Tension rises in Guyana

A major row is simmering in Guyana over the hogging of radio broadcast licenses by mostly Indo Guyanese businessmen and politicians, is fueling a growing belief that a small cabal of top officials is slowly executing a long-conceived plan to steal or control all the key resources of Guyana including the lucrative telecommunications sector among other state patrimonies.

Bombarded by criticism last week of its handling of the issue and demands from opposition politicians, government was forced to publish a previously secret list and with details of people awarded radio licenses. It clearly showed that people-of Indian ancestry were given multiple licenses while others, including Black and mixed raced groups were only awarded single broadcast spectrum licenses.

This new revelation surfaces as tension is rising in the country over allegations of runaway corruption, such as the running of an alternative state treasury and slush funds by government and a rush by politicians and connected businessmen and women to grab as much as they could of the country’s wealth, in the event that the governing People’s Progressive Party (PPP) loses power through the ballot or through extra-parliamentary measures.

“This is a clear move by Indian supremacist to take the country,” said newspaper columnist and former University of Guyana Professor Freddie Kissoon. “Most of the non-Indians who got licenses only got only a single one, while many of the Indians got as many as five. The plan is clear,” Kissoon said.

Black activist Barrington Braithwaite who has also campaigned against the political and other excesses of PPP in recent years, thinks that apart from the perceived Indo cabal moving in on the country’s resources, what is happening in Guyana now is a ”case of kindred habits” coming together to divide the country as they see fit.

He pointed out that some Blacks who chose to align themselves with the Indo-dominated PPP among the beneficiaries as trinkets are rouinely thrown the way of favored Indians, but he was also forced to acknowledge that all the Afros awarded radio permits only got a single one, compared to the multiple licenses awarded to Indo individuals or groups.

One of the groups awarded five licenses is linked to Natural Resources Minister Robert Persaud and his Deputy Permanent Secretary Omkar Lochan. Locan is the brother-in-law of Education Minister Priya Manikchand, while another Radio Guyana Inc. individual is connected to Ranji Ramroop, the best friend of former President Bharrat Jagdeo.

The licenses were awarded just before Jagdeo’s mandatory two terms expired in late 2011 but its details were kept secret until veteran television broadcaster Enrico Woolford publicly demanded that the list be published, winning support from rights activists and legislators.

Since then, a clearly embarrassed Prime Minister Samuel Hinds told parliament that additional licenses would be awarded, but did not say that a new fiber-optic cable being run through the jungle from Brazil to Guyana, will pave the way for connected PPP businessmen to offer US-style triple-play communications, including cable TV, telephone and internet services.

A number of companies which had been tipped off about the project long before it was announced have already installed the necessary infrastructure. In essence, government has provided the $35M to run the cable so that connected businessmen could set up triple-play services.

“This means, again, that a small group will have a monopoly on telecommunications services. This is unacceptable and discriminatory,” said Woolford.

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