that the agriculture sector remains productive, hence, the training programme which is intended to improve the livelihood of rural farmers working with non-traditional commodities.
Recently, farmers from Regions One, Four, Five, Six, Eight and Nine benefited from training under the Rural Enterprise and Agriculture Development (READ) project, which saw them being trained in preparatory planning in the areas of business, marketing, productivity and capacity building.
 The READ project is part of the Ministry of Agriculture’s ‘Diversification Programme.’
Over 476 farmers thus far benefited from training in pesticides and toxic chemicals in Regions 3, 4 and 10 while farmers from Regions 1, 2, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9 are to benefit shortly.
The training programme which aims to assist farmers with good agricultural practices. Three training courses for pesticide vendors will commence in June in all three counties.
One hundred and thirty three vendors will be trained while several schools have also been earmarked to benefit starting in the second quarter of this year.

         

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Region Seven farmers benefit from mobile pumps
-as El Nino interventions continue

Georgetown, GINA, March 30, 2010

The El Nino conditions continue to take a toll on farming communities countrywide. Government has been proactive and has been making interventions to alleviate the hardship faced by farmers as a result of the extremely dry conditions.
            The Ministry of Agriculture today donated three mobile pumps valued $210,000 to farmers of Region Seven.  
            Deputy Permanent Secretary within the Ministry of Agriculture, George Jarvis said that several initiatives are being implemented to ensure that people in hinterland communities can withstand the effects of the El Nino phenomenon.
            He noted that the initiative stemmed from discussions held between Region Seven’s Chief Executive and Regional Executive Officers during a previous meeting held to discuss developments in the region.


Deputy Permanent Secretary within the Ministry of Agriculture, George Jarvis (right) hands over the three mobile pumps to the Region Seven Representative

            The pumps will be deployed to the upper Mazaruni and Kaikan areas to assist in the pumping of water to areas where the supply is scarce.
            Jarvis said that the initiative is one of many being conducted countrywide to alleviate the impacts of the change in the weather pattern. He added that several Regions have already benefited from the exercise which include Regions One and Nine and several parts of Region Two.
              “We are also working in collaboration with the Guyana Water Incorporated to ensure that the structures are wrapped up to a point where farmers cannot only have water for their crops, but also for their home use,” he said.
            However, in addition to hardware distributed to the different Regions, the Deputy Permanent Secretary noted that government is also working to implement additional activities that will attract income and do not require a lot of water.
            “In the future if there is another El Nino phenomenon the crops will be able to survive and withstand the effects,” Jarvis added.
             Since the El Nino weather conditions commenced last year, Government has been making timely interventions to safeguard the livelihood of farmers while the Ministry of Agriculture has been issuing advisories to ensure there is a limitation of water used, since improper management of water usage can impact negatively on crops and livestock production.


Mobile pumps handed over to Region Seven farmers

Farmers were also urged to use water for irrigation purposes wisely, pay more attention to irrigation water quality, proper and correct mulching and careful tilling of crops.
They are also advised to practice shade cultivation, look for increases in pest population, avoid burning, take proper care of their livestock and to recognise the critical situation and give full support to government’s strategies.
In addition to the distribution of mobile pumps and water tanks to residents of various affected communities, farmers also benefited from the distribution of veterinary supplies and molasses.
            The distribution exercise has been completed in Regions Five and Six while Region One is currently benefiting from the exercise.
To date, over 30,000 gallons of molasses have been distributed to farmers along with veterinary supplies and rice straw for livestock. 

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Gov’t is well positioned to fight crime- Minister Rohee

Georgetown, GINA, March 30, 2010

Minister of Home Affairs, Clement Rohee last evening disclosed that his Ministry’s main focus in 2010 will be placed on the establishment of the Central Intelligence Center, positioning of cameras at strategic locations in the city, further completion of the US $22M Citizens’ Security Programme (CSP) and infrastructural strengthening across the country. The Minister was at the time speaking at a televised interview on the National Communications Network (NCN).

Sophia Center for young criminals
            He said that a holding center at Sophia will be commissioned shortly, which will serve the purpose of housing young criminals in accordance with the law, pending the completion of their trial, so that they would not be kept in jail with dangerous criminals.
            “They will await trial at the holding center and subsequent to the trial, they will await transportation to the New Opportunity Corps,” Minister Rohee said.

Disciplined Forces Commission Report
            He said that the Parliamentary Select Committee on the Disciplined Forces Commission Report will be completed by May, which will then be taken to the National Assembly for consideration.
            The passage of that report in the Parliament will see the various stakeholders in the security sector being tasked with the responsibility to implement the recommendations contained within the report. Recently, a Motion establishing a Standing Committee on oversight of the Security Sector was passed in the National Assembly.
            “This Standing Committee will have general oversight of the security sector under which the Report of the Disciplined Forces Commission will be implemented,” he said.
            Responding to a question on the current state of system, Minister Rohee said that it has come a long way and that there has been considerable improvement in Georgetown as well as other areas.
            “People feel a greater sense of comfort and security now as compared to 10 years ago and this is because the Government has invested heavily in this area. The security sector holds number three spot in the allocation of resources under the National Budget and that is a conscious policy of the Government,” the Minister said.

Fighting drug-trafficking
             With respect to drug-trafficking, Minister Rohee said that the Government’s position in its manifesto is very clear that it is completely against narco-trafficking in the country.
            “We are pursuing a policy of international cooperation at various levels to learn from the experiences of other countries to be able to get technical assistance from these bodies to assist us in this fight. We attend as many conferences overseas because we see it as an investment, so that when they come back they are able to share that knowledge in their respective institutions,” he said.
            He added that the institutional arrangement that exist so far is the Customs Anti-Narcotics Unit (CANU), the Narcotics Branch of the Guyana Police Force (GPF), a task force on illicit drugs and firearms, a National Anti-Narcotics Committee, a broad base steering committee involving the Ministries of Health, Education, and Human Services and Social Security and the National Committee on Law and Order.
            Minister Rohee refuted allegations that the law enforcement bodies lack coordination in the fight against narcotics.
            “We are coordinated as best as we can among the law enforcement agencies that are vested with the authority to fight drugs in Guyana,” he said.
             He added that the drug fight is a holistic struggle that is ongoing which cannot be eradicated by Government’s efforts alone.
            “We do not produce cocaine in Guyana, this is imported. The drug problem is one that has been exported to Guyana,” the Minister said.
            A number of legislative interventions has been  taken; these include amendments to the Anti-Money Laundering and Financing the Terrorism Act, the Interception of Communications Bill and the Criminal Procedure (Plea Bargaining and Plea Agreement) Bill.
            “The legislative architecture in the country has changed dramatically over the past few years, we are well positioned for this fight,” Minister Rohee said. 

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Diamond/Grove housing scheme – dramatically changing East Bank corridor

GINA Feature, March 30, 2010

Diamond Housing Scheme, once marked by lush green sugar cane fields, men fishing in the canals and animals grazing on the outskirts has now become one of the largest and most impressive housing schemes established under the People’s Progressive Party Civic Government.
Diamond, on the East Bank Demerara, just about 25 minutes away from the capital city of Georgetown, has been rapidly transforming over the past few years, as it prepares for township status. This area is one of several earmarked for township, as the government pursues a path of modernizing the country. Others include Supenaam, Parika, Bartica and Charity.
Adjoining Grove, this housing scheme, located approximately 11 miles from Georgetown, boasts occupancy of over 40,000 residents and is regarded as one of Central Housing and Planning Authority’s largest emerging urban centers. The expansion of services points to increase in the value of property in this east Bank community.
            With so much happening, the entire physical landscape of the area has been transformed and has heightened the importance of the East Bank Corridor in the development scheme.

Infrastructure
New infrastructure and facilities distinguish the Diamond/Grove scheme from the other housing schemes and is already taking on the features of ‘township’.
This Scheme has benefited from in excess of $2B which propelled its development as Government invested 50% of that amount on basic infrastructure such as roads, drainage, culverts, bridges and a modern water supply system.
 A paved corridor to promote traffic safety and a pedestrian crossing along with a pedestrian walkway and a bus shed were also constructed along the main highway.
To ease the traffic congestion at the scheme’s entrance, Government has strategically erected traffic lights to ensure the safety of commuters and reduce obstruction caused by traffic.

Health and Education

Today, Diamond boasts its own modern Secondary School, equipped with computer and other laboratories and which has the capacity to accommodate over 1,000 students along the East Bank. There is the Diamond, East Bank Demerara Hospital which was commissioned in October 2007. This has impacted tremendously on the health sector as it has expanded the country’s surgical facilities and precludes the need for patients to travel to Georgetown to seek medical attention. It offers laboratory services, intensive care, x-ray, ultra-sound and a surgical theatre.


The state-of-the -art Diamond , East Bank Demerara Hospital .



The new Diamond Secondary School.



Water
With the population rising due to increased occupancy rates of houselots granted by government, the establishment of a new well has been well accepted by the thousands of residents who began benefitting from October last.
 The $56M well located at Sixth Street, serves over 8,000 residents of Diamond/Grove.


The Diamond well.

 

Market facilities
The market, an initiative by Government to provide an organized and secure vending area for persons who depend on vending as a means of living, will benefit thousands of people living on the East Bank of Demerara, especially in neighbouring villages.
 This will be bringing a much needed service to the residents and will preclude the need for them to travel to the city to purchase their groceries and vegetables.

Other facilities
A modern $30M police station, with interview and parade rooms and five lockups has already been built at Block Y.
Diamond is beginning to look like a town with distinguishing features such as the soon to be completed Guyoil Service Station and Convenience store situated obliquely opposite the state of the art Regional Hospital on the East Bank Highway, the Guyana Bank for Trade, Industry and Commerce (GBTI) and Republic Bank.
The Housing scheme facilitates high-income, middle-income and low-income homes catering for all categories of Guyanese. 
The social landscape of this rapidly developing area has seen the integration of persons of various ethnic and cultural backgrounds, co-existing in harmony.
Today, the massive changes that are evident in Diamond/Grove are features of it transformation into a town.  


The Diamond-Grove Police Station.

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Key interventions undertaken to provide additional support for rice farmers

The National Drainage and Irrigation Authority (NDIA) has spent more than  $300M in D&I works and providing fuel for farmers to assist with pumping of water into their fields  as Government continues to undertake timely interventions to assist rice farmers in lessening the effects of the El Nino weather conditions.
. The NDIA is working with the Guyana Rice Development Board, the Rice Producers Association and other regional authorities to ensure the management of available water resources, the Agriculture Ministry has stated.
            During the Agriculture Minister's recent El Nino update to the National Assembly, he stated that part of the contingency plan has been to mitigate the losses of farmers and the Ministry’s current programmes are aimed at reducing agricultural losses.
Minister Persaud indicated that it is significant to note, as well, the ongoing studies initiated by the Government on the possibility of introducing risk insurance that will include drought and flood components.
The World Bank is currently analysing data collected only this month on the entire spectrum of agricultural activities including rice cultivation.
Vulnerable regions in Guyana have benefitted from various forms of support, including fuel for the operation of irrigation pumps, maintaining, cleaning and excavating of irrigation canals, and providing tillers, generators, water pumps and digging of shallow wells in hinterland locations, the Agriculture Minister pointed.
Further, only recently a $400M intervention was made by Government to the
rice industry to assist farmers with input supplies and construction of paddy drying floors in all rice growing areas. Drying floors already been commissioned in Regions 2, 3 and, 6 and several others are expected to be completed soon.
In anticipation of the losses some rice farmers suffered, another $120M is
set aside for rice farmers who faced the effects of this El Nino Period.
There is a loss assessment verification programme currently in progress by the GRDB, and after this is completed, the amount will be released to assist farmers who would have lost this crop due to El Nino, the Ministry said.
The Ministry and other stakeholders will continue to stay engaged until the situation abates. In addition to emergency interventions, the focus is also on early recovery and support for those who experienced losses. With necessary and timely interventions around the country, including the provision of planting material and other forms of support the Ministry expects production  in the second crop and remainder of the year to make up for any possible dip in the first quarter.
Since El Nino conditions were predicted, the NDIA, MMA and other related agencies have made efforts to ensure adequate amounts of water were stored in the conservancies. All irrigation canals were cleared and pumps were mobilized. Efforts were made to support both the coastal and hinterland areas.
In excess of $250M has been already spent on interventions with another $258M being earmarked by the President to mitigate these conditions and aid early recovery

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