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News Round UP: Week Ending 5/21/16

Guyana

Chief of Staff of the Guyana Defence Force (GDF), Brigadier Mark Phillips says the GDF has been placed on alert in the wake of reports that Venezuelans could flee to neighbouring countries as economic hardships continue to grip the country.

Phillips told Demerara Waves Online that while a lot of theories are being reported, the GDF cannot conduct operations based on theories, however the force would protect the integrity of Guyana’s borders.

“A lot of experts who have a lot of theories (but) we cannot plan our operations based on these theories …we have our deployment, we are monitoring the situation and we are following the economic and political situation,” he said.

According to Phillips, so far there have been no reports of unusual cross border activity between Guyana and neighbouring Venezuela.Caribzone_Guyana

Meanwhile, President David Granger on Thursday said there is currently no agreement in place with Venezuela about refugees.

Granger who was responding to questions from journalists said the matter has not been considered. He however said Guyana is obligated to accept any Guyanese returning from Venezuela.

“I am deeply concerned, Guyana has special interest because of the territorial question, but I think the whole region is concerned about what is taking place in Venezuela, and we hope that there is not going to be a resort to lawlessness,” the President said.

With the economic meltdown in Guyana and the reported shortage of basic medication, it is speculated that thousands of Venezuelans could leave the country for Guyana and elsewhere in the region.

Guyana and Venezuela are currently embroiled in a diplomatic controversy with the country claiming more than two-thirds of Guyana’s land and maritime space. Guyana is preparing to go to the International Court of Justice on the issue.

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Jamaica

Education Minister Ruel Reid said this week that the Government has no intention of defunding high schools in order to effect the planned no-tuition fee policy.

The comment, issued in a release to the media this week, was in response to concerns expressed on the weekend by the Jamaica Association of Principals of Secondary Schools (JAPSS), regarding the implementation of the new tuition-free policy for high schools.

Under the policy, auxiliary fees will be abolished and schools given a maximum of $19,000 per student per annum, instead.

But at a press conference following the association’s four-day retreat at the Iberostar Resort in Rose Hall on Saturday, the principals described the policy as a threat to the delivery of quality education.

Caribzone_Jamaica“We are concerned that many schools will not be able to fund their established programmes and operations for the entire year, including welfare, security, laboratories, technology, staffing, assessment, co-curricular activities and maintenance,” JAPSS Public Relations Officer Linvern Wright told reporters.

Reid maintains, however, that “The Government, through the Education Ministry, will not defund high schools. We will ensure that schools are adequately funded in order to carry out their functions to educate the nation’s children. This is why we have asked each school to provide us with its individual budget in order to accurately determine the level of funding required.”

“The Education Ministry recognizes that contributions from parents and other stakeholders play an important role in funding developmental projects and programmes in schools. We ask parents to continue to make these contributions as determined by school boards and PTAs,” he added.

The minister said as of next week, he and a team from the ministry, in partnership with the National Parent-Teacher Association, will host a series of meetings to discuss with parents their role under the new policy.

“Following these consultations with parents, I will meet again with the leadership of the principals’ associations in early June to finalize arrangements to implement the tuition-free policy,” the minister said.

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Regional

A report by the London-based Commonwealth Secretariat is warning Caribbean countries if they continue on their current development path, by 2050, they will face unmanageable debt, poor growth, and greater socio-economic problems.

The report, which was launched at the Fourth Global Biennial Conference on Small States in Seychelles, looks at the current policies and trends in six Caribbean countries, namely Bahamas, Barbados, Jamaica, St Lucia, Grenada, Trinidad and Tobago, and Guyana.

Titled, “Achieving a Resilient Future for Small States: Caribbean 2050,” the report makes a 34-year projection across different sectors and shows five out of the six countries would have a debt-to-gross domestic product (GDP) above 100 per cent – dangerous levels if growth continues to lag.

Projections also suggest interest expenditure on debt is likely to sap public finances, reducing funds for development and giving rise to greater socio-economic problems.
The report warns that the Caribbean faces mounting challenges and unless there are seismic shifts in policy-making, the outlook is stark.Commonwealth-Secretariat-Logo

“Sluggish growth, spiraling debt, high youth unemployment, rising crime rates, piecemeal investment, and low productivity all pose serious threats to the region’s future. Climate change also casts a long shadow; small island developing states are most vulnerable to extreme weather, rising sea levels and diminishing natural resources but lack the funds to plan ahead and minimize risks.”

The report challenges the status quo and sets out policy interventions in targeted areas aimed at tackling persistent barriers to the region’s growth.

“This publication offers strategies that seek balance for the Caribbean in the survivability of today and the sustainability of tomorrow,” said Commonwealth Deputy Secretary-General Deodat Maharaj.

“We have taken on board current and future threats facing the region, such as lack of competitiveness, human and financial resource constraints, crippling debt and limited access to development finance and put forward practical steps that set out a new trajectory to help realise the full and rich potential of the region.”

The report provides recommendations on productivity, export growth, increasing youth employment and fiscal reform.

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Haiti

At least two people, including a police officer, were killed earlier this week after a group of gunmen attacked a police station in Les Cayes, in Haiti’s remote southern peninsula, a senior police officer has confirmed.

Caribzone_HaitiChief Police Inspector Octave Jean said that one of the gunmen had also been killed and another was wounded.

The police said that the dead gunman and the other attackers were wearing faded green uniforms that appeared to be from Haiti’s disbanded military.

In recent months, there have been increases in clashes involving ex-soldiers of the army that was disbanded in 1995.

Earlier this month, a group of mostly young men wearing green uniforms blocked an entrance to Haiti’s defence ministry.

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Sports/International

Up to 31 athletes from 12 countries could be banned from the Rio Olympics for doping after new tests on samples from the 2008 Beijing Games, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) said at mid week.

The 31 were caught in new tests on 454 Beijing samples using “the very latest scientific analysis methods”, the IOC said.

The re-examination was part of widespread measures taken by sporting bodies after a wave of new doping scandals to hit international sport with Russia at the centre.

Results from 250 retests on samples taken at the 2012 London Games are due “shortly” and mean the failures could increase.
The IOC has also ordered that samples from the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics be retested following allegations that the Russian city’s anti-doping laboratory was “subverted” to help Russian athletes.

“All these measures are a powerful strike against the cheats we do not allow to win,” IOC president Thomas Bach said.

“They show once again that dopers have no place to hide.”

The suspect athletes from the Beijing Games took part in six sports, but none were named by the IOC which issued a statement after an executive board meeting in Lausanne.

The board “agreed unanimously to initiate proceedings immediately”, said the statement, and the 12 national Olympic committees involved would be informed within days.

“All those athletes infringing anti-doping rules will be banned from competing at the Olympic Games Rio 2016,” the IOC declared.

The results of new examinations on 250 samples taken at the London Games are due “shortly” and mean the total failures could increase.international-olympic-committee

More than 5,000 tests were carried out in London, according to IOC figures.

About 4,000 tests were carried out in Beijing. Just after the Games, the IOC re-examined nearly 1,000 with a new test for the blood-boosting drug CERA. The 1500 meters men’s champion, Rashid Ramzi of Bahrain was among five athletes caught.

The IOC also warned that it will start “a wider re-testing programme of medalists from Beijing and London. The samples of athletes who could be awarded medals following the disqualification of others will also be retested”.

The IOC board demanded that the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) start “a fully fledged investigation” into allegations that testing at the Sochi laboratory was subverted by Russia’s secret services and sports ministry.

Russian authorities have strongly denied any wrongdoing, but IOC president Thomas Bach called the allegations against the Sochi laboratory “worrying”.

The IOC said Sochi samples will be re-examined at the Lausanne anti-doping laboratory, where they are stored for 10 years.

“We keep samples for 10 years so that the cheats know that they can never rest,” said IOC president Thomas Bach.

Russia is already battling to get its track and field athletes back into the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) so that they can take part in the Rio de Janeiro Games.

The IAAF suspended Russia over what WADA called a “state-sponsored” doping regime. It is to decide on Russia’s case on June 11. The Rio Olympics open on August 5 in the Maracana Stadium.

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Jamaica

OPPOSITION spokesman on Finance Dr Peter Phillips says that the revenue targets laid out by the Government in the 2016/17 budget will not be achieved.

At the same time, he said the tax break plan announced by Finance Minister Audley Shaw last week was not the $1.5-million income tax threshold that was promised by the then Opposition in its election campaign. The former minister also warned of “another massive tax package” for next April’s budget.

Responding to last Thursday’s opening presentation by Shaw in the 2016/17 Budget Debate in the House of Representatives, Phillips claimed that the estimates were put together to “satisfy a JLP election promise which was not feasible at the very outset”

He added: “As it turns out, the only feasible way was not the way proposed, but by raising the threshold and imposing a major tax package.”

According to Phillips, even as the Jamaica Labour Party Government retreats from the position that there would be no taxes commensurate with the new threshold, it has still not been forthright with the country.

He said that the budget, as presented, requires $33.7 billion in new tax revenues, of which $13.8 billion has been introduced in new measures. He said that this suggested that the remainder is to come from compliance. However, he suggested that the necessary compliance level would not be achieved.

Phillips predicted that with an International Monetary Fund (IMF) team returning to Jamaica in July to look specifically at tax reform, this should be a signal that there are more taxes to come this year.

“What is more is that we are not only facing the first phase of the ‘promise’; next year the remainder. In fact the larger portion of the so-called commitment has to be met. At the same time, ways will have to be found to replace the $11 billion that had to be taken from the National Housing Trust to support the debt-reduction strategy,” he said.

“So, at minimum, we are looking at an even greater tax package next year,” he added.

Phillips said that the Opposition was not averse to raising the income tax threshold, as it had done so on three occasions over the past three years. But it must not be done recklessly and in a manner which puts the entire country at risk.

But even as he knocked the tax threshold increase, he said that what has been done by the Government was not what was promised.

Cloviz Toons 1“There is no April Pay Day; there is no $18,000; there is no $1.5-million threshold,” he quipped.

He suggested that the full year’s cost of increasing the threshold to $1 million would be $16.5 billion, because the $12.5 billion stated by Shaw was only for nine months.

He also suggested that the second phase of the threshold increase, proposed for April 1, 2017 and the full-year impact of the July 1, 2016 threshold increase would result in a loss of revenue in 2017/18 of $20 billion.

Phillips also noted that the current $11.4 billion annual withdrawal from the NHT would end in 2016/17.

“Taken together, this means that there will be another massive tax package in 2017/18. It is also clear from the unreliable budget numbers that the Government will impose additional taxes on the people of Jamaica later this financial year,” he stated.

According to him, the moral legitimacy of the Government has been lost, but the Opposition must insist that the prospects for the Jamaican people should not be sacrificed.

He said that the Opposition would insist that debt reduction continues so that real growth can be accomplished.

He said that the Opposition would also insist on reform of the agricultural sector to raise rural incomes; and demand fair treatment for the poor, the vulnerable, and children, through realistic budgetary provisions.

“We will co-operate on behalf of what is good but, most of all, we will protect the gains made by the Jamaican people,” he stated.

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International

A deadly yellow fever outbreak in Angola, which has already spread the disease as far as China, risks sparking a global crisis, the Red Cross warned on Thursday.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), urged immediate action with health director Julie Hall warning that limited vaccine supplies, inadequate disease surveillance systems, poor sanitation and continuous movement across Angola’s borders “could turn a national outbreak into a global crisis”.

“Unvaccinated travelers could transform this outbreak into a regional or international crisis if we don’t move quickly to protect vulnerable populations and help communities to reduce their risk of infection,” she said in a statement.

The warning came as the World Health Organization (WHO), was holding an emergency meeting Thursday on the Angola outbreak. Such meetings from the UN agency are often held before the declaration of an international health emergency, as happened with the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, and the current surge in neurological disorders linked to the spread of Zika virus in the Americas.

Yellow fever has been raging since last December in Angola, and especially in the capital Luanda, killing 293 people in the country to date and infecting another 2,267.The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC)

Cases have been imported to Democratic Republic of Congo and Kenya, and the Angola outbreak has been proven to be the source of 11 infections in China.

A separate yellow fever outbreak has meanwhile been confirmed in Uganda, with more than 50 suspected cases.

There is no specific treatment for the viral haemorrhagic disease, transmitted by the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which also spreads Zika, dengue and chikungunya.

The percentage of people immunised against yellow fever remains low in many parts of Africa, even though the vaccine is nearly 100 per cent effective and relatively cheap.

WHO has sent 11.7 million doses to Angola and there are plans to vaccinate 2.2 million people in DR Congo.

But it has voiced concern that the outbreak could easily spread to Angola’s neighbours Namibia and Zambia, where the population has not been vaccinated.

National Red Cross societies in Angola, DRC and Uganda were meanwhile helping communities in affected areas identify and eliminate mosquito breeding grounds and advising people how to reduce their risk of infection, IFRC said.

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