This nation is going through another stage, if not dealt with properly could pose further threats for the ordinary man and woman, with far reaching consequences for how we treat with each other, defend and protect the sacred values of this land.
Last Wednesday, the Special Organised Crime Unit (SOCU) invited some members of the former PPP/C Government Cabinet to speak to issues relating to the land in Pradoville II. An instructive response for the establishing of this scheme came from former Minister Robeson Benn who reportedly informed that the scheme was built to protect them during the crime wave of 2002-2006 (SN, 13th September 2018). This is an offensive statement that lays bare the contempt government can have for the people and serves as reminder why government must always be held to account by the people.
People are elected and placed in office to represent those who elected them. When a government official could dare think acceptable or justifiable the statement that when Guyana was facing its worst crime wave, officialdom’s reaction was to build a fortress to protect themselves and however the masses survived so be it, must be of concern to all.
Government’s primary role is to protect and advance the security of the nation and the people residing within. When a government abrogates that responsibility it abrogates its legitimacy to govern, which in effect is what Benn has admitted. No wonder security was outsourced to the notorious drug fugitive Roger Khan and the phantom squads who became the de-facto government, running roughshod over the nation, taking unto themselves who live or die, and Government seemed impotent to do anything about it.
Some celebrated this lawless period of our history because they felt the outlaws were more effective than the state security apparatus. There was even the infamous letter in a mainstream daily with the title ‘Let the phantoms ride.’ When society found it acceptable to emblazon such headline, it marked clear signs of heading for the precipice through resignation that established law and order in such an environment came second place.
That was a time where Government, instead of having a unified national position that should have seen involvement of the political opposition, civil society and other stakeholders because the nation was under siege, saw it as open season for political partisanship as the people looked on in desperation for a crime fighting strategy, and dreaded what each say could bring. The killers did not care whether it was day or night, or where the bodies were thrown around, as though sending a signal that a new sheriff was in town and his ‘law’ would determine how business will be conducted in the town.
Government in its arrogance let it slip, through Roger Luncheon, that there seems to be ‘phantom squads’ operating. It was he who named what we were witnessing and divided on pinpointing. This later found admittance from Ronald Gajraj, the Minister of Home Affairs on whose watch the mayhem occurred, and after a Commission of Inquiry into the events, when he uttered words to the effect of having no regret and if the circumstance presented itself again the same action will be repeated.
Those who remember the era of horror, have lost love to its consequences, and are sticklers for the Rule of Law continue to pain over this matter, hoping that period of our history can get its deserving closure, justice served, and we move on in an environment where sacred principles are held sacrosanct.
Sometimes, it is wondered if politicians think about the statements they are about to make before vocalising, or they are allowed to think society has reached a stage where they can say anything and get away with it. If we allow this thinking to grow root and sink deeper, we are in for troubling times. As there is justification for Benn’s statement by supporters of the PPP and outrage by supporters of the APNU+AFC government and voices of reason, this same outrage could flip on a dime, should there be similar reckless statements or inappropriate conduct of this administration. This brings attendance to a dangerous double standard in our political culture and practices.
In any society where the Rule of Law is held sacrosanct and politicians held to account by the people there is no justification for the statements made by Luncheon, Gajraj and Benn. Whereas society must hold the PPP/C accountable for the murderous mayhem, the fear that stalked the land during the crime wave, the open contempt for the Rule of Law-which abhors extrajudicial killings and mandates activation of the Coroner’s Act- the upholding of these tenets must remain, irrespective of who received our vote.
Government officials are paid by us, the citizens, to ensure our safety and their security do not take preeminence over ours. The attachment of security details is not meant to absolve officialdom of responsibility for the people’s security but a measure of protection of their lives from the reckless amongst us. There must be similar outrage when any person is killed by the police, phantom squad or others, for the law equally protects the right to life and due process, irrespective of who’s in office.
Every government has to be pressured to do right by the citizens. We get the government that is not exactly what we want in terms of attitude and delivery, but we have to pressure them to bring about what is right. It is necessary and ok, and people don’t have to feel guilty about doing this. If there isn’t strong enough force to apply pressure to bring about the change society need then things are not going to change for the better.
Vigilance is not something we can give up on. It is a necessary part of life’s experiences, be it for bringing about and protecting a safe environment, family values, quality standard of living, livable wages/salary, fundamental rights and freedoms, etc. The complacency developing in some quarters and the seeming intolerance of the need for continued vigilance and activism post-May 2015 have to be shrugged off. There is notice of the decline in the earlier voices of activism, most notably among the younger generation.
As a user of social media (the young’s preferred choice), I also notice the desire by surrogates of the Coalition to kill independent thinking, and if one dare expresses disagreement with a policy, programme or act of the government these surrogates are quick to pounce, accusing persons of being anti-government. Independent thinkers face the onslaught of harassment in the forms of attack on their character, accusation of being silent during the PPP/C stewardship even though the coalition has been the primary beneficiary of their voice. It’s also instructive the many who today desire silence were silent during the PPP/C or relied on the independents to interpret and vocalise what they could not do or feared to do. This cyber-bullying and stampede must not deter.
Though social media was intended to be a space for connecting, such as rekindling association, gathering around common issues or promoting common causes, it is morphing into a space where intolerance is being spewed, propaganda proliferated, and the penchant to box people into a pro or anti-agenda. This can be challenging for the younger generation, posing threat to stifle their right to new thinking, dissent or proposing of alternative views. And where as social beings association is built on relationship social media could be a daunting avenue for ventilation, constructive association, growth and development. The independent minority must persevere and develop. This group must be the social conscience of the society, bringing balance, truth and accountability.
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