By Abena Rockcliffe
Some may want to say that the students who participated in yesterday’s Youth Parliament really showed the politicians how it is supposed to be done.
The formal parliamentary language where members are addressed as ‘honourable’, the banging on the desks, the time keeping, the bowing when leaving the Chambers were all features that characterized yesterday’s sitting as it does in an official sitting of the National Assembly. The only missing feature was the heckling.
The Opposition and Government in the Youth Parliament debated a motion titled “Youth cohesion in building peaceful and inclusive societies in the Commonwealth. The Motion which was moved by Opposition Leader, Arian Richmond, resolved to have the Youth Parliament call upon Commonwealth countries to create opportunities for the youths to be involved in the decision-making process.
The Motion carried five whereas clauses in which the opposition leader postulated that youth are not adequately involved in decision making in societies. One of the clauses noted that the Commonwealth Charter asserts that everyone is equal and deserves to be treated fairly whether they are rich or poor, without regard to their race, age, gender, belief of other identity.
Another clause noted that Youths are faced with grave challenges and uncertainties, including
unemployment; lack of access to quality education; sexual violence in armed conflict and violence; the high prevalence of HIV/Aids; suicide and substance abuse.
The motion did not garner the support of the government that tried desperately to defend its youth polices and outline provisions made to foster the inclusion of youths in decision making.
Prime Minister Dominique Clarke said that her government is doing its best to include youths in decision making but pointed out that there must be a limit to everything. She said that the unemployment and other issues to which the opposition pointed are not unique to Guyana but sought to assure the House that her government is doing its best to address these issues.
Clarke said that her government is very much aware of the fact that the 17 goals for sustainable development cannot be achieved without the valuable input of the youth.
Minister of Social Cohesion, Colleen Williams, also tried to defend her government’s honour. She said that her Ministry has been making strides in empowerment for women and the youth. Williams however failed to point out what the government has really achieved as a result of the “many” empowerment initiatives.
Minister of Education, Lisa Ramnarine, boasted of the fact that Guyana has been able to achieve universal nursery and primary education. Ramnarine pointed out that there are also schools for people with disabilities.
She said that her Ministry is helping youth to become good decision makers by educating them.
Meanwhile, Minister of Social Protection, Aleria Heywood, highlighted the fact that a number of institutions have been established and that there has been a national training programme for youth empowerment. She noted that more than 41 graduated from this programme last year.
Minister of Indigenous People Affairs, Rodney LaCruz, spoke extensively about the Hinterland scholarships given to young people who show progress. He said that this is a demonstration of government’s support to young people.
Most government ministers mentioned the fact that young people represent 60 percent of the voting population, “so they made the decision to us here and you there.
Shadow Minister of Education, Clive Blair quoted, Nelson Mandela, who said that education is the most powerful weapon we can use to change the world. However Blair added, education is also a two-edged sword to be used to foster empowerment and create lasting change.
He said that the Rights of the Child Convention clearly state that every child has a right to an education. However, a census of youth literacy done in the early 2000s showed that over 50 percent of youths in Guyana were illiterate. Blair said that the government did not address this, so by 2010 Guyana had 60 percent illiteracy.
Blair said that stifling the youth is a means to foster stagnancy. He pointed to the no child left behind policy and questioned, “How could you promote students who over and over failed? Where is the evidence of empowerment, how will those children be able to stand side by side with the qualified? An educated mind is wise decision makers.
“It is not too late to change the direction in which the country is heading if only focus on youth.”
Perhaps one of the most entertaining presentations was the one given by the shadow Minister of Public Infrastructure, Shawn Shewram.
“It is a shame, an indignity, a humiliation, a dishonor and an embarrassment that you can come before this noble House and blatantly try to persuade us into believing that youth are actually involved in the decision making processes,” said Shewram.
He spoke about the failure of the Ministry of Infrastructure to engage youths. He spoke about the lack of development in play grounds.
He said that the members of the government apparently having read too many bedtime stories are still stuck on the story of the three little pigs when encouraging youth participation. They remain as the first little pig, building houses with straws, poor infrastructure and weak foundations. “Maybe it is time that the youth parliament calls on the commonwealth being the big wolf to huff puff and blow down these flimsy straw houses made by government.
Shadow Minister of State, Roderick Allicock said that the Ministry of State has already failed miserably. As Allicock addressed the House his paper shock terribly, but the Member delivered his presentation with style and finest.
Allicock said that the Minister of State has to push more for the youth. “How can a man born before the age of technology think he can make all the best decisions in today’s world in the interest of young people?”
He said that Members of Government should allow youths to learn from the wise and proven but allow them to still have a voice.
Allicock quoted US President Herbert Hoover who said that older men declare war. But it is the youth that must fight and die.
Allicock said that the youth of today are not prepared to fight wars started by older men.
He said that the youth are more concerned at this stage about leading a better tomorrow.
Shadow Minister of Communities, Leticia Alexander, noted that children have a right to speak and a right to be heard. She said that communities should cater for growth and development in building a strong foundation for the youth.
“We must allow them to become productive members of their communities and make decisions at the community level.”
Meanwhile, shadow Minister of Social Cohesion George Mc Ferlen said that the presence of the Ministry of Cohesion is still to be felt.
He said that many exhaled on the coming of the Ministry thinking that the youth, who want no part of racism, will be heard through this Ministry.
The mover of the Motion, Opposition Leader, Arian Richmond, in addition to delivering a stinging presentation, was also sharp on her rebuttals.
She jabbed the Minister of Public Health who boasted about the good medical education being offered in Guyana as she asked, “then why are we still sending our students to Cuba.”
Richmond told the government, make no mistake, the youth can thrive without adequate state help but asked them to just image what can become of Guyana’s youth if only they are given the assistance they deserve.
The Motion was carried.
Youth parliament has been adjourned to March 13, 2017.
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