Feb 23, 2012 Editorial
Forty-two years ago today, Guyana shed the last vestiges of the Monarchy and became a republic, the first in this corner of the world. This was happening a mere four years after Guyana had gained its independence from Great Britain.
There were implications. Indeed many in the country did not understand the reason for acceding to republican status. Guyana had just opted for independence—the reality was that Britain was shedding her colonies—following Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago. Barbados was to become independent later in 1966.
Forbes Burnham had decided that he no longer thought that the Queen should be the head of the country, to be represented by a Governor General. Instead, the signing of legislations should be the preserve of Guyanese hence the election of Arthur Chung as president.
The first Republic Day was a most festive occasion; the celebrations were spontaneous. People took to the streets for the numerous street tramps and other aspects of jollification. However, there was a lot of work to be done and the attainment of republic status was just the beginning.
Those were the heady days when sugar was king and when rice and bauxite added tremendous wealth to the coffers. Those were the days when Guyana had dreams of greatness. It had just constructed the Soesdyke-Linden Highway and the new Timehri International Airport. It had seen the construction of the Guyana Pegasus a few months earlier and the Bank of Guyana building was reaching for the skies. There was real development and in very short time.
Guyana has never seen that level of construction since but it saw the construction of housing schemes in areas that were once cane fields. There was Festival City a mere two years after Guyana became a Republic. Being a republic allowed Guyana to bestow its own national awards on its citizens.
There was a focus on youth; there were national service centres; there were new schools that came with the realization that all were not academically inclined. The years since 1970 have seen a lot of happenings, some too painful to remember. For example, there were the attempts to construct a major hydroelectric facility; Guyana lived through an oil crisis that is threatening to recur.
Until a few years ago there was a slowing down in infrastructural development coincident with Guyana’s slump to become one of the poorest countries in the Western hemisphere. It had begun to lose its skilled people and political interventions into matters that were once the preserves of non-political activities became the order of the day.
But despite what has been said and done, Guyana succeeded in instilling in its people national pride. No longer are people ashamed to proclaim themselves to be Guyanese. If there is anything positive to come from being a republic it is the feeling of national pride despite the problems that surface from time to time.
While there are some who seek to perpetuate the difference among the people the republic anniversary celebrations highlight the oneness of the people rather than the differences. Each year this oneness becomes more pronounced to the point that Guyanese make it a pilgrimage each year just to be home for the celebrations.
There have been some subtle changes over the years. There is no longer the hoisting of the flag at midnight and the declaration of the national awards but there are so many other things that make the republic meaningful.
Guyana is free to make its every decision. As a republic it decided that its Court of Appeal would be the highest court in the land. And when the regional integration movement moved to consolidate the legal system Guyana was among the first to recognize the Caribbean Court of Justice.
More than half of the population was not here when Guyana took that step but they grew up in a country that sought to have them recognize that they are the people who must make the republic work. They are the brains of the nation. They must be the ones to fix the wrongs in the society and there are many.
Just last week the nation was fed contrasting information on financial expenditures that needed to be approved by the National Assembly. There is the argument that the decision makers did a lot wrong. The decision makers say otherwise. There is the growing disrespect; the young must fix this problem. And there needs to be an end to the various abuses, not least among them, child abuse. Next year must see these things confined to the history books.
The only savior of Guyana.
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