May 12, 2021 Letters
When a sitting Head of State issues a statement expressing his ‘unreserved regret and assurance’ to his fellow citizens ‘who felt offended by the way (his) language was structured,’ it is a sign that there is some discomfort among his people and that corrective action is needed. This is precisely what was done following the President’s 2021 Arrival Day message.
The President’s ‘unreserved regret’ was meaningful. It addressed a misunderstanding and was aimed at healing because the error in construction of the language was acknowledged. The apology strengthened rather than weakened the presidency. But it is not uncommon for those who disagree with statements issued by a sitting Guyanese Head of State to jump on what they consider to be inappropriate language, implicit or otherwise. Recall how in January 1998, then President Cheddi Jagan was subjected to similar treatment following remarks he made while delivering a speech at a Travelodge Hotel in Toronto, Canada. And although the words he uttered about ‘Blacks being at the lowest scale of the social ladder’ were taken completely out of context, nevertheless, on his return to Guyana, he issued a public apology.
Suffice it to say, regrets are not issued by public figures mainly because their remarks in question were exclusively ethnically offensive. Many are politically motivated. Take, for example, Janet Jagan’s public admission in January 1998. Referring to the incident when she threw a Court Order over her shoulder to stop her Swearing-in ceremony, Mrs. Jagan was quoted as saying; “Yes, I regret what took place and I wish to apologise for my action…it had nothing to do with disrespect for the laws or our Constitution.”
In December 2018, Volda Lawrence publicly apologised for remarks in which she publicly advocated and expressed a preference for her party supporters to get jobs and contracts… “…to all those whom I have offended in one way or another, I humbly apologise,” Lawrence said. In October 2019, Bharrat Jagdeo said he was sorry that persons had to hear his use of foul language in a conversation concerning Chris Gayle’s visit to Linden. In September 2019, the Guyana Manufacturers and Services Association (GMSA) apologised to then President Granger, “Our Executive Board express its sincerest apologies to you for the distressing display of bad manners exhibited with the obvious intention of disrupting the luncheon.” Later, Minister Khemraj Ramjattan, publicly apologised to media operatives following a public spat at Police Sports Club ground with a journalist whom he told, “Man y’all could haul yuh ass.” In a letter to the GPA, which was made public, Ramjattan wrote, “I apologise to you, your Press Association and Mr. Chabrol for what transpired on February 28, 2018.”
This writer issued a public apology for remarks, which he made during a 2020 election campaign public meeting where he used inappropriate language about women. He was quoted as saying that his remarks were not intended to disrespect women implicitly or otherwise. Member of Parliament, Patterson, during the 2021 budget debate was called upon by the Speaker of the House to apologise to Minister Edghill for unparliamentarily branding him a ‘liar.’ And although Patterson did not apologise, he nevertheless backed down and withdrew the word ‘liar.’ The latest ill-considered and derogatory remarks uttered by Amanza Walton-Desir about the support base of the PPP/C and the demand that she apologise has become the talk of the town. Mainstream media has dealt with this episode extensively. Walton-Desir’s lodging of a complaint to the police against Roshan Khan’s threat to her life has only helped push further what started out as an insensitive utterance that could have ended with an apology.
Experience has shown that poor choice of words is not uncommon in the realm of politics with expressions of regrets and/or apologies being in order. Cumulatively, our experiences in these matters raise the question not about how we Guyanese treat with one another, but how we have become the people we are. This perceived threat by some that there are others out there who want to eliminate, revise or ignore the history of others has been hanging for too long like the sword of Damocles over the nation. The question is; what is the way out? Let’s hope that the recently announced GOG/IRI project aimed at strengthening Guyana’s constitutional framework, electoral laws and the entire electoral machinery will go a far way in putting an end to our going up the down staircase as a people.
Clement J. Rohee
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