May 4, 2016

Conformity to Occupational Health and Safety

Guyana is joining the rest of the world in observing Occupational Health and Safety Month under the theme “Workplace Stress: A Collective Challenge.”

Creditably, even as this is being observed, the Department of Labour in the Social Protection Ministry has also announced that it will be increasing workplace inspections countrywide.  This is to ensure employers are adhering to the labour laws and are in full compliance with the Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) regulations.

Guyana’s OHS laws have developed significantly over the years with continuous amendments over time that sought to improve the conditions of workers.

Globally, the fight for better workplace environment and laws to protect workers was not approved and presented itself on a platter but rather achieved through struggles of trade unions and worker rights activists who championed the workers’ cause. These struggles have resulted in a more safe and healthy workplaces.

Nonetheless, OSH is still a burning issue globally as the new struggle is now to have employers comply with the laws. This is a major issue, especially in countries like Guyana, where there needs to be more policing of employers to ensure conformity with the law.

The ILO in its most recent report titled, “World Employment Social Outlook,” stated that global economic slowdown that occurred in 2015 is likely to have a delayed impact on labour markets in 2016, resulting in a rise in unemployment levels, particularly in emerging economies.

Based on the most recent growth projections, global unemployment is expected to rise by nearly 2.3 million in 2016 and by a further 1.1 million in 2017.

Emerging economies are expected to see an increase in unemployment of 2.4 million in 2016. This highlights the great probability that more persons will cling to their jobs and may be more prone to accept default of employers with respect to the OHS laws. As such more frequent workplace inspections are necessary.

In Guyana, the most high-risk sectors of OHS flouters are the agriculture, construction and mining industries. The Commission of Inquiry (CoI) report into the death of miner Trenton Sebastian who died when a mining pit collapsed at Mahdia some two weeks ago pointed out that the lack of job opportunities in Guyana has led to many persons ‘running high risk’ in the mining industry.

As a matter of fact Major General (ret’d) Joseph Singh, in heading the Inquiry and tasked with investigating the incident, stated that from the findings there is a great need for educating miners on the dangers they face in the sector.

It is necessary that everyone involved in these critical industries – agriculture, construction, mining – be certified and actively engaged in basic health and safety training on an annual basis. As such managers within these industries must have clear and certified Occupational Health and Safety qualifications.

Workplace fatalities, injuries, and illnesses cost the countries large amounts of lost revenues yearly, Guyana being no different. As such while economics can support decision-making, effective management and policing of employers’ conformity to the Occupational Health and Safety (Guyana) Act is critical since it encompasses the protection of both the rights and health of workers.

As such as Guyana observes OSH this year, the Labour Department within the Social Protection Ministry should seek to actively inspect workplaces to ensure enforcement of the OHS laws of Guyana.

Additionally, employers should also be enlightened on health and safety requirements at the workplace. Those flouting this most important piece of legislation should therefore face the brunt of the law with no room for discretion. The struggle for this particular area has been a hard fought fight and as such in this advancing world, Guyana should not allow its workers’ rights to be disregarded.

An institutionalised NY Phagwah

Dear Editor,
The spirit of Phagwah has traversed a great distance over the last 25 five years and is now being celebrated in Florida, New Jersey, New York, and Toronto with great enthusiasm. The vibrancy of the festival is cherished by Indo-Caribbeans everywhere (and also enjoyed by people of other ethnic groups) and hence its public observance in places alien to Hindu or Indian culture.
The parade and celebrations in New York associated with Phagwah are institutionalised in the psyche of the Indo-Caribbean population with some people from other ethnic groups also partaking in the festivities in Queens, Bronx, Jersey City, Orlando, Ft Lauderdale, etc. In NY, people eagerly look forward for the festival which has been transplanted by Indian (Hindu) immigrants from Guyana, Trinidad and Suriname. It has now become an institution in the Richmond Hill community, the Bronx and Jersey City.
Without a parade or a cultural variety show as happened in the parks in Florida, NY and New Jersey there is no Phagwah celebration because there would be no public avenue to celebrate the joyous festival known for its vibrancy of colours. The parade has gained recognition in Queens if not in the wider city with politicians offering assistance to help pull it off; mainstream media report on it.
Politicians and community leaders march in it. And the police provide guidance and protection for the marchers. Tens of thousands line the parade route to take in the spectacle.
Thus, congrats are in order for the conceivers, founders, planners and organisers of this annual parade which was initiated in 1990. The parade has brought so many diverse people together and they look forward for it every year. Everyone (Ramesh Kalicharran, Pt Satish, Pt Ramall, Kishore, Bal Naipaul, Pt Upadhyaya, Pt Anand Sukul, etc.) and every organisation that played a role in starting the parade should be recognised and applauded for his or her contributions never mind that they are divided and fail to see they are hurting the community through their division.
Up until two weeks ago, a Phagwah parade was not certain because of division in the organising committee: the members split in two factions allegedly over the rights to host the parade with each faction applying for a parade permit. The police department issued a permit to one faction and banned the other side which went to court to block the parade.
The same happened last year and it was cancelled resulting in this writer traveling to San Francisco to partake in the Chinese Parade that was carried live on TV. While Hindus are fighting over petty matters, other groups are moving big with sponsors and mainstream air time.
Community leaders and the court as well as the police department urged the factions to resolve their differences rather than cancel the parade. A court appointed officers brought the two sides together. Tens of thousands of dollars were wasted over a petty squabble and over egoism. Good sense prevailed from both sides. Differences were temporarily resolved as a result of concessions from the two factions and a parade is pulled off at the last minute. It would have been a great disappointment if the parade were not held again after being cancelled last year over egoism.
It is high time to heal the division permanently. The organisers of the parade and all community leaders in general need to work together to promote Phagwah and other festivals celebrated by the community.
The meaning of Phagwah is to bury differences.
People should have put aside hatred and enmity and come together as preached and practiced by Lord Krishna.
Unity would help in achieving goals and objectives for the community whereas infighting would defeat the purpose of having organisations. With greater unity in the community on observing festivals, the community would be recognised and courted.
Also, politicians would come forward to provide greater assistance. Let me take this opportunity to applaud the organisers of the parade for their hard work and the two factions for putting aside differences so we can have a parade. They overcame many serious challenges in pulling off another parade.
I hope they will use their unity to help empower the community politically through the large number of people who celebrate the festival rather than spite each other over ego.
I, therefore, urge community elders to work together to strengthen rather than divide the community. The two factions must come together to jointly organise next year’s Phagwah. The organisers should meet soon and decide on a course of action.
I should note that Phagwah has been celebrated in grand style since 1990 because of the large influx of Indo-Caribbean people.
It has been celebrated annually with parades (Richmond Hill, Queens Village, Bronx, Jersey City, Central Florida, South Florida, etc), melas or variety concerts, pageants, etc, over the last 25 years.
Prior to the parade, there were small celebrations in mandirs in the Bronx and Queens. There were also a few concerts in the auditoriums of public schools. But the parades really brought out the celebration.
The Caribbean community should applaud the efforts of all who helped to institutionalise the Phagwah celebration, indeed all Indo-Caribbean cultural and religious celebrations.
They have done yeoman service to help institutionalise Phagwah in NYC.
Although Phagwah is not a holiday in NY, the community leaders have helped to make it possible for the festival to be celebrated in exuberance just like in Guyana, Trinidad or Suriname. The parades and the celebration at the various parks render unnecessary the need to go house to house to celebrate or to pour abeer on revellers as is done in the Caribbean.
In fact, it is impractical for people to celebrate Phagwah by going house to house. People can spray abeer and sprinkle powder on one another at the outdoor celebration even if it is done in difficult freezing weather.
It is an impressive celebration that brings back memories of the celebration in the Caribbean. It is necessary to salute the people who initiated and launched the Phagwah parade in 1990. I was closely connected with the founders since 1990 and provided advice and support as well as coverage in the local media during the planning and organising of the first parade.
I am pleased that the parade has become institutionalised as part of the celebration of the festival. I applaud the organising committee of the Phagwah celebration for its dedication and hard work in putting together parade year after year.
Observing Holi with a parade and observing other Indian festivals in NY help to enhance a sense of pride and admiration for the rich cultural heritage of Indians and foster unity among Caribbean people.
The celebration promotes a common feeling of togetherness and rekindles the flame of love and unity among friends and loved-ones.
Community leaders must continue to promote these kinds of festivals.

Regards,
Vishnu Bisram

Holi, Easter and Unity

In his remarks to the “Hindus for Selfless Service” (Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh) Chowtal group on the lawns of State House the night of the burning of the Holika, President David Granger pointed out like Holi/Phagwah, Easter is also a Spring festival and both insist on stressing the regenerative symbolism of Spring. This is a fact that is often overlooked – that Easter, like Christmas, predated the advent of Jesus and the festivities that surround the commemoration in the present hark back to the original impetus acknowledging the significance of the seasonal changes on society.
While Holi is also associated with “religious” personages from Hinduism, the original primal, unbridled joy at the end of Winter and the beginning of Spring still predominates. While Guyanese might not have a personal annual experience of the grimness of Winter, the ubiquity of television, movies and magazines from the temperate zones ensure the symbolism of Spring versus Winter reverberates in all. Rebirth, regeneration, renewal are themes that are inspirationally universal and events that commemorate or celebrate them never fail to garner mass participation.
Yesterday, we witnessed Guyanese from all backgrounds enjoying the dousing of water on each other in the morning and the smearing of coloured powders and spraying of red “abeer” in the afternoon. Then it was all wrapped up with the sharing of sweetmeats between friends and neighbours. On Easter Monday, Guyanese in the thousands will prepare their kites and snacks and retire to parks and open spaces to send their kites into the sky. The kites may get intertwined, but the togetherness of families will inevitably be intertwined.
Festivals such as Holi and Easter, as they are celebrated in Guyana, can and do play a major role in fostering national unity: people that play together will have a greater chance to stay together. In his remarks, President Granger took time to reminisce on colonial times when he was young and it would have been unthinkable for a Chowtal group to perform on the lawns of what was then the Governor’s mansion. Easter events would have been common. He noted now, after Independence, when the mansion was renamed “State House”, local Presidents had opened up the previously forbidden space to all Guyanese, including Hindus.
This occupation of the public space is an important factor in the creation of national unity as much of the direct common participation of Guyanese from different backgrounds. When some cultural practices are hidden away in private ethnic enclaves, there is always the possibility of fears of the unknown aroused in other groups. These fears can be dissipated when the practices are not only out in the open but the “others” are invited to participate. Citizens can move from “them” and “us” to “we”.
But public spaces are not all equivalent. “State House” to a large extent imparts the imprimatur of the authority of the Executive Head of the State on activities held within its space. And when this authority is bestowed on cultural practices that were formerly excluded from the mainstream –- especially by a President not from within the tradition – this can go a long way in making the activity “national”. If the President can acknowledge Chowtal as “his” tradition, it becomes so much more difficult for the average to reject.
Easter has already become a festival for all Guyanese because of the Christian nature of the colonial state. But this does not in any way mar Easter’s value towards national unity. While the colonial impositions must be interrogated, they should not be rejected in toto. As mentioned above, like Holi, Easter has several “non-religious” elements that can be appreciated by all sections of the society as “cultural”. In addition to the kite flying mentioned above, Guyana has its Bartica Regatta and Easter Hat Shows.
President Granger also mentioned the Easter Bunnies that became associated with the festival because of their legendary reputation to procreate.

Firing Volda

Last week, Senior Social Protection Minister Volda Lawrence when questioned about the suitability of an LGE candidate, who was supported by the A Partnership for National Unity and Alliance For Change coalition after he was charged with child molestation, made some very unfortunate and damning remarks.
The Minister, who is also a senior People’s National Congress executive, was quoted in another section of the media as saying that the candidate was “not convicted” of any offence while being fully aware of the gravity of the situation and the seriousness of the allegations.
Apart from the fact that Lawrence’s comment were made at a very unfortunate time as the coalition was preparing to contest Local Government Elections (LGE), she also appeared to be defending the candidate.
But what we find most reprehensible is the fact that the Minister appeared to be dismissive of the allegations made against the candidate and even said: “This is a family issue that has been going on and on and on and on for whatever reason, I can’t tell you, because if I had a brother, even if there was an accusation, this is not how I would go about helping him.”
It should be noted too that the alleged molester’s sister has also accused the Minister of directly trying to dissuade her exposing her brother’s alleged wrongdoings against innocent children so that the coalition’s image could remain intact.
The woman alleges further that she told the Minister that her brother needs to be jailed for his involvement, but Lawrence asked her not to pursue such actions as “he has worked hard for the party and he needs to be rewarded”.
Also, the Minister has not found it fit to issue a statement clarifying her position on the issue nor has the Government for that matter, party politics aside.
Instead, the coalition issued what appeared to be a rushed statement withdrawing support for the candidate after the Minister’s unfortunate statement gained widespread publicity and attracted outrage from the ever-watchful eyes of the populace.
So objectionable were the Minister’s remarks that Red Thread saw it fit to lead the call for her resignation before mounting a series of picketing exercises aimed at forcing President David Granger’s hand despite the fact that he gave an undertaking to “ask her for an explanation”.
The truth is, President Granger needs to do much more than ask for an explanation.
He must recognise the importance of the post held by Lawrence and the impact her continuity will have on the confidence, morale and commitment of all those under her who every day pledge their lives to working in the interest of Guyanese children.
Lawrence cannot, on one hand, be seen giving exquisite speeches at local, regional and international forums and then on the other, appear to be defending persons who are charged not once but twice for this sort of crime.
The portfolio that she holds is extremely important and demands more than just lip service.
Surely, a person who sees allegations related to rape, child abuse or sexual assault made by one family member against another as a “family issue” is unfit for the job as Social Protection Minister.
Therefore, the Minister’s statement albeit wearing her political cap is insensitive, insightful into her psyche and shameful to say the least.
Had this been a PPP Minister or politician, the outcome may have been different because the coalition would have expressed outrage and would have left no stone unturned in seeking to have the President dismiss the individual because they were unfit for the job.
If the President is willing to continue to have Lawrence serve in her post, he must expect that others will expect the same sort of treatment whenever they make similar utterances and appear to be defending their political interests ahead of the nation’s children.
Also, the Government should ask Minister Lawrence to issue a public apology for those who were aggrieved by the utterances made by the Minister and the coalition’s inability to properly vet those who it supports for public office.
Politicians and Ministers in particular must be accountable for everything they say and the circumstances in which they make their statements.
It is, therefore, not difficult to understand those who strongly feel that Minister Lawrence should be disciplined or asked to step down from her post as Social Protection Minister.
Integrity in public life requires it and good governance demands it.

Cuba and Obama

Relations between the US and Cuba took a major step towards normalisation with Barack Obama becoming the first American President to land on the island after 88 years. Grover Cleveland had arrived in a battleship in 1928, when the US was firmly in control of the country and its economy and supporting a dictatorial president quite openly. In the intervening years, much water has flowed under the US-Cuban bridge, unfortunately most of it muddy.
The background to the Cuba-US conflict is intertwined with our own history and to a certain extent some of the dynamics unfortunately still linger into the 21st Century. The Cuban President welcoming Grover Cleveland had been violently pushed out and one of the participating Cuban army officers (Batista) eventually manoeuvred to replace him — including supporting American interests. Batista ruled despotically between 1933-1944 and 1952-1959.
Fidel Castro’s ejection of the Batista dictatorship through a hard fought guerrilla war, interestingly enough engendered quite favourable comment in the US, but as soon as he embarked on nationalising some of the land occupied by American businesses to distribute to impoverished Cuban peasants, he raised eyebrows in the US government. This soon turned to outright hostility when Castro indicated he was opening up trading relations with the Soviet Union.
In an age when the US largest trading partner, which more than any other power, it helped to develop into the economic powerhouse it is today, is communist China, it might sound incongruous to learn that Cuba became America’s number one enemy because it sought to develop relations with the USSR — condemned for being “communist”. But that was back in the days of the Cold War between the US and the USSR when “the friend of my enemy was my enemy”.
That Cuba had nationalised American businesses and was developing into an ally of the USSR sealed its fate. A bungled invasion by the Americans at the Bay of Pigs in 1961 to remove Castro embarrassed them and precipitated the policy enunciated by John F Kennedy: “No other Cubas will be allowed in the hemisphere”. And because Cheddi Jagan was suspect of heading in that direction, his goose was cooked that same year when he failed to make the right noises to the Americans.
But as hopefully we all know, the USSR fissioned and fell like Humpty Dumpty by 1989 and became a capitalist-driven economy. All was forgiven by the US to all of the former allies or suspected fellow travellers of the USSR — and in our case, the free and fair elections of 1992 ensued. But the sanctions, especially an economic embargo slapped on Cuba in 1960, was stubbornly kept in place.
Most outsiders have been taken aback at the retention of the embargo into the present, even in the face of an annual call by the UN General Assembly — supported by all the allies of the US with the notable exception of Israel — calling for its end.
Domestically, the presence of a large number of Cuban Americans in Florida created a domestic Anti-Cuba lobby, funnelled through the Republican Party — against normalisation. Some travel restrictions were lifted starting with President Clinton’s administration and in 2014, after an exchange of “political prisoners” the Obama administration began signalling it was ready to end the embargo.
Polls also showed that a majority of Americans supported that move and that even Cuban-Americans were shifting their stance.
In his State of the Union message earlier this year, President Obama called for Congress to end the blockade, but was stymied by Republican Senators such as Marco Rubio, now running for the Republican Presidential candidacy. In the meantime, ahead of his historic visit, President Obama used his prerogative to issue “Executive Orders” to reduce several restrictions against travel and trade with Cuba.
It would seem, even with the Republican obduracy, the end of the Cuban embargo might be in sight.

Bottom up Governance?

A famous saying in American politics is attributed to a long-serving Speaker of their House of Congress, Thomas “Tip” O’Neil: “All politics is local”. O’Neil attributed the advice to his father after he lost an early election in his native Boston when he had neglected his own neighbourhood. Even the persons who knew O’Neil personally did not forgive him for his inattention to their issues.
Even though recently there has been an ongoing debate in the US that the truism might at last be fading there, local politics had long been pushed away from the centre of Guyanese politics in the modern era, ushered in with the introduction of the universal franchise in 1950. Prior to that seismic event, the office holders in the Village Councils were key figures in running the affairs of their communities.
These Village Councils had been formed by the ex-slaves who had purchased abandoned plantations following the abolition of slavery. The Councillors, in turn played a key intermediary role in “national politics” by supporting parliamentary candidates supportive of their concerns within the limited franchise constituency system, where wealth and education determined enfranchisement.
The elections of 1950 did bring into play the hitherto disenfranchised and ignored lower and poorer classes, but just as significantly, shifted the political discourse from “local” to “national” issues linked to the achievement of independence from Britain.                                                    While in the first two elections of 1950 and 1957 village leaders were still important as mobilisers of the voters, the formation of competing parties after the latter elections proved to be the death knell of local government driving the political agenda. All politics was now “national” and all mobilisation was now “ethnic”.
With the achievement of independence in 1966, the PNC moved to further peripheralise effective local government even as they ostensibly “decentralised” governance into a “regional” system below the national level. The Regional system in turn was devolved into National Democratic Councils (NDCs) which abolished the Village Councils that had worked effectively for a century to address local concerns.
In this arrangement, several villages were agglomerated into NDCs for which officials were elected. But because of the peculiar nature of our settlement patterns of villages strung linearly along a single public road, there was very little connection between the NDC officials and the villages that formed the base of the communities.
As a result of this idiosyncrasy and also of the Central Government keeping control of the purse strings and appointment of the Overseer, who served as the executive officer of the NDCs, local government remained atrophied.
While the Local Government Elections (LGE) held on Friday was subsequent to changes in the Local Government legislation to address the shortcomings that vitiated their early influence, they did not go far enough to return the vitality of the early Village Councils.
We will have to see whether the compromise, in which villages were divided into “constituencies” from which first-past-the-post candidates were elected to the NDCs, will permit the return of democratic decision-making to the grassroots.
Much will depend on whether the two major political parties, which fielded almost all of the winning candidates, will empower their village “constituency” candidates by facilitating their efforts to address local issues regardless of who benefit, based on party affiliations. The two parties can also benefit by going along this route.
The neglect of effective local government percolating all the way to the village level has stymied the rise of leaders from that stratum. While both the PPP and the PNC had introduced “party groups” at the village level, the destruction of the Village Councils closed that avenue for these grassroots leaders to develop executive and management skills.
The parties now have the opportunity to reverse that process by offering training to their candidates in the village constituencies, whether they won or not. And most importantly to take their views under consideration when “national” policies are crafted for bottom-up governance.

Women, Intersectionality and Inequality

There was a most interesting forum held earlier this month at the British High Commission to commemorate “International Women’s Day” under the theme “Pledge for parity”. For most persons thinking of “women and parity”, they would assume what is under consideration is for women to realise “parity” with men in all the spheres of life – but especially economically.
A week after IWD, for instance, the UN’s Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), the principal global intergovernmental body exclusively dedicated to the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women, focused on creating a conducive environment for gender-responsive implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which was adopted unanimously last September by all UN Member States.
The chief guest at the Georgetown event did in fact make this assumption. Her presentation focused on her early experience in the corporate world with men making sexist comments and even women assuming that her role as “a wife and a mother” might be neglected. Her recommendations summarised the proposals that have been touted for the last half century in the struggle for “women’s rights”: equal pay for equal work, equal opportunities in all forms of employment and not just the stereotyped “female” ones, etc.
The World Economic Forum (WEF) has released statistics that indicate if the gap between the two genders continues narrowing at the same rate over the previous century, it will take another 117 years to close. The year before WEF had predicted it would occur 22 years before. In the US just 5 per cent of the CEO’s of the Fortune 500 companies are women, and in Guyana, while there are no official statistics, the optics suggest the situation is even more skewed. After all, in the realm of politics it was considered a mark of progress that legislation was enacted demanding just one-third of MP’s from the several political parties must be women. There has been no talk to amend this target towards “parity”. In the appointment of the Cabinet, voices had to be raised in protest when even the 30 per cent goal was not reached for ministers.
The function at the British High Commission was graced by Minister of Social Protection Volda Lawrence, and was hosted in collaboration with “Guyana Trans United” and the “Society Against Sexual Orientation and Discrimination” (SASOD). And this circumstance brought to the fore in Guyana a position that had gained great traction in other jurisdictions but somehow was elided here: that “women” is not a monolithic category and in fact it subsumes several sub-groups the interests of each which need to be addressed on their own merits.
While Minister Lawrence acknowledged the existence of women who were gay or Trans, for instance, she unfortunately focused on society’s need to “change its attitude” towards them, rather than the removal of structural factors that permit or even encourage discrimination against them other than just being “women”. But one cannot fight what is not named. This challenge was faced three decades ago in the US and created a vocabulary centred around the word “intersectionality” to deal with it.
One writer put it succinctly: “Intersectionality was coined in the late 1980s to explain how different markers of identity coalesce to yield unique forms of discrimination. A black woman, for example, might experience not only racism and sexism in her daily life, but could also confront additional barriers that white women and black men do not. It became a way of making visible the experience of individuals that had previously been caught between the feminist and civil-rights movements. It’s tremendously important for new frames to enter our political lexicon to deal with old problems. They mark a space and set of realities that might otherwise slip through the cracks.”
And this is the reality that must be faced in Guyana for women who may be gay, Trans, poor, ethnic, etc, and who face quotidian discriminations from these facets of identity other than being “ ‘just’ women”.

Crime in Berbice

Over the past few months, there has been a sharp increase in crime in both Regions Five (Mahaica-Berbice) and Six (East Berbice-Corentyne), and even though the authorities in those Regions are not admitting it, they have failed the community in ensuring that citizens are getting the kind of protection they deserve.
Bandits are creating havoc in Berbice villages and citizens have expressed a deep sense of fear that they could be pounced upon at any time. We have seen the most brazen attacks over the past few weeks which have left many citizens wondering when the authorities would be able to get a firm grip and arrest the situation once and for all.
For example, following several armed robberies at Port Mourant, Ankerville and Hampshire Squatting Area last week, the police were dared last Sunday as two armed men went into a home situated just opposite the Albion Police Station and carried out a robbery where cash and jewellery were stolen from a family. It should be noted that even though the police station is just across the road, the bandits managed to escape.
There were many similar instances of the police being located not very far from where the crime is taking place, but yet the bandits managed to escape. And while this may be happening more of recent in Berbice, a similar situation exists in other areas of the country.
Certainly, the statistics are worrying and underscore the need for urgent action by the Ministry of Public Security and the relevant law enforcement agencies. For example, in 2015, there were 24 murders committed compared with 20 during the previous year, robbery under arms showed a 25 per cent increase, moving from 60 in 2014 to 85 in 2015. Also, robbery with violence showed a steep increase, moving from eight in 2014 to 19 last year. Further, there were 41 reports of rape in Berbice in 2015 compared with 23 the previous year.
We are almost at the end of the first quarter in 2016, and the situation does not look as if it is improving, especially as it relates to the number of armed robberies taking place. It could be recalled that not so long ago, the SWAT Unit was deployed to Berbice to dismantle gangs that were known to be responsible for some of the criminal activities in the county. From all indications, since the SWAT Unit’s deployment to the county, there were some successes as it helped the Berbice Police deal with several high-profile cases. Many arrests were made and the perpetrators were taken before the courts.
However, not long after the gangs were dismantled, the authorities made a decision to recall the SWAT Unit. Perhaps the authorities may want to consider having a more permanent presence of such a crime fighting mechanism, even on a reduced scale to address the changing dynamic of crime.
A point to note too is that the GPF has resource and manpower limitations that inhibit their ability to deter or respond to criminal activity in a timely manner. Even in the occasions when police officers respond to a crime scene, victims are asked to go to the nearest police station to file a report.
We urge the Government to revisit the issue of the increasing crime rate in the regions, and take the necessary action that will hopefully result in peace and order in the various communities. Government must provide the resources needed to fight crime, such as more patrol vehicles, manpower and so on.
Additionally, there is dire need for the police to step up efforts as it relates to more intelligence-led policing. Building better community relations will certainly go a far way in helping them to be successful in this regard. At present, the general perception is that confidence in the GPF is low due to the public’s perception of ineffectiveness and corruption in some cases.
There were quite a few inquiries into the crime situation in Guyana and the recommendations coming out of those commissions are too numerous to mention. No need to rehash them at this point. It is well known what needs to be done.

Deepening local government

Tomorrow as we participate in the first Local Government Elections (LGE) in almost a quarter of a century, we have to acknowledge it is simply a first step towards returning “power to the people”, which is the quintessence of any democratic order. Mankind invented the State to protect society from the tyranny of the strong but discovered the State itself lends itself to creating tyrants. No wonder one of the early theorists of the State called it “the Leviathan”.
In the following half a millennium, the tension between the State and its people resulted in several structures and arrangements in governance to balance this tension. One of the most enduring was the mechanism of democratic elections to chose those who will oversee the State and another was the division of the powers of the State geographically into ever smaller units. The principle of “subsidiarity”, in which decision affecting citizens must be made at the lowest practical level of organisation, became accepted. In Guyana, we are fortunate that our people through their own bootstrapping efforts, introduced one of the most enduring units of governance in this country – the village and the Village Council.
While there are those that say the movement of millions of tons of earth by African slaves “humanised” Guyana, one could argue this was achieved with their 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. They 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 – Ubuntu. But within an economy and legal structures formed along the lines of individualism, they found the going very hard. But the villagers began to organise themselves along the rules 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 People’s National Congress (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”.
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 (NDC’s) 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 NDC’s. At this time, most of these entities are severely dysfunctional.
While tomorrow’s LGE is a positive development we should now 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.

“Voting Like A Boss”

The Guyana National Youth Council (GNYC) and its new partner, Youth Challenge Guyana (YCG), on February 26, 2016, launched a second “Vote Like A Boss” campaign with the aim of encouraging thousands of Guyanese youth to be part of the country’s democratic evolution by participating in the long-overdue Local Government Elections which are slated for this Friday.

The campaign, which appeared promising and legitimate on the surface, was introduced to the public a mere 19 days before Guyanese in general and youths in particular are scheduled to go to the polls to be part of what are been deemed as “historic” LGE.

At the launch of the initiative, the GNYC said that this year’s campaign would be premised on the theme “excite, engage, educate and inspire” because of the overwhelming need for more to be done by youths themselves to get involved in the taxing voter education campaign.

The event was endorsed by the US Embassy and its Chargé d’Affairs, Bryan Hunt; Gerry Gouveia, who is said to have represented Guyana’s Private Sector and Chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission, Dr Steve Surujbally.

Since the launch of this campaign in February, the GNYC and YCG have not engaged the media or public directly to report on their ongoing activities and the response to the thrust of their spate of LGE initiatives.

From a look at the some of the work done by the GNYC under the VLAB campaign, one gets the impression that it was never the aim of the project to disseminate voter education information about LGE in an independent, unbiased and credible way.

The social media tactics employed by the group have been unimpressive and unimaginative to say the least and have not led to any noticeable spike in the behavioural pattern of the Guyanese populace as far as LGE are concerned.

If this is the case, the group has failed miserably in publishing this data with a view of winning the support and confidence of those in certain civil society and political circles that have long been suspicious of the entire campaign and its real motives.

Therefore, it is not surprising that the main Opposition People’s Progressive Party took a clear swipe at the initiative with the aim of exposing what it said was the “anti-PPP agenda of its messages” while deeming the core of the recently pursued LGE undertakings as “pro-APNU/AFC”.

There is also much reasoning in the Party’s suspicions of the group behind the campaign and its financers because of the little that is known about the selection of its facilitators, the methodology used to disseminate information and embark on public encounters, the scope and depth of the voter education information shared at closed doors sessions and the intricacies of the funding of various pillars of its apparently comprehensive programme.

Both the work GNYC has done as an organisation and the Vote Like A Boss campaign as a project appear to be questionable in nature given the whole history of foreign interference in Guyana, especially at critical junctures that could see a simple vote cast redefining the political landscape of the country and tilting the balance of power in favour of one party against another.

The PPP’s assumptions and convictions about the VLAB project could hold merit if a closer analysis is done by independents of the work, financiers and interests behind the GNYC.

Also, the organisation is doing itself a massive disservice by remaining silent and failing to publicise the outcomes and results it has achieved during and after its multimillion-dollar investments in educating Guyanese ahead of the historic LGE on Friday, as we feel that Guyanese (unfortunately) are not any better off than they were before the campaign was launched back in February this year.

Guyanese may very well need to ask themselves whether they have benefited directly or indirectly from the VLAB campaign and if indeed, they feel like a “boss” before, during and after the process on Friday.