“Totally immature!” – Pres. Ali to Opposition on blocking Minister from community meeting

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Public Service Minister Sonia Parag (right) speaking with APNU MP Vinceroy Jordan after the door to the Community Centre was closed to prevent her from entering (Leroy Smith photo)

Opposition Member of Parliament Vinceroy Jordan is facing backlash for allegedly blocking Minister of Public Service, Sonia Parag, from meeting with residents of Belladrum, Region Five (Mahaica-Berbice) as part of a follow-up visit.

In an exclusive interview with this publication, Minister Parag relayed that she was attempting to meet with Belladrum residents on Tuesday when Jordan, her colleague on the A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) side of the National Assembly, confronted her.

What followed next, according to Parag, is that Jordan made efforts to prevent her from entering the Community Development Council (CDC) building to assess the building and speak with residents with a view to ascertaining how to help them.

Residents had previously requested that the Government look into having a library and an IT hub to conduct training installed in the building.

“I’m the Minister assigned to Region Five. About three weeks ago, the President would have held a public outreach in Belladrum and Cotton Tree, Region Five, and while we were there in Belladrum, we announced that I would be in the community working. Besides that, there was a resident of Belladrum who raised an issue (regarding) the Community Centre Building, the same venue we were using for the meeting,” Parag said.

Parag had visited last week, and had also been locked out. Efforts by her to contact the CDC Chairman had been futile, and she had been told that they did not have a key; so, she had promised that she would visit the following week. When she arrived on Tuesday, as per her promise, she was told that the building was vandalised last week, and as a result, no one was allowed in until an audit of the missing items could be done, even though one resident at the location told the media that the vandalism happened since last year.

“I was met with the Opposition MP Vinceroy Jordan, the Chairman of the CDC, the NDC Chairman, and the woman who had contacted me. They started to make an issue about me not going through the process through the NDC and the CDC. Vinceroy Jordan started to (quarrel) that you can’t just come in here and we don’t want development,” Parag related.

“Now, when he said that, they had some youths who came in at the same time, and they started to object to what he was saying. And he changed his statement to say that they do want development, but I have to go through the process of the NDC. So, I made it clear I am working with the people, because the benefit has to go to the people, and I am working with them directly,” Minister Parag explained.

Indeed, a number of residents who were at the location expressed to the media their disappointment at the fact that the building was not being put to use for the benefit of the community, but instead was just standing there as a monument.

“You have a building here that is a stone monument to this community. And residents would have made representation to the community to have it upgraded so it can function for the use of the residents. These persons have stood in the way of development since day one, and they are continuing to stand in the way of it!” one irate resident told the media.
“The group that arguing here – I don’t want to call names – they don’t want development; but we are here for development, and we have to get development, and we would side with the Minister to get development, because I am catering for my grandchildren and great-grandchildren,” another resident related.

Meanwhile, Parag noted that after being repeatedly refused access to the building, she eventually left. As she described it, the environment created by the persons blocking her work was a hostile one, and further, the CDC had no intention of opening the door. Minister Parag made it clear, however, that she would return to the community to deliver development to the residents.

“The issue is it was a quite hostile environment. The door was never opened for me to check. As a matter of fact, the lady who made the request was there with me, and she was prevented from speaking. She asked if she can say something and (was) told she can say something at another time,” Minister Parag said.

“So, I was forced to leave. They were not going to open the door for me to do any kind of assessment. And he (Jordan) put out some response that I was there to open a party office…nothing of the sort happened. My only intention in the community is the development of the residents and the community at large,” she added.

Condemnation of the incident has been swift, with President Dr Irfaan Ali releasing a statement in which he lambasted the Opposition and the political directives that were issued to block the PPP/C Government from doing its work. He made it clear that the Government would not be deterred from bringing development to Belladrum and other communities, and commended Parag for her bravery.

“We are going work in every community, and work with everyone. This is totally immature! And I want to congratulate Minister Sonia and all the other Ministers for holding their ground and letting them understand that every single community, every single village, every single Guyanese is sacred to this Government,” President Ali said.

“But the very people will go and cry that they don’t see the Government, because that is the false message and narrative that they want to send! My brothers and sisters on the ground, in the communities and regions, you’re seeing what we’re doing. The energy, the passion, the work that we’re doing…there’s a selective group that are bent on one way. All of us together must reject them!”

The People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) has also condemned the incident. In a statement, that party noted that Parag’s visit was due to a request from the residents themselves for the Government to arrange skills training, scholarships, and other forms of assistance for them.

“The PNC-led APNU+AFC has demonstrated, time and time again, that it is incapable of offering meaningful leadership to their constituents, or anyone for that matter, and is therefore in its familiar obstructionist mode with racism being its tool of choice,” the PPP has said.

“Their attempt to obstruct the PPP/C Government’s housing drive at Amelia’s Ward in Linden, Region Ten and at Mocha Arcadia on the East Bank of Demerara are just a few examples of how they wanted development to bypass certain communities so that they can continue to peddle false claims of discrimination,” the party said.

The Mocha Women on Track community development group, which only recently collaborated with Minister Parag to present awards to the top 10 National Grade Six Assessment (NGSA) performers from Mocha Arcadia and Barnwell North, also issued a statement condemning the efforts to obstruct the Minister.

“The 40-plus women who make up the activism group known as ‘Mocha Women on Track’ wish to categorically condemn the disrespect meted out to the (Minister) during her recent visits to the community of Belladrum.”

The women of this group have made it clear that they are not politically affiliated, but having worked with Minister Parag on developing their community, it is hoped that other communities can receive this benefit as well.

Parag’s colleagues in Parliament, Public Works Minister Juan Edghill and Minister within the Prime Minister’s Office, Kwame McCoy, also condemned the altercation. While this publication was unable to make contact with Jordan, he did release a video in which he disputed the reports and claimed that the Minister’s visit was for political purposes.

“We have never refused, and I have never refused, any development from the Government for the people of El Dorado village… We welcome any development, because the people of Guyana are hardworking taxpayers. So, when you come to our community to say you will build a road or put a library in place, we cannot stop you from doing that. It is your duty,” Jordan subsequently said after widespread condemnation of his actions.