May 30, 2015

The Incheon Declaration on Education

Education is certainly the solution to many problems we face in the society today. If persons are educated or have a good skill they are in better position to contribute to the development of themselves, their families and their community as a whole.

In a recent UN survey, education was ranked top of the list among major priorities that citizens of the world believe would make their lives better. International organizations and governments around the world are therefore always occupied exploring ways in which they can improve the quality of education and access in general to all students.

Recently, at the World Education Forum held in Incheon, Republic of Korea, a transformative vision for education over the next 15 years was adopted. The Incheon Declaration was welcomed by the global education community, including government ministers from more than 100 countries, non-governmental organizations and youth groups. It encourages countries to provide inclusive, equitable, quality education and life-long learning opportunities for all.

Director-General of UNESCO, Irina Bokova was quoted as saying this Declaration is a huge step forward. “It reflects our determination to ensure that all children and young people gain the knowledge and skills they need to live in dignity, to reach their potential and contribute to their societies as responsible global citizens.

It encourages governments to provide learning opportunities through life, so that people can continue to grow and develop. It affirms that education is the key to global peace and sustainable development,” Bokova said.

The Incheon Declaration builds on the global Education for All (EFA) movement that was initiated in Jomtien, Thailand in 1990 and reiterated in Dakar, Senegal in 2000. EFA – and the Millennium Development Goal on Education – resulted in significant progress, but many of its targets, including universal access to primary education, remain unfulfilled.

At present, 58 million children remain out of school – most of them girls. In addition, 250 million children are not learning basic skills, even though half of them have spent at least four years in school.

We can safely say that this country has made tremendous gains in the education sector, and this is largely due to the many bold and sensible policy decisions implemented by the PPP/C administration.

The necessary investments were made to improve education delivery in every regard, and we are now seeing the results of these interventions. This country has achieved universal access to primary education and is well on its way to achieving universal access to secondary education.

We have seen tangible improvements in schools’ infrastructure across the country, a drastic increase in the number of teachers being trained, increases in enrolment ratios across all levels, improved results at national and international exams, interest and attainment in the sciences, and improved access to technical, vocational and tertiary facilities.

The new Government has inherited a progressive education sector which has come very far way since 1992. Guyana is leading its Caricom neighbours as it relates to results at the CSEC and CAPE levels. The new Administration must therefore continue to build on these gains by making the right policy decisions to continue moving the sector forward.

That aside, the Incheon Declaration will be implemented through the Education 2030 Framework for Action, a roadmap for governments to be adopted by the end of the year. It will provide guidance on effective legal and policy frameworks for education, based on the principles of accountability, transparency and participatory governance.

UNICEF and others have rightly stated that effective implementation of the initiative will require strong regional coordination and rigorous monitoring and evaluation of the education agenda. It will also require more funding, especially for the countries furthest from providing inclusive, quality education.

Education is essential to achieving all of the new Sustainable Development Goals. It is necessary to eradicate poverty, boost shared prosperity and broad-based economic growth, and build peaceful, tolerant societies.

The Incheon Declaration demonstrates the common commitment to deliver this vision. It shows how education can transform lives.

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History and campaign promises

The recent myriad lamentations of government’s youth supporters regarding their increasing sense of betrayal by the coalition is not unexpected – at least not by the more mature of the Guyanese populace who have seen politicians make and break promises before.

They would have long ago experienced such betrayal at the hands of government, in particular under the People’s National Congress (PNC)-led era of rigged elections, dictatorship and mismanagement, which brought Guyana to its knees pre-1992.

In these early days of the new administration, one could advise the youths not to be rash, not to chomp at their bit, or paw the ground just yet. Hopefully, there may be better days ahead.

One could point out to them that many new presidents do try to keep campaign promises, though many fail when faced with the true realities of running a country after years in opposition.

Pandering to popular sentiment during campaigns does not necessarily hold up when faced with global and national dynamics. Even internal party dynamics can jettison campaign ideals and this becomes even more crucial with a coalition government in place.

On the other hand, one could advise that youths should also be the guardians of democracy against any future dictatorship. They must be vigilant, and raise the alarm when necessary. They must hold their respected elders accountable.

One could point out too that this is perhaps where the strident campaign calls by the said coalition – to youths especially – to ignore history, has revealed its purpose.

To those fully aware of our history, and therefore saw through the cries and saw the nefarious purpose for it, many of today’s actions may be a harbinger of a past repeating itself. For those who don’t know their past and those who ignore their history, it would become a tragic lesson to learn.

Regrettably, history has repeatedly proved that those hungry for power will say and do anything to convince the masses to give them the opportunity to rule – leaving disappointed and disillusioned young generations. And it’s not just history that has proved the fact; polls do too now.

A Rasmussen Poll in 2014 revealed that among the US population, only four per cent of voters feel politicians keep their campaign promises; 83 per cent say they don’t.

Guyana’s youths were the target of the then opposition’s political campaign. Few among them knew, and still don’t know, the main party in the coalition’s historical penchant for ignoring and thwarting the will of the people, including youths.

The new president, after campaigning for the votes of youth with promises of political partnership and inclusivity, has yet to address the role youths would play in his government.

Neither has he created from his administration’s many ministries any significant department or government organisation that would be looking after the welfare of Guyanese youths.

Subsuming important youth-focused ministries such as the education and culture, youth and sport ministries speaks volumes of the lack of adherence to its campaign promises to youths.

After years of focussing on youth representation in politics while in opposition, and recently on the campaign trail, the president now suggests their apparent lack of experience would be disadvantageous to good governance because experience is what is necessary.

Incidentally, when pressed to discuss the lack of youth within the new administration, the president referred to the lack of experience among the many mature individuals for his new ministries. It is perhaps an admission that does not bode well for the governance of a country by mostly inexperienced individuals.

Experience is important for running a country, but youths have a significant role to play in building a nation.

To date, the David Granger administration has produced scant evidence to Guyanese youth that things promised on the campaign trail and expounded throughout its time in opposition are genuinely being considered now that he is running the country.

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State of the nation

It would be quite irresponsible if after this special 49th anniversary of our Independence from Britain, we do not engage in some kind of stocktaking – both in terms of ourselves and of our nation.

While there are nations with hoary pasts that extend into antiquity, our official beginning beginning are yet distant enough to offer a fairly disinterested perspective. There are at least two variables that we must grapple with.

First of all, there is the threshold issue of our identity itself and that of our “nation”. It has been said not only of us, but of the majority of ex-colonies that were granted independence in the post-WWII era that we were “states but not nations”.

The former were the easily bestowed name, map, constitution, membership into the UN etc that made the country a member of the Westphalian state system that had been created three centuries before.

But even older countries had discovered that a “state” was not necessarily a “nation”, which was the entity that identified their “oneness” according to descent, culture and other more emotional markers.

And while it was assumed that this dichotomy between state and nation would disappear or be made to disappear through assimilationist policies, the reverse actually happened resulting in a debilitating struggle within countries by self identified groups seeking greater autonomy of one kind or another.

Last year, Scotland, which was part of “Britain” since 1601, held a referendum which almost resulted in the Scots having their “own state”. Ironically, many of the overseers that played pivotal roles on the sugar plantations to socialise the slaves and indentured labourers into being “Guyanese” were from Scotland and Ireland – both now redefining their then “identity”.

In Guyana, while there are thankfully no moves for separation, it is widely believed by analysts that unless there is a more cohesive national identity, many of the goals that need everyone putting their shoulders to the wheel might continue to be problematical.

Another unsettled question that manifests itself under different guises to create problems over the last 49 years is that of the economic system that is supposed to deliver the “good life” to all Guyanese.

After independence, there was a continuation of the debate on this subject that had created much conflict with the ex-colonial power. “Co-operative socialism” was the PNC’s answer to the more traditional Marxist-Leninist centralised economy the Opposition PPP/C favoured. By 1989, however, the question was moot and both major parties, as well as the minuscule “third” parties, accepted the seemingly inevitable melange of neo-liberal policies dubbed the “Washington Consensus”.

Without rehearsing the path travelled since then, we would be even more irresponsible if we ignore the severe inequalities produced by that model in the emanating developed countries.

We are now assured by an economist, working from within the economic orthodoxy, Thomas Picketty – and accepted by most across the divide. Such as it exists nowadays – that while most ships will rise with the system’s economic tide, as we have seen in the US unless there are some severe regulations, severe inequalities can result.

More worrisome, is his demonstration by reference to the historical record, that the resulting inequalities becomes structurally entrenched and obviously very difficult to alter later.

The apparent relative rise of the lower classes in the developed countries in the post 1930’s depression era, was evidently a unique occurrence caused by conditions unlikely to be replicated again – such as a global war.

For a country like ours, with an ethnically divided polity that remains poor and politicians ever ready to attribute inequalities to the actions of their “racist” opponents, the policy implications of Picketty’s analysis must be considered seriously, and implemented, if we are to ever become really independent.

So while we have to acknowledge that there has been progress over the last two decades, we have to be cautious going forward of future inequalities.

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Rebuilding national unity

President David Granger came to power in Guyana by campaigning on a promise to deliver positive socio-economic change and a Government of national unity that would heal the country, create higher levels of inclusivity and bring ethnic harmony and cohesiveness.

Since his entrance in the PNCR back in 2010 at the primaries, Granger has been talking about the need to make Government and politics people centered. This no doubt motivated him, along with the blessings of the top brass of the PNC/R which was still being controlled by Robert Corbin, to form the coalition movement under APNU

After six years in opposition, Granger has finally succeeded in becoming President despite the fact that a dark cloud is hovering over the legitimacy of his presidency because of claims by the PPPC’s that the May 11 elections were rigged.

He continues to pay lip service to the notion and meaning of the formation of a Government of National Unity. Similarly, President Granger has over the past two weeks since being sworn in made a mockery of the concept of inclusionary democracy.

Granger knows there can be no inclusionary democracy or national unity achieved without the PPPC. It is disappointing that he has not seen it fit to explain what he means when he invited the PPPC to join the “unity train” and “work in unity for Guyana’s development”.

He should have exercised more seriousness and invited the PPPC to form part of his cabinet, if he is really interested creating a unified country. He should have initiated talks with former President Donald Ramotar about working together.

Granger should have also called on GECOM to conduct a forensic audit of the elections results given the complaints and accusations being made by the PPP/C, especially if he was certain about the fairness and accuracy of the results declared by GECOM.

He should have by this week sent a frank message to all Guyanese that his administration would not tolerate any form of covert or overt racism especially from his supporters. He has used all sorts of rhetoric to escape issuing outright condemnation to attitudes being displayed by some of his own supporters to supporters of the PPP/C who have been complaining about the verbal abuse and torment they are made to face daily.

Granger has to focus on building trust in the society by working with the PPPC to temper the fears that East Indians in this country have about the PNCR.

He has announced a 26-member Cabinet of Ministers with an average age of 55.6 years and 1, 445 years altogether. There was no consultation, for the most part, with other coalition partners as to the outline of his government and who would be best suited to serve in what post.

He went ahead and created new, renamed and subsumed ministries without consultation with the public or civil society, creating a bureaucratic monstrosity and confusion amongst the populace.

No proper explanation is forthcoming for these ad hoc changes, but the public relations czars in his Government have been painting him as a leader promising to consult with the populace and all stakeholders before making major decisions.

President Granger appears to have a vision for creating unity in Guyana but he will shortchange himself over the next five years if he does not share that vision clearly with the populace so that they could understand it, critique it and improve it.

Over the next few months, the Granger government must consult with the people and must end this culture of high-handedness which is becoming evident, given the manner in which governance is being administered since May 11.

National unity and inclusivity means the period of campaigning is over and it is time for the Government to give life to all of the governance proposals they are articulated on the campaign trail, including meaningfully involving the PPP/C in their plans for Guyana.

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The decisive role of youths in the last elections has been much commented on in all fora – especially on social media where they have a dominant presence. With all of these youths – by definition – born after the independence era, it is not surprising from a perusal of their comments that they have a totally different response to “Independence” than those who actually might have been youths then.

In 1966, the country had just emerged from a virtual civil war arising out of the colonial power Britain’s decision to go along with the US’s actions to remove the PPP government because it “threatened ” its strategic interests, vis a vis the USSR.

The “Cold War” between the USA and the USSR dominated all discourse and even the youths were inevitably drawn into the polarised axis of conflict.

It was ironic that neither the PPP nor the PNC disagreed on their fundamental analysis of Guyanese society and politics: their differences were tactical rather than strategic. And it is for this reason that at various conjunctures in the next two decades, there were several attempts at a closer working relationship between the two parties that bestrode Guyanese politics like Colossuses.

Barring the court approving the threatened PPP/C’s election petition and removing the APNU/AFC government, the youths of Guyana are witnessing a rather rare event in Guyanese politics.

Their preceding independence-era cohort had to wait 28 years to experience regime change – by which time, many were quite long in the tooth. In the preceding years, the bold promise of “Independence” had all faded into a dystopian reality that forced the country into a new colonial relationship.

After his leader firmly rejected the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in the 1970s, Desmond Hoyte by 1989 accepted its “conditionalities” in exchange for the privilege of repaying the accumulated $2.1 billion debt.

For all intents and purposes, the country was placed in a straight jacket woven out of the eponymously named “Washington Consensus”, which placed the running of the economy into the hands of foreign bureaucrats from the Fund.

Within the next decade and a half, the PPP/C government had removed Guyana from the ministrations of the IMF and moved the country from being derided as a “Highly Indebted Poor Country” (HIPC) into a respectable “Lower Middle Income Country”.

While Guyana benefitted from a worldwide movement for debt alleviation for a number of HIPC countries, few can actually challenge the PPP/C’s assertion that at a minimum, it was their success in keeping the “macro-economic fundamentals” that proved to be the game changer.

By the middle of the last decade, Guyana and Guyanese could once again celebrate their “independence” as the county began to accumulate enough foreign reserves so that it did not have to live from “day to day” with a begging bowl in hand.

The band of youths from the 1992 era of “change” were thus able to experience real independence as they became middle aged. Whether in housing, water, jobs, clothing, transportation and roads etc, they could point to concrete accomplishments in the PPPC’s 23 years at the helm.

But yet on May 11, barring a reversal, Guyanese voted the PPP/C government out of office. Whatever the ultimate outcome scenario, it meant that half of the population was not satisfied with its performance, positive as it may have been.

There have been any number of “explanations”: the ethnic voting pattern, the incumbent fatigue effect, the youths not being aware from whence the PPP/C had brought the country, etc.

On this Independence Day, it is up to Guyanese to do some introspection on their exercise of their democratic franchise. While it is true that it is not healthy for any one government to govern for too long, citizens must be wary of encouraging “change for the sake of change”. We must insist on not giving up our independence once again.

Happy Independence Day.

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Triumphalism must be nipped

Even since GECOM’s Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Keith Lowenfield announced the “final declaration” of the results of the May 11 General Elections – that the A Partnership For National Unity/Alliance for Change (APNU/AFC) coalition had “won”, there have been widespread reports of supporters of the coalition harassing and intimidating perceived supporters of the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C).

Most of these incidents have escaped the attention of the mass media, which is generally generally attuned to covering more organised and systematic social phenomena. The couple of incidents reaching the courts elicited sparse coverage and few commentaries. This stance ignores the importance and possible dangers for social harmony, and indeed social cohesion, by the phenomena

Social media became the major site for the behaviour, which can only be described as “triumphalism” by the supporters of APNU/AFC. They boasted “their side had won” and it was “their time”. Because of the nature of political support in Guyana, which once again fell along ethnic lines, some of the taunting spilled over into “racial slurs” and it is here that the greatest danger lies.

Already on social media, the taunts elicited counter slurs couched in racial language with each repartee becoming increasingly strident.
One report in this newspaper offered a brief recount of an encounter by Swami Askarananda with a group of African Guyanese at the Vreed en Hopp Stelling. It illustrates where the triumphalist behaviour may lead.

A Swami is a revered figure in the Hindu Community, the largest religious denomination in the country. His saffron robe represents his renounciation of worldly goods and his total dedication to working on behalf of his community.

Over the last decade, the school he founded, SVN, has emerged as one of the top high schools in the country as far as performance at the CXC exams, even though the school in general draws from some of the lowest scoring students at the National Sixth Grade Assessment Examinations (NGSA).
In association with some other groups, his school also conducts the most successful annual blood drive in the country. He is also a member of the Inter Religious Organisation (IRO).

We have elaborated on the Swami’s societal credentials because when a person of his stature can be harassed as he was in a public space in such a scatological and obscene manner in the present climate it must give all of us pause and force us into some sort of introspection.
In the tail end of the elections campaign, the Swami, a member of no political party, essayed some letters to the press on what he considered to be a member of the Opposition’s misinterpretation of a Hindu text. For this, he was denounced in the press by letter writers, columnists and bloggers in the most extreme language.

The point we wish to raise is that if the compulsion to be triumphal is so strong so as seek to humiliate a Hindu “man of the cloth”, it merely confirms that Guyana might be sitting on a tinderbox.

On elections night in Sophia the nation witnessed another “man of the cloth”, this time a Christian one who was directly affiliated to the PPP/C party. He received a more “condign” treatment from members of the “other side”. This Christian Pastor has evidently “ministered” to the bodies and souls of the very people who burnt his house and car (along with those of ten others) in the community.

Such actions have to spring from some very deep wellsprings of anger and even hate and it is not too difficult to imagine that it could be inflamed to greater acts of violence in the months ahead.

For this reason, we call upon the political parties to act with firmness to denounce acts of triumphalism, and to plead with the recipients of the slurs to take the high road and not retaliate in kind.

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Prelude to Independence

Independence Day is two days away. Since the inaugural blessed event of May 26, 1966, it evolved into a national event that was centred on the raising of the Golden Arrowhead at the stroke of midnight at the National Park.

This practice originated from that fateful night when with Forbes Burnham as Prime Minister, and Dr Cheddi Jagan as Opposition Leader in attendance with thousands of Guyanese from all walks of life, lowered the Union Jack for the last time and the Golden Arrowhead, representing our sovereignty, was raised.

Even though they had been locked in almost mortal political combat just two years before, the two leaders hugged each other at that moment. Whatever political differences existed, and there were too many to be swept under any rug, they were put aside for the moment when Guyana became free after more than 300 years of colonial rule.

So Independence Day was commemorated with politicians from every side of the political divide in attendance to salute the Golden Arrowhead in unity, even if only for that moment.

It was therefore with great surprise that most Guyanese received the news, almost “by the way”, that the new APNU/AFC government had made an Executive decision to abandon the National Park midnight commemoration. It would be replaced by one held during the day at the Independence Arch on Brickdam, a stone’s throw from the Square of the Revolution.

From the reaction in the press and social media, the decision was evidently not discussed with the government’s supporters much less the PPP/C, now in Opposition.

Not surprisingly the latter did not react positively to the announcement. In a press release, it pointed out testily:
“The PPP/C as the Party that played the lead role in the independence struggle under the then leadership of Dr Cheddi Jagan calls on the Granger-led administration to reconsider that decision and hold the Flag Raising celebrations at the National Park in keeping with time honoured custom and practice as it relates to the celebration.”

The PPP/C was obviously referring to the formation of the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) on January 1, 1950, in which he was the leading player and which set the Independence of Guyana as its primary aim.

He persuaded Ashton Chase to move aside for Forbes Burnham, the former Guyana Scholar, in the leadership of the Party as the individual who African Guyanese might most support. Both leaders were staunch nationalists, but differed in their approach to confront Britain, the colonial power, and the new superpower the USA.

With the collapse of the British West Indian Federation, Britain decided to grant independence to its constituent members, depending on its assessment of their “political readiness”.

Guyana was adjudged to be “precocious” and was scheduled to independence in the first wave. After the 1960 Independence Conference in London, it was decided that the winner of the 1961 elections would lead the country to independence.

As a matter of fact it was when Burnham announced he would support Jagan if the PPP won, that caused Eusi Kwayana to be ejected from the PNC because of his vehement objection.

However, even though Jagan and the PPP did win the 1961 elections, unlike Jamaica and Trinidad which were granted independence in 1962, he was blocked in his quest to lead an independent Guyana by the US.

The latter feared that Jagan would take Guyana into the USSR’s camp and induced the British to allow the CIA to oust Jagan and install the PNC and Burnham into office in 1964. The rest, as they say, is history.

Against this history which served to lay the groundwork for the divisions that still rent our society, it is rather insensitive for the new APNU/AFC government to exclude the PPP/C, which received at least 49.2 per cent of the votes, from the planning of the commemoration of Independence Day.

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After the celebrations are over

In the apparent euphoria of Guyana’s election results, the country has, for the most part, seen much festivity and much enthusiasm for the future as the new president has promised to be a good president. Most newly elected officials often make such promises.

In 2012, Egypt declared its president after its historic first free and fair elections. It was a time of wild celebrations across Egypt. After decades of military dictatorship, Mohammed Morsi was democratically elected by the Egyptian multitude to rule a divided and heavily militarised nation.

As is customary of newly elected rulers, Morsi’s speech was filled with promises of a better and united country in light of its newfound democracy. Within a year however, the celebrations were over as anti-government protests swept across the country when Morsi declared some decidedly undemocratic restructurings.

The promises turned out to be empty for the majority of Egyptians. To the population, Morsi, it seemed, was preoccupied with political issues rather than solving economic and social ones. Today, according to a British newspaper, the current ruler enjoys popular backing, though not internationally.

Whether warranted or not, Morsi has now become a pariah among the majority of Egyptians after being also charged for ordering the deaths of anti-government protestors, many of those whom no doubt had voted him into power with the hope of a new Egypt and were disillusioned that it hadn’t yet arrived.

For if it’s one thing most elected leaders learn early is that their public always wants immediate results. Reform, better opportunities and all the promises made during the election campaigns must be met, preferably promptly.

With such close numbers and barring electoral rigging, the new Guyanese administration has to be quickly and clearly seen as working for all the people, or the very public that voted them in may speedily dispatch them at the next elections.

In one US, news report, many black Americans say the promises of Democratic President Obama have not been met and many are disappointed that after two terms nothing has changed for them. It may have translated to Republican gains in that country’s senate at the last elections.

The euphoria of America’s first black president and the hope it inspired has been deflated for those who had expected more from him within his presidential term. To quote a labour organizer interviewed for the report, “A lot of people don’t understand how government works. They think the president is a saviour.”

And it is not just in the US; many world leaders have swept to victory riding high on popular appeal, only to create widespread disappointment and resentment at the perceived slow rate of change and progress, and delays in keeping promises made on the campaign trail.

With the new administration just settling in, there is indeed a wave of goodwill, as was expected, as expressions of support continue to pour in locally, from the Caribbean and beyond.

Rightly or wrongly, this is why it is vitally important for the new administration to start walking the walk to illustrate to the public, particularly those unconvinced of their validity, that they are indeed for all Guyanese.

For those who looked beyond race, the new administration must swiftly provide them with concrete evidence of the “change” they campaigned upon that would bring about the united Guyana they made these voters envision.

It is not about settling political scores; it’s about swiftly fulfilling basic promises of employment and good governance to its supporters: the die-hards and those who were convinced of its campaign promises.

The element of time is not favourable to an administration that is elected under its promises of change and reform. People want to see quick change; jobs must be quickly provided not just promised, poverty must be quickly reduced, not simply promised to be reduced.

The Guyanese people are watching and waiting, but they would not wait forever.

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Cultural contretemps

After the tense wait following the elections of May 11, when the “preliminary result so” were finally announced, the United Nations (UN) Resident Coordinator, Khadija Musa, felt it necessary to invoke the question of identity. She was quoted in another section of the press as declaring:

“It is very important for Guyanese to think of themselves as Guyanese and not Indo-Guyanese, Afro-Guyanese, Amerindian-Guyanese, Portuguese-Guyanese or whatever their background is.”

She must have followed the returns pouring in and tabulated in the press and noticed the correlation between ethnicity and voting preference.

However one reader, in a riposte, pointed out that the US Resident Coordinator was demanding the abandonment of cultural identities, something that went against the very principles that the UN itself, stood for. The reader also threatened to raise the matter at the UN, unless Ms Musa retracted her statement.

Yesterday, Ms Musa responded, but rather than retracting her statement evidently sought to “explain” what she meant:

“I would like to reaffirm that I believe that cultural heritage is very important to a plural society like Guyana’s. However, Guyanese should not allow their ethnic identity to divide the nation. It is evident from current conflicts around the world, the devastation such divisions can lead to, examples of which can be seen today in the Middle East and Ukraine.”

But it now even clearer that Ms Musa still does not understand the fundamental nature of the objection to her assertion. Even in her “explanation” she still posits an ineluctable conflict between ethnic identity and “national unity”.

And to compound matters, she cites two examples to illustrate her “point” – conflicts in the Ukraine and the Middle East – in which several other factors, not the least being “big power” competition have operated to initiate and fuel the conflicts. And not necessarily ethnic

Ms Musa should do herself a favour and examine the UN documents on the two conflicts she cites and to discover whether the body to which she belongs ever mentioned that ethnic identity in and of itself has been the cause of the conflicts.

But Ms Musa shows her hand when in her riposte, she prefaced her statement by saying, “I believe….” The point to be made is that the UN Resident Coordinator cannot preach to the people of this country what she happens to “believe”, but what the UN has actually declared to be their stance on the issue.

The right to participate in cultural life is enshrined in Article 27 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and within the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights:

“In those States in which ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities exist, persons belonging to such minorities shall not be denied the right, in community with the other members of their group, to enjoy their own culture, to profess and practise their own religion, or to use their own language.”

In our dear land of Guyana, where we are all “minorities” no one should be asked to view their cultural expression as inimical to “national unity”. Instead, the institutions of the nation and state should be so structured to facilitate the free expression of the various cultures. Remarkably for one who has been sent here to represent the UN, Ms Musa insists on putting the cart before the horse.

What the UN has shown in so many instances is that it is only when one or more groups are privileged above others – in effect when there is “stratification – along any number of cleavages of which “ethnicity/race” is only one – will conflict arise.

As the Director-General of UNESCO declared when the was launched in the wake of September 11, 2001:

“The Universal Declaration makes it clear that each individual must acknowledge not only otherness in all its forms but also the plurality of his or her own identity, within societies that are themselves plural.”

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Unanswered questions

Shrouded in controversy, the 2015 elections results were announced last Saturday placing the APNU+AFC coalition in the seat of government. The new government is beginning to take shape with the appointment of ministers and other top government officials.
The general situation in Georgetown and its environs seems to be getting back to some sense of normalcy. Georgetown literally ground to a halt during the week of elections. School children, especially those sitting the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate Exams, were affected.
Businesses also took a beating as there was a feeling that there would have been a breakout of violence in the commercial areas of the City and other areas. Except the unrest in Sophia, there was general peace and quietude around the country.
Guyanese want to move on with their lives without being fearful that they would be attacked. However, while the country may be gradually returning to normalcy, this does not mean that the many critical issues which were brought to the fore by the political parties, and which no doubt had an impact on the outcome of the elections should be ignored.
The task of running the State must go on but there are numerous questions which GECOM still has to answer to the satisfaction of all stakeholders, especially the ordinary citizens who had a passion to vote for a government of their choice.
It is now public knowledge that the leaders and supporters of the PPP/C feel that they were cheated out of office. Whether this is true or not, GECOM has an obligation to ensure that all such concerns are addressed fully. One cannot dismiss these allegations easily as such approach would have a negative impact in relation to the level of confidence persons place in the elections machinery and governance systems as a whole.
From the evidence gathered so far, it looks as if the PPP/C has a strong case for an elections petition to challenge the results. The party has every right to take the matter to the courts to determine whether these elections truly reflected the will of the people.
An election is about the will of the people. It’s an exercise of their freedom to choose their government and representatives. To dismiss the importance and significance of these alleged cases of fraud is to disregard the sanctity of the democratic rights of the citizens.
The PPP/C is alleging that after the counting and the transfer of Statements of Poll to the DROs, and then on to GECOM, something happened that might have altered the results in favour of the coalition. One must note also that it was the Chief Elections Officer who told the nation during a live press conference that fake Statements of Poll were detected.
There were a number of questions being raised about the entire elections process. GECOM has merely provided vague statements in response to the concerns of PPP/C and other key stakeholders. No one really told the nation how many of these fake SOPs were found, for which box and which division and whether the votes for political parties corresponded with the authentic SOPs.
The discovery of even one fake Statement of Poll should have triggered a forensic audit immediately that involved all parties, including the Observers. There should have been an inquiry immediately to find out how and by whom these fraudulent SOPs were introduced within the architecture of GECOM.
Given the issues raised in relation to the elections results, many persons are still of the view that GECOM should not have allowed a declaration of the results to go ahead without comprehensively discounting that these fake SOPs had no influence on the outcome.
In addition to the PPP/C moving to the courts to determine if the elections were a reflection of the will of the people, the party must also register its strong objection to the performance of the international community and the Observers Groups tasked with overseeing the process here.
From what we gather they were more concerned about GECOM releasing the results early as against ensuring the integrity of the elections and securing the democratic rights of citizens. That said, we believe that GECOM is faced with a huge challenge of regaining public confidence in the work it does.

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