People are afraid even when they are right
By Adam Harris
A long time ago I happened to be attending a General Council and there was Forbes Burnham talking about the virtues of standing up for what one believes in. In his inimitable style I can still hear him talking about the problems Guyana faced from the international community. He then said that Guyana was not going to roll over and accept whatever is thrown its way.
Certainly, the country was not going to roll over and die and Burnham was deadly serious. Then he uttered some words that I still hear to this day. “It is better to stand on two feet and die like a man than to crawl on our bellies like a dog.”
It has not escaped notice that President Bharrat Jagdeo seems to be doing the same thing in his fight to secure money that should accrue from Guyana’s forest preservation. He is standing up and fighting in the face of what at this time appears to be odds. He may be missing some key ingredients in his fight such as the requirement for specific plans before Guyana can get any of the money due, but he is standing up.
However, for the greater part, Guyanese these days prefer to crawl. Scarcely a day goes by without someone calling to ask me to help them with some issue and being who I am, I cannot refuse, because there was a time in my life when I needed help and there were people to help me.
People in Government offices often face serious problems and I know because I happened to work in Government offices in the past. There are people who would bend the law to satisfy their political bosses and they invariably ask an underling to do their bidding.
It is the same in the criminal world. The boss would not deign to soil his hands when he can pay someone to do the dirty work. It is for this reason that the police and the people in the Home Affairs Ministry always nab some small fry. Just this week a man was held with 400 grams of marijuana—this is just about a pound.
The man was taking samples to potential buyers for someone else. The big one was safe in his home but the small fry got busted while he stood on the streets of Corriverton.
Again this past week, I got word that an employee of the Guyana Revenue Authority was required to clear a container that had been imported by President Bharrat Jagdeo. The woman was about to clear the container when she noticed a serious omission. It was not clear whether every debt pertaining to the container was settled because there was no lien cancellation certificate.
This simply meant that unless there was no such certificate then someone could have come forward and lay claim to the container for an unpaid debt. The Customs Act stipulates that no container could be released without a lien cancellation clearly indicated on the bill of lading. The female Customs officer knew this and she was bent on doing her job.
Then came the calls from her superiors insisting that she ignore the law for this time. She insisted on doing her job and eventually the correct thing was done. But for insisting that she do the right thing she got penalized. She was transferred with immediate effect
One day after I aired the story on television the woman called. She was angry as well as scared. She wanted to know how reporting her transfer for doing the right thing would help her. She was scared that her job was now at stake.
I cannot guarantee that her bosses would not do the unthinkable and fire her on trumped up charges but I can expose the brutes and take the matter as far as it would go.
I am certain that had I approached this woman for an interview she would have run like the wind. She is just one who would accept anything out of fear.
There are others who come with stories not too dissimilar and while they would tell their stories they would ask that their identities not be disclosed for fear of victimization. And they are many. I hasten to believe that these are people who would crawl and save what little they have rather than stand up and fight for what little they have.
Over the past few months, Kaieteur News realized that there was a lot wrong, that people were siphoning off Government funds and delivering little or nothing to the people who provided those funds. They were the contractors who squeezed the government, the people who claimed more than they should as expenses, the Ministers who offered bids and the list goes on.
There was of course the anger on the part of those who were exposed but the newspaper stood up on its feet rather than crawl. I have seen reporters who challenged situations knowing that they could be made to pay.
And there are the witnesses in important cases who often refuse to testify because they are afraid that someone would come after them.
In China this week, people risked imprisonment to protest human rights violations; in England students attacked a car carrying a person no less than the future king because they are angry at the hiked cost of their education and in the United States people are protesting all manner of things, not least their perception of the obstacles to them getting jobs.
These people are not crawling. They are saying enough is enough. Guyanese should learn. They would be surprised at what they could achieve. The senior Customs officials whom the woman feels hold the sword of Damocles over her head would not dare to threaten anyone.
The sugar workers are fighting GuySuCo. There are people who want radio licences but who are not saying a word while the government simply plays the stalling game. There were the television licences which the government said were on hold but which were granted to some special people. And people just crawled and let things stand.
What they do not know is that the government listens and acts when it feels that the issue is serious enough. The female Customs officer who would have been fired at the drop of a hat had things gone wrong is now cowering because she did the right thing. This is a topsy turvy place.