APPOINTMENT OF A COMMISSION OF INQUIRY TO INVESTIGATE THE INCIDENCE OF MARITIME AND RIVERINE INCIDENTS, INJURIES AND DEATHS
Lt. Col. Ret’d Harmon: Mr. Speaker, I rise to support the motion standing in the name of the Leader of the Opposition and like the preceding speakers, I intend to be short. That is a difficult for me at over six feet but I would like to be short.
The Hon. Minister of Public Works, who has responsibility for the transportation sector, did, in fact, throw out a challenge to his shadow, that is that we work together on this matter. Well, I want to say to the Hon. Minister that I accept his challenge; I embrace that challenge and I encourage him to embrace the motion by the Leader of the Opposition and let us get the business of making riverine transportation safer.
There are two specific pieces of legislation which I want to address in my very brief presentation. The first one has to do with the Shipping Act which my Colleague, Mr. Ramjattan, spoke to and the establishment of the Maritime Administration Department under this Act that speaks to safety of ships in the rivers and at sea.
There is also the question of the River Navigation Act which deals with safety in our creeks and our little rivers. This is an Act that makes provision for the more safe and convenient navigation of the rivers of Guyana; that is the River Navigation Act, Chapter 50:01. This Act is about four pages, but it is what is contained in this Act that makes it so important. A lot of what is contained in the Shipping Act does not provide for some of the rivers and the creeks, as the Hon. Minister said. The Hon. Member, Mr. Ramjattan, spoke of a lacuna where that is concerned. But I believe, to some extent, the River Navigation Act fills that gap in some respects and it requires of the Maritime Administration Department that they lay certain reports on the safe use of these creeks and rivers to the National Assembly on an annual basis. I refer here to section 9 of the Act and it says:
“In the month of January in every year an officer shall make to the National Assembly a report of his proceeding and of the condition of the navigation of the river or rivers in his charge during the preceding year.”
Mr. Speaker, I checked with the National Assembly and I could not get any information for the longest while that any report of this nature, in conformity with the law, has been made. So the Minister needs help and we are prepared to give the Minister that help.
In the report the Minister laid in which he answered the question that was asked by the Hon. Leader of the Opposition about the incidence of deaths and injuries, we see a whole host of reports here that are incomplete. We see a number of investigations which were started but were not completed. We see a number of reports here about the causes of accidents; those speak to speeding, poor visibility and, in some cases, the condition of the vessels themselves. These reports here, the majority states that investigations are still to be completed. As my Colleague, Mr. Felix said, you have a structure that is there but we need to people that structure. We need to ensure that what is needed in the Maritime Administration Department is gotten. We need to ensure that our waterways are properly policed, that the marine section of the Guyana Police Force be reactivated. I have had some conversations with the Hon. Minister and he has given me certain reassurances that they are buying boats for that section and so on, so I believe that that is a good thing. But, when the boats arrive and I see that they are for that purpose, then I will be a happier person.
Mr. Speaker, these are important matters.
Mr. Speaker: Col. Harmon, the Guyana Defence Force (GDF) had acquired four boats a few years ago for riverine patrols. Are they not used?
Lt. Col. Ret’d Harmon: I cannot answer for the GDF, please, Mr. Speaker, but what I do know is that there were some boats that were bought by the Customs Anti-Narcotics Unit. I know that these vessels were ordered and, because of the person who was awarded the contract, they were cancelled. I know for sure that I can speak to that matter. Sometimes we order these things but, depending on who is the person providing them, that will determine whether the nation gets it or not.
The question of security on our waterways, the question of safety on our waterways, must concern all of us because each and every one of us in this House, from time to time, traverses those waterways. As Members of Committees of Parliament, we are required to visit some of these communities; we are required to visit these mining sites and so on. So, if we do not make laws that practically govern the conditions on these waterways, sometimes we are also putting ourselves in harm’s way. This is also what we need to understand, that the safety and security of our citizens is an important priority. And it is not only about the persons who have died. There are several persons who have been left maimed and injured and cannot enjoy a productive life anymore. What has happened is that there has never been a proper investigation completed into these incidents. So the motion speaks to a very important matter insofar as safety and security on our waterways are concerned. I implore and ask the Members on the Government side to join us in expressing sympathy to those persons who have died on our waterways and to ensure that we make proper regulations for the safe and effective use of our waterways so that all the wealth of our Hinterland and so that all of the business that is booming in this country, according to my Friends on the other side, could be enjoyed by people in a safe way, that they can travel safely and that they can be satisfied that whatever they are doing, they will have the protection of the law and that that law is being properly enforced by a well equipped MARAD.
Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. [Applause]