March 8, 2014 By
March 8, 2014 By
Today, for over the 100th time, the world once again commemorates “International Women’s Day”. The theme is “Inspiring Change”. From its shaky and tentative beginning in 1911, some might echo the old Virginia Slims tag line, “You’ve come a long way, baby!” But what is the reality? Like with every human phenomenon, there are no simple, snappy answers. By many criteria, one could assert that the lot of women have indeed improved. But in the end, that improvement has to be evaluated from a comparative perspective.
Let us take the metric of education. In the Caribbean in general and Guyana in particular, girls are now outperforming boys in educational achievement across the board, even at the tertiary level. From the ethos of the Swettenham Circular, which excluded Indian girls from compulsory schooling, to the reality of today, girls are on top even in enrolment – though only marginally so in the universities. It is asserted, however, in what seems to be a dubious backhanded compliment, that the success of girls in education is because they are more passive than boys, and so are more amenable to the rote methodology of imparting education.
But “education” is not, and was never, seen as an end in and of itself: it was supposed to deliver the better jobs in the economic sector that would, in turn, deliver the wherewithal for the “good life”. But when we look over in the job sector, we find that women are still vastly under-represented in key sectors of the economy and over represented in the “homemaker” category. While on one hand, apologists would assert that the latter profession is a very “vital and valuable” one, it is pertinent to note that that “value” does not translate into “money”, which still remains the currency of exchange for valued goods.
It is possible that the job of a homemaker might one day be a paid position, but if women are not being paid equally even for jobs as professionals, that day is certainly very far off. One of the reasons for the disparity of earning potentials between men and women might go back to the claimed passivity of women. Are they willing to agitate for “equal pay for equal work” which has been on the social agenda for more than a half a century?
More than half a century ago, Kwame Nkrumah declared, “Seek ye first the political kingdom and all else would be added unto it!” He recognised the primacy of politics – at least in the modern world he found himself. The women of Guyana (and in the wider world) have evidently not discovered Nkrumah’s dictum, or if they have, have not pursued it. Even though half of the world’s population, and voters in democracies, women are still terribly unrepresented in politics.
At the time of the reform of the Constitution in 2000, in what was considered a very enlightened and magnanimous approach, it was mandated that one-third of all legislators be women. The political parties have been hard put to match that proportion, so that one can only wonder when women might have an equal shot at the very top rungs of the political directorate.
From the experience of the developed countries where the struggle for women’s equality has been conducted much longer, but they are yet lagging by every metric of equality, it is clear that there are powerful structural factors at work that keep the so-called “glass ceiling” in place. One of these, paradoxically, is the early conditioning for girls to “not rock the boat”, which facilitates their positive performance in the education sector.
The answer to the conundrum of finally delivering equality to women might therefore have to come from the hand that “rocks the cradle” – women themselves. They will have to finally rear both their daughters and sons to see themselves of being equal in all respects.
March 7, 2014 By
As is now becoming a new tradition, the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) is celebrating the lives of their founders – Dr Cheddi Jagan and his wife Janet Jagan. Dr Jagan was born and died in March while Mrs Jagan also died in that month.
March, as the harbinger of Spring, when life bursts anew, is aptly symbolic of the role these two individuals played in bringing the hopes and aspirations of so many of the people of this country into life.
The facts of their lives are two well known to be rehearsed here; it is the significance of their achievements that must be stressed, since there is a concerted movement afoot, to whitewash their roles out of our history, under the rubric of “historical revisionism”.
It is said that “cometh the hour, cometh the leader” and so it was with the young Jagans. Arriving from the U.S. in 1943, they found a Guyana that fermenting under the pressures induced by the Great Depression that had segued into WWII. They returned without significant material wealth but with a wealth of knowledge that has served the country in its times of need.
They knew after WWII was over, the franchise would have to be given to the previously excluded masses in the fields and factories. The older politicians also knew this: even though not publicly released, it was common knowledge that the “Moyne” Royal Commission had recommended universal suffrage. But those politicians had been so habituated into catering to the previously enfranchised middle class that they did not have the wherewithal to widen their appeal and reach.
It was the Jagans’ historical role that they were posed of both ideological and methodological postulates to analyse the society and to suggest changes that were necessary to move it forward to join the comity of nations they saw emerging out of the war. It is to their credit that they attempted to work with the existing groupings but soon saw that the latter could conceive of only “reforming” the existing imperialist system, and not of changing it, root and branch. With youthful enthusiasm they struck out on their own.
The Political Affairs Committee (PAC) was launched in 1946 as a seemingly innocuous “discussion group” at the public library but it was anything but that due to the topics they introduced for discussion and, more importantly, for the Marxist ideological tools they introduced to interpret the issues. The previous year, the Jagan’s had attended the Caribbean Labour Congress that was held in Georgetown, which most of the radical labour leaders of the region attended.
The Jagan’s realised that the travails of the working class of Guyana were not unique but were merely symptomatic of the underlying structural conditions precipitated by a colonial government executing the programme of a plantocracy unwilling to change. The PAC then was able to analyse the challenges facing the colony in a more holistic fashion than the older ethnic-based organisations that were inevitably blinkered because of the trenches they occupied.
Dr Jagan’s role in contesting, and winning a seat to the Legislature in the 1947 general elections, in which the franchise was enlarged but still restricted, was seminal but so was the role of Mrs Jagan in launching a women’s group along with the other two members of the “3 J’s” – Jessie Burnham and Jane-Phillips Gay.
Prior to this, women were expected to be like children – seen and not heard, even though they had to labour equally in the fields and factories. Key to Dr Jagan’s success in entering the Legislature, where he launched an unprecedented struggle for the working class, were the efforts of many youthful radicals who had been fired by the discussions within the PAC.
The PPP/C’s launch in 1950, with the announcement of imminent universal franchise, in this fashion had already been laid. The rest, as they say, is history.
March 6, 2014 By
On December 20, 2013, the 68th session of the United Nations (UN) General Assembly proclaimed March 3, 2014 as the first World Wildlife Day to celebrate and raise awareness of the world’s wild fauna and flora. The day is now considered a perfect opportunity to celebrate the many beautiful and varied forms of wild fauna and flora and to raise awareness of the multitude of benefits that conservation provides to people.
The day reminds us of the urgent need to step up the fight against wildlife crime, which has wide-ranging economic, environmental and social impacts. All over the world we are witnessing how persons are engaging in the trade of wildlife for their own financial gain to the detriment of present and future generations.
The most dramatically increasing threat now is poaching and the illegal trade in wildlife. One would be shocked to really understand the level of illicit trade in wildlife that is taking place on a global scale. Head of UN Environment Programme Achim Steiner was recently quoted as saying that around 1030 rhinos and some 38,000 elephants are now left in Kenya. The country’s wildlife authorities said it lost at least 59 rhinos last year alone.
Also, elephant population on the African continent is estimated at 500,000, compared with 1.2 million in 1980. Additionally, a recent INTERPOL report said they had made 18 seizures accounting for some 41.6 tonnes of ivory in 2013, an all-time global high. A similar situation exists in other parts of the world where certain species are becoming extinct. Certainly, the world cannot and must now allow the illicit trade in wildlife to continue on this scale.
According to the World Bank, the loss of iconic species is a tragedy with broad and deep impacts. Animal, plant and marine biodiversity keeps ecosystems functional. Healthy ecosystems allow us to survive, get enough food to eat and make a living. When species disappear or fall in number, ecosystems and people – especially the world’s poorest – suffer.
Biodiversity is especially important to the poor – 75 per cent of whom live in rural areas and depend on nature for their food and livelihoods. When we protect animals and plants, we also protect the ecosystems that underlie our economies and well-being. Considered a leading financier of biodiversity conservation, the World Bank has over US$1 billion actively invested in protecting nature and wildlife.
In terms of our own local situation here, Guyana must be commended for retaining much of its wild biological diversity in the face of climate change and other factors adversely affecting wildlife the world over. This country is regarded as a model in other parts of the world in terms of protection and preservation of biodiversity.
There are still some crucial steps to be taken in relation to establishing the legal and regulatory framework necessary to curb the illicit trade in wildlife. It is hoped that the enactment of the Wildlife Import and Export Bill, which deals specifically with the regulation of international wildlife trade (import, export, re-export and introduction from the sea) will become a reality very soon. This will lead to a comprehensive legislative and legal framework needed to address issues in relation to conservation, management and trade of our nation’s wildlife species.
We wish to press the need to raise the public’s environmental awareness as it relates to protecting and preserving our wild flora and fauna and to curb the illicit trade involving wild animals and their products. Many citizens here are still ignorant of the importance of wildlife to our own existence; and the time has come for the authorities to take corrective measures.
It is necessary to emphasise the point made by subject Minister Robert Persaud – we can only be successful in combating the illegal trade in wildlife if it is done in a holistic manner. We support the call for communities, non-governmental organisations and various agencies of the State to enhance cooperation and collaboration in managing our wild fauna and flora.
March 5, 2014 By
If in one single day, our news can bear three headlines of gun robberies, then it is time for us to look deeply into what is the prevailing culture. The three pieces (America Street money-changer gunned down by bandits; Painter shot dead in Albouystown; and Man shot, wife robbed by motorcycle bandits) must now spur us to get very aggressive in dealing with gun crimes, more so that the statistics show that the number of incidents are ever on the increase.
Guns have always been a controversial topic since the very beginning of modern civilisation. Governments have always controlled people’s rights, as regards possession of firearms. Recent media coverage and firearm-related deaths here have caused the Guyana Government to come under increasing pressure, where the issuance of fire arms licences is concerned.
On the one hand, we have a vigorous police force, mandated with the right to protect, even if it means fatality for perpetrators of gun crimes. The flip side is that in no country will the police be 100 per cent effective; this provides the claim for selected groups to legally bear firearms, as they are the targeted ones for criminals. The dilemma is that these potential legal bearers of firearms are human beings, untrained in law enforcement, but who feel the need for extra-protection.
In order to discuss firearms, we must understand its definition. According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, a firearm is “a weapon from which a shot is discharged by gunpowder – usually used of small arms”. The Oxford Dictionary simply states that a firearm is “a rifle, pistol, or other portable gun”.
These definitions are vague and somewhat confusing to those who are not very knowledgeable in the firearm subject. Many reporters and anti-firearm organisations also include assault weapons and semi-automatic weapons. The bottom line is that firearms can kill and any killing, if not done legitimately, is deemed to be an act of murder. The issue as we can see is not one that can be handled easily at all.
We can now go to anti-firearm groups and these have been around since time immemorial. These organisations believe that gun ownership should be limited and very strict. Their quest is to reduce violence, ensure that the government enacts national regulations, ban all types of weapons, and restrict the number of guns individuals can own. Anti-firearm organisations feel that private citizens should not be allowed to own them.
On the opposite side, are the pro gun activists, who believe that people should have the right to go and obtain a gun or firearm, if they feel the need for self-protection or for the guarding of their moveable assets. Of course, there are many other reasons why a person would want to own a gun.
For example, recreational shooting is one hobby that many people enjoy these days. Another reason some citizens might feel the need to own a firearm is that they do not live in a safe, environment, so they want to be pre-emptive.
Overall, no citizen should feel unsafe in his own home. So in this regard, having the right to a firearm to protect oneself should not be taken away from any citizen. We must also care about criminals, who attack the innocent and must be stopped, even before law enforcement can be realised. This is another dimension to bearing legal weapons.
We do believe that citizens should have a right to protect themselves. After all it is not guns that kill people; it is people who kill people with guns. Guns do not decide to get up and shoot all by themselves. They must have a finger to pull the trigger – a human finger. People kill people. We human beings are animate, alive, and we have the freedom of choice.
Private citizens are threatened by criminals, and they have the choice and means to kill; therein lies the need for protection, when the law is not respected and cannot reach in time. Criminals will always find a way to acquire weapons, and, therefore, good private citizens must join and support the police, so that a nation of people will live, sleep and work in safety.
March 4, 2014 By
With the Caribbean locked in a seemingly intractable economic crisis on account of the steep decrease in the arrival of tourists from the north, which is locked in an even more intractable financial crisis, the search is on for a way out. After previous experiences with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in the 1980’s, few Caribbean leaders have any faith that the medicine being administered will solve the crisis. The said leaders will have to return to basics if they are to offer any hope to their citizens.
One “basic” in the Caribbean was its agricultural base. In fact, agriculture was the raison d’être for the colonisation of the Caribbean after the original Spanish “discoverers” discovered that there was no gold in the islands. The focus on agriculture by the later arriving English, French and Dutch led to a new form of agricultural production – what is now referred to as “industrial farming”. And it sustained the economies of the Caribbean for centuries.
It is therefore rather surprising that while “experts” (mainly from outside the region, as usual) have proposed that, for instance, we look at the newly emerging economy of China for tourists, they have not considered “industrial farming”, in a world in which “food security” is at the top of the agenda in every international gathering.
Before the Caribbean agriculture, farming was generally done on smaller family farms and in fact, the earliest commercial crop here, tobacco, was produced in this fashion. When American farmers made tobacco uneconomical here, the new crop, sugar cane, took over and its cultivation very quickly set the parameters of “industrial farming”. At its core is “monoculture”, where single crops are cultivated intensively on a very large scale. Sugar, corn, wheat, soybeans, cotton and rice are all commonly grown this way in many parts of the world.
As was shown very early on here, with monoculture farming, the soils are very quickly exhausted of the nutrients that are necessary for their growth. The practice of crop rotation with legumes that replenish the nitrogen content in soils is not practical with mono-cropping. In fact, in Guyana, the first sugar plantations were along the riverbanks and moved to the coast when the riveraine soils became exhausted. Our coastlands were exceptionally rich in nutrients but not long after, techniques such as field fallowing had to be introduced to replenish the soils.
In modern times, especially after the “green revolution” from the 1960’s the newer crops that were more productive, also inevitably demanded more nutrients. It is not a coincidence simultaneously, the industrial production of fertilisers also reached new heights. The point we wish to make is that in modern industrial farming, needed to support the burgeoning billions, chemical inputs such as synthetic fertilisers and pesticides are inevitable. The latter are needed because monoculture fields are highly attractive to certain weeds and insect pests.
This background is necessary to consider the alarm being raised by certain Opposition elements at the use of fertilisers and pesticides that were found to be necessary in the Santa Fe farm in the Rupununi, where rice was being grown for the first time. It is rather disheartening to find individuals who have been elected to guide the development of this country to only now raise these concerns. They are the new Columbus who “discovered” lands where people were already living for thousands of years.
In the modern world, all crops that will be grown on an industrial scale will have to use fertilisers and pesticides. We can avoid this by either using slash and burn techniques, prevalent earlier in our interior by the native Amerindian, or collect the droppings of cattle as was used on the coast by early small farmers.
We should accept, however, that we would be consigning our country to permanent a subsistence economy. Which is evidently where the Opposition want to keep us.
March 3, 2014 By
Justice Desiree Bernard, who is widely respected and admired across the English-speaking Caribbean and farther afield, was honoured for her outstanding contributions to the legal field when the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) held its inaugural sitting in Guyana last week.
Certainly, we were not surprised at all of the many glowing tributes paid to this icon by legal luminaries and other practitioners from various countries, recognising her work and the extremely high standards she has set for others to follow. The event was most fitting and we are happy that those in authority saw the need to recognise the important and necessary work this outstanding Guyanese daughter has been engaged in over the years.
Justice Bernard’s achievements are world-rated. In fact, it is almost impossible for one to properly capture the accomplishments of a woman of such calibre. Bernard is regarded as a pioneer judge and trailblazer, who has utilised her skills and legal training to break down many barriers for women in the legal and other professions, not only in Guyana, but the Caribbean and beyond.
Justice Bernard is a woman of many firsts. She was the first female High Court judge of the Supreme Court of Guyana, the first female Justice of Appeal, the first female Chief Justice of Guyana and in the Caribbean; and the first female Chancellor of the judiciary of Guyana and the Caribbean. She was also the first female Judge of the Caribbean Court of Justice at the court’s inauguration in 2005.
Acting Chancellor of the Judiciary, Carl Singh, in his presentation described Justice Bernard as “a judge of considerable learning and experience, and a judge, who in exemplary fashion, has demonstrated discipline and decorum and who is always courteous, polite, and extremely personable”. Her appointment to the apex judicial body of the Caribbean is testimony of the heights that can be achieved by women who commit themselves to the disciplined and delicate study of law.
In his tribute, CCJ President, Justice Dennis Byron gave a summary of Justice Bernard’s legal career, beginning with her graduation from the University of London to her appointment at the CCJ, along with her tremendous work in the social sector.
Throughout her tenure at the court, Madame Justice Bernard has demonstrated the value of the CCJ as a dispute resolution authority for regional integration, economic development in a rule-based community, exhibiting high standards of fairness and governance, opening up new avenues for ordinary people in our region to have a voice and get justice at the highest of the judicial authority.
Justice Byron listed many of the areas in which Mrs Bernard has imprinted her legacy as the first female. He pointed out that “excellence and integrity” are the two words which automatically spring to mind when thinking about Justice Bernard.
“One of the tenets that have been a guide is a constant surge for excellence in all her endeavours. As a student, leader, practitioner, a judge, a judicial administrator; she has always brought her best to date. Her service to the profession and the public, not only nationally or regionally but also worldwide, has been nothing short of service par excellence,” he stated.
Surely, Justice Bernard has left a legacy for others in the legal profession to emulate. It is hoped that even though she has retired from her most recent post as a judge on the CCJ, a new chapter will soon begin where the people of Guyana and indeed the people of the entire region, will continue to benefit from her knowledge and expertise, developed over the years.
Guyana needs as much help as it can get in various areas of development, and experts such as Bernard must be encouraged to continue serving and providing the necessary guidance to younger professionals.
March 1, 2014 By
The update by the Foreign Affairs Minister, Carolyn Rodrigues-Birkett, on the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between Guyana and Brazil on proposed infrastructural development should serve as a timely reminder to our political leadership that they have to arrive at some sort of “terms of engagement” sooner rather than later.
The gridlock over the passage of the Anti-Money Laundering and Countering the Financing of Terrorism (AMLCFT) Bill has exposed a debilitating partisanship resulting in our developmental drive stagnating.
Every financial institution, from the World Bank to the Caribbean Development Bank, has pointed out the key role infrastructure played in the transformation of formerly poverty-stricken states such as China and India into burgeoning economic powerhouses. Our region was specifically identified as severely lagging in this regard but for Guyana, the lacuna is particularly extreme.
The four projects identified in the MoU – an asphalted highway between Linden and Lethem, a hydro-power facility, transmission lines to conduct its generated power and a deep-water harbour – can definitely be game changers if they are brought to fruition.
While one would have thought the benefits of these projects would be self-evident to even the most blinkered observer of the Guyanese scene, with the attitude adopted by the opposition on the AMLCFT Bill, it might be useful to spell them out. We boast that our country has 83,000 square miles of territory but in reality, for the most part we are as land deficient as any of our fellow West Indian territories.
Ninety per cent of our population are strung along a one-mile deep, 200-mile long strip on the Atlantic Coast that makes us even more densely populated than Trinidad, with twice our population.
The Linden-Lethem Highway, which would connect to the Linden-Georgetown Highway, would finally open up our country for settlement, much as the first railroad connecting the east and west coasts of the U.S.A. did for that country, 150 years ago. One can speculate at the transformative changes that would be wrought just from the transportation of goods from Northern Brazil to the Atlantic Ocean.
This is being quantified before proceeding. But Guyanese would also be facilitated to settle along the Highway, with the knowledge that Georgetown or Lethem would be merely hours away. At the present the treacherous trail scares off all but the intrepid.
While being a separate project, the deep water harbour, most likely in Berbice, is integrally linked with the Highway, since the raisin d’être for the latter would be the transhipment of Brazilian goods to ports in the Caribbean, the U.S., Canada and Europe. The handling and storage facilities to deal with these cargo would definitely provide a large economic boost to our economy.
The financing of these two projects would most likely come from Brazil since they would be the one that would benefit the most through savings generated by cutting in half the time for goods from Manaus to reach the North Atlantic.
The benefits from a massive hydro-electric project in the Upper Mazaruni, has been well rehearsed during the debate on the smaller Amaila Falls Hydro Electric Project (AFHEP), no less than by the opposition themselves. The distribution network was also an aspect of the smaller project but since Brazil, in the person of former President Lula da Silva, had indicated their willingness to purchase any excess electricity generated, this would be more extensive and not so incidentally deliver electricity to southern Guyana, including Lethem.
Once again, it would be in Brazil’s interest to provide the funding for these projects or even to stand as guarantor to the China Development Bank or the China Ex-Imp Bank, which have indicated their interest in backing such projects in Latin America and the Caribbean.
We hope the requested feasibility studies will be expedited. But even more critical would be the opposition stop being fetters to the development of our country.
February 28, 2014 By
The 2014 budget debates will soon begin and the opposition will go into overdrive mode as it relates to the performance of the various sectors; and the level of negativity with respect to the general direction the country is going will reach boiling point. The nation is taking note of the independent voices in their analysis of the country’s economic performance over the past few years.
The views of these persons who have no political interest in Guyana must continue to be publicised so that persons desirous of investing in the country, or even those Guyanese in the diaspora who are willing to return home to retire or invest their resources will understand what is really taking place – that is; in spite of the many challenges being faced, we are a nation that is moving forward.
There was a time when hardly anyone was willing to do business with Guyana, be it a country, investors, or international lending agencies. Guyana was not respected in any way and others looked at us as a rogue state. That situation has now changed. The Guyanese economy was able to bounce back.
The current administration, especially under the leadership of former President Bharrat Jagdeo must be commended for the significant role it played in changing the economic fortunes of Guyana. The economy, once labelled as one of the poorest and most indebted in the region, largely due to mismanagement and corruption, is now being regarded as a model for others to follow in this part of the world.
Recently, President of the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB), Dr William Warren Smith said that there were some very good lessons to be learnt for the Caribbean states and the rest of the world, from the Guyanese experience. Even though the country’s economic development has followed a very tough road, the economy has shown ‘resilience’, and this is due to responsible and prudent management.
“Guyana is a good example of a country that has done some of the right things, and at the same time has also benefited from good fortune. They have come a very, very long distance in terms of their fiscal situation. They have been responsible in terms of addressing it.
“Just by casual observation one can see that there is a lot of construction taking place in the country… you can almost see the country changing in front of your eyes, and so that is just a casual indication of the extent to which economic activity is vibrant and buoyant in that country.”
International financial institutions have provided substantial debt forgiveness, and Guyana has been able to capitalise on this, while continuing to pursue responsible fiscal reforms. The emerging international market for commodities has also redounded to Guyana’s benefit as it has a lot to offer in this regard.
Guyana is now rated a middle-income developing country. The CDB projects that Guyana, along with Suriname and Haiti, will take the lead among the regional economies, in terms of accelerating growth in the next two years.
Finance Minister, Dr Ashni Singh had said that “this growth reflects continued progress on the diversification of the productive sector where we have now arrived at a point where we are no longer as we were 10 years ago, entirely dependent on one, two or three dominant sectors”.
At that time, the three major contributors to the economy were rice, sugar and bauxite but, these are no longer occupying the dominant positions. However, while gold, other minerals, transport, ICTs and construction are all showing increased importance, the three former sectors still contribute to a large portion of the economy.
Long-term commitments and investments made in Guyana will have a tremendous impact on the local economy. Investments in bauxite, other minerals, oil, rice and others that include expansion of current foreign investments, point to improved confidence in the country’s investment climate.
The naysayers will be silenced once again as the incontrovertible facts show that while there are many challenges still be overcome, Guyana is on a steady path to progress.
February 27, 2014 By