This Week-in-Review March 24th to March 30th

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Accountability UN committee wants more steps against corruption: Concerned that the institutional framework to combat corruption is not yet sufficiently strong and effective, the UN Human Rights Committee (CCPR) yesterday called on Guyana to take a raft of measures including protection of whistleblowers. Guyana came under intense questioning on March 18-20 on its periodic report by the Geneva, Switzerland-based committee on the Convention on Civil and Political Rights (CCPR). In its concluding observations yesterday, the Committee said that it took note of the adoption of several laws and regulations by the State party to combat corruption, along with measures such as the creation of a Special Organiz-ed Crime Unit for investigating financial crimes. However, the Committee said it remains concerned that the institutional framework to combat corruption is “not yet sufficiently strong and effective in practice to adequately prevent or prosecute corruption, including in the police force and of high-level public officials”. For example, the Committee said it is concerned about reports that: (a) the Com-missioner of Information does not address all requests from the public; and (b) the Protected Disclosures and Witness Protection Act has not yet entered into force. The Guyana Government yesterday said that it submitted corrections and comments to the Committee’s concluding observations but that these were not included in the document issued. It disseminated what it said it had forwarded to the committee for inclusion in the concluding observations. The Committee said that the State party should expand its efforts to adopt and implement, efficient, and prompt measures to promote good governance and battle corruption and impunity at all levels of government. In this respect, the Committee urges the State party to: Adopt concrete measures to address the root causes of corruption as a matter of priority; Ensure that all corruption cases, including cases of those involved in high- level corruption and corruption in police force, are independently and impartially investigated and prosecuted, and that perpetrators, if convicted, are sanctioned with penalties commensurate with the seriousness of the offence, and that victims receive full reparation; Take the measures necessary to ensure, in practice, the independence, effectiveness, transparency, and accountability of all anti-corruption bodies, including the Auditor’s General Office, the Com-missioner of Information, the Integrity Commission, and the Public Procure-ment Commission; Oil & Gas Goolsarran criticises report on audit of US$7.3b oil expenses: Former Auditor General Anand Goolsarran has expressed strong reservations over how the crucial audit of US$7.3b in expenses claimed by ExxonMobil and its partners has been conducted. In the first part of a review of the audit report by Ramdihal & Haynes Inc., Eclisar Financial, and Vitality Accounting & Consultancy Inc in yesterday’s Stabroek News, Goolsarran raised doubts about the methodologies employed by the firm. The auditing of the expenses is vital as any claims that could be disallowed as inappropriate would result in more profit for Guyana. The audit contract was entered into on 25 May 2022 and was to last for four months, with a start date of 29 June 2022. The assignment covered the period 2018 to 2020, and the total recoverable costs claimed by ExxonMobil and partner was estimated at US$7.3 billion. Goolsarran said that he had stated elsewhere that, considering the amount of audit work involved in the verification of the recoverable costs, the period allocated for the audit was inadequate. A preliminary report was released on 5 September 2022, and after several rounds of discussions, the report was finally issued on 11 September 2023. “Despite our decades of experience writing audit and other reports as well as reviewing drafts reports, we find it extremely difficult going through this report to identify the findings and recommendations contained therein. Specifically, the report lacked basic structure. There is no table of contents to guide readers through the report; no executive summary; no list of abbreviations; no definition of the technical terms used; and no sections dealing with the terms of reference for the assignment, the scope and methodology used, the auditing standards that were followed in the conduct of the audit, and findings, conclusions, and recommendations, among others. In the circumstances, one had to through the meticulous and tedious task of sifting through the entire report to ascertain what were the findings and recommendations”, he lamented. Adverting to the overall conclusion of the auditors, he said that the report identified amounts totalling US$7.435 billion as “Gross Recoverable Costs” for the period 2018 to 2020. However, there were two items: “Gross Exemptions” – US$64.790 billion, and “Gross Exemptions Granted” – US$10.319 billion, the nature of which as well as their impact on the recoverable costs have not been explained, he said. Opposition calls out ‘glaring mismanagement’ of oil and gas sector: The APNU+AFC is adamant that billions of dollars could be lost due to the government’s deficient management of the oil and gas sector. The Opposition, in a statement yesterday, asserted that Vice President Bharrat Jagdeo’s deficiencies “as the government’s oil czar” continues to be exposed and pose growing risks to the country’s financial, economic, and environmental well-being. The Opposition said Jagdeo became hot-headed over the party’s statement at its press conference last Thursday, that Guyanese were being kept in the dark on oil reserves which is disrespectful and unacceptable, and the government should release the projected cash flow from the five projects sanctioned to date in the Stabroek Block to arm citizens with the knowledge of the extent and rate at which ExxonMobil is expected to recoup its investments. “In his ploy to brush aside these demands, Jagdeo uttered some of his most outrageous comments yet on the oil industry, which again attest why he is dangerously unfit to be anywhere near the industry,” the statement read. Jagdeo, at his party’s press conference at Freedom House in Robb Street on Thursday, revealed that the Government of Guyana has been updated on the Stabroek Block reserves. However, he said that this information was not important if ExxonMobil did not move to production. He vehemently rebuked the Opposition’s utterances and deemed it disrespectful that the party would accuse the government of keeping the nation in the dark about its oil reserves. On March 15th, 2024 Stabroek News reported that ExxonMobil had announced a discovery at Bluefin in the Stabroek block offshore Guyana, the company’s first for 2024. A release from the company said that the Bluefin well encountered approximately 197 feet (60 metres) of hydrocarbon-bearing sandstone and was drilled by the Stena Drillmax drillship in 4,244 feet (1,294 metres) of water. The Bluefin well is located approximately 8.5 kilometres southeast of the Sailfin-1, in the southeastern portion of the Stabroek block. “Our exploration programme continues to improve our understanding of the block’s potential to drive viable oil and gas development. This latest find reinforces that we have the people, skills and technology to safely and responsibly deliver value to Guyana from the country’s resources,” the release quoted President of ExxonMobil Guyana Alistair Routledge as saying. ExxonMobil assures gas pipeline safety, integrity a priority: As it underscored the global tiers of safety mechanisms taken in the pipeline installation and delivery of gas for this country’s Gas to Energy (GTE) project, ExxonMobil says that the laying will be completed by the end of this year and the pipes will be filled with nitrogen until government’s completion of the integrated plant. “We will not start-up bringing gas onshore until the plant is ready. The plant has a safety system that allows you to start up properly. We have to wait until the plant is ready. In the meantime, we will do what is called inerting the pipe, which is preserving the pipeline. You preserve a pipe by putting a gas that is inert that doesn’t combine with anything, doesn’t corrode with anything, etcetera,” GTE Project Manager Friedrich Krispin told Stabroek News during an interview recently. “So nitrogen will be inside the pipe. We fill it up with nitrogen and then we wait and whenever the plant is ready, we will release all of the nitrogen, which doesn’t cost anything to the atmosphere, then we start bringing in gas,” he added. The GTE project is divided into three components – Pipeline, Power/ NGL (Natural Gas Liquids) Plant, and Transmission Line/Substations. The Pipeline component includes a 250-kilometre 12-inch pipeline from two Floating Production, Storage and Offloading platforms (FPSOs) to deliver some 50 MCF/D (1 MCF = 1,000 cubic feet/D= per day) of gas to shore, although the pipeline has the capacity for 120-plus MCF/D. The Power/NGL Plant component is the 300 MW Combined Cycle and NGL Facility while Component 3 will have Transmission Line/Substations of 85 km of 230 & 69 KV Transmis-sion Lines, three new substations, and upgrades to two other sub-stations. The pipeline aspect for which ExxonMobil is responsible in the three-pronged project could be completed as early as October of this year but the company’s project schedule has it being done by the end of this year. The GTE Project Manager gave a technical breakdown of what it entails to lay the 12-inch pipeline from offshore in the Stabroek Block to onshore at Wales in Region Three, the location of the project site. With carbon steel pipelines procured from neighbouring Brazil, ExxonMobil’s lead project engineer explained that they must ensure the specifications are rigidly adhered to because the project cannot afford any errors. The pipe supply company is Vallourec SA, a multinational manufacturing company headquartered in Meudon, France which specialises in hot rolled seamless steel tubes, expandable tubular technology, automotive parts, and stainless steel, which it provides to energy, construction, automotive, and mechanical industries. GYSBI hauled one million cubic metres of sand for gas to energy project: The Guyana Shore Base Inc (GYSBI) on recently announced that it had hauled 1 million cm3 of sand to the Wales, West Bank Demerara site of the planned gas to energy project. In a release GYSBI also announced that it had achieved a milestone of 250 days free of Lost Time Injuries (LTIs). GYSBI said it was contracted by LINDSAYCA CH4 (a company hired by the Government of Guyana for the construction of an integrated Natural Gas Liquids (NGL) extraction plant and the establishment of a 300 MW power generation facility) to execute Earth, Soil Remediation, and Surcharge works at the site. Physical works commenced on August 31, 2023, with the last stage of the contract expected to be completed by the end of this month. Prior to this engagement with LINDSAYCA CH4, GYSBI says it was contracted by ExxonMobil Guyana to execute the Early Works and Heavy Haul Road at the site. This included the construction of five bridges, an access road, a heavy haul road, and the initial site preparation for the Integrated Plant Site. At a ceremony held to mark the company’s achievement, GYSBI Exe-cutive Director, Robin Muneshwer, described the work the company has been doing at the site as nothing short of remarkable. “…To achieve this record in safety in this harsh territory is quite a feat. Importantly, this 250 days LTIs free is only for the LINDSAYCA Project. This does not include those works that we did for ExxonMobil earlier on,” he related. On the logistics side, Muneshwer indicated that due to the distance and location of the project, moving materials such as sand, proved to be a challenge. However, the company was able to work around these challenges and has now transported and placed over 1 million cm3 of sand at the site. Muneshwer also stress-ed the importance of the project. “The significance of this project cannot be overstated in national terms because power has been one of the issues that has been plaguing Guyana for many decades. It has plagued businesses; we do not have cheap sources of power for manufacturing, etc. So, this project is the absolute game changer for Guyana. When we start generating power, transmitting, and distributing it, that is when this country is really going to move ahead in a significant way. Every-one should feel proud to be involved in such a project. This is what you will be passing on to your kids and grandkids and you can tell them that you played a part in this project,” he related. Bilateral Schengen visa applications will be handled here when France opens embassy: With France’s planned establishment of an embassy here next year, Guyanese will no longer have to travel to Suriname to have their Schengen visas processed as Paris says it will handle it. “I know how complicated it is now [but] it won’t be necessary any more to go to Suriname,” Jean-Jacques Forté – Chargé d’Affaires for France here told Stabroek News last week in response to questions on the issue. He explained that “the process for the visas is independent” from the opening of the embassy here but the embassy will also begin processing visa applications in 2025. As it stands, Guyanese must travel to Suriname to apply for a Schengen visa which allows travel through large parts of Europe. The application and processing take a minimum of three days. On August 17, 2022, President Irfaan Ali had urged the European Union to put arrangements in place for Guyanese to be able to access Schengen visas here for travel to Europe, rather than having to go to Paramaribo. He had then given a three-month timeframe in which he said he would like to see some resolution. Then speaking at the launch of the EU/Guyana Chamber of Commerce, and one of the final engagements of former EU Ambassador Dr Fernando Ponz Cantó, the President had pointed to the urgency for the ease of travel between Guyana and Schengen visa countries. Last year, Ali had said that at least five EU countries have agreed to patronise Guyana’s bid for Schengen visa-free travel. He however noted that Guyana’s passport must be improved and upgraded with biometrics before this can happen. It is unclear if this system must also be in place for the French to begin their processes. Stabroek News had reported last year that during bilateral discussions with Deputy Prime Minister of Slovenia, Tanja Fajon, Ali had raised the difficulties Guyanese face in having to travel to Suriname for Schengen visa interviews and discussed this country’s nomination letter for visa-free Schengen status and the possibility of an interim in-country processing of Schengen visa applications. They had met on the sidelines of the European Union-Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (EU-CELAC) in Brussels, Belgium. Before leaving for Brussels, Ali had told the Stabroek News that Schengen visa-free status, and in the short-term, the possibility of processing being done here for the visa was something he would “definitely” raise at the meeting. Minister of Foreign Affairs Hugh Todd had told this newspaper that Ali’s discussion on the visa issue was part of the government’s foreign policy advancement and by extension Guyana’s holistic development agenda, as having European business partners here for the private sector was of key importance. Agriculture Region Six reporting millions in losses due to paddy bug infestation: Rice farmers on the Corentyne are reeling from the paddy bug infestation which has caused an average of 20% losses throughout the region leaving many farmers unsure of how they will return to the fields next crop. According to the farmers, the Ministry of Agriculture through its extension services is carrying out daily monitoring of the situation. Heading the monitoring team in the region, farmer, Lekha Rambrich explained that while currently there is a decline in the paddy bug, damage has already been estimated to be an average of 20% across the region. Rice farmers at a meeting earlier this month on the paddy bug infestation. Several farmers within the Corentyne area are reporting over 70% of losses individually leaving the region with several million in losses. According to Rambrich, usually, the paddy bugs would migrate to the front of the cultivation but instead, now they are migrating backward. He explained that the monitoring in Black Bush Polder and Nos 52/74 Backlands has resulted in them noticing the paddy bugs migrating backward to the savannah which he said is a new pattern. Additionally, he said, that it is a situation where there is a swift migration of paddy bugs. “You notice the bugs now and by tomorrow you see no bugs you think to go spray and they swoop down and do the damage and gone.” Furthermore, he said, they have noticed that the paddy bugs are laying eggs (nymphs) in large quantities. “The pattern is different and very difficult to control.” He added, “It’s a severe impact on the farmers, it is difficult, farmers don’t know how they will go back into the field, they will definitely need help.” Rambrich on Friday had to carry out aerial spraying on his plot in the hope of rescuing his crop and he stressed that the process is an expensive one. “It is a high cost, I had to cover the cost of the aircraft to come to Bath from where it was then to come spray but it’s a good service.” While farmers can benefit from the aerial spraying, Rambrich told the Sunday Stabroek that he is unsure how many can afford to do the same currently. “It sprayed my plot which is 230 acres and this morning I see a significant reduction in the paddy bug, almost all gone.” Health Ministry says chicken pox outbreak at Lusignan prison `appears to be under control’: The Ministry of Health (MoH) last night said that a chicken pox outbreak at the Lusignan Prison “appears to be under control”. It rejected an assertion by the opposition APNU+AFC that the MoH and the medical team that work with Prisons Health have not taken adequate actions to combat the chickenpox outbreak in the Prison. The MoH assured the prisoners, staff members and their family members that all precautions are being taken to ensure no further spread of chickenpox occurs at the Lusignan prison. The chickenpox outbreak that has affected 53 prisoners was likely started by a prisoner, staff member or a visitor, the ministry said. The medical and surveillance teams are presently conducting contact-tracing to identify the source of the infection, it added. From the earliest complaints by prisoners about unusual itching, it said that screening was conducted by the medical team assigned to the Lusignan Prisons. Once the first cases were diagnosed with chickenpox, care was taken to separate the affected prisoners from the prisoners with no symptoms. Those who were diagnosed with chickenpox were treated with medicines (Acylovir and Calamine Lotion) and prisoners and staff were vaccinated by the Varicella-Zoster Virus vaccine. Various measures of sanitization, sterilization and other preventive measures were also undertaken. “The medical team will continue to monitor the situation and ensure that the outbreak is halted. At the moment the outbreak appears to be under control. Measures have been taken also to evaluate staff who might have been exposed. Staff members were also offered vaccination”, the ministry said. As confirmed in a statement by the Prison Service, it said that 25 active cases of chickenpox and 28 recovering cases are being treated at the Lusignan Prison. Given the outbreak at the Lusignan Prison, the MoH medical teams are conducting surveillance and screening in other prisons. Advisories have also been sent to officers-in-charge of other prisons to be alert to possible outbreaks. Outbreaks of chickenpox in prisons settings are not rare, the ministry said. It added that the Varicella-Zoster virus is one of the most contagious infections among unvaccinated and non-immune populations. Most adults are immunized through childhood exposure to Varicella-Zoster but for those adults who have not been immunized either through vaccination or through previous infections or exposure, outbreaks in a detention or prison setting is commonplace. The ministry said it unfortunate that a major political party “can be reckless in creating panic by giving the impression that the outbreak of chickenpox is out of control at the Lusignan Prisons”. Gov’t appoints agency to recruit 500 healthcare workers from Bangladesh: The Ministry of Foreign Affairs last week confirmed that the Guyana Government has authorized a recruiting agency to hire 500 Bangladeshi healthcare workers for both the private and public sectors. A statement was issued after Stabroek News had contacted both President Irfaan Ali and Minister of Foreign Affairs Hugh Todd on the matter. The ministry noted that a letter addressed to Sigma Engineers Ltd. Inc dated 5 February 2024 was in circulation regarding the recruitment of Bangladesh healthcare workers. “The Ministry in response to a request from Sigma Engineers Ltd., issued the letter to confirm that the agency was authorized to recruit healthcare workers, with the view to addressing concerns raised both by the public and private sectors on the severe skills shortage in the health sector. The Private Sector Commission has on numerous occasions requested the Government’s assistance in addressing the need to fill the skills shortages not only in the health sector but also in the critical sectors of construction, engineering, and services given the expansion and growth of Guyana’s economy. “In this regard, the recruitment agency was appointed to liaise with relevant authorities from various countries to recruit healthcare workers including, but not limited to Bangladesh. It is within this context that the authorization letter was issued by the Ministry to prevent issues such as human trafficking or any abuse of this process”, the ministry said. The ministry said however that no recruitment had actually occurred from Bangladesh as yet and shortages are presently being filled from Cuba. “The Ministry wishes to confirm that to date, no one has been recruited through Sigma Engineers Ltd. Inc as shortages are currently being filled by personnel from Cuba. The Government of Guyana remains open to the recruitment of specialized skills which do not currently exist in Guyana from any part of the globe, for both the public and private sectors”, the statement said. Accountability Guyana submits more information to UN Human Rights Committee: Following intense questioning and rebukes over three days, the Guyana Government has submitted additional information to the United Nations Human Rights Committee (CCPR) and has objected to some of the allegations that were put to it. In a statement yesterday, the government said that on Friday, 22 March 2024, it submitted written responses to the United Nations Human Rights Committee, as part of the ongoing review of Guyana’s Third Periodic Report by the United Nations Human Rights Committee which took place from 18th to 20th March 2024. As this periodic process continues, the statement said that the submission intends to provide updates and additional information in response to the questions raised by the Human Rights Committee in relation to the implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). In this further submission, the statement said that Guyana placed on record, the facts surrounding several issues that were raised in “an inaccurate and misinformed manner” during the review, particularly in relation to the corruption allegations against the Judiciary, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the sitting Vice President of Guyana, Bharrat Jagdeo. “The Government objects to these allegations and has urged the Human Rights Committee to carry out due diligence to verify the information it receives before making unfounded allegations”, the statement said. The government statement said that by virtue Article 154A of the constitution of Guyana, the ICCPR is afforded constitutional supremacy. “To that end, all the constitutional commissions which also function as safeguards in Guyana’s human rights architecture are all in place, are functional and receive their annual subventions from the Government. Every citizen in Guyana, without discrimination, has access to a fair and independent justice system on all matters. The Government therefore encourages formal complaints on corruption allegations be made to the relevant domestic commissions and redress mechanisms available for an appropriate investigation to be carried out”, the statement said. French Human Rights Committee member blasts Teixeira’s response to questions on violations: French Committee Member of the UN Human Rights Committee Hélène Tigroudja last week accused Minister of Parliamentary Affairs and Governance Gail Teixeira of focusing more on blaming the previous government and discrediting allegations rather than answering questions posed to her. During day two of the 140th Session of the Human Rights Committee, a back-and-forth discussion took place between the two regarding allegations of torture and other cruel treatment in Guyana. “We have several areas of concern. All of the following has been reported to us as occurring in the state party. There are allegations of false confessions extracted by the police, excessive use of force,… rapes committed against persons held in custody, [and] excessive use of force against children, and minors, when they’re arrested, they’re not separated from adults when they’re arrested. [Also] excessive use of violence, insults, and a brutal approach to LGBTQ+ persons…,” the French delegate said. Tigroudja further noted that, in its report, Guyana’s delegation partially recognised that acts of torture have been committed by the police but claimed that all of these occurred under the previous government. “And they [the state party] seem to stick to simply pointing fingers at the previous government. We would like to know more information about… these allegations or cases of torture involving the police,” she said. In her response Teixeira failed to directly address the questions of excessive use of violence by police towards LGBTQ+ individuals and minors and instead denied the allegations of children being held with adults in detention. According to her, the laws in Guyana require the separation of children from adults in such situations. “There was a point made that children were not separated from adults… this is absolutely untrue, absolutely untrue. Children are not kept in the same location as adults in prison or in the police stations. They are separated all the time from the adults… We have a compendium of laws, which are in compliance with the Rights of the Child Convention, with the Protection of Child’s Act… They are under the custody of the Child Care and Protection Authority. And so, they manage the care and monitor the care of children that are in conflict with the law, as well as those who would’ve been victims of violence,” she stated. Further, Teixeira insisted that the information presented by Tigroudja was unfamiliar to the Guyanese delegation and had not been reported to the police or human rights commissions in the country. Tragedy Three girls drown at Massara: Three girls have drowned in a pond in the North Rupununi Village of Massara. Police arrived at the scene on March 26th and conducted an initial investigation. During this investigation, it was revealed that the three girls: six-year-old Nia Jeffreys, five-year-old Michele Jeffreys, and nine-year-old Alicia Dorrick, left their parents’ home and ventured to the Razor Grass pond in the village to swim. Upon discovering their absence, a release from the police said that their parents initiated a search, eventually leading them to the Razor Grass pond, where the bodies of the three girls were found floating in the water. Villagers responded to the alarm raised and assisted in retrieving the bodies. Toshao Lenny Moses was notified and a report was filed at the Annai Police Station. The bodies of the three children were transported to the Lethem Regional Hospital. Leroy Jeffreys, the grandfather of the girls told Stabroek News that there had been a meeting in Massara at about 5 pm yesterday and many people attended. The meeting sought persons to distribute bags of cassava to villagers on behalf of the government. The parents of the girls were at the meeting. Leroy noted that the pond was a natural one and was shallow but a machine recently dug it deeper. It was about 14 or 15 feet in depth. Death Late Justice Bernard hailed as ‘lady of firsts’: The Guyana Association of Women Lawyers (GAWL) was among those who paid rich tribute to retired justice Desiree Bernard who passed away on March 29th at the age of 85. In a statement, the GAWL said that Justice Bernard was known for breaking the proverbial glass ceilings in several areas of law, particularly those involving women’s rights. “She was known as a lady of firsts and was an amazing daughter of the soil, having been awarded the Cacique Crown of Honour and the Order of Roraima, among many other accolades”, it said. The GAWL said that Justice Bernard became qualified as a solicitor in 1964 and practised civil law in Guyana from 1965 until 1980, when she became the first female Judge of the High Court of the Supreme Court of Judicature. In 1992, she became the first female Justice of Appeal of the Court of Appeal of Guyana, then the first female Chief Justice of Guyana and in the Commonwealth Caribbean in 1996. In 2001, Justice Bernard was appointed as the first female Chancellor of the Judiciary of Guyana and in the Commonwealth Caribbean. She was the last person to hold a confirmed appointment to that position. From 2005, she served as one of the first judges of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) until her retirement. For her stellar service to the legal system and public service, the GAWL said that Justice Bernard was conferred in 2023 with an honorary Doctor of Letters by the University of Guyana. During her distinguished career, the association said that Justice Bernard held membership in many local and international organizations including the Caribbean Women’s Association and Organization of the Commonwealth Caribbean Bar Associations. “She was the first President of the GAWL, a testament to her dedication to empowering women in law. She became an honorary member in 2021 of the GAWL. Her leadership and vision have inspired us all as we continue the work of the Association”, the association said. President Irfaan Ali yesterday expressed condolences at the passing of Justice Bernard. ““It is with profound sadness that I have learnt of the passing of a true icon of the legal profession, Justice (rtd.) Desiree Bernard. Her remarkable career as Chief Justice and Chancellor of the Co-operative Republic of Guyana, alongside her esteemed tenure as a Justice of the Caribbean Court of Justice, left an indelible mark on our legal landscape, one that all Guyanese should take pride in. Justice Bernard was a trailblazer for women in the field of law. Her stellar legal career, personal integrity, and her outstanding legacy, I am confident, will continue to inspire all who seek to serve within our legal system”, he said.

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