December 9, 2013 By
December 8, 2013 By
In a world that has, not without good reason, become more jaded about leaders, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, affectionately known by his clan name of Madiba, stood out for his generosity of spirit.
In the annals of world history, there are few parallels with the peaceful transfer of power he engineered in South Africa, deconstructing the system of apartheid in which the overwhelming majority of the country were officially denied their basic human rights.
In a 1993 speech, while unveiling a statue in honour of Mohandas Mahatma Gandhi at Pietermaritzburg, the architect of the decision to abandon the African National Congress (ANC) policy of non-violent struggle and plunge into guerrilla warfare, said of the Gandhian philosophy of non-violence: “It was a philosophy that achieved the mobilisation of millions of South Africans during the 1952 defiance campaign, which established the ANC as a mass based organisation.”
About Gandhi, he noted: “He negotiated in good faith and without bitterness.” Mandela exhibited the identical qualities as he sat down with his former oppressors to create a stable South Africa.
All comparisons, it has been said, are odious but our present crop of leaders can do worse than apply the philosophy of Mandela to our political context, which are light years less stark than that in South Africa when Mandela was released in 1990 after 27 years’ imprisonment.
While it is true that the Forbes Burnham regime had established a dictatorship during its 28 years of illegal rule in Guyana, and that the latter was based on exploitation of blatant racism, we cannot really say it was as institutionalised as the system of apartheid.
After the ANC under Mandela won the 1994 elections, he pursued a policy of no victimisation and no witch-hunting, much as Dr Cheddi Jagan had done here after our free and fair elections of 1992.
The latter, however, thought that actions such as not making any changes in the armed forces that had supported the dictatorial regime or not continuing to downsize the public service, would have led to national reconciliation. While Mandela also allowed much of the white-dominated institutions to continue unchanged, he made a most important innovation: a Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
Spearheaded by Bishop Desmond Tutu, this institution more than anything helped South Africans move past the bitterness and rancour engendered after the violence and atrocities inflicted from both sides of their divide.
In Guyana, we have never been able to do the same, and rather than moving on, new reminders of old wounds are being established to remind constituencies of the divisive past. The monument to the victims of the Son Chapman tragedy of 1964 was only established in Linden last year by A Partnership for National Unity (APNU), led by David Granger, a historian who has taken an unabashed anti-Mandela line to continue invoking old sores in his writings, speeches and actions.
Another parallel with Mandela and Dr Jagan is that while both of them were committed to a dominant role of the state in economic activities towards protecting the interest of the poor and the powerless, both pragmatically accepted the liberalisation, stabilisation of privatisation premises of the neo-liberal world order they found themselves enmeshed in during the 1990s.
Both countries achieved the economic stability that eluded some of their neighbours, but South Africa’s growth rate, averaging 3.5 per cent annually within the ambit of their 1996 economic framework, known as “Growth, Employment and Redistribution”, has drawn criticism for not achieving the ends implied in the goals – greater upliftment of the Blacks who continued to be excluded from the wealth of the country.
In Guyana, even though we have achieved higher growth rates, averaging five per cent, we also need to raise this to overcome the destruction of the economy wrought by the previous People’s National Congress (PNC) regime. But we hope that all politicians will follow the example of Mandela towards this end and eschew sterile political one-upmanship.
December 6, 2013 By
This publication is indeed humbled and honoured that the NEW GPC INC/Limacol Caribbean Premier League (LCPL) copped this year’s President’s Award for investment in tourism. It is always a good gesture when individuals, companies or organisations are recognised for the efforts they are making into creating a more developed and prosperous society for citizens.
The NEW GPC has proven that as a company, it is not only concerned about making profits but it is committed to the development of Guyana in every respect, including developing and promoting the country’s tourism sector. In July/August of this year, the company was successful in its bid for the Guyana franchise of the CPL and subsequently secured the title sponsorship for the T20 tournament resulting in the event being renamed LCPL.
The LCPL which was based on a franchise system similar to that used by the Indian Premier League (IPL) and other professional sports, helped to create a renewed interest in cricket in the region after years of declining crowd support due to the dismal performances of the West Indies team.
There was also massive commercial support for the tournament which this region has never seen for any sporting event. It was disclosed that even before a ball was bowled, 37 commercial partners were on board, including nine league sponsors, an apparel partner and sponsors for each of the six franchises, as well as four national tourism boards supporting the event.
Several high profile individuals from the worlds of entertainment and business got involved and threw their weight behind the league with Hollywood actors Mark Wahlberg and Gerard Butler taking equity shares in the Barbados Tridents and Jamaica Tallawahs respectively while Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Group backed the Antigua Hawksbills. NEW GPC supported the Guyana Amazon Warriors and has since pledged its long-term commitment to sport development in Guyana and the region as a whole.
Of note too is that, at a time when the region’s tourism sector was taking a severe beating due to the international financial crisis and other matters, the LCPL T20 gave international tourists another reason to visit the Caribbean.
Guyana, in particular, badly needed some positive publicity – after a barrage of constant negative media coverage by sections of the private media, most notably Kaieteur News – and the LCPL games provided exactly that.
In terms of media coverage, the tournament had a global audience for the games through outstanding broadcast coverage on television and radio, in addition to significant presence on social media through Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.
In addition to showcasing the Caribbean’s enduring love for cricket, the LCPL T20 tournament has shown the endless potential for growth and success in the region’s tourism sector. The NEW GPC and other companies who came onboard must be commended for matching their talk with their finances.
We are confident that in time, these investments will bring significant returns, not only to the individual companies, but the region’s economies as a whole.
The LCPL has been a success in every regard, but tourism stakeholders in the region – hoteliers, service providers, taxi operators and airline operators – must take cognisance of the fact that the league is now an annual affair which has the potential to grow significantly over the coming years. For this reason they must ensure that they are ready to take full advantage of the many opportunities that are likely to come as a result of the tournament.
Certainly, Guyana’s tourism industry has no doubt received a major boost as a result of the investments made in the LCPL T20 tournament. This is just the beginning of what is to come, but the onus is on all stakeholders involved to raise the bar on what presently obtains here.
December 5, 2013 By
World Disability Day, which was observed on December 3 under the theme, “Break Barriers, Open Doors: for an inclusive society and development for all”, seeks to promote an understanding of disability issues and mobilise support for the dignity, rights, and well-being of persons with disabilities.
This year’s observances are particularly important as countries prepare to shape the next development agenda that will follow the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) after their 2015 target date.
To mark the day, the United Nations (UN) issued an urgent call for global efforts to ensure that the more than one billion people worldwide who live with some form of disability can reap the benefits of development and fully participate in society. For this to happen, the UN says, it is necessary that we remove all barriers that affect the inclusion and participation of persons with disabilities in society, including through changing attitudes that fuel stigma and institutionalise discrimination.
People with disabilities have generally poorer health, lower educational achievements, fewer economic opportunities and higher rates of poverty than people without disabilities. This is largely due to the lack of services available to them and the many obstacles they face in their everyday lives.
It is no surprise that children with disabilities are almost four times more likely to experience violence than non-disabled children, according to a systematic review published in the medical journal “The Lancet” in July 2012.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) makes mention of another systematic review on violence against adults with disabilities, published earlier this year, which found that, overall, adults are 1.5 times more likely to be a victim of violence than those without a disability, while those persons with mental health conditions are at nearly four times the risk of experiencing violence.
Further, the 2011 World Disability Report estimated the number of children with disabilities at 5.1 per cent of the population. These are the ones more than likely to be at a disadvantage where educational opportunities are concerned.
For example, while we here in Guyana can boast of a good track record in relation to providing quality education for persons, irrespective of geographic location, race, religion, gender, or social status, there is still much work to be done to ensure that persons with disabilities have an equal opportunity to acquire an education.
At the moment, there are very few teachers in the school system equipped with the necessary skills to impart knowledge to persons with disabilities. Of note too is that the majority of our public schools do not have the necessary facilities to cater for such persons.
Notwithstanding that, we are encouraged that the Education Ministry has announced it is in the process of rolling out a plan for improving and expanding quality education to special needs children here. Such a plan is long overdue.
We urge all stakeholders here, including political parties and the international development partners, to continue supporting policies that would realise all children’s right to quality education as one way to reduce inequities created by social exclusion.
Certainly, when persons with disabilities are given a chance of acquiring a good education or taught a skill, they are in a better position to secure a job and in turn break the cycle of poverty that normally defines such situations.
In a more general sense, the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is necessary for countries not only to adopt but to implement fully because it is a tool for ensuring that people with disabilities have access to the same rights and opportunities as everybody else.
As explained by WHO, rather than considering disability as an issue of medicine, charity or dependency, the convention challenges people worldwide to understand disability as a human rights issue.
The convention covers many areas where obstacles can arise, such as physical access to buildings, roads and transportation, and access to information through written and electronic communications. It also aims to reduce stigma and discrimination, which are often reasons why people with disabilities are excluded from education, employment, and health and other services.
December 4, 2013 By
When The Hindu newspapers, described as one of the world’s largest English-speaking newspapers, pledged to no longer refer to tribal communities in India as “primitive”, it was hailed as significant since the term is still widely being insensitively used in that country and global media to describe certain groups of societies.
The word “primitive” is a word in India’s educational, political and social systems that some have considered necessary to be removed in its present context when speaking of tribal people.
It is often in use when discussing tribes that are considered less technologically and materially advanced, or more traditional than the so-called modern societies. It is in fact, a belittling expression that continues to encourage prejudice toward these traditional groups and does a great disservice to the various tribal communities.
According to the movement “proud but not primitive”, which campaigned for the ban, no media should be using the word to describe India’s tribal peoples, as it is derogatory and dangerous. Such a word leads to assumptions of their way of life as inferior and out of touch with today’s world, which in turn leads to the thinking that they must be ‘developed’ and brought in line with today’s world.
The movement’s concept of removing words that promote discriminatory behaviours and thinking is not new. In the U.S., certain words that encourage racial stereotyping have also successfully been removed from media and educational systems, as well as in political and most social circles.
As the movement declared, there is need to change the way others think, talk and write about tribal peoples, to ensure their ways of life and rights are respected. Such an approach should be considered not just in India, but around the world.
In Guyana, the removal of the word “reservation”, recently being used to describe Amerindian villages or areas, is also necessary since it encourages the idea of American Indian reservations, of which the squalor of the majority of these is well-documented and acknowledged.
Indeed, American Indians were forced onto areas created and labelled reservations by the American government, after the tribes were defeated in bloody battles that some have later even called genocide – something that has been glorified in the modern Hollywood culture of the U.S.
That is certainly not the case here in Guyana, historically or presently.
On U.S. Native American reservations, its government provides housing subsidies, free healthcare and welfare cheques (prompting many outsiders to believe in the “myth of prosperity” which then spreads resentment), leading to the development of what some tribal leaders have called a “culture of dependency” among the tribes within these reservations.
Such an idea is an insult to our indigenous Guyanese who, as the recent Amerindian Heritage Month has revealed, are holding their own as independent communities; receiving benefits from the government just like other Guyanese fishing, agricultural or mining communities, to name a few, do.
If we must imitate Americanisms, care should be taken to understand the context and history of such words since, as is obvious, the word “reservation” is a clear injustice to our indigenous societies here.
Like the word primitive suggests backward societies, “reservation” helps to maintain a dangerous idea that our tribal communities are corralled and depressed, and completely dependent on government. The continuing vibrancy of Guyanese tribes attests to the fact that they are neither depressed nor living in the type of poverty inherent in American reservations.
In fact, as the Rupununi Christmas Fair and the upcoming Rupununi Music and Arts Festival suggest – just two of the many cultural activities among indigenous communities – Guyanese tribal communities are thriving in their dynamic cultures, and their villages are anything but similar to what is a “reservation”, a word being bandied about in some quarters.
As one Indian tribal elder is quoted as saying, “For us Adivasis (tribal people of India), every tree is like a house. That is what the forest is for us. We are not backward, it’s just another way of life.”
December 3, 2013 By
With the now well-known and well-publicised problems of the Skeldon Sugar Factory on the Corentyne, Berbice, there has been a plethora of criticism ranging from why was the particular contractor selected to why it was considered necessary in the first place.
Most recently, a past employee of Bookers, with some experience in the sugar industry, raised the latter question after quoting production figures from the 1960s, which showed that annual 300,000-tonne targets had become the norm.
While it has been said that hindsight is always 20/20, the questions generally ignore the situation as it was in 1998, when the strategic plan for the re-organisation and expansion of the sugar industry was formulated.
We must not only take this strategic plan into consideration as a matter of historical clarification, but also as a practical exercise that might shed some light on a path for the industry going forward.
Right up front, the goal was to increase production of sugar from the 350,000+ tonnes that the industry would achieve the following year to a new plateau approaching 500,000 tonnes annually.
The major justification for this decision was that the European Union (EU) had signed the Lome Protocol, which guaranteed Guyana a market for at least 167,000 tonnes at a price far above the world market levels. And this agreement was to exist “in perpetuity”.
With hindsight, one can assert that “nothing lasts forever”, but at the time, no one could believe that the Europeans would unilaterally walk away from a contract signed when the price was very attractive to them and which benefited their very powerful beet sugar producers.
Also, at that time, sugar markets were dominated by agreements exemplified by the Lome Protocol and the world market’s very low price was actually a residual price that bore very little relation to fundamental supply and demand for the commodity.
But even with the attractive European price, it was conceded that Guyana was a high-cost sugar producer and that we needed to lower it to generate even higher profits. Efficiencies of scale was one way to bring down production costs, while focusing on the expansion in Berbice, which historically had always been the lowest-cost production region because of more optimum soils and rainfall.
Albion, also on the Corentyne, Berbice, at that time was the most efficient and modern factory, while the 1998 strategic plan envisaged its expansion, there were insufficient new lands available to provide canes for the expansion.
Skeldon, on the other hand, had the oldest factory that would soon need to be replaced and, additionally, was surrounded by large swathes of suitable land. More to the point, the land was going to be in private hands which satisfied the World Bank’s demand that at least 30 per cent of the sugar canes for the expanded production come from this source.
And this, in a nutshell, was the reason for the Skeldon Modernisation Project. The present critics completely ignore the fact that the World Bank signed off on the project.
While the opposition has been very vocal in its criticisms of the project, it was completely mute even after implementation kicked off in 2004. By that time, the Economic Services Committee, in which the opposition alternated the chair with the government, examined executives of the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) on several occasions.
It was also mute on the concessional financing by China Exim Bank [Export-Import Bank of China] which led to the selection of China National Technology Import and Export Corporation (CNTIC) as the Skeldon contractor.
The fundamentals of the project were sound and we should all get behind fixing the problems.
December 2, 2013 By
The government has concluded two years in office after the 2011 general election. After the declarations of those results, many self-anointed political sages and the political opposition heralded these results with great celebration. They predicted that the parliamentary configuration which resulted would have produced miraculous results. “A new dispensation” was the label used to describe it. Two years hence, every objective mind will agree that it has been an unmitigated disaster.
The government went to the electorate with a manifesto which captures the PPP/C developmental plan for the next five years. Significantly, when compared with the manifestos of the AFC and the APNU, there are great commonalities. Strangely, however, many of these same common programmes have been opposed and rejected by these two parties in the National Assembly. The national budget for both years has been unlawfully and unconstitutionally cut by the opposition. The 2013 budget was cut notwithstanding a ruling from the chief justice that it is unlawful and unconstitutional for this to occur. The consequences are that valuable time is wasted in getting these developmental projects off the ground without timely financing. All manner of mechanisms have been employed to have these monies restored. Valuable time is, however, lost in the process. Nineteen billion dollars was cut from the 2012 budget and thirty two billion from the 2013 budget. Government is still the largest spender in the Guyanese economy. Indeed, it is government’s spending that has the greatest impact on the economy. When government’s ability to spend is affected in such a massive way, economic inertia is the consequence. Every facet of life is affected.
In addition, outside of the budgetary expenditure, large capital intensive projects like the Marriott Hotel and the hydropower project have been rejected by the parliamentary opposition. The president recently disclosed that the hydropower project was equal to 25 per cent to the country’s annual GDP. When such a blow is dealt to the economy, stagnation is the result. The bashing which the Marriott Hotel, the Cheddi Jagan International Airport expansion and the Specialty Hospital have received at the hands of the opposition must have sent a most damaging signal to potential foreign investors. Recall that all these projects are done by foreign contractors and funded by external lending agencies. No foreign investor would find attractive such an antagonistic environment created by the opposition.
Guyana was dealt yet another blow when the opposition voted down the Anti-Money Laundering and Countering the Financing of Terrorism (Amendment) Bill causing Guyana to be blacklisted by the Caribbean Financial Action Task Force. It is too early to predict the impact this will have on Guyana’s economic fortune. But what is certain is that nothing positive can come out of this. It is yet another disincentive for investment both local and foreign. Caricom has recently expressed its concern on the impact this will have on the region. Internationally, it is an unnecessary stain on Guyana’s image.
In this politically toxic atmosphere, it is extremely difficult for the respective ministries to carry out their individual plans of development for any given year. Valuable time and energy are spent putting out political fires. For example, the important security reform plan put forward by the Home Affairs Ministry has been rejected by the opposition. The important Firearms Bill has been voted down in the National Assembly. This is done while the country continues to reel from attacks by criminals. A SWAT team proposed by the ministry has been rejected by the opposition even before its implementation.
The country simply cannot continue along this path. The senseless approach of the opposition to oppose simply for the purpose of opposing must stop. Their role in Parliament is to oversee not to obstruct and transgress the functional responsibilities of the government. Their employment of ransom and blackmailing political strategies must cease. If there are no changes, then 2014 will be yet another year of economic stagnation.
December 1, 2013 By
The record rice harvest just concluded has catapulted production for the year to a record-breaking half-a-million-plus tonnes (529,000 tonnes). Utilising the favourable weather conditions and improved drainage and irrigation, the farmers have produced almost equal quantities in each of the two crops: eliminating the old distinction between “big crop” and “small crop”.
According to one report, it was stated that the equivalent of 165,000 hectares of land was utilised during the two crops, producing an average yield of 3.3 tonnes of rice per hectare.
This is a far cry from other reports that claim we have reached five tonnes per hectare, which would have been more in line with the averages from the more efficient producing countries. Another report, however, stated that the land cultivated was 142,000 hectares which would translate to a somewhat more credible average yield of 3.7 tonnes per hectare.
And in this ambiguity as to what should be a basic statistic to be monitored, we can begin to analyse what might be necessary to keep our production rising and at the same time, increase the profits that could go to farmers who take most of the risks in this venture.
Good and reliable statistics are key to identifying what interventions might be necessary to achieve the aforementioned goals. Anecdotal evidence suggests, for instance, that Essequibo farmers deliver its rice at almost five tonnes per hectare. Why is this so? The rest of the country’s farmers would want to know.
One factor could be that almost all of that county’s rice lands are irrigated and across the world, irrigated land consistently delivers a greater yield than rain-fed lands. Should we then invest in creating more conservancies to boost the yields in the present cultivated acreage? A cost-benefit analysis should be conducted to give policymakers an answer.
In the meantime, greater research ought to be conducted to develop varietal resistance to abiotic stress related to uncertain water supply on rain-fed farms.
On the other hand, the yield from Black Bush Polder Scheme, which is irrigated and has more than half of the total land under rice cultivation as the entire Essequibo Coast, does not even approach that of the latter. But there are no hard statistics to explain why. Is it a greater usage of nitrogenous fertilisers in Essequibo, or greater and more solicitous husbandry practices? We need to know.
The point is that the varieties of rice we cultivate – semi-dwarf indica rice varieties – which are one of the products of the ‘green revolution” from the 1960s, have produced yields as high as 10 tonnes per hectare in some locations. Those countries are now seeking new strains that would surpass this yield.
While we might not be able to reach that plateau immediately, it does suggest that the Guyana Rice Development Board (GRDB) and other agencies responsible for the rice sector must keep addressing the variables that prevent us from reaping higher yields.
The cry for new lands to be opened up will take a far greater amount of initial capital investment and should be left to Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), such as the one proposed by Trinidad and Tobago.
It is our contention, which should be investigated by the authorities that the 25 per cent increase in the actual production versus that projected for the last crop came precisely because of better husbandry practices and better supply of water.
These would include smooth and level soil surface, use of registered pure seed every season, precise control of water levels, high plant density, need-based/timely/balanced fertiliser application and high-quality post-harvest management.
Just after the end of the last crop, there were credible reports in the newspaper that the seed supplied by the authorities were not up to standard. Greater quality control in this area could boost yields by as much as 10 per cent.
Rice can rise if we care for it.
December 1, 2013 By
In the last few decades, journalism experienced a “sensationalistic” trend which gradually gained ascendance as its practitioners, in their drive to shock the sensibilities of readers, pandered to the lowest common denominator.
The technique was quickly snapped up by the electronic media which utilised their visual capabilities to the extent it could have been seen as a revival of the “yellow journalism” that prevailed at the turn of the 20th century in the U.S. as the Pulitzer and Hearst newspaper empires struggled for dominance.
In India, the sensationalist approach reached its apogee with the launch of an investigative website in 2000, which morphed into a tabloid in 2004 and finally settled down as a magazine in 2007: it was unabashedly named “Tehelka” (“Sensational”).
The driving force behind it was Tarun Tejpaul, but it was later revealed that the majority of the shares of the company were owned by several corporate interests that remained in the shadows. Tejpaul plunged into a muckraking investigative journalism that specialised in “sting” operations targeting corrupt practices in business and government.
Its first sting was in cricket and led to a string of convictions as did its second which recorded government officials accepting bribes to seal an “arms deal”. When it launched its tabloid version in 2004, hundreds of writers and intellectuals subscribed to fund what Tejpaul called “free, fair and fearless” journalism.
As its reputation grew, Tehelka took on other issues, including violence against women and Tejpaul revelled in his growing reputation as a crusader for the interests of the new rising middle class. However, as they strove for even larger revenues and reach, Tejpaul and his lieutenants, mainly his number two Shoma Chaudhary, succumbed to the temptations of power as they received funding from questionable sources.
Three years ago, Tejpaul and Chaudhary launched a new and seemingly successful venture – Thinkfest, which was to be an annual literary and glitterati affair. It was later discovered that they actually owned only 19 per cent of the stocks while the rest were held by the aforementioned silent partners of questionable background.
Two weeks ago, Tejpaul was arrested for rape of a young employee of Tehelka, who is young enough to be his daughter and in fact was best friends with his daughter. The news has dominated the Indian press and even displaced the perennial fixation of the country – politics.
The question on everyone’s lips is, “Why?” And the answer should be of interest not only in India but in many other societies where the sensationalistic genre of journalism has not only crossed boundaries but shown that in the process, the moral fibre of its practitioners are inevitably corrupted. In the drive to remain “sensational”, the trampling on people and their reputations become the norm. The ones who lead the charge against “corruption and abuses” cross the line to “the other side”.
In Britain, we saw the muckraking Rupert Murdoch and his News of the World have his employees violate every shred of decency to violate the privacy of citizens even as he showed that he could bend politicians to his will, because he controlled what was printed in his papers.
The lesson is that journalism has to take stock of its responsibilities which go in tandem with the right to inform the public. In Britain, the government has launched a regulatory body with teeth – to impose huge fines when the media crosses the boundaries of solid journalistic practice. It is clear that while self-regulation sounds good in theory, in practice there will always be those who will push the envelope beyond the acceptable in their pursuit of power and profits.
In Guyana, we have seen how sensationalistic journalism can be used to further the egoistic paranoia of its owners and how it can undermine the development of the country in general and business and the economy in particular.
The authorities must follow the lead of Britain and bring some sanity to sensationalistic journalism.
November 30, 2013 By