Guyana in 2012: The positives

January 10, 2013 | By | Filed Under Features / Columnists, Freddie Kissoon 

Two organizations enhanced their presence on the social milieu last year and maybe they have led to enhanced expectations that there may be more of a sustained pressure on the Government to be more democratic, accountable and transparent. They are the People’s Parliament and Transparency Institute.
They add to a growing national concern that there is a hardened, inflexible mind inside the corridors of power that is quickly closing the door of dialogue that Guyana so desperately needs if it is going to survive in the coming years. Of the two, I would say the People’s Parliament is by far the more grassroots in orientation, more activist and more likely to confront the government on its intransigency.
Transparency Institute on the other hand has a more narrow focus – its specific target is official corruption. In 2013, the expansion or contraction of these two organizations will tell us where Guyana is going.
The People’s Parliament was born on August 15 in solidarity with the mothers of children who were victims of police shooting during the protest against the electricity hike in Linden. It patterned itself after Occupy Wall Street then morphed into a social rights entity. The People’s Parliament has found a good reception among ordinary Guyanese because it avoids the criticism that it is a front for the opposition.
Its essential personnel have no political affiliation though it has in its midst persons from various groups and opposition parties.
In 2012 the People’s Parliament achieved two outstanding victories. One was the right of Parika vendors on an unoccupied street to ply their trade on Sunday mornings and another group that has been occupying the parapet for over forty years near the Parika stelling.
Through a process of empowerment, the vendors themselves have acquired legal services and have sought redress in the courts.
The other is the right of motorists to travel through the barricades that are set up around Parliament when it is in session. After the National Assembly passed a motion to remove the barricades the police refused to take them down. The Speaker wrote the Commissioner on the issue. The reply stated that the barriers will be left up but light vehicles can still travel through them. However, this was a false claim. Members of the People’s Parliament saw for themselves that cars were not allowed through.
Armed with the Commissioner’s reply to the Speaker, the People’s Parliament confronted the Police Commissioner and showed him that he had deceived the Speaker. The result is that cars can now go through the barricades.
What Transparency Institute did last year must have awakened the Leviathans to the fact that the ubiquitous fear that permeates Guyana is waning. The organization held a fund-raising dinner at the Pegasus and one would have thought that fear would have driven people away because the cameras were there. In fact there was a full house.
This columnist was wrong in his prediction. I thought the Orwellian stalker would have caused so much trepidation among the ticket purchasers that there would have been a thin turnout. It was not to be.
Transparency Institute is the local affiliate of the main German-based organization. Its constant reminder to the society of Government’s lack of response to pathological forms of corruption within the wider public realm and inside the corridors of power itself is a valuable source of pressure on the State.
It provides information to the wider world of just how scandalous and abominable is the attitude of the ruling class to the culture of corruption. Like the People’s Parliament, the ruling PPP is at a huge disadvantage. It cannot tell the world that Transparency Institute is a front for the opposition. The entity is not led by opposition party personalities.
Much less known in 2012 was the birth of a trade union in Berbice to cater for workers at Oldendorff, a German company that offers transshipment services to Rusal for the movement of bauxite.
This columnist journeyed last year to Berbice to hear about workers’ grievances. I did a column on what I saw on November 2. If those workers could be treated the way they are by Oldendorff even though there is a union, then would there not have been a return to indentureship if the union wasn’t there?
It is a sad reminder of the complete disregard for workers’ rights in a country where trade unions were indispensable in the struggle for Independence. As 2012 drew to a close another entity was born, the Coalition for the 1823 Parade Ground Monument. This organization promises a long battle with centralized power over the location of the 1823 monument.

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