Let Sanity Prevail
The spark has been lit in Linden and not surprisingly there has been an explosion. Three deaths; a score wounded; buildings gutted and many others scorched, have been the debris so far.
We express our sympathy to the families of the deceased in the strongest possible terms. But at this time we also have to call upon all the ‘stakeholders’ to work together to ensure that the conflagration does not spread.
Unlike most of our CariCom neighbours, it has been our unfortunate lot to have had violence introduced into our political disagreements. Initially, it was by foreign intervention, but once the genie was out of the bottle, it proved impossible to put it back, since the lesson had been learnt well by the local players.
And this is not a matter of ancient history: the first decade of this new millennium saw political violence rise to new heights or depths, which made the sixties conflagrations seem like child’s play.
For months, the Linden situation had been a bubbling cauldron. The overt issue has been the decision by the government to equalise the electricity tariffs for Linden with those for the rest of the country.
Because of the nature and history of the bauxite industry, Linden had been provided with ‘free electricity’ since the 1940s by the bauxite company. The provision of several other services made the surrounding area very much a ‘company town”
When the industry fell on hard times in the late seventies/eighties, subsequent to its nationalisation in 1970, in addition to severe retrenchment of its workforce, the company sought to slough off its “social services” in order to reduce its operating costs.
Finally, when the decision was made to privatise the company, the government had to agree to assume the subsidy for electricity, from the buyers. This is the subsidy that the government now feels had to be phased out.
It pointed out that the subsidy (which amounted to $37 billion over the last six years) encouraged profligacy in usage by Lindeners. A similar situation had existed in the sugar industry with the provision of water and other social services such as medical care. These had been phased out between nationalisation in 1976 and 1996.
Initially APNU, the party that won the support of the vast majority of Lindeners, accepted the premise of the subsidy being gradually phased out. It gave its approval during negotiations under the Tripartite Talks umbrella – but not before demanding quid pro quos from the government, both of national and local (Linden) import.
APNU later went back on its undertaking in an apparent effort to protect its flank from incursions by the AFC. Together, they mobilised Lindeners to protest the tariff equalisation – which kicked in on July first.
The Lindeners (and their representatives) are claiming that with an unemployment rate of 70% the people of Linden are in no position to pay the increased rates.
Now while other allegations of governmental motives (racial or otherwise) are much more difficult, if not impossible, to prove – the unemployment allegation can be checked by a quick survey. Such a number flies in the face of asserted economic infusions into the region by the government. If in fact the number is correct, the parties should decide as to whether the government’s phased increases are equitable. On the other hand the government’s claim of profligacy in usage must also be addressed.
Because of the amount of heat generated over the past few months over the issue – which has now escalated immeasurably because of the recent unfortunate deaths, it might be best if the issue is taken before an impartial panel. The propensity of politicians to exacerbate situations such as exists presently in our country is unfathomable. Matters must be placed in calmer hands and considered by wiser heads. The government has moved swiftly to announce that an inquiry will be conducted into the circumstances surrounding the shootings. This must be done immediately and must also be conducted by a committee that is seen to be impartial. Let sanity prevail.