September 21, 2014 By
September 19, 2014 By
More than a month ago, on August 9, in an Editorial, “Ebola and Chikungunya”, this newspaper warned about the Chikungunya virus, the spread of which we felt was not being given enough attention. Noting that its fatality rate was not very high, but that its effects on individuals was quite debilitating, we called for action.
This, we felt, should have been within the competence of the said authorities, since the virus was vectored by mosquitoes the same as with the protozoan causing malaria, for almost a century.
But taking note of the Ebola virus that was wrecking havoc in West Africa, we noted that it was almost certain that it would reach our shores and that efforts to combat Chikungunya might be a dress rehearsal against the more deadly Ebola. We noted:
“The Ebola virus, which requires contact with the bodily fluids of a victim, their blood, urine, faeces, vomit, saliva or sweat, to leap into a new host, is almost certain to reach our shores before the end of the year. By contrast to Chikungunya, it is fatal in almost 50-90 per cent of the infected cases with 729 deaths so far, including more than 60 healthcare workers and two of the most experienced doctors, and 1323 cases overall.”
Sadly, as we have been forced to report, the fight against Chikungunya has been generally reactive at best, even as the World Health Organisation (WHO) now warns that the Ebola outbreak in West Africa constitutes a “public health emergency of international concern” (PHEIC).
Most recently, the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO)/WHO is “urging the countries of the Americas to be vigilant and prepared for a potential introduction of the Ebola virus in the region.” Behind these warnings have to be the stark and startling figures of the epidemic since the August figures: as of this week, 2630 persons have now died from the virus and at least 5357 have been infected.
There have been an increasing number of scientific analyses of these numbers which are far in excess of the infection and fatality rates observed since the virus was identified back in 1976. In the peer-reviewed publication of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, “Eurosurveillance”, a worst-case hypothetical scenario, predicted an additional 77,181 to 277,124 cases by the end of 2014 should the present trend continue.
In the New York Times, the Epidemiologist, Dr Michael T Osterholm of the University of Minnesota warned: “The Ebola epidemic in West Africa has the potential to alter history as much as any plague has ever done.” Some have began to speculate that the ‘Black Death’ that devastated Medieval Europe might have been a viral hemorrhagic fever like Ebola.
Dr Osterholm speculates that there are two possible outcomes that we should consider:
“The first possibility is that the Ebola virus spreads from West Africa to megacities in other regions of the developing world. This outbreak is very different from the 19 that have occurred in Africa over the past 40 years. It is much easier to control Ebola infections in isolated villages. But there has been a 300 per cent increase in Africa’s population over the last four decades, much of it in large city slums….
“The second possibility is one that virologists are loath to discuss openly but are definitely considering in private: that an Ebola virus could mutate to become transmissible through the air… viruses like Ebola are notoriously sloppy in replicating, meaning the virus entering one person may be genetically different from the virus entering the next. The current Ebola virus’s hyper-evolution is unprecedented; there has been more human-to-human transmission in the past four months than most likely occurred in the last 500 to 1000 years. Each new infection represents trillions of throws of the genetic dice.”
We plead with our authorities not to panic – but like the scouts, “Be Prepared”.
September 17, 2014 By
Today, the people of Scotland are participating in a referendum to decide whether they will remain as part of Britain, or become an independent nation. This is a momentous occasion – and not just for the people of Britain and Scotland. Scotland was an independent nation until 1603 when it’s King James VI succeeded Elizabeth 1st and became the ruler of a unified Britain as James 1.
The legal union occurred in 1707. What we are therefore witnessing is the possible breakup of a union of two countries lasting more than 300 years.
Britain was always a union of Kingdoms – of Ireland, Wales, England and Scotland. But interestingly, the Scots had always been considered as more “integrated” into the union, than say, the Irish, who fought for, and won, their independence between 1919-1921. It is quite possible that the role of their monarchy in the formation of the union played a not insignificant role in their quietude. The present Queen Elizabeth, descended from James, still occupies her palace in Balmoral in Scotland for a period of every year.
But it is quite clear that the dream of an independent Scottish state had never quite been extinguished. As of yesterday, the polls showed that those who would vote “yes” to independence were in a statistical dead heat with those favouring “no”. And even if the “yes” were to be defeated, this would represent a seismic event in British history and which would have severe repercussions at Westminster. The Government there might even fall.
The fact of the matter is that the combined Labour, Conservative and Liberal parties are officially on the side of “no” and yet they are being held off by the partisans of “yes”. This means that party loyalty has been dissolved under the heat of Scottish nationalism. And this is what not just the rest of Britain is afraid of, but every country in Europe that is composed on discrete nations. Like the Ukraine, for instance.
But Scotland is not the first and certainly not going to be the last that will attempt and eventually fulfil the dream of “self determination” that is promised under the charter of the United Nations – the nearest mechanism we have resembling a world governance structure.
Unlike most of the other polyglot nations across the globe, however, the European “nations” were ruled as such for hundreds of years. They had all that time to evolve the institutions of the modern state system, the formation of which occurred only 45 years after the union of Scotland and England.
Scotland had not only its own King, but its own Parliament, Judiciary and all the other paraphernalia of statehood. There are those that are stressing the economic choices that the separatists must make, with a country of five million, competing with the comparatively gigantic states such as Germany, France and even the rump Britain, which will still have a population of approximately 58 million.
But if one follows the history of “self determination” quests, economics is very rarely the driving force behind them. Almost invariably, that impetus comes from the desire to be recognised: it is the consequence of the politics of recognition. In these multi-national countries – or in its milder “multi-ethnic” variant – almost invariably the dominant group is quite insensitive to the need of the other groups to be recognised as such in the public sphere.
In Britain, for instance, while it ostentatiously adopted a “multi-ethnic” cultural identity after criticisms summarised by slogans such as “Ain’t no black in the Union Jack”, it soon became evident that not much more than placebos were being offered to minority cultures and peoples.
Over the years, some the people of Scotland – now almost half of them – were convinced that they were being manipulated by the system rather than being integrated in a manner where they would be equal in the fundamental power relations of the society.
Britain will never be the same again after today.
September 16, 2014 By
President Donald Ramotar must be commended for his decision to seek clarity on the contents of a letter issued to him by David Granger before penning a comprehensive and appropriate response to the concerns raised therein.
Recall the disrespectful tone of the letter which was dispatched to the President last week Tuesday and its concommitant threat of the mobilisation of local and international “action” if he did not operationalise all of the mechanisms in place to hold Local Government Elections.
Surely, the Opposition Leader was not expecting the President of Guyana or the ruling People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) to abandon the positions and concerns they articulated for months about the state of preparedness of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) and the need for a more robust public education system to be in place ahead of these elections, simply because he made a threat.
Apart from those concerns, the President and his party have consistently recommitted themselves to ensuring that the elections are held, but they will not be intimidated into doing so with Opposition-tailored pieces of legislation that can taint the integrity of the outcome of the process.
It could not have escaped the experienced Opposition Leader that the PPP/C would have viewed his deadline as a political gimmick, aimed at creating tension in the country in the lead-up to the AFC’s No-Confidence Motion, which will be discussed next week.
That aside, Granger did a very poor job in rationalising his decision to suddenly galvanise support for Local Government polls, even though his party had taken a principled position to support the AFC’s motion, which would trigger General and Regional Elections after being discussed in October.
What is also worrying is that the Opposition Leader did not consult (at least he would like the public and media to believe that he did) key partners within his coalition, Opposition parties and PNC/R’s political constituency about the ultimatum and the line of action that must follow, since the President refuses to be bullied into setting an election date.
This in itself is remarkable and speaks to a lack of political maturity and the understanding of the impact that such threats can have on national life, peace, tranquillity of the public and investment.
The “action” cannot be a top secret and Granger cannot promise that it will only take on a legal and legitimate nature. Because of the ambiguity surrounding that action, any sort of violence, protests and criminal activity that occurs around this period could be easily misconstrued to be the consequences of non-action on the part of the President, as far as the ultimatum is concerned.
It would do the Opposition Leader and his future in politics good for him to unveil or give more clarity to the forms this action will take even if it means giving his political opponents a heads-up.
Coincidently, Granger’s ultimatum was issued within the same week that one of the country’s largest workers union suddenly summoned a media conference and threatened to take industrial action against the Government for all issues under the sun.
No one could forget the support given by that particular union in 1997 and 1999 to the political Opposition then to wreak havoc in the streets of Guyana in the name of better wages and salaries, and democracy.
Both Opposition Leader Granger and President Ramotar need to sit around the table and discuss issues frankly with the aim of arriving at a solution as opposed to continuing their hardline positions. And every problem has a solution.
It is therefore not surprising that the date for action following the expiration of the ultimatum is not known. The letter, which was no doubt ambiguous, given the utterances of several frontline spokespersons of the APNU on a variety of issues relating to Local Government Elections, was aimed at forcing the President to disregard the positions, arguments and concerns articulated by his Government and the ruling PPP/C.
The nation therefore anxiously awaits Granger’s action now that the ultimatum has expired.
September 16, 2014 By
Monday was designated World International Day of Democracy – a United Nations observance celebrated on September 15 every year since 2007. The day came about following a Resolution by the UN General Assembly aimed at promoting and upholding the principles of democracy.
Interestingly, the preamble of the resolution affirmed that: “while democracies share common features, there is no single model of democracy and democracy does not belong to any country or region… democracy is a universal value based on the freely-expressed will of people to determine their own political, economic, social and cultural systems, and their full participation in all aspects of life.” It is instructive that amid the celebration of democracy on Monday, global powers were, at best, trying to import their own brand of democracy into many countries. This undoubtedly has given rise to groups like ISIS, who believe that they must protect their “democracy” from Western influence. The result is endless bloodletting and destabilisation. There could be no explanation for the mass killings and beheadings that groups like ISIS have carried out; the atrocities in Ukraine and the long war in countries like Afghanistan where scores of people are often killed in one blast.
As observed by the United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon, this year’s commemoration comes at a time when the world seems more turbulent than ever. In many regions and in many ways, the values of the UN, including some of the most fundamental rights and freedoms enshrined in its Charter, are being tested and challenged.
“Recent outbreaks of violence reinforce a truth we have seen time and again: that where societies are not inclusive, and where Governments are not responsive and accountable, peace, equality and shared prosperity cannot take hold. We need to do more to empower individuals, focusing on the billions of people who are underprivileged, marginalised, jobless, hopeless and understandably frustrated. We need to ensure they are heard and can take an active part in their future,” the UN SG said.
Remember, in our own country for many years, the rights of citizens were trampled on; elections were rigged; the security forces conducted widespread surveillance on ordinary Guyanese and the same hopelessness that Mr Ban spoke of was very much in evidence in this country. Through the blood of persons like Dr Walter Rodney and the resilience of Dr Cheddi Jagan that dark period ended in 1992 and today, Guyana is a democratic society. It is within this context that the occasion of International Day of Democracy must be celebrated in Guyana. That, today amid the turmoil in other regions, through a system of good democratic practices, the Nation State remains stable and this must be zealously guarded against those who may still harbour thoughts of yesteryear.
International Day of Democracy also underscores the importance of conducting elections that enjoy the trust and confidence of citizens across the country. This, for many Guyanese, is the heartbeat of democracy. For they know too well how elections were stolen and how many paid with their lives for trying to guard that sacred right to elect a government of their choice. It is no coincidence that the “Rebirth of Democracy” here began with the conduct of peaceful and credible elections in 1992.
The litmus test for genuine democracy is the extent to which the electoral process is able to engender fair and inclusive electoral participation by the people. Credible elections must be people- based. The recent brouhaha concerning the integrity of the Guyana Elections Commission’s Preliminary List of Electors is a clear indication of how touchy this subject is. It, therefore, behoves all stakeholders to place critical importance on strengthening election management because of the central role it plays in ensuring the rights of citizens to elect their leaders through peaceful and credible processes with integrity.
September 15, 2014 By
On September 11 of this year, the local US representative, and the British and Canadian High Commissioners took the unusual step – as was later pointed out by Foreign Minister Carolyn Rodrigues-Birkett – of demanding at a press conference that the Government of Guyana support their Governments’ position on the Ukraine crisis, including calls for Russia to withdraw from the Crimea.
Minister Rodrigues-Birkett pointed out that the matter was not as “black and white” as the Ambassadors would have it and that Guyana’s position was in consonance with those of many members of the international community, including several regional neighbours. “It will be recalled that Guyana and seven other Caricom countries abstained and six UNASUR countries, including Guyana, also abstained, while two voted against the resolution [sanctioning Russia],” said Rodrigues-Birkett.
While the Minister had to be diplomatic, the demand by the Ambassadors was quite ironic in view of significant differences of opinion among members of the European Union (EU) on the issue from the very beginning last November. In the midst of the protests that led to the overthrow of the Ukraine Government seen as “pro-Russian” (for accepting a US$15 billion loan from Russia rather than closer ties with the EU), the latter balked at US demands for imposing sanctions against the Ukraine regime.
A leaked tape of a conversation between the top US diplomat for European and Eurasian Affairs, Victoria Nuland, and US Ambassador to Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt, had Nuland exclaiming: “F*ck the EU!”
After the ouster of the Ukraine President by the protesters followed by the election of a new Government, protests erupted in Eastern Ukraine over the pro-West orientation of the latter. When the Russian-majority province of Crimea voted overwhelmingly in a referendum to secede and join Russia, the EU reluctantly fell into line with the US in imposing sanctions on Russia.
In making their decision, there was a very heated debate in European capitals about the impact of the sanctions on their own economies. These discussions took on an added intensity when Russia retaliated by imposing analogous sanctions against the US and the EU.
What this debate reiterated is that when nations make decisions in the international arena, they do so to protect their national interests. For instance, in addition to its energy dependency on Russia, Germany has more than 6000 firms operating there and 300,000 jobs depending on trade with Russia.
As such, Chancellor Angela Merkel has been much more reticent than Britain’s David Cameron in “calling out” Russia. In fact, when the US called for the EU to impose further sanctions in the present against Russia because it claims there are Russian troops in Eastern Ukraine – a charge denied by Russia – the EU asked for time to consider its options. It is supposed to announce its decision on these new sanctions today.
Against this background, it is clear that the ABC Ambassadors are exerting pressure on Guyana on an issue that has divided even their closest allies in geographical proximity to the claimed breaches of international law. Guyana will have to assert its sovereign right to act based on the same rule observed by every other country: protection of its national interests.
The US envoy’s invocation of our border controversy with Venezuela and the support by the British High Commissioner reek of hypocrisy or realpolitik. It was the Anglo-American conspiracy, beginning in 1961 to remove Jagan, that led to JFK’s visit to Venezuela at the end of that year and the raising of the said controversy in the UN the following year.
As our diplomat Cedric Joseph wrote, “No ‘smoking gun’ would be uncovered to indicate any direct complicity in prompting Venezuela’s reopening of the border issue…. Only the slightest nod of support was required as, is suggested, may have been conveyed by Kennedy to Betancourt.”
The US was acting to protect its national interest then; we should insist on doing the same now.
September 14, 2014 By
During the month of August, this newspaper proposed that because of the seminal event that occurred on the first day of the month – the Emancipation of all slaves in the British Empire – the entire month be labelled “Emancipation Month”. But even without an official imprimatur, we were pleased to notice that throughout the month, there were events and activities that used the theme of “Emancipation” to spur discussion of the way forward for the descendants of those freed slaves.
To those who stubbornly insist that “we must forget slavery”, we say that they are ignoring all the evidence laboriously and painstakingly collected with scientific precision, that demonstrates the effects of slavery are alive and well (so to speak) in the present. But how do we counter these effects? While there is no one “silver bullet”, we believe that a good place to start in our country is to return to one of the greatest achievements of any people in the New World: the formation of the village movement by the ex-slaves.
While there are those that say the movement of millions of tons of earth by African slaves “humanised” Guyana, believe this was achieved with the formation of villages, in which the freed Africans demonstrated that while they might have been treated as chattel for centuries, that experience could not destroy their innate drive to succeed as equals to all.
Unlike the case of many Caribbean Islands, the freed slaves of Guyana did not receive much help from the Christian churches which had began to proselytise among them, but built the villages through their own sweat and blood.
It was in these villages that they tried to revive the traditional African practice of the cooperative effort in taking care of the needs of all. But within an economy and legal structure along the lines of individualism, that approach found the going very hard.
But the villagers began to organise themselves along the lines of the new system they found themselves and very soon, there were elected Village Councils to run the affairs of the community. It was the ex-African slaves that first experienced the meaning of democracy in this land.
They organised not only for political representation, through their Village Councils, but for farming and other pursuits designed to make them economically independent. We know that eventually the brave new world the freed slaves tried to create eventually collapsed. But the question is “why?”
One reason was that the cultivation of the abandoned estates that had been purchased to provide a livelihood for the freed slaves from their labour had been blocked by the authorities at every quarter, especially in irrigation and drainage, in their struggle to make a success of their agricultural endeavours.
The clincher occurred ironically after “independence” when the PNC Government acted to destroy the democratic imperative that had been kept alive at the village level. In 1980, “when that Government moved to introduce decentralisation through Local Government, it deliberately ignored the foundational decentralisation principle of “subsidiarity”, in which functions are specified at the lowest level of the organisation that is practical.
Rather than using the village as the starting unit of organisation, and thus strengthening the inhabitants and their ability to perform local tasks, five to 10 villages were agglomerated into Neighbourhood Democratic Councils (NDCs) and run by elected officials. Because of the linear structure of Guyanese settlements on the Coast, the organic connections within a village were lost in the NDCs. At this time most of these entities are severely dysfunctional.
What we propose is a programme of “village renewal” that would look at the re-development of our villages from a holistic standpoint. And this would have to being by returning village governance to the people who actually live there. In this way we would be paying tribute to our forebears who dreamed of this possibility and also to realise that dream.
September 13, 2014 By
Despite Government’s passage and operationalisation of the Sexual Offences Act of 2010, the number of reported rape cases continues to climb, while the conviction and prosecution rates remain stagnant.
It appears that the legislation has not managed to put a dent in the rape culture which exists within our society, much less dissuade men-folk from resorting to this barbaric act of lawlessness. This is a most worrying development especially when one considers the recent report, which puts the number of reported instances of rape at 140 so far for 2014.
Further, in a recent study, “Without Conviction: Sexual Violence Cases in the Guyana Justice Process”, the Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA) shows an average conviction rate of 1.4 per cent in rape cases compared to rape reports originally made to the Police (nine convictions out of 647 reports) over the years 2000-2004.
This average figure disguises a trend which is even worse. The conviction rate for 2000, the first of the five years, was 0.9 per cent (1:117), while that for the final year, 2004, was 0.6 per cent (1:154).
Statistics also reveal that over the period 2011 to 2014, several cases were thrown out of court because of the lack of evidence; uncooperative witnesses including the victims; jury verdicts; and lacunas in the laws. While this may be the case, some in authority find comfort in referring to the aforementioned reasons as to why the poor conviction rates are continuing.
They hardly refer to the unprofessionalism of the ranks investigating reports of rape, the poor investigative work done before the matter is taken to court, the inadequate systems in place to house or offer protection to both victims and witnesses of rape, and other bureaucratic deficiencies that often times impact the overall success of the prosecution’s case.
Additionally, the Human Services Ministry since 2010 has been educating various stakeholders on the Act, including the Judiciary and Police, but this “education campaign” has not yielded any tangible results. Despite this, the Ministry has not seen it necessary to change its game plan with the hope of developing more ambitious and aggressive campaign strategies or concepts aimed at either changing the rape culture or empowering more women to set up advocacy and pressure groups for action in this regard.
The Ministry is still in “reactive” mode and apparently lacks both the conventional and modern testicular ability to wage war against rape in a meaningful manner.
Surprisingly, the Human Services Ministry has not recognised that need to address the socialisation of boys and girls, and its link to sexual aggression, which is completed by a culture that uses rape as entertainment in film, video and pornography.
The lack of feminists in our society has not helped and despite the birth of several Non-Governmental Organisations, the slow progress continues. Women appear damned if they do and damned if they don’t as no attempt is being made to rebuff the stereotypes associated with rape.
If the courts will not help and only offers slow justice, then there is urgent need for the Ministry, along with its partners and stakeholders, to create the platform for a ‘rape-free society’ where every woman has the right to be feminine without worrying about the consequences of demonstrating or flaunting that gift.
The Ministry must lead the way and must use the power enshrined in policy to bring an end to this dastardly practice of rating our women. There must be no complacency and no more excuses, Guyana is duty-bound to do more to arrest rape.
Enough is not being done and maybe it is time for a complete evaluation of the effectiveness of the Sexual Offences Act since its passage and implementation.
As far as is immediately evident, it has not made one iota of difference in real life, neither offering real justice or an improved process for victims of rape nor serious punishment and a deterrent for their attackers and would-be perpetrators.
September 11, 2014 By
In keeping with its mandate to promote compliance with the laws, regulations and policies it administers, the Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA) was forced last week to issue a statement in relation to persons using the Remigrant Scheme to engage in fraudulent practices. It is not the first time that the agency has had to come out strongly against persons who are found to abuse the Remigrant Scheme. There were other examples which were made public before.
In the statement, the GRA, citing the recent allegations of the remigrant concession scheme being abused, pointed to the fact that a large number of remigrants, having returned to Guyana from their sojourn overseas, are not keeping for their use of the assets that are presumably their property acquired while living abroad.
Inspite of the fact that the GRA has made it clear that the concession is granted for the specific use by remigrants and should not be transferred, leased or sold for a period of three years after one’s return to take up their residence in Guyana as a bona-fide remigrant, persons are not adhering to the law.
All kinds of jaded excuses, including lending their assets to their close relatives, etc are made as a cover for the fraudulent practices. In fact, it would certainly not come as a surprise if it is found that many of these persons who claim that they are now residing permanently in Guyana actually spend more time abroad.
Their intention is to enjoy the benefits of the programme even though they have no intention of living permanently in Guyana. Some persons have applied for, and been granted the benefits, and not long after handed over everything to their friends or relatives. In some of these cases, huge profits were made by the so-called “remigrant”.
This is a violation of the condition under which remigrants are granted their concessions, and it is hoped that stern action will be taken by the relevant agencies to enforce the penalty clause under which violation of the concession occurs.
The remigrant fraud has been taking place for some time now with persons using various means to trick the system. This practice is quite disturbing, as it is clearly not what the programme was intended to be.
Concessions offered by the Government to remigrants, are not by right, but they have preconditions applying as well as post-conditions as to the application of those concessions. In the case of remigrants, it is the norm for all remigrants to provide the necessary proof of the use of their assets prior to their remigrant status being obtained, apart from such items being registered legally in their name.
This newspaper had called for an urgent review of the entire Remigrant Scheme with the aim of making it “fraud-proof” as much as possible. This newspaper mentioned the need for stricter monitoring and oversight of the entire programme in terms of its implementation. We wish to restate the importance of taking these interventions so as to deter persons from abusing the system.
There is an entire network of persons from various agencies, who work in collusion with the “remigrants” to engage in these activities. It is necessary for the various agencies in Guyana to work collaboratively to bring a halt to the misuse of the programme.
There are thousands of Guyanese settled outside of Guyana, some with the kind of expertise that would be extremely useful for the development of this country. Some of them have also accumulated huge savings which they would like to invest here.
While it is unfortunate that some persons have used the programme to commit fraud, many have taken advantage of the facility by returning home to serve in various capacities and by investing in various businesses. Government must continue to reach out to the Diaspora by offering various incentives to return home, but the necessary systems must be put in place to ensure that such facilities are not abused.
September 10, 2014 By