Government’s petroleum advisor, Dr. Jan Mangal warns that the people should not let politicians decide all by themselves how the oil industry is managed. His words on the involvement of the people have been a theme in his several deliveries in the oil industry.
At the oil conference last week, a former Canadian politician made a statement that should penetrate the totality of this country; its echo may have been dissolved seconds after it was said. Ms. Alison Redford asserted that at the heart and soul of any democratic country is a functioning civil society. She went on to add that civil society must play an essential role in all the dimensions of the oil industry.
The question to ask in accepting the advocacy of Mangal and Redford is that while their points are poignant, how well do they know Guyana? We have heard those themes sung by Mangal and Redford from all kinds of former foreign envoys, visiting professors, diaspora visitors yet Guyana remains unchanged.
Ms. Redford comes from a country that would not return to Venezuela, a starving mother who sees Canada as a place of survival. If Canada does that, civil society will create a stink that will impact all the way to Alaska. In Guyana, we are not only turning away Venezuelans who are looking for food in bins. We arrest them, lock them up, fine them and keep them in a Diamond remand cell until they can find money to pay their passage back home. And civil society is simply silent or just couldn’t be bothered.
Canada will never detain 11 people from Nepal indefinitely in the jail until they find money to pay their passage back home. We had such a case where the poor guys were in the remand for months after being ordered deported. It was a businessman who paid the air fares. Trinidad, a neighbour of Venezuela, has taken 4000 of those who are fleeing poverty. Guyana, another neighbour, I am not sure if we have taken in one.
Dr. Mangal may have lived in countries where the voices of the people can change unpopular policies, but he is in for a rude awakening in Guyana. I am assuming that Dr. Mangal, who is from Guyana and whose father never migrated, would have visited Guyana from time to time. He would have seen that there is no people’s power that Walter Rodney so implored the Guyanese nation to show.
There is a deeply disturbing heartlessness and soullessness in this country that will not stop an authoritarian government from managing the oil industry the way it wants to. I believe both Mangal and Redford issued their sentiments based on their own experiences on how citizens reacted to the wrong things their governments have done, and they must have seen the resilience, energy and commitment of civil society in those countries. In Guyana, such spirits died a long time ago.
No sad event, no hurtful tragedy, no horrible violation, no cruel act, moves the people of Guyana. Those disasters sell newspapers and provide conversations for people walking in the park or having lunch alfresco-style. That is all they do. They do not move people in Guyana to act to save the poor, the powerless, the violated, the wronged, in this soulless and heartless wasteland. Ms. Redford is gone. She came, said what was philosophically correct, and probably thinks it will happen.
Will it happen? Will there be voices to stop the way the government will use oil income, or will use the Sovereign Wealth Fund? For it to happen, a democratic country must have a heart and a soul, and there must be a start long before the oil income comes and the fund is born. But where is the start? Will civil society and the rest of the country feel for the hundreds of school children whose labour of learning is done under atrocious conditions in public schools?
Will the Guyana people look toward their conscience and say a sympathetic word for an ailing mother who shares a bed with two others at the Georgetown Hospital? Will they grieve for the poor citizen who died from a wound or an illness at a public medical institution that people no longer die from since the last century? Will they utter just one word of disappointment when an 18-year-old goes to jail for the mere theft of a cell phone? Will they say enough is enough when employees at private security companies are paid slave wages and the Labour Desk at our government ignores their plea of redress?
Long after 2020, Guyana will be the same.
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