Mr. Benn: Thank you Mr. Speaker. I would like to reiterate and to restate our great distress, our unhappiness and the fact that we on this side of the House, in relation to our governance with respect to policing and the reform of the electricity tariff structure in Linden, did not, could not and would not have wanted the deaths of any persons and the injuries to any persons on the Mackenzie Bridge.
The discussion on this matter, the motion presented by Brigadier Retired David Granger, naturally is occurring in a charged atmosphere and in an environment of trauma on all sides. We ourselves are traumatised on our side with respect to this incident. We want to unreservedly extend our condolences to those relatives of the persons who died. We want to express our deep regrets with respect to the matter. We also want to express, again, our regrets to those who were injured and otherwise traumatised. That too relates to the Hon. Member Vanessa Kissoon who pointed out her trauma and her experience on the Bridge with respect to providing help to the persons who were injured.
As I said, this matter and the path that this problem took related to issues of electricity reform in Linden. The Hon. Prime Minister, as far as I am aware and have been engaged with at various times, has spent an in-exhaustive number of hours and writings and meetings and engagements and consultations with respect to the matter of electricity reform in Linden. It appears to me that when this matter was being discussed here in this Hon. House and I did point out when we were speaking on this matter that the question related fundamentally to the enormous cost which was being imported in our country in terms of energy and the rising cost of fuel. I think I did say at that time that the cost of fuel over the last five-year period had increased by over 40%. It was pointed out that if we did not take steps to bring some reality to this situation and to have a gradual withdrawal as it was with respect to the large and increasing amount of subsidy being provided to the Linden community that the rest of the country would have to be paying electricity rates and in fact we may go into situation where there would be a supply energy impaired. I would point out too that the question of electricity subsidy in Linden has in fact been going on for a very long time. Even though the records from the Linden Electricity Corporation Inc (LECI) would indicate that the amounts of money being spent was increasing from, I think, $1.6 billion in 2004...
Mrs. Backer: Mr. Speaker, I rise on a Point of Order. Nowhere in this motion is there any reference to any electricity rates. We are here debating the death and the killing of three Guyanese citizens. Nowhere here in the Whereas Clause or anywhere is there any reference to any electricity rates. We are here debating the death of three persons. If it were just to do with electricity we would not have voted to amend and to suspend all these Standing Orders. We are talking about the death of three Guyanese citizens, not about electricity tariffs.
Mr. Speaker: Thank you Hon. Member. Hon. Member, this is a very sensitive issue nationally. All Members have, if they choose, a right to speak to it. I will indulge some latitude. Perhaps the contextual basis of the motion needs to be put, but I remind the Hon. Member that indeed we are debating the issue of the deaths. I believe that you will come to that eventually. I do appreciate that that the contextual framework has to be set.
Mr. Benn: Thank you Mr. Speaker. We are indeed debating the issue of the deaths. When we discuss this matter here in this Hon. House, and the Hansard will prove it, the Hon. Member Ms. Vanessa Kissoon screeched from that side of the House. [Ms. Kissoon: Screeched?] [Mrs. Backer: How dare you.] Let me withdraw that and say screamed from that side of the House, “we are not paying anything.” Mr. Speaker, we are here as national leaders in this House. We lead the people on any and every side in this Hon. House, and I believe the positions, the rhetoric, the inflammatory speeches and positions taken on this matter has somehow lead to an unfortunate situation.
The Hon. Member Mr. David Granger did say that something must have gone badly wrong which resulted in the shootings; that is what I interpreted, something went badly wrong. I heard the Hon. Member Ms. Vanessa Kissoon relating where she was on the bridge at the time of the shootings or leading up to it. I have seen a video on the internet which clearly shows the police ranks giving warnings to the protestors to desist several times. They also had a banner unfurled which suggested that they should remove themselves from the bridge.
We, of course, never would have contemplated that anybody would have been shot to death. I want to submit that any perusal of the laws of Guyana whether through the Ministry of Home Affairs or the Ministry of Public Works or any local government laws would indicate that blocking of any declared pubic road or bridge are all unlawful acts. I am saying clearly that any perusal of the laws of Guyana would indicate that the blocking of any road or bridge or even right now the blocking of the entrance to this Parliament is an unlawful act. [Mrs. Backer: Go and kill them.] I want to repeat that people were presenting here speaker after speaker on the other side and were suggesting that the protest in itself was peaceful. We can lead that to the enquiry to be determined. I am only referring to my understandings of the laws of Guyana.
We do not have to bring the matter to a rest here in terms of it. We regret these deaths, but I want to say that right now the blocking of the Bamia Bridge and the blocking of the Kara Kara Bridge and the blocking of roads in Linden do not help the people of Linden at this time and are imposing hardship on the people of Linden and the rest of the country. The leaders who are in this House have an obligation to lead responsibly. Leading responsibly perhaps would mean an engagement with the Police at the time they had their banners up to avoid unfortunate situations.
I am not here to join in with a pillaring of the Guyana Police Force. I heard it being said here that the Police Force was Guyana’s killing machine. I think the Hon. Member Ms. Vanessa Kissoon said that here. [Ms. Lawrence: Think?] I am a member along with the Minister Rohee on the National Commission on Law and Order. I have been pleased to serve for the last two years on the Guyana’s National Commission on Law and Order. I think it is the only Ministry that has such a commission set up. I think it is a constitutional commission and which has representations from the Opposition on it.
I am aware also, and we have had engagements at times with the Police Force, where they were petulant and were unhappy with certain critiques which were levelled against them. I think it would be a very sad day if we were to dispense with the Police Force and to make the Police Force and its leadership be emasculated and unwilling to perform its lawful constitutional duties.
The Minister Rohee as chairman of the National Commission on Law and Order has allowed the widest possible consultations and discussions ad nauseam at most of the meetings running to nine o’clock in the nights or later. Members on the other side could attest to that in respect of the discussions of how to improve and reform the Guyana’s Police Force.
The position that the motion takes, even though the situation gives us the possibility of having a significant reality check with respect to the operations of the Guyana Police Force, we can have that reality check. There is also a reality check which I believe will come out of the leadership on the ground with respect to this unfortunate incident. There are a lot of statements being made and attacks... Mr. Speaker, there is continuation of inflammatory statements being made here, I believe, in this Hon. House. There are statements that there was a plot to assassinate the chairman and the leadership on the bridge.
Mr. Speaker: Hon. Member, I deliberately asked the Hon. Member to repeat it, because she said, “giving rise to the view in Linden”. If she had made such an accusation, I would have had her withdraw it. She said it gave rise to the view in Linden.
Mr. Benn: I am saying in my belief, it is an extremist statement.
Mr. Speaker: She is giving the point of view of the people of Linden. If she had said that that is her opinion I would asked her necessarily to defend it.
Mr. Benn: There was also a statement about one government for Tain and one Government for Linden. I think that the record will show that when there were unlawful protests on the Corentyne Coast persons were shot. Unfortunately, too, at that time one person was killed by my recollection. So, the statement being made about one government relating to one part of the country or one section of the country, to Linden in this matter, is not helpful and to me is bigoted or worse.
A statement was made that Linden has been attacked economically and politically for the choices they make. I worked in Linden for twelve years. I believe, like the Hon. Prime Minister who worked for twenty five years in Linden, that on this side we have worked hard to bring development and progress to Linden. I believe – and we do not have to go under duress – we have worked hard in the Government with respect to Linden. There are many newfound friends for Linden here today on this side of the House. I have a report which was sent to me here tonight, a report which I wrote many years ago, a strategic plan for LINMINE and Linden Region. It was written in January of 1995. I believe it is being implemented, that is why we have success and improvement; that is why we have stabilised Linden. This is why RUSAL and BOSAI are there. This is why there is a roadmap for the continued development for Linden. This is why we have had leap, lends and other activities which are now closed down as a result of unwarranted and reckless protests which are continuing in the community. The bauxite plant is closed.
Mr. Speaker: Allow the Minister to address the House please.
Mr. Benn: The bauxite plant which they are so much interested in preserving the livelihood... [Mrs. Backer: Who is “they”?] The Members on the other side, who are so very much interested in preserving and ensuring the livelihood and work of workers is closed. Two weeks of loss of production will see three ships not being able to come to Guyana to carry bauxite to the markets.
There is no fuel going to Mapletown, to Aroaima or Kwakwani; mining will cease there shortly. There is no fuel and food going to the mining industries and to the forest producers. While the protesters and their supposed supporters have a strangle hold on the bridges and roads in Linden, the workers, the ordinary people who desire a livelihood and a continuation of work and improvement, perhaps, should also die a slow death because of this attitude.
I want to call on the leaders in this House to lead; to lead where they say they have the overwhelming constituency. They must lead their constituency in lawful, peaceful protest. They must come to the table as the President has allowed for, and as prepared for, to discuss and allow for a peaceful resolution of the issues which abound in this fateful and unfortunate incident. [Ms. Kissoon: When you done shed innocent blood now you stand there to say what?]
Mr. Speaker: Ms. Kissoon, please allow the Minister to speak.
Mr. Benn: In closing, I want to repeat that I believe there is no person in this Hon. House, including the Hon. Member Minister Rohee, who had any plan intention or inkling that there would have been a degeneration of the situation which would have resulted in the death of three persons. The inquiry as allowed for and promoted by His Excellency, The President, in discussions with Members of the Opposition, the leaders, is the best way to proceed in this matter. Principally, the leaders, those who avow themselves to be leaders in respect of the protests on the streets, should revert this situation to normal so that Linden- Region 10, Region 9, Region 8 and Region 7- do not die a slow death, and the economic prosperity and development of Linden is not impaired.
I thank you Mr. Speaker. [Applause]