July 7, 2015

Caricom backs Guyana

Guyana is only one of two countries among Caricom’s fifteen members that actually commemorate the launching of the regional organisation: today is a public holiday. Even though we were among its more financially challenged members, we provided the headquarters for the institution to forge Caribbean unity. Then Prime Minister of Guyana, Forbes Burnham had been one of the founders of Caricom and every subsequent Guyanese leader of whatever political persuasion has never questioned this country’s commitment to the organisation established 42 years ago.

Over the weekend, that commitment was rewarded when at the closing of its annual regional summit Caricom issued a strongly-worded statement within its communiqué. This supported Guyana against Venezuela’s extension of its border controversy with this country in the form of its maritime Decree 1787. It was not coincidental that the decree, which purported to extend Venezuela’s authority and sovereignty over practically the entire north Coast of South America was issued on May 26, the day of our independence. The decree also affected other members of Caricom such as Suriname on the east and T&T and Barbados in the north.

While noting the friendly relations in trade and other areas of national life – obviously alluding to the PetroCaribe Initiative of Venezuela that provided oil at concessionary financing rates to Guyana and several other Caricom members – the statement on Decree 1787 did not mince words: “Heads noted in particular the negative implications which the Decree has for the peace, security and development of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana. Heads of Government further noted the negative implications of the decree for several other Caricom countries. They called for adherence to accepted principles of international law in relation to the delineation and delimitation of the Exclusive Economic Zone and Continental Shelf in the region. Caricom States do not accept any unilateral proclamation which is inconsistent with international law. They emphasized that Caricom states have legitimate territorial and maritime entitlements that conform to international law and that must be respected.”

The statement concluded: “Heads of Government therefore call upon the Government of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, in the spirit of friendship and cooperation, to withdraw those elements of Decree 1787 insofar as they apply to the territory and maritime space of Caricom States.” This statement demonstrates that notwithstanding the challenges and disappointment that Caricom has generated in terms of the wider aspirations towards unity and integration, the fact that fifteen sovereign States can speak with one voice does mean something in the modern State system.
There is strength in numbers.

That strength was affirmed by the presence of the Secretary-General (SG) of the UN, Ban Ki-Moon at the summit and his promise to appoint a mission to visit Guyana and Venezuela to “assess the situation”. The initial controversy precipitated by Venezuela over the legally demarcated borders with Guyana had been placed in the hands of the UN Secretary General’s “good offices” where it had unfortunately languished. As part of the Geneva Agreement signed with Venezuela on the controversy, the UN SG also has the option of sending the matter to other fora for settlement – including to the International Commission of Jurists, for a “judicial settlement”.

The previous PPPC administration had signaled its desire for Guyana to embark on this latter route and at the Caricom Summit President Granger reaffirmed this position to the UN SG. It is expected that the modalities of proceeding towards a judicial settlement will be discussed with the pending UN mission. Caricom also engaged Venezuela in bilateral talks on Decree 1787, between Caricom leaders and Venezuelan Vice-president Jorge Arreaza and Foreign Affairs Minister Elias Jaua Milano, but this was evidently inconclusive.

Guyana is enmeshed in a very complicated international manoeuvre in which each State has its own interest – including the U.S. which can assert theirs via Exxon which is drilling for oil in the region covered by Decree 1787. Caricom’s involvement can only help.

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Police Force Origins and Continuity

Yesterday, with all pomp and ceremony – and snarled traffic in Georgetown – the Guyana Police Force (GPF) celebrated its 176th year of existence. The GPF has been ubiquitous in the news recently but for the wrong reason: a steep upsurge in crime highlighted its inability to perform adequately its core function which is to ensure security. The Minister of the newly baptised “Ministry of National Security” – formerly the “Ministry of Home Affairs” – confessed that his task to clean up crime may be bigger than he thought compared to his frequent lambasting of his predecessor Clement Rohee in and out of the National Assembly.
While Mr.Ramjattan had delved into a social psychological theory to suggest that “greed” was behind the crime upsurge, perchance he will be using this anniversary to reflect on the reasons why the GPF was formed in 1939. He could discover that the fault may lie equally with the nature of the Police Force as with human greed. The latter, after all, like poverty, has always been with us.
The GPF was formed directly after the abolition of slavery in 1838. It was surmised correctly by the authorities that the ex-slaves would move off en masse from the plantations. It was also surmised, incorrectly as it turned out, that these freedmen would be a threat to the security of the class that had kept them in bondage for hundreds of years. The official launching of the GPF in 1839 is significant because it was decided that the organisation should be patterned on the Irish Constabulary rather than the London Metropolitan Police. A visit to Ireland by the new Commissioner was considered warranted.
The key difference between the two units was that since the Irish were deemed “dangerous”, their police were armed and organised along military lines, unlike the London “Bobbies” which only had batons. From the beginning of its existence, the Guyana Police Force was a “force” to protect the ruling strata from the hoi polloi. Police Stations were established strategically near the newly formed villages.The early force was dominated by Barbadians to ensure that there would not be the centripetal pull of “kith and kin” when orders were given. The British policy of “divide and rule” was at work.
When the freedmen, who were all of African descent, proved generally unthreatening, their imported indentured servant replacements – first the Portuguese and then the larger waves of Indians on the Sugar Plantations with their cutlasses – were defined as threats to be subdued. African Guyanese were now recruited to keep them in line. Shootings of striking Indian sugar workers in 1872, 1896, 1898, 1903, 1913, 1924, 1939 and 1949 were a major factor in influencing adverse race relations in the colony between its two major groups. But this does not mean that the Police were in any way benign to perceived threats from the African populace and Police excesses in the 1905 “riots” in Georgetown are testimony to that.
So what Mr.Ramjattan ought to be looking at, in addition to the greed of ordinary Guyanese, is the orientation of the Police towards the citizenry: they are to be protected and served not subdued and cowed into submission. This foundational paradigm change was encapsulated in the legislation that former Minister Rohee introduced in the last Parliament to change the name of the “Guyana Police Force” to the “Guyana Police Service”. The legislation was blocked by Mr.Ramjattan, his party the AFC and APNU.
This historically induced pattern of differential recruitment into the GPF became structurally entrenched from within and without the organisation. This has led to efforts since before independence to rectify the “imbalance”. The latest effort was with the Disciplined Forces Commission (DSC) of 2003, of which now President Granger was a member. It is hoped that on this 176th anniversary of its formation, this and the other 163 recommendations of the DSC will be implemented.

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Decision time on burning social issues

The recent U.S. Supreme Court decision to legalise same-sex marriage will increase the pressures for legalising LGBT rights and marijuana usage – both of which have been opposed by some parties across the civil and religious divides in Guyana. These same decisions that must be made quickly and clearly. “Quickly” because laws always have to keep up with changing social mores or else they will only be obeyed in the breach and make citizens cynical. And “clearly” so that laws regarding these issues can be enforced and prosecuted successfully.

However, it is also clear that for us in Guyana, decisions on these issues cannot be rushed because they require national consultation and consensus. This process would secure the legitimacy to generate the political will necessary to withstand the backlash from groups that may  feel betrayed by the actions of  their leaders. But such consultations must not be used as excuses to defer decisions because these are other groups with different yet highly complex social, cultural and even spiritual issues that demand attention in no short measure since they are just as authentic as others.

In Jamaica, laws were recently passed that to some extent decriminalised possession and use of small amounts of marijuana, a substance that is a cultural and for some spiritual item but not until now legal aspect of Jamaican life. Jamaica is also implementing a programme through which they will be producing marijuana for medical use. On the other hand, both Jamaica and Guyana have retained old, colonial legislation that impose very draconian punishment for consensual sex between members of the same sex.

A government cannot “mull” these decisions indefinitely, neither can a government do nothing; the quality of life and choice of lifestyle of two minority groups cannot remain uncertain for long. The lives of gays remain in limbo while the spirituality of Rastafarians remains unanswered. When the rights of one group are violated there is the ever present possibility for the violations all groups.

While the issue of legalising marijuana has been mentioned during the recent elections campaign by the-then opposition APNU/AFC coalition, perhaps because of the overt entry of the Rastafarian community into the political hustings, consensus was not achieved on the issue on the way forward. The law was amended in 1999 by the previous administration allowing for lighter sentences to be imposed by the judicial system on small marijuana users. However because of the airing of the political debate it would appear that Guyana is making progressing on decriminalising marijuana.

Unfortunately, no party touched on the central issue of full positive rights for the LGBT communities but rather took the politically correct position that there must be no discrimination of persons because of their sexual orientation. Perhaps the lesson from the last elections with the progress on the marijuana debate suggests that LGBT groups may have to become more politically active to struggle for their rights.

Undoubtedly, public discourse on these two issues will be contentious and not without polarised influences, in particular with regard to the issue of gay rights. Already we find the playing field uneven. One of the first statements from the new president of Guyana upon winning the general elections was a religious quotation. Perhaps he will adhere to the mandatory separation of church and state put in place so many decades ago. Perhaps not.

To date, most of the opposition to gay rights have come from groups and individuals in society who are supported by powerful religious organisations. And while these viewpoints must be given due respect they cannot be automatically be privileged over those of other Guyanese citizens who also are fully endowed by all rights guaranteed under the constitution.
The Guyana government cannot leave these issues in limbo. Events in other countries demonstrate beyond doubt that social issues cannot be quarantined in perpetuity.

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Power sharing: the promise vs the reality

Beginning in 2002, just before his passing, then PNC leader Desmond Hoyte claimed he accepted the mechanism of “power sharing” to address the challenges of governance in our ethnically fractured polity. This was a volte face from his position when he inherited the Presidency in 1985 from Forbes Burnham and peremptorily scuttled ongoing talks with the PPP on the same goal.

Starting from the 1960’s when the PNC fissioned from the PPP, there had been periodic negotiations between the two parties that represented the two major voting blocks in Guyana. But each initiative before the 1985 version, was shattered by the PNC’s insistence on securing ultimate control within the coalition deemed necessary to effectuate “power sharing”.

With that history under their belt, it was not surprising that the PPP has been skeptical of offers of “power sharing” coming from the PNC as nothing more than Trojan Horses to maintain control of the state. Thus when Mr. Hoyte’s successor Robert Corbin placed the mechanism on the agenda for talks between himself and then President Bharat Jagdeo in 2003, the latter maintained that “trust” has to be nurtured between the two parties before proceeding.

And there matters stood even as Mr. Corbin’s chosen successor Brigadier David Granger maintained the rhetoric of “power sharing” as part of the PNC’s platform. Such offers, however, waned after 2011, when the elections results demonstrated conclusively that the PNC, now rebranded as “A Partnership for National Unity” (APNU) stood a chance of winning the elections with just a little help.

Consequently, approaching the 2015 elections, it proposed a coalition with the Alliance for Change (AFC) for that push and claimed this would lead to its long promised “power sharing/shared governance” vision. From that perspective, the experience of the coalition offers an opportunity to evaluate APNU’s shared governance promise since they went on secure the government.

The coalition was preceded by a month-long negotiation between teams from APNU and the AFC and this culminated in what was called the “Cummingsburg Accord”, summarising the details of the “power sharing” arrangement. But it was clear that unlike what it had averred in the past, APNU had jettisoned the idea that power sharing meant a “grand coalition” of the major political forces since it was now claiming a coalition with 51% national support delivered “shared governance”.

There were three major components to the Accord that reflected concerns of the junior partner, the AFC. In view of the universally acknowledged power of the Guyanese presidency, it was agreed that the AFC PM Minister would chair the Cabinet and be in charge of governance. The allocation of seats in the National Assembly and the Cabinet were to be allocated one 60/40 ratio, while the putatively powerful National Security Ministry would be awarded to the AFC leader.

Within a month, each of these agreements was breached. The AFC PM could not chair the Cabinet, Mr. Granger said, because it was “unconstitutional”. But even if the two parties, top heavy with lawyers, overlooked this elephant in the room during negotiations, this objection was raised at the announcement of the Accord.

Then Opposition leader Granger pointed out that the President could “delegate” his Executive duties and would so do if they won. What has changed now?
On the 60/40 Ministerial appointments, the Cabinet was doubled with the addition of “junior Ministers” to dilute AFC’s influence, since only the senior Ministers were “counted” in the apportionment.

Finally, the National Security Ministry was hived off of its Immigration and Naturalisation functions and since it is headed by a former Commissioner of Police, it is left to be seen where his power will extend into the vacuum that has been created by the desultory performance by the AFC leader.
It would appear that the PPPC was prescient in demanding “trust” as a threshold issue on “power sharing”.

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APNU/AFC: an attempt at power play

Now that the dust has been settled, there is definitely an attempt at power play unfolding at the highest level of the Coalition Government (APNU/AFC) in relation to the implementation of the Cummingsburg Accord.

Over the past few weeks, the pressure has been building on the APNU/AFC Government to explain to the Guyanese public, especially the persons who would have voted for the Coalition, the real reasons for breaching the Accord. Many commentators have expressed the view that the mere brushing aside of the concerns that are being raised is not enough as persons would have voted for the Coalition based on the premise of the Accord. That is, there would have been a new and improved style of governance and even more importantly, a break away from a system where one party dominates the corridors of power.

Unfortunately, now that the time has come for the Coalition to ‘walk to talk’ we are witnessing all sorts of excuses being made as to the reasons for not honouring the pact made with the electorate. What citizens are seeing and experiencing now is very far from what was initially agreed to by both APNU and AFC before the elections were held. One is therefore left to believe that the coalition of the two parties and subsequent signing of the Accord had one main objective which was to see the PPP/C removed from office.

Based on the Accord, the President shall, among other things, delegate the responsibilities of domestic national affairs and the chairing of Cabinet to the Prime Minister. Other responsibilities delegated to the Prime Minister should have included recommending ministerial appointments and providing the organisational structures of Ministries for the approval of the President as well as the appointment of heads of agencies and non-constitutional commissions, with the required and agreed democratic mechanisms of consultation and domestic security (Home Affairs).

So far Prime Minister Nagamootoo hasn’t been given the responsibilities of chairing the Cabinet or of exercising responsibility for domestic affairs. In fact, one commentator points to the contents of Minister Harmon’s regular engagements with the press which suggests that domestic affairs reside with him and/or the President.

Many are of the view that the explanation which has been put forth by the President of the Constitution having to be amended in order for the Cummingsburg Accord to be followed is inaccurate. Former Speaker of the National Assembly Ralph Ramkarran had expressed the view that there is and would be no violation of the Constitution if the terms of the Accord are implemented. He had pointed to the fact that various articles of the Constitution allow the President to appoint others to execute his responsibilities.

This view was also supported by social commentator, Ramon Gaskin, who was quoted in this publication as saying that the excuse being put forward for the violation of the Accord must not be accepted since the Constitution makes clear provisions for such.

At the moment, there is talk that the key players intend to amend the Accord on the grounds that the reality of political office has clashed with the Accord’s constitutionality. However, Like Ramkarran, Gaskin and others, we believe it is unacceptable for the two parties to just sit and decide that there will be modifications due to unforeseen clashes with the Constitution without engaging the third party – the electorate. The electorate understood and voted for the Coalition on the basis that the AFC would have had a distinct and visible management role in the affairs of governance through the Prime Minister.

The fact that in these early stages citizens are raising questions and are beginning to have doubts about the sincerity of the Coalition in relation to the many promises made doesn’t go down well for the nation as a whole. That said, we strongly believe that the APNU+AFC Government has an obligation to go back to the Guyanese people and explain the reasons for the breaches of the Accord, what changes would be made (if any) and what guarantees would be put in place to ensure that the Accord is fully respected and implemented.

Merely dismissing the concerns being raised is unacceptable.

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El Derecho de Saber … The right to know

While in opposition, A Partnership for National Unity and Alliance for Change as political organisms within Guyana’s democratic society complained bitterly about what they called the “cloud of secrecy” that surrounded the major agreements entered into by the then Peoples Progressive Party Civic Government, and the denial of critical pieces of information that could expose the alleged excesses of the state and Government at varying levels.

The two parties had severely criticized both the Bharrat Jagdeo and Donald Ramotar Administrations for having poor records of financial transparency and accountability especially when public monies were spent without the knowledge or approval of tax payers and the buy-in of the wider electoral core.

Subsequently, they formed a superb parliamentary alliance in the tenth parliament denying Government critical funding for projects which they believed were shrouded in secrecy while withholding funding for other budgetary allocations which were either not seen as priority areas or a waste of tax payers monies.

These parties also in the lead up to the 2015 elections campaign used the mass media to leak information on exorbitant amount of money spent by the Donald Ramotar Government on dental and medical services for cabinet members which skyrocketed into the realm of millions for at least one member. That aside, it complained bitterly about the misuse of state media by the PPP/C and the misuse of state assets before, during and immediately after the elections campaign.

Now in Government, the two parties which formed a coalition Executive founded on the promises included in the Cummingburg Accord, are now doing a summersault and three-sixty dance move.

The new APNU/AFC Government since taking office on May 16, 2015 has engaged in spending tax payers monies without stating clearly how much is being spent and for what the monies are being spent.

The coalition Government has skillfully avoided the media by hiding behind the triumphalism and excitement which prevailed in certain sections of the country immediately after the declaration of results.

Minister of Presidency (also State Minister), Joseph Harmon has not been forthcoming on exactly on actual expenditures spent on the grand inauguration ceremony for President Granger at the Guyana National Stadium last May 26th.

He claimed not to have exact figures of what the ‘big bash’ cost tax payers in a country where the new President himself alleged was lagging behind because of poverty and lack of sufficient economic progress.

Minister Harmon and his functional aide Prime Minister Nagamootoo, who has responsibility for public information, have failed to state publicly issue a report on the fund the costs associated with the national independence celebrations which took on a new form this year.

Additionally, the President has appointed 26 Ministers of Government who will no doubt draw down on the usual perks and benefits that come with the job. He has appointed several politicians to advise him in various fields without making public their contracts, terms of references, benefits and emoluments. Where is the transparency in Government that citizens were promised by President Granger?

That aside, the Government has unilaterally without input from any other key stakeholder established several Commissions of Inquiries into various issues and industries of the State. But it has failed to disclose the credentials of those appointed, terms of reference, the recruitment process, salaries and other costs involved. So much for accountability!

Auditors have been appointed to do forensic and other work but no one except the beneficiaries of the public purse and the new Government knows how much monies are being spent to fund these exercises. This is an untenable development to say the least.

The President’s vehicle fleet and that of several of his close as well as senior Ministers have been upgraded without the public being given a simple explanation as to what was wrong with the vehicles used by the previous presidents and ministers who returned all or most.

Both Prime Minister Nagamootoo and President Granger, as well as leading members of their Government appear uneasy accepting the reality that they have so far made several missteps in office and are finding it hard copping with the reality of Governance from the seat of the Executive.

They must realize that the public has a right to know about how their monies are being spent, on whom they are being spent, why they are being spent and what amount is being spent.

The new Government is exhibiting dangerous double standards and is cherry picking what issues to bring to the public fore.

In Spanish “el derecho a saber” which in English means “the right to know” is sacrosanct and cannot be wished away even by the most popular Government because sooner or later it will fall when speculation turns into truth and truth slowly becomes an unchallenged and untested fact.

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Reparations

Once again, CariCom will be meeting to push the European countries on the issue of reparations. It is to their credit that the Caribbean leaders have withstood great pressures and not backed down from pressing on with a matter that goes to the essence of asserting the humanity of the descendants of slaves who were told that they did not possess. We repeat points that have been made before in this space because there are those who would deny the contributions of others for the sake of political expedience.
It could be recalled that representatives of governments, civil society and academia, and individuals fighting the cause of reparations for native genocide and slavery met during September 15-17 2013, for the first major event on reparations following the 34th Conference of the Heads of Government of Caricom in Trinidad and Tobago in July.
At the summit, heads of government agreed to the establishment of a National Reparations Committee in each member state with the chair of each committee sitting on a Caricom reparations commission. Already these countries have started legal proceedings against the governments of the United Kingdom, France, and the Netherlands over what they say is the “lingering legacy of the Atlantic slave trade”. The lawsuits – which are likely to amount to a lengthy battle – will be brought to the UN’s International Court of Justice, based in The Hague in the Netherlands.
The countries are expected to focus on Britain for its role in slavery in the English-speaking Caribbean, France for slavery in Haiti, and the Netherlands for Suriname. They have hired British law firm Leigh Day, which waged a successful fight for compensation for hundreds of Kenyans who were tortured by the British colonial government as they fought for the liberation of their country during the Mau Mau rebellion of the 1950s and 1960s.
Prime Minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines, Dr Ralph Gonsalves has been one of the most vocal Caribbean heads of state and has been engaged in intense lobbying efforts at various levels. At a speech at the UN General Assembly, he was quoted as saying that the awful legacy of these crimes against humanity – a legacy which exists today in our Caribbean – ought to be repaired for the developmental benefit of our Caribbean societies and all our peoples.
Guyana has also weighed in on the debates and has sent a strong message that it supports reparations for affected Caribbean countries. Culture, Youth and Sport Minister Dr Frank Anthony, during a presentation at the Regional Conference on Reparations held in St Vincent, had expressed this country’s commitment to the cause and made it clear that Guyana was prepared to join with the rest of the Caribbean in representing this case to the world at large.
Of note too is that he had pressed the need to build an international alliance through coordination of foreign policies to articulate the call at the multilateral levels.
This is certainly a recommendation that must be taken seriously by those involved in order to further step up the momentum for reparations. It could be recalled too that former President Bharrat Jagdeo was one of the first heads of state to have highlighted the issue of reparations after it had disappeared into thin air for some time in the region.
In 2007, while addressing a commemorative ceremony for the bicentenary of the abolition of the transatlantic trade, the President Jagdeo suggested that now that some members of the international community have recognised their active role in this despicable system, they need to go one step further and support reparations.
Also, in 2011, during the launch of a year of celebratory activities commemorating the International Year for People of African Descent, Jagdeo restated his claim for reparations, noting that “the international community was quick to recognise the Jewish holocaust, rightfully so, therefore, they must also now recognise that there was an African holocaust”.
We hope that the present CariCom leaders continue with the effort started by their predecessors.

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Iron law of oligarchy

In the post elections period, even though it has been just over one month, there is already an emerging disquiet in the ranks of the supporters of the new government.

This sentiment in centred around the fear that at best, the “iron law of oligarchy” is unfolding or at worse, a “creeping authoritarianism”. The evidence for the propositions are cited from both within the government and from without.

From within, comes the accusations that the Cummingsburg Accord, which was hammered out to demarcate the parameters of the distribution of power between the A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) and the Alliance For Change (AFC), has been violated by the major partner, APNU.

From without, fingers are pointed at the exclusion and inclusion of specific regional leaders and appointments to central offices that suggest individuals who have demonstrated “loyalty” to party leaders are favoured.

While the “creeping authoritarianism” thesis is favoured, generally because of our bitter history of such tendencies gaining ascendancy for prolonged periods, the other, possibly more benign “explanation” of a more fundamental “law” of social behaviour should not be discarded.

The notion was put forward just over a century ago, by the sociologist Robert Michels and even though it has been challenged and modified, like all theories that purport to “rule” on human behaviour, its central insights have been of continued relevance into this new millennium.

According to one author, the iron law of oligarchy proposes that “all organisations, including those committed to democratic ideals and practices, will inevitably succumb to rule by an elite few (an oligarchy).

“The iron law of oligarchy contends that organisational democracy is an oxymoron. Although elite control makes internal democracy unsustainable, it is also said to shape the long-term development of all organisations – including the rhetorically most radical – in a conservative direction.”

So how does this happen? We return to our author. “Michels argued that organisational oligarchy resulted, most fundamentally, from the imperatives of modern organisation: competent leadership, centralised authority, and the division of tasks within a professional bureaucracy.

“These organisational imperatives necessarily gave rise to a caste of leaders whose superior knowledge, skills, and status, when combined with their hierarchical control of key organisational resources such as internal communication and training, would allow them to dominate the broader membership and to domesticate dissenting groups.”

We can apply this thesis to the present coalition government. No one can argue that after the elections, the new government did not have to enter and populate the Procrustean bureaucratic structure that is de rigueur for modern administrations.

And as with all bureaucracies, the lines of authority have to be explicitly spelt out so that confusion does not rein when actions are taken on any issue.

Take for instance, the function of the President to chair the Cabinet, as spelled out in the Constitution. While it has been argued that the President can delegate this and all other functions a such as overall responsibilities for “domestic affairs”, in the real world as pointed out by Michels and cited above, leaders with “superior skills and status combined with their hierarchical control of key organisational resources” will inevitably call the shots.

The author also pointed out another facet of Michels theory, drawn from psychological insights of “crowd theory” that is playing out in Guyana:

“From this perspective, Michels particularly emphasised the idea that elite domination also flowed from the way rank-and-file members craved guidance by and worshipped their leaders.

“Michels insisted that the chasm separating elite leaders from rank-and-file members would also steer organizations toward strategic moderation, as key organizational decisions would ultimately be taken more in accordance with leaders’ self-serving priorities of organisational survival and stability than with members’ preferences and demands.”

And we begin to understand why Solomon Sharma and Vanessa Kissoon are out in Region 10, while Branford is in Region Seven.

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Same sex marriage

In a decision that is sure to stir debate, and even outrage, across the world, the US Supreme Court ruled that same sex marriages are not violative of the country’s Constitution. The worldwide reaction is guaranteed not because of the US military power, but more because of its “soft power” earned through its cultural reach and influence and projected from its active embassies.
For instance back in 2013, the last US Ambassador to Guyana Brent Hardt called on the country’s leaders to repeal anti-gay laws and introduce LGBT rights. He was addressing a media workshop organised by his Embassy through USAID and the Society Against Sexual Orientation and Discrimination (SASOD).
Guyana is the last country in South America that criminalises same-sex acts using very severe anti-gay British colonial codes.
The previous administration, on numerous occasions had emphasised that individuals should not be discriminated against because of their sexual orientation. But while anti-discrimination legislation had been passed by the National Assembly, it was not assented into law by the previous Presidents because of deep concerns expressed by the religious communities.
For instance, while expressing “love” for individuals engaged in same sex relationships, the Christian community contended, “It is evident that homosexuality is an offence to religion, morality and public convenience.”
During the last Parliament, a Special Select Committee was tasked with assessing “the attitude of Guyanese, especially parents and children, to corporal punishment and its possible abolition, the attitude of Guyanese, particularly the families of victims, criminologists, and professionals, on capital punishment and its possible abolition, and the attitude of Guyanese to any changes in the legislative provisions and criminal code regarding consensual adult same sex relationships and discrimination, perceived or real, against Lesbians, Gays, Bi-Sexual and Transgender persons.”
The APNU/AFC members of the Committee wanted to unbundle the corporal punishment issue from the same sex one, indicating that the latter was problematical. Earlier this month, President Granger had indicated that while he was a devout Anglican Christian, he would be guided in making a decision on any future legislation by public opinion and international normative practices.
Guyana has repeatedly been pressed by the UN to take action to give full rights to the LGBT community.
In the US, the Supreme Court considered marriage as a human rights issue. Back in 1967, addressing laws that banned inter-racial marriage in the state of Virginia, Chief Justice Earl Warren had written, “Marriage is one of the ‘basic civil rights of man’, fundamental to our very existence and survival.”
In a case two years before, Justice William O Douglas had argued: “Marriage is a coming together for better or for worse, hopefully enduring, and intimate to the degree of being sacred. It is an association that promotes a way of life, not causes; a harmony in living, not political faiths; a bilateral loyalty, not commercial or social projects. Yet it is an association for as noble a purpose as any involved in our prior decisions.”
And it was in this vein that Justice Anthony Kennedy extended this right to marriage to same sex couples. In concluding, he wrote:
“No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage.
“Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilisation’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.”
The debate in Guyana on LGBT rights has lagged.

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Literacy in Guyana

Win a LG…; consessions; passengers will be denied boring without a boarding pass; luxery; beef stake [food]; …attempted to slash her own risks [body part]; [Toyota] Carolla; Santa Clause [Old Saint Nick, not the movie title]; family are house breaker there are not to trust; conceled hinge cap; for sale, unregester; strickly no cycles; Stabroke; unity is strenght …!

From the grammar of local television news anchors, politicians, other leaders and business persons; spelling in news stories, commercials on national television and posters displayed on shop fronts countrywide; to local menus, public information, official documents and vehicle slogans; the state of Guyana’s English language is as tragicomic as it is horrifying.

Whether or not we explain them away as “typos”, or “simple errors in English”, it indicates something is tragically wrong. Little wonder that today our youth and the less educated believe incorrect English is correct and inexcusable “mistakes” are the norm.

It suggests we are nurturing a nation of illiterates and semi-illiterates, with little to no clue that their grasp of our official language is deplorable and inadequate and very few, if any at all, seem bothered.

Whether we speak English, Mandarin or the click language of the San peoples, knowing (and displaying that knowledge), the rules of grammar and spelling reflect some aspect of our intelligence and promote credibility in ourselves and in what we are saying and writing.

Our low standards have been annually illustrated in the generally mediocre to poor exam results in English at local, regional and international examinations. If Guyanese adults are barely, if at all, proficient in English, how can we expect their children to be better?

How have we reached to such low levels is a question for our educators, social scientists and politicians. The more tragic situation is that it is not considered a priority, to be fixed as soon as possible.

It’s not impossible to see why. Our native tongue today, English, has often been considered of little value because once we feel we can communicate our idea, we have little need to learn to do more.

Any more effort on the English language is considered unnecessary. Being proficient in English does not seem to influence our finances, so it falls way behind in the national economic psyche.

Our low literacy standards also encourage a low level of intellectual creativity, perhaps evident in our paucity of literary excellence. Just consider too, which drama or theatre production attracts a bigger audience and makes the most money – though we can all agree that good theatre does not necessarily mean an intellectual production with perfect grammar.

Reading, writing and speaking the standard form of any language is extremely important all over the world because it opens doors to better jobs and provides more opportunities for success, not to mention the fact of presenting a good image of one self.

Few employers want to deal with semi-illiterate employees, much less illiterate ones, because the lack of literacy often leads to a lack of communication that in turn can cause significant financial loss.

In addition, few better-educated persons take seriously or find credible any person whose speech is laden with grammatical errors. This also extends to organizations or businesses whose public information contains regular grammar and spelling mistakes.

That English language has and will continue to evolve does not suggest we write and speak however we want as long as we get our point across.

Rather, at the time of our speech and writing, the language has a grammar and rules of grammar that make communication clearer, thereby helping avoid ambiguity, misunderstanding and misinterpretation.

Arbitrary grammar and spelling in our speech and writing – because we don’t know the correct way – cannot create good communication and should not be the solution to our present ignorance of a language most of us consider our native language.

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