Category Archives: Editorials / Letters

THE RODNEY COI RE-VISITED

If the layperson is confused by the goings on at the Rodney Commission of Inquiry it would be an understandable understatement.  Listening to the behavior of counsel representing the various interests would leave anyone in a state of bewilderment. People are puzzled about whether all parties to this public spectacle really know what respective roles they are expected to play.
On the one hand there are counsels for the Commission; one would have thought that their role would have been to seek clarity on ambiguous and other murky local issues for the benefit of the Commissioners. On another hand there are the counsels for the parties purportedly involved either directly or peripherally in Walter Rodney’s death.
Thirdly there is the perception that among the Commissioners, confusion is multiplied by an adoption of positions that are at variance with their supposedly objective status even before they are required to pronounce on the findings of the Commission of Inquiry. Those few observations are intended to highlight the confusion that beset the Guyanese viewing and listening public.
First off, the Terms Of Reference for the COI, although contentious in significant ways, bring into question the real reason for holding such an inquiry at this time. This is surely cause for speculation especially when the author(s) and cause of that great man’s demise have been arguably identified by conventional wisdom for years.
Some commentators have opined that the governing minority would like to bolster its elections fortunes by holding what is increasingly analogous to an ad hoc affair characterized by sometimes spurious allegations and unsubstantiated personal opinions rather than a serious attempt to arrive at the truth. As a matter of opinion, the Rodney COI runs the very real risk of losing whatever little credibility it has left.
What is apparent also is that counsels seem not to be prepared for the witnesses; no work seems to be done in terms of research of the political and other considerations that have be major philosophical influences on witnesses and other interested parties.
Another mockery of the process is the disorganized appearance of witnesses. It is a matter of fact that an audience will most likely remember evidence in chief as the last word if no opportunity is provided counsel for other interests to examine the testimony presented. Note that no mention is made here of “cross-examination” because the concept surely does not apply in the extant circumstances.
Instead of “cross-examination”, maybe someone could advise counsel that their role is to seek clarification of ambiguities, and to explore other conclusions for a historical act/fact rather than take an adversarial stance in representation of their clients’ interests.
Tacuma Ogunseye puts it rather aptly when he offered a few suggestions to counsel for the PNC on how a witness should be handled as against attempting browbeating tactics. That such an approach has the potential of being similar to shooting oneself in one’s foot is not lost on the more informed among us.  It runs the risk of antagonizing witnesses who for the most part are there to express their version of the truth and cannot be deemed hostile witnesses.
Interestingly, since the start of the COI, there really has been no witness testimony to refute opinions adduced thus far.  Mention was made earlier of listeners remembering evidence in chief particularly if counsel for various interests did not get the opportunity to examine witnesses to elicit another conclusion of what has been accepted as fact.
The point remains that all of us have our own interpretation of what is truth even in the face of undeniable fact. Why certain witnesses have not been recalled so far will forever remain a mystery, although conventional wisdom has it that a particular plan backfired spectacularly, placing credibility in jeopardy.
It is perhaps advisable that Commissioners are not counsel for parties and therefore should avoid any appearance of posing provocative questions, and/or taking antagonistic positions which might indicate a not so subtle alignment with preconceived notions. It might be a good thing if all parties, including the Commissioners re-examine the paraphrased adage that “justice must not only be done, but must also appear to be done” which can serve to erase the confusion that currently exists.

Elections arrangements

After months of contradictory statements, the PPP/C government is still to make a cogent and believable case as to why long-awaited local government elections have not been called. Its failure will cement in the minds of many -including its supporters – that in its weakened state it is unwilling to risk a loss in key areas which could frame it as a lame duck at general elections. As we have said before in these columns the PPP/C government is putting its own fortunes ahead of the country’s interest.

It has now opened up a new front. Whereas it has unconvincingly argued that the electorate is not ready for local government elections it is of the view that the people are more ready for general elections even though there are few differences between the two systems and basic voter education would have taken care of any gaps in knowledge. While more in favour of general elections, that hasn’t stopped the ruling party and the government from embarking on a cynical campaign to undermine the credibility of the electoral system and to cast aspersions on it.

How else does one explain the weekly mutterings at the PPP/C press conference by General Secretary Rohee about a sudden inflation in the size of the list of persons eligible to vote and sundry non sequiturs such as 18 persons registered at one location in Georgetown and the name of the late former President Arthur Chung being on the list. In his other capacity as Minister of Home Affairs, Mr Rohee would be well aware that it is the General Register Office, which comes under his own ministry, which must initiate the process to have the register purged of those persons who have died. Since he has overall responsibility for this department he himself should be made to explain why the name is still on the list.

While the matter of Mr Chung’s name and others can be easily addressed, the weekly grousing by the PPP about preparations for elections, whether local or general, points to a broader strategy to target the administrative processes for political purposes in the short term or whenever polls are actually called. This dovetails well with the shocking assertions by no less than President Ramotar after the 2011 general elections that shenanigans at GECOM had resulted in the PPP/C being cheated of an outright majority. The groundwork is being laid by the PPP to build on this despite repeated denials by GECOM of the various allegations.

It is the quintessential role reversal. Between 1990 and 1992, the PNC put enormous pressure on the reformed elections commission over processes and credibility and continued with this behaviour at the 1997 and 2001 general elections. With less than a majority of the vote in the 2011 polls and sensing the risk of a further erosion whenever elections are called, the PPP/C is clearly keeping all of its options opened. One expects that GECOM and all of its commissioners, three of whom were nominated by the government, would robustly defend the electoral preparations considering the negative impact that deliberate misinformation can have on an apathetic electorate.

The public must not lose sight of the fact however that the sweeping electoral reforms agreed following the intervention of the Carter Center prior to the 1992 general elections have laid a solid foundation for credible elections which cannot be easily derailed. Counting at the place of poll, identification requirements, measures to prevent multiple voting, the cleaning up of the register of registrants and the presence of scrutineers through all parts of the process have helped to create and build the necessary confidence in the electoral system.

Nevertheless, the way things are shaping up, fresh general elections could end up being the most watched since 1992. Given the qualms that have thus far been raised by the ruling party and the government, both the administration and GECOM must do all in their power to ensure that the most transparent arrangements are in place and watched by as many credible observers as might be interested.

At the level of GECOM, one expects that as soon as is practicable, the Joint International Technical Assessor will be in place and the full and complete needs for the electoral machinery will be made known to both the government and the donor community so that there are no gaps. The information technology aspects of the electoral process are usually fraught with contention and one hopes that the relevant competencies are availed to GECOM.

One also expects that invitations to observe the elections will be approved for the Commonwealth, the EU, the OAS, Caricom and others. This will give greater assurance to the public and obviate any concerns over some of the niggling questions that have been raised recently.

Despite the pendency of the no confidence motion against it, the government still has the opportunity to call local government elections and fulfill the solemn promise it made to the electorate in 2011.

Revert to Cabinet system of gov’t – Ramkarran

Former Speaker of the National Assembly Ralph Ramkarran says that Guyana should revert to a cabinet system of government with a prime minister as head and has endorsed a view that any party obtaining more than 10% of the vote would be entitled to join the government if it so wishes.

“Our constitutional system has been damaged by the attachment of the presidential carbuncle to our Westminster system for no good reason other than grandiosity. It has sucked the lifeblood from a vibrant, cabinet system of government and imposed a commanding authority bloated with supreme executive power over compliant ‘advisers’ holding ministerial posts. I therefore propose a cabinet system of government with a prime minister as head of government, subject to term limits, and a cabinet with the right to vote, not as advisers as at present. The president would be a ceremonial head of state elected by a two-thirds majority of the National Assembly. Essentially, this means returning to our Independence Constitu-tion, which worked well until it was subverted,” he wrote in his Sunday Stabroek column.

Ramkarran, who was an influential member of the PPP before quitting after nearly 50 years of membership, argued that until today’s politically disputatious situation, created by Guyana’s history and overshadowed by ethnicity, is contained by a workable constitutional system, Guyana will show little political and economic progress and instability will continue.

He said that the first step is to persuade all political parties to accept that Guyana needs a government that includes at least the two main political parties. “The PPP once championed this position but reneged on it after gaining political office in 1992. While the PPP is dangling before the public a confusing concatenation of alliance formats, including the national democratic front, the broad left front, shared governance by first building trust, which it claims from the other side of its mouth already exists through the implementation of constitutional reforms, the ‘winner does not take all,’ but which already exists through the civic alliance, promoting a different one each day of the week, the rest of Guyana ought to move forward with the discourse on constitutional reform. The PPP will undoubtedly catch up in due course, either willingly or of necessity,” he said.

The former PPP stalwart advocated a return to the Independence Constitution and said that had it been applied with the 2011 electoral results, the ceremonial president would have been obliged to invite the leader of the party, which the president believes is capable of obtaining the support of the majority of members of the National Assembly, to form the government. “Therefore, whichever party the president invited to form the government would have to satisfy him or her that it has the support of at least one other political party in the National Assembly. This would have forced the formation of a coalition government or at least forced negotiations by the party with one or more of the others for a commitment to support,” he said.

“If the PPP now has concerns that 1964 might be repeated when it obtained the plurality but was not invited to form the government, the appropriate article in the constitution can be amended to impose a duty on the president to first invite the party obtaining the plurality at the elections to form the government. Only if that party declares to the president that it is unable to form a government which would receive the support of the majority of members of the National Assembly would the president be able to then invite the party obtaining the second largest number of votes to form the government. The president would have power to require a vote of confidence in the government as the first order of business of the National Assembly,” Ramkarran asserted.

The former Speaker said that he agreed with Stabroek News columnist and former PPP government minister Dr Henry Jeffrey’s view that a coalition government can be ensured by a provision in the constitution that any party obtaining more than ten per cent of the vote would be entitled to join the government if it so wishes. “Of course, this would make the job of the president of inviting the formation of a government to be a mere formality,” he noted.

 

Coalition-type

governments

In his ‘Future Notes’ column, Dr. Jeffrey had advocated for the establishment of a political constitution that provides for the possibility of coalition-type governments and thus contains strong institutional checks and balances to guard against the kind of executive abuse that such regimes could engender. The constitution must also seek to facilitate the development of conditions that will promote multi-ethnic politics and the resulting competitive liberal democratic state.

In terms of reforms, he had said that to deal with the issue of exclusion/ inclusion, at least for a transition period, the constitution will need to provide that once a party achieves some threshold, which he suggested could be 10% of the votes, at national elections, it has a right to a pro rata share of the government.

Ramkarran said that devising a system for the scrutiny of government without an opposition would be a challenge. “I do not believe that less dominance by the executive of the legislature by keeping ministers away from membership of the legislature and even electoral reform to introduce realistically sized constituencies would guarantee more independence of members of the body. Ethnically driven political solidarity and the possible interruption of benefits flowing from membership would defeat such an effort. One possibility that comes to mind is an upper chamber consisting of persons with no party political affiliation nominated from civil society by the president in his own deliberate judgment. To be effective it would have power to meaningfully influence legislation that comes before it,” he said.

Jeffrey had said that Guyana should look no further than the presidential system of the United States, where the president must negotiate with members of his own party. “The president should be elected by at least 50% of the votes cast. In our developing ethnic situation, this will force those wishing to be president to craft their policies to gain support across ethnic lines and also to negotiate across parties,” he had said.

“Also, to further entrench the separation between the executive and the legislature, as in the US, the executive (ministers) should not be members of parliament. The president will have the right to hire and fire his cabinet but must always keep the party proportionalities,” he wrote. “Contrary to what is sometimes thought, the fact that some ministers are nominated by the opposition would not necessarily cause persistent cabinet dissension. Rather, since the president has the right of dismissal, the opposition will also need to guard against their nominees becoming ardent acolytes of the president,” Jeffrey had said.

“Furthermore, the president should not be able to prorogue the National Assembly. Both s/he and the Assembly should be in office for fixed periods and the Assembly should manage its own personnel and financial affairs and have the right to adjust and negotiate with the government the formation of national budget,” the former minister said.

“In this context, we should eschew the notion of parliamentarians viewing themselves as part of the government and opposition and return to the situation where parties in parliament are, as in the US, designated majority and minority parties. They should be encouraged to view themselves as representing constituent and national interests,” Jeffrey declared.

The no confidence motion if passed could change the political direction in Guyana

Dear Editor,
If as expected, the no confidence motion is passed in Parliament, the government will have to resign but the president will act as the caretaker until the results of the next elections are known. The 2015 general elections will provide voters with a clear choice between three parties, three contrasting styles of governance and three visions of what Guyana should look like in the 21st century.
They will also present three opposing plans and policies for taking our country forward, and three management styles generally reflective of the different philosophy of the three parties.
We are told that the AFC management style is more participatory, inclusive, and consensual, characterized by more listening and less talking and necessarily includes a broader range of perspectives of advocacy on behalf of the masses. This choice between the three parties vying for power means that Guyana is on the threshold of a new type of politics in this century.
The AFC is very fortunate to have leaders like Moses Nagamootoo, Khemraj Ramjattan and Nigel Hughes with the political experience, competency and qualifications that will take the country forward. According to recent polls and abundant anecdotal evidence on the streets, these three leaders are much more popular and much more liked by the voters compared to the other leaders and politicians.
Let us face it, they bring a refreshing perspective to Guyana’s politics. It took a while for the people to become accustomed to their style and to understand their politics but gradually it is taking hold and they are beginning to understand and like it. The “in your face” macho, very hierarchical, dictatorial, and the “divide and rule” old-time leadership style to which Guyanese have grown accustomed in the past is rapidly becoming irrelevant to a brighter and much more educated younger population who in 2015 will be roughly 65 percent of the voters.
The old time management style of governance proffered by the two old parties has not served the people well. Issues like corruption, abuse of power, vindictiveness, disrespect for the people and the constitution and the marginalization of one ethnic group were routinely swept under the carpet and virtually ignored by both parties. It is only under the AFC leadership that these issues have been brought to the limelight and have received focused attention since independence.
The AFC has become so fed-up with the corrupt practices, high crime rate and the high-handed and dictatorial minority PPP regime that its leaders were left with no choice other than to spearhead the no confidence motion against the PPP. And for this, the people have recognized Moses Nagamootoo as the more mature politician to lead them in a coalition government.
It was not by accident that the two major parties have failed to understand the irreparable damage they have done to the people, institutions, and the social fabric of the country. Their actions were willful, vindictive and deceitful. They have put their parties first and not the country and people.
In fact, they are oblivious to the political wreckage they have caused the people and the country over the years. That is why the clear choice for 2015 will be the AFC, which will need at least two terms to undo the massive damage done to our beloved country since independence.
Let us make it abundantly clear that we are not saying that the two old parties have not done anything good.  Yes, they did and still have a role to play; but primarily the people want real change in 2015 and this means they will be supporting the AFC and perhaps a coalition between the AFC and APNU.
The AFC is quite correct to bring the no confidence motion against the minority PPP regime which has shown contempt for the constitution, disrespect for the people and has ignored the rules of Parliament.
The leaders of the PPP have projected themselves as the savior of the country as though they know it all. Yet they have presented the worst elements of old style leadership and dictatorial politics of the dinosaur era which the youths are moving away from.
The people, especially the youths will not in 2015 cast their votes for any of those old parties with their “race-bait “style of politics and their “divide and rule” concept despite the nation’s motto of “one people, one nation, one destiny.”  The AFC will be the people’s choice in 2015.
Asquith Rose and Harish Singh

Creating conflict when there is none

It is always worrying when in the height of a campaign of one sort or another something untoward happens to one or more of the people against whom the campaign is directed. Immediately people on the side suspect something sinister and become swayed to support the target of the campaign.
This is not unusual since most people are not violence-oriented. Recently, there has been a campaign against what people see as the unlawful operations of Bai Shan Lin, a Chinese logging company operating in Guyana.
Logging itself is not illegal unless the logger cuts down rare trees or young trees or simply log without the permission of the authorities. In Guyana there is another condition that makes logging beyond a certain scale illegal. That condition is predicated by the agreement signed between Guyana and the Kingdom of Norway for US$250 million over five years.
In the run-up to that signing, Guyana had already moved to help protect the environment against global warming. There is enough evidence to suggest that the earth is becoming warmer and the experts say that this is due to greenhouse gases from large scale industrial activities. Guyana, with its huge rainforest, offered to halt deforestation in an effort to limit the existence of these greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
Experts calculated the volume of forest that could be cut in each year without affecting the equilibrium. In the wake of disclosures about the operations of Bai Shan Lin the government keeps insisting that the extent of deforestation is well within the prescribed limits. No one is supposed to dispute these facts. However, similar comments by the government have been found to be far from the truth.
For example, in its advertisement, the Guyana Forestry Commission claimed that everything done to facilitate the operations of Bai Shan Lin was prescribed by an Act of Parliament. It turned out that he misapplied the Act.
Given certain facts one will most certainly question any response provided to the media by the Guyana Forestry Commission. It is here, when the defenders appear to be caught in a quandary that distractions are created. There was one such distraction last week when someone reportedly broke into the vehicle owned by Jacy Archibald, the lawyer for the Guyana Forestry Commission.
Archibald was reportedly at the National Park for a bout of exercise at the end of which he returned to his car to find it vandalized. The perpetrator reportedly removed a laptop and other documents. The immediate reaction that the vandalism was linked to the expose on Bai Shan Lin could only be intended to distract from the real issue—the legality of Bai Shan Lin’s operations.
Suddenly there were reports of death threats against other members of the Forestry Commission. If there were these threats why were they not reported? The police said that they never got such reports. This then begs the question of whether these ‘threats’ were concocted.
The authors of the distraction are seeking to initiate a dangerous game, one that pits investigative journalists against the government. President Donald Ramotar, at a recent press conference said that the questions about Bai Shan Lin’s operations are part of an anti-investment policy. He refused to examine the legality.
Home Affairs Minister Clement Rohee rather than discuss the issue, placed the investigative reporting in the light of a corrupt transaction of the media. “They probably beg for something and didn’t get it,” he said at a press conference.
Without saying as much, the government has pledged its support for Bai Shan Lin to the exclusion of everything else. One can therefore see how this recent distraction would seek to fashion a conflict between the media and the government.

Unchecked power

Governments the world over that aspire to be responsive and accountable to the people function in a system of checks and balances and respect this. The separation of powers provides the most potent way of limiting excesses. The legislatures of Westminster-style Parliaments make the laws and through their committee systems can wield enormous influence on government policy and illuminate complex issues by the convening of hearings. The judiciary has its inscribed role of weighing matters brought before it on the overreach of the executive. Since 2012, the government, as is its democratic right has tested the boundaries of the separations of the various branches and is clearly intent on continuing to do so.

Aside from the other branches of government there is an array of watchdog bodies that address abuses of the state and its officers. In our context these would include the Office of the Ombudsman and the Integrity Commission and the Police Complaints Authority. None of these three are as equipped as they should be to discharge their important functions. Indeed, the Ombudsman office is just getting back into its stride after being defunct since 2005 and the Integrity body is really a skeleton without a functioning board and clearly incapable of holding any senior official or Member of Parliament accountable. The stagnation in these bodies is a clear sign of the PPP/C government’s disrespect for them and its unwillingness to have its power balanced and moderated in keeping with normative standards.

Then there are the constitutional bodies and commissions which have essential functions and have been brought within the ambit of the constitution and also attain a large degree of financial autonomy. Here again, the government has not been averse to pushing the envelope although when it attempts to defy and ridicule constitutional bodies it is heading down a dangerous path that will ultimately weaken its own hold on authority.

That was exactly the case last week when the Head of the Presidential Secretariat, Dr Luncheon had the temerity to call upon the Guyana Elections Commission to prove that it was ready to hold elections. GECOM’s orbiting in the constitution’s sphere of influence protects it from the meanderings of meddlesome government officials intent on creating diversions. Dr Luncheon’s prating was in response to an exchange of statements between the PPP/C-appointed commissioners, Messrs Mangal, Shaw and Mangar and the Head of GECOM, Dr Surujbally. The PPP/C commissioners were concerned that GECOM was not as prepared for elections as it should be and Dr Surujbally answered their concerns point by point and quite convincingly.

It is GECOM’s enshrined constitutional role to declare its readiness and not in the bailiwick of Dr Luncheon to impute otherwise or seek substantiating evidence. The whole purpose of the reform of the Bollers Commission was to enable transparency and confidence in the electoral system. The reforms were accompanied by a whole raft of other steps including counting of ballots at the place of poll and the developing of a new National Register of Registrants and a voters list. Since 1990, the PPP/C has had full access to the deliberations of GECOM and has happily accepted its diagnoses and prescriptions with nary a protest. Once the Commission has had full internal discussions on electoral preparations and ruled that it is ready, that should be the end of the matter unless there was some patent miscalculation. It should also be noted that this same Commission has presided over two general elections and is therefore clearly in an excellent position to pronounce on readiness to discharge its responsibilities.

Unsurprisingly, the PPP/C’s major noises about GECOM have coincided with the advent of its weakened electoral standing. Even though it won the Presidency at the 2011 elections and accepted it, Parliament was lost to the opposition. President Ramotar then had the gumption to assert that there had been rigging of the elections which prevented his party from gaining an outright majority. In that one statement there was an instant role reversal. It has been the PNC in its varied forms since 1992 which has claimed that there have been electoral shenanigans while the PPP/C, which has won all elections since then, expended much energy in defending the integrity of those results. The turnaround was a further demonstration of the naked and vulgar quest for power at any cost.

Now, the President and his leading officials and those of the ruling party are casting doubts on GECOM’s ability to hold local government elections this year. This is all because of the PPP/Cs patent unwillingness to risk a heavy defeat in Georgetown and other key centres in local government polls. In its spurious grounds for denying these polls, the PPP has become one with the tenebrous reasons that the Hoyte administration advanced for not initially wanting electoral reforms in 1990 and then delaying elections by two years. The turnaround is a cynic’s dream.

Dr Luncheon’s intervention on the matter, as nonsensical as it was, didn’t provide the basis for offence. It was the awful and unfounded excursion into the functioning of a constitutional commission and for the sole purpose of continuing this disgraceful denial of local government elections. It exposed the government’s lack of respect for the role of this constitutional body.

A government such as this one, intent on trespassing on the delineated functions of other branches of government and cavalier in its disposition towards important checks and balances bodies such as the Public Service Appellate Tribunal and the Public Procurement Commission, quickly begins to lose any sense of rectitude. It is then far more vulnerable to the runaway excesses that are evident in governments with unchecked power.

Homophobia and the society

The mini storm aroused by Pastor Ronald McGarrell’s public comments is not without its similarities in other parts of the world.  But what some persons seem to have lost sight of is the man’s right to his beliefs.  It seems as if those private views are expressed within the context of religious convictions.
It makes absolutely no sense to invite a man’s participation and opinion if he is not expected to be forthright in his views.  The gay and lesbian community in the ardour of its activism has not shown any predisposition to take prisoners regardless of social standing.  But there are other aspects to this whole issue of homosexual rights that have not been ventilated.
How do students treat with peers whose sexual orientation differs from what they have been socialized into believing is acceptable?  What impact do gay teachers have on their students and by extension parents?
Last December Andrew Moffat, a gay assistant head teacher at Birmingham’s Chilwell Croft Academy in the UK was forced to resign his position after Muslim and Christian parents complained that they did not want their children learning that it’s OK to be homosexual.
The other side of the affair was that Moffat’s former colleagues felt that the respected teacher was probably the victim of an extremist plot to replace non-Muslims with hardliners.  This does not need to detain us at this stage; what is important to this discussion is that it appears as if Moffat’s ability as a teacher was unaffected by his sexual orientation.
He is on record as the writer of several articles and books on homophobia in schools including “Challenging Homophobia in Primary Schools” used in literacy lessons for 10 and 11-year-olds, in which he makes recommendations of how to teach children how to be tolerant.  The indefatigable Mr. Moffat also trained teachers on how to prevent homophobic bullying.
A compelling argument seems to be that parents, regardless of their religious background, should be informed of the school system’s position on the open practice of homosexuality.  This is reasonable in view of the likely concerns about gender identity issues in schools.
One aggravating factor that attends homosexual openness in a school setting is the question of role model for students who may or not be accepting of an openly gay teacher in the classroom.
Moreover, this aggravation might also be the experience of those students who are troubled by a marked lack of support from peers and adults, and their own fears and questions about their own sexuality.  Of course, being the target of demeaning homophobic language would definitely not make life any easier for gay students in an environment characterized by misunderstanding and mistrust.
It is not known at this time if a policy is in the making about LGBT teachers and students in the school system.  During 2006 a Teacher Support Network ran a survey on LGBT harassment and discrimination. It found that 60 per cent of a self-selecting group of teachers responded that they had experienced harassment or discrimination due to their sexual orientation or gender identity.  The biggest perpetrators were pupils, followed by their own colleagues with managers and parents coming later the mix.
Maybe SASOD, as an articulate defender of equal sexual rights, could agitate for an enforceable code of conduct which addresses homophobic/biphobic/transphobic behaviour in schools.
The argument can very well be made that openly homosexual teachers are best suited to provide both gay and straight young people with role models, but such an arrangement must be supported by colleagues and the system.
Among the reasons why the time may have come for this course of action may be found in the thought that people often perform better when they can be themselves.  Another may be the readjustment of perceptions of who can be a positive role model from the perspective of gender socialization determined by environmental influences.
Surely the fear of speaking out one way or another is unhelpful in resolving differences and misconceptions in diverse societies such as ours.  To be or not to be tolerant, that is the question.

If it ain’t broke…

It has been almost forever that the Guyana Government has been doing everything to fashion the education landscape. The historians and other knowledgeable people who had been exposed to the machinations of the education system realized that Guyana’s education system was rooted in the tradition of the Mother Land.
The schools and colleges were patterned after those in England. In fact, Guyana was training its students for a career in England or in any other country governed by Guyana.  For one, the language in which classes were conducted was that of the Mother country. Even the clothes worn were of the English tradition.
In the broiling sun people decked themselves in coat and tie, and schoolboys and girls wore ties. In fact, this is the trend to this day. The external examinations were prepared by examiners in England and marked by those very examiners. The local students easily gained places in the British schools based on the local exams.
When all was said and done, the education system prepared the locals for work in Britain or its overseas territories. This should explain why so many of our skilled people ended up working in England during the 1950s, 60s and 70s. All of our Guyana Scholars until recently went to England to further their studies as did our lawyers before those who then qualified themselves at the Hugh Wooding Law School.
Guyana’s education system was considered the best in the region. Those who pursued studies at the University of the West Indies excelled. In fact, the Jamaican lecturers had the mantra that Guyanese always do well.
Those of our English-trained doctors are excellent by any standard and it is the same with our engineers. The bottom line is that, Guyana provided an excellent academic base, so good that our students could progress to any heights.
It was the same with those of us who travelled to elsewhere in Europe and the United States. Such was the respect for Guyana’s academic standards that those of us who migrated sent out children back to Guyana for their academic base.
But suddenly we begin to tamper with the system. The fact that we made our schools co-educational is not an issue because in today’s world the focus is on equality. But we began to change the curriculum. Some of the changes were intended to cater for those who are not academically inclined. We introduced the multilateral schools that were intended to provide an education simultaneously for the academic and the technically inclined.
But then things went haywire. In our quest for our identity we began to provide our own textbooks and it would seem that there was not enough study of the mind of the child to produce a meaningful textbook.
In Guyana, having developed a reputation for having quality teachers, the country then became a hunting ground for those countries that wanted to have their children properly taught. When the poaching began so many countries came at the same time that in short order the best teachers were all gone.
The first thing that we did was to panic. Over enthusiastic decision makers decided that we would train as many people as we could to compensate for the drain on our resources. They did not take into consideration that our trainers had also been recruited. The result is that there has been a decline in the quality of education provided.
Our administrators went even further; they were going to promote every child regardless. This is a most stupid decision, one for which the nation is paying and the Education Ministry seems bent on maintaining this nonsense. And this is maintained despite the protestations of the educators who suddenly find that many children are prepared to sail through, not keen to study any more because they will be promoted regardless.
Education Minister Priya Manickchand did have an excellent amendment when she reported that those who failed Mathematics and English would be referred. To recant now is to give up and to accept that Guyana is prepared to accommodate its illiterates
There is no plan to reverse this trend at the start of the academic life.

Another reminder of what the Police Force has become

The Wendell Meusa experience is another stark in-your-face reminder of what the Guyana Police Force has become.
Up front Mr. Meusa’s forbearance should be commended, but not before questioning whether his Mandela-like demeanour was motivated by an overwhelming desire not to jeopardise his standing as national coach to the Guyana Chess team for the upcoming World Chess Olympiad in Norway.
If Mr. Meusa’s version is to be believed, then one wonders if we should hold our breaths awaiting an apology from the police in the same manner that they are quick to write what passes for responses to public concerns and complaints.
A citizen is held in custody for over 72 hours without a proper investigation being conducted into his alleged involvement in an attempted robbery and the fact that to date we have heard not one word of regret from the police is unacceptable. Imagine the number of unreported cases where people are deprived of their freedom of movement in direct contravention of the Constitution of the country and subjected to among other things racial slurs and physical abuse.
The former claim tells us that racial prejudices are being acted out in an organization which surely should have a zero tolerance for practices of that nature. This incident clearly shows that what is definitely needed at this juncture in the relations between the police and the rest of the citizenry is a more robust recourse to litigation in all situations like the one Mr. Meusa had to endure.
One nuance evident in the whole episode is the refusal of the individual to support Mr. Meusa’s story of how he came to be involved in the first place.  Again, if Meusa is speaking the truth it would appear as if having been drawn into the affair by the brother of the virtual complainant Meusa was left on his own, with the woman’s brother flatly refusing to speak on his behalf.  It would seem as if the brother took the position that a look-alike in racially bifurcated Guyana, in the hands of the police was enough satisfaction for him in terms of getting justice for his sister. This is one surefire indication of why people should be extremely hesitant about rendering assistance in similar situations if there is the very real possibility of starting out as a good Samaritan and ending up being detained as the accused.
That sordid incident brings to the fore the issue of supervision at police stations at these times.  Anyone familiar with the myriad complaints made about police behaviour may justifiably wonder if the senior officers only perform 8-4 duties, leaving ranks unsupervised during critical periods.  The police administration can speak of police reform all they want, but their talk is not supported by positive action in that regard. If anything, it looks as if there are elements who are bent on retarding any movement in that direction. How can a man be detained for so long without a senior rank inquiring into the matter?
Which brings us to the realization as to the fundamental relationship between lack of supervision, acts of police brutality and torture, at police stations.  But much worse than that is the incapacity of the police to admit that they were wrong, and to give assurances that the situation which gave rise to citizen dissatisfaction in the first place will be dealt with expeditiously. Initiatives must go way past a few cosmetic and increasingly selective efforts in the name of discipline.  It is unfair to take the easy way out by transferring problem ranks from one location to become problems in another community.
Guyanese deserve much more service and protection than the Guyana Police Force is willing to give.  It simply is not enough to mouth-off about police reform to assuage an image of rank incompetence and rampant corruption throughout the force.  If the “rotten apples” at all levels are not reformed or removed, all of us will be consumed by our fears, even as we seek to survive in the face of unrelenting image of brutality that the Guyana Police Force seems unwilling to relinquish

A young gang member poses more questions than answers

Citizens are likely to be assailed by the emergence of criminal gangs in what seems to be a denial at the official policy level that Guyana has a gang problem.  How on earth can a 22-year- old man post on his Facebook page photographs with what appears to be an enormous amount of cash, guns of different calibers, and a person purportedly bound and blindfolded and no one sees anything to be alarmed about?
Something has to be wrong with our people when the same evening that an East Bank establishment is robbed; a young man is seen posing on the social network with large sums of what appears to be cash? Is anyone tasked within the security forces to monitor the social media expressly for this very reason?
The problem is that if we do not confront issues firstly with an acceptance that we have a problem, then we are operating with our eyes wide shut.  Perception most times mirrors reality, and if the relevant officials do not remove the blinders from their eyes we will realize that predatory youth gangs exist a little too late to rein the situation in.
The Agricola community, like some others across the country, is no stranger to youth gang activity. However, what should be of concern to everyone is the direction in which these youths are channeling their energies.  If as was reported, residents claim that the fatally shot Kevin Fields was part of a gang that terrorizes the community, and that there is no indication that anyone proactively engaged the community to develop intelligence on this gang, then something is seriously wrong with our priorities.
One is left to ponder the possibility that certain communities still observe signs of gang activity and live in mortal fear of speaking out which poses a real problem to their survival.  Is the Agricola Police Outpost adequately staffed or is it another white elephant?
The thing is that although the authorities may be ignorant of residents’ daily experiences, the people are in the best position to know the scale of the problem, or whether gang activity is increasing or decreasing.
In all of that, the perception of gang activity has the power to sow mistrust, to feed stereotypes and prejudices, and to erect barriers between groups of young people and between youth and adults in a community.
What is required is a toehold in these communities which are fertile soil for gang formation, and which may be easier said than done particularly in the face of parental denial of wrongdoing or the potential for anti-social behaviour on the part of their offspring.
The San Diego Police Department (SDPD) sends letters that alert parents to the consequences of their child’s actions although the Department is under no obligation to inform them of any intention to treat with their child as a gang member.
Research shows that youth who are drawn to gangs, demonstrate a great need for belonging and have been known to have criminal records before they reach twenty-five.  Some of the attendant risk factors that lend themselves to gang attraction include growing up in disorganized neighbourhoods; coming from very low income distressed families; poor academic standing; and time spent with delinquent peers.
If we do not have a gang problem can anyone seriously accept that this country does not have the accumulation of risk factors that can be used to predict the presence of youth gangs, or that the enabling conditions for gang development do not exist?  Youths who frequent gang areas are at risk of being sucked into undesirable, unacceptable and illegal gang activity.
What is needed is multi-sector approach with the primary focus on a service delivery strategy that targets gang-involved youth.  It is quite easy to dismiss the concerns of youth with the position that they are accountable for their acts of folly, but it is also important to remember that we owe it to them to provide adequate services for their academic, economic, and social needs.  Community initiatives like the Albouystown Impact if properly activated can serve as a conduit to encourage gang members and potential gang recruits to control their anti-social behavior and to focus their energies by participating in legitimate mainstream activities.