An Election is a process of putting systems in place for the development of structures that can enhance people and society. When one votes, it ought not to be believed that he or she is doing so solely for love of the candidate, group or party. That vote is primarily driven by the need for development, which it is felt can be had by way of elected leaders putting systems in place, advocating for and/or developing policies, programmes and laws to such end. This significant fact continues to elude some leaders.
Society, while complex, has challenges that can only be overcome when leaders seek to understand and put the mechanisms in place to address them. Leadership does not place those so entrusted with the power and authority by the people to deliver admonitions to make them feel they have to grovel or be insulted.
Emancipation eve, President David Granger delivered a stinging rebuke to the African community at Beterverwagting (BV), East Coast Demerara. Leader of the Opposition Bharrat Jagdeo subsequently said he agreed with some of the President’s statements, and alleged there was duplicity in his approach.
It is incumbent that the record be set straight on these men’s pronouncements. When elected to office, it is expected the persons will bring to bear an overarching ideological/philosophical outlook to development, that will guide a policy from which programmes and laws will flow in pursuit of the goal.
Beterverwagting, a Dutch-derived name meaning “Better Expectation” tells the formidable story of achievements in what could have been the improbable journey of a people. Having endured centuries of enslavement, their labour exploited not for their interest but the enslavers, under the most inhumane of conditions; living a quality of life no better than the animals they took care of, the basic institution of family denied; the right to worship forbidden; man, woman and child raped, molested and brutalised, they resisted, fought, overcame and achieved.
The same year Africans were emancipated (1838), the freed were able to buy the BV plantation, establishing the village with a system of governance, education, roads, churches, business, etc., to look after their welfare. No doubt life in this historical farming community has changed and persons have moved away and/or abandoned the farms for one reason or the other. This has been a feature of Guyana’s life, regardless of ethnicity or location.
Where it is felt opportunities no longer reside or are not as competitive, labour will move in search of others, abandon the task, seek after other forms, rely on the benevolence of others, need re-directing or a helping hand up. These are human factors, not ethnic indicators. What government does, having recognised and being mindful of these challenges, is move to address them, because its primary role is to ensure the enabling environment is created for citizens’ safety and engagement in productive endeavours.
Governing is not only about getting elected and remaining in office; it is about day-to-day management of the affairs of State to ensure the people’s hopes, dreams and aspirations are being pursued and realised. As a trade unionist, there resides vested interest in the holistic development of citizens, more particularly the working class community. The continued absence of a National Job Creation Plan is of concern.
While government/public sector cannot provide jobs for all; government has overarching responsibility to create the enabling environment to realise employment and other economic opportunities for all. This nation last witnessed such effort during the Cheddi Jagan administration, when a National Development Strategy (NDS) was compiled after widest consultation. With Jagan’s passing, the NDS died.
For subsequent leaders to castigate citizens for their failure to put in place mechanisms for ensuring productive endeavours can be considered dereliction of duties. This nation’s President has Executive responsibility – i.e. day-to-day responsibility for the citizens’ welfare, which includes the realisation of a Programme to address deficiencies in every community and across every demographic. Inherent in this must be a plan of action, which includes a strategy to bring people on board.
An idea in the head and telling people to buy into it, without putting structures in place that can facilitate their involvement, will see no transformation. For instance, there is an effort to resuscitate the Cooperative Movement – the small man’s economy – but is there a National Programme that is being packaged and sold to the citizens to make meaningful the effort. In the absence of approaches of this nature, the movement will continue to stand still, and too, for any other effort that does not see such as essential.
There must also be a concerted national effort, led by government, to correct systemic discriminations in the system that have either beaten labour down, or where they presently don’t know where to turn. There are stories in Jagdeo and Granger’s presidency that can be told. Outside of the issue with employment, let me note at least two other instances brought to my attention.
One, a small contractor who was denied work during the PPP/C administration, his situation has remained largely the same, though he felt that having contributed and campaigned for the coalition, things would have turned around. Those who valued and relied on his service when in Opposition have found new friends in those who were always given preferential treatment under the previous administration; and two, a married couple sees the East Indian wife favourably considered for a bank loan, and the African husband being given the royal runaround, though he first submitted the identical documents as his wife.
Correcting these challenges require Affirmative Action and Equal Opportunity Laws buttressed by public education and enforcement. And it is government’s responsibility to do this.
The talk that citizens must get prepared to capitalise on oil and gas – as though these will be the panacea to end all problems and create all opportunities – remains just that. Talks are yet to buttressed with a National Programme as to what is required to productively participate. We still don’t know what skill sets are needed, how these will be acquired, and government’s role in making it possible for local labour. Presently this function is being ‘out scoured’ to whoever cares to step in or make a hustle of it. There is high youth unemployment and no national plan to alleviate it, either through employment or self-employed opportunities.
In the 1960s-1980s when Guyana was pursuing a Self Sufficiency Programme, the trade union was a Social Partner in helping government with preparing the skills needed through the Guyana Industrial Training Centre and Critchlow Labour College which the Guyana Trades Union Congress (GTUC) established for set purposes.
180 years of Emancipation, the abolition of the Ministry of Labour (i.e. working class ministry) that could see the development of a National Policy on the principles that guide and drive labour (workers) in the proposed Green Economy and oil and gas industry, is a cruel irony, a backward step compounded with arrogance, dim vision and blindness not to see the need for re-establishment of same.
Its non-existence means the Core Developmental Conventions in the International Labour Organisation – which takes centre stage in ensuring labour is protected, respected, and gets its just due – will see workers being exposed to ruthless employers, as their forebears were. We are witnessing, as in slavery and colonisation, the business class (Ministry of Business) getting pre-eminence.
To castigate the working class on Emancipation eve, an achievement to proudly reminisce, and not present a plan for their empowerment suggests equal value is not being placed on their existence much less productive engagement. Government must not rebuke when government taketh away, deprives or denies its citizens.
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