(H.E. David Granger at the Cuffy 250 State of African-Guyanese Forum on August 26, 2018)
Guyanese observed the 175th anniversary of the Demerara Revolt last week. They observed the 184th anniversary of the Essequibo Revolt and the 180th anniversary of emancipation from enslavement earlier this month. They celebrated the 180th anniversary of Indian immigration in May.
The record of Guyanese historical achievements is incontrovertible. The nation cannot linger on the past interminably, however; we must think clearly and plan collectively for the future. In so doing, we should not deny the impact of the past on the present and we should not ignore the consequences of our current attitudes and actions for the future.
Guyanese, in pursuit of a ‘good life’, ought to avoid the danger of ‘denialism’. Denialism distorts the reality of present-day conditions. It constructs a false reality and leads, inevitably, to failure. Denialism is a form of self-deception. We deceive ourselves and others when we deny social reality. Denialism could have deadly consequences.
A prominent leader of one country, notoriously, denied the link between Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS). That denial cost 330,000 lives owing to his refusal to provide treatment to HIV-infected persons. Other prominent persons have described global warming as an ‘expensive hoax.’ Cigarette manufacturers have long denied the link between smoking and cancer.
Denialism has a darker side of self-deception. The deliberate and indiscriminate denigration of whole sections of society also, is a denial of objective reality. The words of a well-known writer are evidence of the danger. He:
– asserted that African-Guyanese practised ‘self- hatred’;
– accused African-Guyanese of “cultural blindness”;
– alleged that African-Guyanese were “surrendering their collective dignity to the dictates of party politics”;
– attacked African-Guyanese for “losing faith in the ability to overcome” and of “dumping the emancipation spirit;” and
– claimed that “There has been no bigger sinner against the blackman, since Emancipation, than the blackman himself.”
There has been no credible research to explain these reckless pronouncements. National problems cannot be resolved by inventing fake theories which refute reality and impede the process of solving the problems which confront society. Causation of pervasive social problems needs to be determined before correct solutions can be sought and implemented. Some facts, for example, are that:
– the rate of school ‘dropouts’ is at least seven students per day, with the highest incidence being in public secondary schools where at least five students drop out every day; 2,669 students have been reported to have dropped out of public primary and secondary school over the 2016-2017 academic year;
– the rate of unemployment is estimated at 12 percent of the labour force or about 37,119 persons; youth unemployment is estimated to be 21.6 per cent of the labour force or about 16,462 persons; and
– the rate of teenage pregnancy is the highest in the Caribbean Community; more than 3,000 Guyanese teenage girls become pregnant every year.
Denying the prevalence and pervasiveness of these problems will not solve them. Solutions are being sought. Emphasis is being intensified on Technical Vocational Education Training as a means of building human capacity and of expanding opportunities for young persons not in education, employment or training (known by the acronym – NEET).
The Essequibo Technical Institute, Leonora Technical and Vocational Training Centre, Guyana Industrial Training Centre, Government Technical Institute, Carnegie School of Home Economics, Mahaicony Technical and Vocational Training Centre, New Amsterdam Technical Institute, Corentyne Industrial Training Centre and the Linden Technical Institute have a combined enrolment of 3,776 students.
The work of these institutes and centres is being supplemented by training programmes organized by the Board of Industrial Training and by Practical Instruction Centres and Practical Instruction Departments in secondary schools. It is anticipated that 42 schools will have practical instruction workshops by 2021.
Robust efforts have been made to reduce school absenteeism and improve attendance at public schools. The Public Education Transport Service (PETS) (known popularly as the 3 B’s Initiative) was a response to the reality that many parents could not afford the cost of transport to send their children to school.
PETS has had an impact on school attendance and household savings. The Service has distributed 1,184 bicycles, 27 buses and 9 boats. PETS is saving parents money; in some cases the savings can be as high as $48,000 per month per student – money which can now be funnelled into improving households.
Unemployment is being reduced through the promotion of self-employment. Almost 400 community projects – financed under the Sustainable Livelihoods and Entrepreneurial Development (SLED) project, the Community Organized for the Restoring the Environment (CORE) project, the Amerindian Development Find (ADF) and the Basic Needs Trust Fund (BNTF) – have been granted $3.7 B.
Micro-financing interventions – the Linden Enterprise Network (LEN); the Micro- and Small-Enterprises Development (MSED) project and the Hinterland Employment and Youth Service (HEYS) – have provided G$1.2 B in grants and loans to more than 3,000 young entrepreneurs, including first-time business start-ups.
Workers’ standards of living are being improved. Public servants’ and teachers’ minimum wage was increased by over 50 per cent, or from $39,540 to $60,000 in three years. The vulnerable are being protected. Monthly old-age pensions increased by 48.6 per cent from $13,125 to $19,500 and public assistance by 35.5 per cent from $5,900 to $8,000.
The system of local democracy has been re-invigorated. The previous regime’s odious practice of removing elected municipalities and installing the ignominious ‘interim management committees’ has been ended.
Local government elections were held on 18th March 2016, less than a year after the change of government and after a lapse of almost twenty-two years since the last elections were held on 8th August 1994. These elections have empowered our citizens, energised our communities and eliminated one of the sources of strife and stagnation.
A National Conference of Local Democratic Organs was convened to become a vehicle to promote greater communication and meaningful cooperation between the regional democratic administrations, the municipalities, the neighbourhood democratic councils and Central Government.
Four new towns – at Bartica, Mabaruma, Mahdia and Lethem – have been established. A policy of regional development aimed at ensuring that every region will be led by a capital town to propel the delivery of public services and to promote economic growth. Development in the towns under democratically-elected municipal councils has been measureable.
Villages are central to local government. This is the reason why I proclaimed 7th November as the ‘National Day of Villages.’ The declaration reinforced local democracy and paved the way for the restoration of regular local government elections, which will allow citizens a greater say in the decision-making and the management of their communities.
Guyanese organizations are encouraged to disassociate themselves from denialism. They ought not to conceal inconvenient truths but, rather, contribute to crafting an implementing plans for people’s education, employment and empowerment.
We can all do much more to quicken the pace at which social problems are solved, local democracy firmly re-established, community development improved and the people could enjoy a good life.
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