Mindful of the fact that Harry Gill enjoys certain notoriety in the letter columns of the newspapers, I am hesitant, yet compelled, to respond to his writings recently published with the title: “Was the AFC list …a false copy?” We welcome the opportunity to explore the touchy subject of the rights and responsibilities of overseas-Guyanese, which as leaders we must grapple with frontally.
Harry Gill would want to have the nation believe that the AFC is somehow trying to hoodwink the Guyanese electorate in some way by having Non-Resident Guyanese (NRG) on our lists of candidates, and to make us feel ashamed in some way for presenting as Candidates, a number of upstanding Guyanese citizens, who incidentally, reside outside of Guyana. What balderdash!
Legally, there is no bar to citizens who are working and living abroad to be elected to the National Assembly. The office of the Presidency is another matter, which has its own rules about citizenship and residency.
Both the Constitution and the Representation of the People Act, set out the criteria for persons to be elected as Members of Parliament, and Parliament in its wisdom never legislated, or expected, for Non-Resident Guyanese to be excluded.
Had it intended to provide this restriction, it would have done so specifically in the slew of legislative reforms of the electoral system enacted since 1997. Articles 155 and 156 of the Constitution set out the legal basis on which persons are eligible or disqualified for the list and my last perusal showed nothing about being resident in or out of Guyana. . Harry Gill and all interested persons are free to examine them.
Philosophically, from its inception, the AFC has consistently argued that Guyana, as a fledging nation, whose population has remained on, or about, 750,000 for two generations since independence, cannot have a chance at successful development if its people and their leaders do not recognise, respect, harness, and include the massive Guyanese resource base that exists physically in the developed world, but in many respects has never left, and remains here in spirit.
The World Bank and other International Financial Institutions’ statistics declare that of all the nations of the world most affected by the “brain-drain,” is Guyana, where 89 percent of our skilled labour force now lives and words in an developed nation.
The converse of this is that 11-12 percent of us who are still here, are pretending to manage the country effectively, by trying to provide jobs, infrastructure, education, security, health care and other social services. Who are we fooling in our grand pretense that the nation is being well governed, by so few?
The AFC has deliberately examined the models of India, Argentina, Italy, Ireland, and Jamaica to name a few, to see how these nations have effectively been viewing the Diaspora; not in an abstract and traditional way where the sending of barrels and Western Union and Money Gram transfers, are the defining features of the relationship between those home, and abroad, but more importantly, by being integrally involved and included in the development and decision-making processes of the state.
We have already denied the Diaspora the right to vote whilst abroad because of abuses in the past, but are we to heap a second load of disrespect on their heads by saying: it is okay to send money, and give to our campaigns, but you are not allowed to give your talent, your skills an your blood, sweat and tears in service of our beloved mother, Guyana?
All of the names listed by Harry Gill are well known to the AFC, and to Guyana, and in each of them I have found fine and upstanding gentlemen, who are no less patriotic and enthusiastic than any of us who live here, and have excelled in their respective professions and vocations. They have flown the Guyana flag higher, and represented our country better, than many of us who are still at home.
This is 2011 not 1911; the world is now a global village and while we may have exported our bright minds to serve the world’s nations, we are equally entitled to call them home to serve, and to welcome them if they ask to give back.
This sentiment was best captured in the words of a brilliant Guyanese living in Canada in response to Gill’s letter “At least we have highly qualified, honest and caring Guyanese who are prepared to make sacrifices for the future of Guyana. The same cannot be said of the PPP whose leaders care more about stealing from the people of Guyana to fill their own pockets rather than doing what the Leaders of the AFC will do and that is to bring honesty and integrity to Guyana.”
So, when the senior member of the AFC assured Harry Gill that we would be reaching into Diaspora to “tap into the talents and expertise of Guyanese living abroad”, he, or she, was being absolutely, and positively, correct because this is exactly what we’re doing.
There is no false copy of the list, this is the list. I would expect that the question posed to the good patriots who have offered themselves up as Candidates as to whether they are willing to uproot their families, take the children out of school, move away from their friends, and return to Guyana will be answered by them in the days ahead.
I already know the answer to the question. It was to this same Diaspora that Dr. Cheddie Jagan appealed in 1992 to come home to work and invest and many answered the call, but have since left disappointed, and appalled, at the lack of respect for them and at what Dr. Jagan’s long fight has yielded.
Just for the avoidance of all doubt, our Action Plan (page 23) spells out clearly in our Disapora Policy that we intend to have, among other things, Diaspora representation in the National Assembly and that we intend to re-examine the prospects of overseas voting, and embrace the wealth of the Guyanese Diaspora in a wholesome and meaningful way. We are not only talking the talk, but walking the walk.
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