June 3, 2014 · By Staff Writer
Last week Monday, Guyana observed 48 years of political independence from Britain. But unlike the first few years or so when Guyanese participated with gusto at flag-raising ceremonies, street parades featuring the police band and schoolchildren, and the singing of national songs at open spaces and in schools, the occasion these days has taken on a toned down ceremonial ritual without a true sense of meaning and purpose. Many Guyanese who lived through the late ’60s might even tell you, those days were better than these days in every sense of the word.
And although Mashramani Day was introduced in 1970, literally displacing Independence Day as a day of national celebration, with spectacular costume competitions, float parades, masquerade bands, and dancing in the streets to the accompaniment of steel band music and calypsos, Independence Day should really have been the more celebrated of the two.
While political independence speaks of the coming of age of a nation, as when a young person comes of age and moves away from his or her parent, indicating a sense of readiness for individual responsibility and purpose, Mashramani, an Amerindian word, speaks of a celebration of a special event, which was really the attainment of Republican status, as Mash Day literally replaced Independence Day as The Day!
But here we are, 48 years after independence and 44 years after becoming a Co-operative Republic and the question is: Given our present state of affairs, what exactly are we celebrating or even observing? A secondary question is: Are we better off under local leadership versus foreign leadership?
Guyana was supposed to get better for Guyanese under Guyanese leadership. That much was promised us by Cheddi Jagan back in the 1950s and Forbes Burnham in the 1960s. It did not happen and is not even happening as I write, despite the PPP regime’s constant boast of economic growth, national development and national exports.
If there is one thing Guyana is exporting, in a backhanded sense, which other nations really want are skilled, professional and hardworking Guyanese who become useful to the host countries. I really don’t know what the general consensus is of how other nations are faring after attaining political independence over the decades, but while Guyana and Barbados attained political independence the same year, Barbados is economic light years ahead of Guyana and even a home to thousands of Guyanese. Do I need to reference economically buoyant neighbouring Suriname, also home to thousands of Guyanese?
I am not even going to attempt to produce migration figures to Caribbean nations or Canada, England and wherever our people are scattered, but the point must be made that Independence Day, which is supposed to always stand out as the most important national holiday for all Guyanese, regardless of race or religion, has been reduced to a disappointing ritual as over half of Guyana now lives abroad, including countries which are governed by people our leaders once decried as too horrible to govern us.
And the crux of this migration matter is people’s sense of political and economic worth. While the PPP and PNC have screwed us politically, in 1970, forty-seven US cents was exchanged for one Guyana dollar in Georgetown. Today, it is US$1=G$205. When people cannot earn enough to make life livable they will borrow, steal or run, and so political independence has produced a nation of migrants.
Guyana’s population reportedly almost doubled from 375,000 in 1946 to 700,000 in 1970, and 758,000 in 1980, yet the population now stands at around 800,000, if we include foreigners becoming naturalized citizens and hustling a living in Guyana. So did we stagnate in the area of population growth between 1970 and now?
No! Almost half of Guyana now calls some foreign country home, despite Guyana being geographically big enough to accommodate up to 60 million people and despite having the agricultural potential to feed itself and the entire Caribbean.
It depends on who is your source, but anywhere between 350,000 and 450,000 Guyanese call America home, with New York City claiming 140,000 alone. That excludes the suburbs and other cities/states and so-called ‘illegals.’
It is one thing to blame the PNC for starting the massive flight of professional and skilled personnel or the deterioration of socioeconomic conditions, but after almost 22 years in power, what else does the PPP need to start turning around the fortunes of the country to stop the exodus? Where are the incentives created by this government to give people a reason to want to stay (or return) and build as opposed to survive until the door opens to exit the country? What good is it to try and educate children just so they can go and develop another country because they cannot find decent paying jobs in Guyana after leaving school, or be forced to take jobs that come with political attachments? Boasting about GDP growth that fails to positively impact ordinary people is useless.
Bunrham and Hoyte studied Law in London. Jagan studied Dentistry in Chicago. His wife was an RN (from Chicago). Jagdeo studied Economics in Moscow. Ramotar spent 10 years in Czechoslovakia. And we wonder why so many Guyanese are racing overseas to better themselves when all these leaders gained some sort of overseas training and experience?
Those of us who lived through the era of the attainment of Independence now have a right to ask: Independence from whom and for whom? We went from chasing the white man from doing business in Guyana to inviting the Chinese man to do business in Guyana, and Guyanese are not even lining up at the Chinese Embassy for visas to China! Looks like reverse dependence to me.
June 3, 2014 · By Staff Writer
The nonsense of our political independence has reached worrying heights. Our children –Amerindians, African, Indians, Portuguese, Chinese, and a melody of mixes – are naturally apt and quick to learn. But the manner in which they acquire their education is not up to par with trends in the developing world. They are exposed to low educational standards and their teachers are not the best, though there are some notable exceptions. They are taught more about Shakespeare than Shaka, more about Galileo than Gandhi. They are quick to emulate and embrace foreign elements but ignore their own because their leaders have done so. Everywhere you go in Guyana you will see that the once dread colonialists are back in different shades and forms buying, selling and occupying properties left and right. They have come to occupy as well as wine and dine in the finest edifices Guyana has to offer. They have the tendency to invite a few locals into their circle explaining to them in discreet terms that this is the rightful place to be. But ask them to close the door behind them because they have earned a seat at their table. Our leaders and the desperate still run to these individuals to solve Guyana’s problems. What is the meaning of independence?
Then there is Georgetown which for some bizarre reason missed being renamed. There are GuySuCo, Guyoil, Guybridge, but not Guytown. However, this city has claimed a name of its own: Garbage Town. Nonetheless, every major institution in Guyana is located in the capital city reflecting a sort of internal colonialism. The rest of the country, including Berbice, has been in a state of perpetual monotony. People there go to bed early and wake up early. If the colonialists were to return, they would certainly recognize Berbice. More than fifty per cent of the people use latrines and open sewage as well as piles and piles of garbage, like Guytown, is a common sight. Yet, the current administration is in power principally because of the votes it receives from this region.
Then there are the media through which many Guyanese have come to express themselves. The print media are described as free as the air. But there are limitations. Open criticism of the government and exposure of peccadilloes are not tolerated. Nowhere in the world does one find an ex-President suing a columnist. Now, we have a Mayor suing a newspaper.
Then there are our politicians who shake hands with the world on daily basis either through direct personal contact, through diplomacy, or through the social media. One would expect that from this experience there should be some impetus for checks and balances and not opportunities to become paternal despots. What we have in Guyana are the politics of the donkeycart instead of democracy; the politics of personality instead of policy; the politics of antagonism instead of achievement. All this means stagnation instead of progress; decadence, dissatisfaction and disintegration instead of determination. We have hit rock bottom in Guyana. What a national shame! What a national nightmare! What a national disgrace! Guyana badly needs a national political bath.
We have just celebrated 48 years of Independence from British colonial rule. While many are celebrating our failed achievements, I was greeted with a long blackout on Independence Day while I was watching television. After 48 years of Independence we are still faced with blackouts daily, dirty water that’s unfit for human consumption, poor drainage and irrigation, corruption, a high crime rate, massive migration, unemployment, and extreme poverty. The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer.
As a nation we must face the facts. We must ask ourselves what have we achieved as a nation when we compare ourselves to our Caribbean neighbours. When I look at Georgetown I see garbage everywhere. As I was walking near the Guyana Post Office building a few days ago, I saw over ten persons sleeping on cardboard boxes around the corners of the building. Lots of foreigners traverse this location daily; these beggars are an eyesore to this capital city and all over Guyana.
I now ask: What is the purpose of the Human Services Ministry? We have just passed a $220B budget; this amount of money could eradicate poverty from this nation, but we have a very serious problem when it comes to administration.
I ask the Minister of Finance this question: Does he have a plan for street beggars in Guyana? Children beg on the streets and many kids sell DVDs on the streets, most of whom are illiterates. Does the government have a place to put these beggars to give them a better future? While our ministers in government live in mansions and their wives and kids receive the best medical treatment abroad and they can spend millions on holidays overseas, our nation suffers in poverty and human degradation.
The PNC and our present administration failed to push this nation forward economically, socially, morally, spiritually, and academically. We need to have a greater vision to push our nation further into this contemporary era; we are behind civilization in modern technology. We have a failed internet system supplied by only one phone company that’s very expensive, while Digicel cannot have that space to provide landline phones and a cheaper internet service. It means if GT&T should fail then our entire phone system will be disrupted; we have the incompetent GPL that’s an eyesore in Guyana. We have to pay enormous electricity bills that can obliterate our salaries; yet we keep GPL that’s exploiting our poor citizens daily.
In a nation with less than a million residents we could use solar power in every home and get rid of GPL but we need guts and greater vision for a change in Guyana.
Unemployment has become another problem in this country where we have many UG graduates yearly and young people passing CXC yet they are unemployed so they create their own jobs by selling in the streets and markets, while some even go on to do illegal business. We see more sellers than buyers in Guyana on a daily basis, why? Because in this country jobs are very difficult to acquire if you don’t have ‘lines’ or are politically connected to the bureaucrats. Our young people are hopeless, so they migrate and work all over the Caribbean and North America. Many thousands of Guyanese are living and working in New York.
I was talking to a young man at the market who sells eggs, chicken, dried fish and a few more items. He told me he earns about $200,000 monthly by just selling at the market; he can hardly read a great deal but he has business experience. Then I talked to many educated university graduates and folks who passed CXC subjects and all are market vendors earning over $200,000 per month. An average government worker takes home about $55,000 monthly and a trained teacher about $90,000, so the average street vendor earns twice or thrice these qualified people. Yet in the recent budget we see no increase in public servants’ salaries than the 5% they earned last year. It seems as if our administrators are mathematically naïve and do not comprehend our economic circumstances, thus pushing our citizens to migrate daily all over the globe in search of jobs and a better standard of living. What have we achieved as a nation after 48 years of poor management?
Crime and domestic violence are on the increase, and there are robberies and killings every day. Our police force is ill equipped to deal with hard core criminals while our army just eats, sleeps and plays dominoes. I ask before and will ask again: What is the purpose of the Guyana Defence Force? They should patrol the entire nation to curb crime to help the police. It’s about time our (acting) Police Commissioner and the Minister of Home Affairs use greater measures to deal with crime and criminals or criminals will one day take over this nation.
I have travelled this entire nation and our drainage system is really deplorable. The trenches are filled with bushes and garbage. The NDC’s don’t dig the trenches thus 30 minutes of rain will flood a whole community. All over we see roads with huge potholes and nothing has been done; if our leaders cannot fix basic potholes and get trenches cleaned then it’s not possible for them to govern this nation. VS Naipaul wrote a book called: An Area of Darkness’ and he says, “Nothing has been produced in the Caribbean.’’ He is absolutely correct; we still import matches from Trinidad so it tells me we cannot produce a box of matches or even a ruler. We need to be honest with ourselves and don’t be politically brainwashed and ignore the facts I have stated here; after 48 years of independence we are a failed state.
What we have produced is rum that has destroyed the moral fabric of our society. We must accept a profound philosophy that the half-educated have risen to power fighting daily in parliament. Dante said:
You were not born to live the lives of brutes
But beauty to pursue and knowledge high
We need divine wisdom and a greater vision to govern this nation.
Rev Gideon Cecil
May 25, 2014
Independence. Liberty. Freedom. For whom and to do what? What good can be said about the increasingly sorrier years of so-called liberty?
Let’s start with political leaders. They have arrogated to themselves the freedom to do whatever pleases them, and then keep questioning citizens in the darkest of darkness. To be brutally truthful, their conduct has been characterized by the freedom to cheat, and then to lie continuously about the litany of cheating.
They tell with the zeal of true believers, now hopelessly trapped by their own delusions and deception, of the roads built and structures erected. But they have left out a substantial part of the story. It is that their friends and families who have the freedom to erect collapsible roadways and floating stellings; they also have the liberty to do shoddy work and get paid; and the freedom (protected right) to participate in cost overruns and get paid more. For all these outstanding efforts, these same friends and families – part of the party patriotic profiteers – they get more taxpayer contracts and the opportunity for further enrichment. Yes, independence has been wonderful for this crowd.
This same crowd crows loudly about freedom of speech and press. Yet when it spends billions of taxpayer dollars, it has taken the liberty to deliver not a single piece of persuasive reporting. Thus, the nation is left – saddled – with this invading horde of mysterious investors, mysterious currency, and businesses shrouded in thick secrecy. Oh, freedom has worked prosperously for some… Additionally, they insist on the sacred freedom to resist reform, be it the GPF, the media, local government polls, among others.
Now what about ordinary citizens? One SN columnist wrote that they have taken their skills and fled in droves. Since this has happened, there is now the freedom (with limited exceptions) for a massive morass of mediocrity to reign supreme locally. And they do. Truly, I say: the lunatics have taken over the asylum. They are in the majority, and they possess that special talent called ‘native cunning.’ It is how they survive.
Further I see people agreeing with me about ineffectual civil society and compromised middle class. I say that genuine change cannot – will not – occur when those talking about change reach with one hand for a government contract, and the other for a cocktail invitation. The question to be asked repeatedly is: were we better in 1986 against 1966? And again, what about in 2006 versus 1986? Did much occur in either the quantitative or qualitative spheres at many levels that lifted most up and not just a few?
Then there are the children. Currently, double-digit thousands of them are locked in CXC examinations. How many thousands of them have freedom from gnawing fear? Freedom from being relegated to the far outside and the gloom of being unemployed cyphers. Multiply most of those double-digit thousands by 5 or 10 years and there is arguably close to between 50,000 to 100,000 young ones on the unemployment line. To them, freedom has imbued their lives with all the desolation and devastation of a terrible blight. Now for a moment of nostalgia.
It is said that the past always looks rosier. I remember how parliamentarians, headmasters and headmistresses, high court judges and commissioners were the personification of uprightness and standards. Can the same be truly said today, 48 years later? Speaking for myself, there is very little regard (if any) for most of these groups nowadays. This absence of regard goes for top people and the top, too. It comes down to this for me: independence of mind, and independence of conscience to point out lack of trust and to highlight scarcity of credibility.
In this time, leaders will seize upon the freedom to trumpet empty platitudes about togetherness, even as they adhere to parochial and ethnic politics. They do so at the expense of the pragmatic, mending and healing, or daring to examine the imponderables of strategic sophistication. In other words, try a different way, lift up, and then move.
In the long interlude of 48 forlorn years, Guyanese willingly exchange ‘free’ status for that of fugitives elsewhere. We run away from this poisoned, long meaningless freedom.
May 26, 2014 · By Staff Writer
Guyana has achieved forty-eight years of Independence. We are quickly creeping up to half a century. Take any textbook on the history of any country in the world and you will see what is achieved in fifty years. At the rate Guyana is going, there is absolutely no reason to believe that when we reach fifty, there will be any improvement in the life of this country
Let us say within two years, there is a new government; the population’s disenchantment will be horrible because the retrogression is so enormous that the take-off period will need decades. Just one example will suffice. If on the 50th year of Independence, there is a new government, there is no way within fifteen years, if it stays in government, that a new administration can even attempt to put UG half way through what a normal university should be. The funds to resuscitate UG will be so demanding that competition from other sectors will cause UG to do without many types of resources. And that is within fifteen years.
On this anniversary of Independence what worries me the most, much more than our primitive conditions, is the acceptance and praise for a horribly poor and backward country by major sections of our society. I can understand the fear people have of criticizing their government. I can understand praise for a terrible government by its citizens if the country is enjoying great moments of wealth as Russia under Putin, Venezuela in the first five years of Chávez, etc, but in Guyana there is no wealth going around (except the extravagance and ostentation of a very tiny elite), and poverty and primitiveness are ubiquitous.
Why would any citizen continue to see Guyana as a positive place and devote eulogies to it? Even if there are pockets of wealthy people, they themselves must be revolted to see what Georgetown is. Make no mistake: the appearance of Georgetown is something you only see in a science fiction movie.
Is there a citizen living in this country on the 48th year of Independence to make a case for national achievement and national development since 1966 when you look at Georgetown? The capital city is an indicator that after 48 years of sovereignty, this country has failed. No capital city anywhere in the world looks like this. I saw a photograph of an alleyway clogged up in Bosnia during the floods last week and what those people were clearing was equivalent to a baby stroller compared to Guyana. If you show those Bosnians what we have in our alleyways they wouldn’t believe this is a country on the map.
It takes a nakedly, depraved and repellant mind to look at the national cemetery of Guyana after 48 years of Independence and say that this country has achieved progress since 1966. Again I say if you are an extraordinarily wealthy Guyanese living here, at some point it must lacerate your psyche to see how terribly primitive we are as a nation after 48 years of Independence. You may earn great wealth from your investments but could you be happy with the country you see around you? I would like any of the super-rich Guyanese to tell me if they respect Guyana for what it is after 48 years of the ending of colonial rule.
We hardly manufacture anything for export. Before 1966, we exported rice, sugar, gold, fish, bauxite and a few agricultural products like peppers and fruits. We do exactly the same thing almost fifty years after Independence. Many of the laws British Guiana had at the beginning of the 20th century are still the laws of Guyana even though the world has scrapped similar legislation and has moved on.
Forty-eight years after Independence, we cannot get traffic signals to work. I return to the wealthy folks of Guyana. Rich people drive vehicles in this country. What happens when a rich man or woman is slowing up at a junction where the signals don’t work, and a foolish driver hits them. Surely, traffic signals would have helped. Do you know the large numbers of accidents that occur at junctions where the signals do not work? My point here is that even if Guyana’s poverty doesn’t bother you because you are wealthy, you can still lose your life because of the staggering and incredible backwardness of this land. Forty-eight years after Independence, almost ninety per cent of the streets of this entire country have no stop signs, or if they do they are faded at the junctions where two streets meet. Guyana must be the only country in the world where the major one-ways have no signs. Church Street, Charlotte Street, Wellington Street, North Road – just to name a few – have no signs to inform strangers to Georgetown that these roadways are one-way. I saw a Mercedes Benz packed with Chinese people driving at a fast rate going the wrong way into Wellington Street.
They turned north into Wellington while travelling east on Robb Street. They just didn’t know it was a one-way and there was no sign to inform them.