Jun 23, 2022 Letters
The recent pronouncement made by the Minister of Home Affairs, Hon. Robeson Benn after the happenings at the concert dubbed “Baderation”, has erupted much conversation and rightfully so. The Minister is quoted as saying, “I have to say here and now, that no artiste like “Skeng” will ever come again into this country, will not come again into this country under the signature of any person from the Ministry of Home Affairs or from the Guyana Police Force, will not come on a public stage. If they want, they can go into a private club and behave as badly as they want. We will not sign off on any such artiste or any artiste who has a record of promoting vulgar and lawless behaviour including the firing of gunshots in public places”.
It must be noted from the outset that “Baderation” was one of a series of concerts endorsed by Minister Benn’s friend in the Cabinet, the Minister of Culture, Youth and Sports.
Thus, these are very strong words expressed on the subject and they have raised a number of questions of which the answers are yet to be provided. It must be noted that Minister Benn had expressed similar views before and wanted similar actions to be executed on artiste and music he didn’t find favour with.
In 2013, the minister heard a calypso which was in his view, “abusive, and libelous or rather slanderous,” playing on the radio, and he went into the National Communication Network and demanded a copy, where an alleged ban on the song was made. He later indicated that there was no formal discussion in Cabinet to ban any of the year’s anti-government calypso songs. The question therefore is, was this action against Skeng by the Minister, birthed from a formal discussion and decision of Cabinet? Or was this a knee jerk, personal opinion of the minister and not a policy decision? The public has a right to know.
The minister further went on to describe the music as disgraceful. He made it clear that such music does not have a place in Guyana due to its lack of positive influence and message. I wonder, does he share similar views about violent movies shown at Cinemas and on the television?
In agreeing that our society should promote more music that have positive messages, it is equally important for the minister to know, that music also highlights and exposes the realities of the society in which one lives. Minister Benn should first ask his Minister of Culture at Cabinet, what was being done specifically, to nurture new talents in clean music as of June 2022. Furthermore, it seems quite obvious that the minister was unaware that the very songs/music of the artiste which he condemns, and claims should have no place in Guyana, were being played daily, weeks in advance on several popular national radio stations, television and on several social media platforms, with much larger audiences than was present at the concert. Minister Benn, what prevented the larger society from moving to violence or violent behaviour since the entire country heard the same music?
The same type of music and particularly from the very artiste “Skeng” is still being played after the minister’s statement and is apparently enjoyed by men in uniform that come under the portfolio of Minister Benn, as was seen most recently on social media, where firemen were having some fun and frolic.
Editor, is the artiste to be blamed and held responsible for the happenings at the concert or the behaviour of the firemen? Who was responsible for security at the respective entrances of the concert venue? Were the police not paid to be present at the venue as is known for such mega events? How is it possible that men with loaded guns were allowed to discharge rounds in the air on cameras streaming to the world but have not yet be charged?
This always happens when the PPP is in government, the country becomes less safe and the underworld flourishes. What is equally concerning is that this concert was kept a short distance away from the headquarters of the Guyana Police Force and the Guyana Defence Force. Were the military personnel stationed at those headquarters not hearing gunshots? These are seemingly signs of the military leadership deficit engineered by the PPP to undermine the social fabric of the society.
Not only were the lives of the concertgoers endangered, but also the artiste and his team. Again, I ask, who should be blamed? What sanctions did the promoters face, does anyone know? I am sure that Skeng was not at the gate of the venue working as a security. Hence, is this the best way to address our own societal challenges of increased crime, violence and corruption in the country, by shifting blame on a visiting Caricom national?
Minister Benn’s approach reminds me of this Malcom X quote, “I have no mercy or compassion in me for a society that will crush people and then penalise them for not being able to stand up under the weight.”
One just has to recall the infamous “no child left behind” policy implemented by Benn’s friend in Cabinet- the minister of education, whose policy directives instructed principals of schools to promote children who could not read or write to a higher class. Those policy directives also relegated the decades old pass mark criterion for promotion from one class to the other, irrespective of the learning challenge. Under the Manickchand rule, a child’s promotion from one class to another was made automatic, even when he/she had an explicit learning deficit. This degree of foolishness at the policy level by the PPP will continue to hurt Guyana for a long time Minister Benn.
In 2022, arguably a large percentage of those who were victims of that PPP policy went to the “Skeng Baderation” concert and Minister Benn wanted them to behave in a certain way. It would be a good thing for Mr. Benn to enquire of the minister of education whether the acting top cop was also a victim of her no child left behind policy. The helplessness of the security on that night said a lot to the world.
Is it ok to say that violent and salacious lyrics undermine public morality and promote crime without empirical evidence?
If the answer is yes, would a performance ban on an artist be the best solution? Artists are known to have many songs; do we ban the artiste or ban him or her from performing that particular song/s at a concert? One could argue that adult concertgoers should have the freedom to decide for themselves what sort of lyrics they wish to enjoy, rather than having Mr. Benn decide for them in a free society?
How will this ban play into the Minister’s own government’s efforts to foster a more robust regional integration system within the legal framework of the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas? Isn’t this move in itself undermining our very own efforts in helping to create a true Single Market and Economy across the Caribbean to bolster intraregional trade of goods and services?
If minister Benn needs a focus, he could well enquire of his minister of youth, sports and culture, about what is being done or not done to promote culture in a holistic way in Guyana. When the culture ministry endorses concerts named ‘Stink & Dutty and Baderation,’ it is embracing a brand, and I dare say one that is known to the PPP. The concert promoters are all passengers in the culture minister’s excursion bus. Thus, the Jamaican artiste must not be the fall guy, the minister of cultures’ friends already made their money at the gate.
In effect, this emotional outburst of a decision to ban, undermines the agency and freedom of expression of artists and adult concertgoers. It undermines Caricom law that guarantees to Caricom nationals the freedom to provide and receive services across regional borders. So a Jamaican service provider, be it an artiste like Skeng and the likes, a lawyer, banker, musician, etc, is entitled to provide his or her services to patrons in other Caricom countries.
The Caribbean court of justice, our final court, has ruled on this matter In the Cabral Douglas case in which Jamaican dancehall artiste Sparta Lee (Leroy Russell) was denied entry in a sister Caribbean state. The CCJ found that Sparta Lee, who was to headline a festival, was a service supplier under Caricom law.
Furthermore, the CCJ made this even more pellucid in the Shanique Myrie case, in which a Jamaican was deported from Barbados. The court said: “It is clear, therefore, that in certain approved sectors, nationals of a member State who supply these services must in principle have the right, freely to enter any other member State in order to ply their trade; but… also nationals of a member State desirous of receiving such services in another member State must be allowed to enter the latter State in order to receive that service without being obstructed by unreasonable restrictions.”
It is my considered view that Minister Benn’s decision to ban the Jamaican artiste is illogical and is a zero-sum game. Before that artiste came to Guyana, there was no report from Jamaica which said that when he performed at concerts, he got gun salutes or there were widespread robberies at the events. Secondly, the same artiste went to Trinidad and performed within 24 hours of leaving Guyana and there were no reported gun salutes and or widescale robberies at the event at which he performed.
The aforementioned clean report was achieved, against the known crime situation in Trinidad and Jamaica which is pronounced. It is in this context that I consider the pronouncements made by Mr. Benn about the Baderation concert as absurd. Truth be told, it is Minister Benn’s installed acting top cop and the promoters for the PPP that failed to provide proper security at the venue that need sanctioning. No one else should be blamed. Did the artiste tell the promoters to sell alcohol to patrons in glass bottles that can easily be used as a weapon?
Mr. Editor, Minister Benn and his government must firstly identify what are the problems the society is experiencing that would lead to the levels of degeneration we saw at the Baderation concert. I did point out above that one of the issues was the irrational education policy which promoted delinquency and I dare say we have the same minister of education in place in 2022, with a focus on hairstyles.
A second issue is the apartheid era, with special planning economic policy employed by PPP in 2022. We live in a special “One Guyana”, where certain groups will get killed easier at any time by the police and will continuously be a suspect. Minister Benn is banning Skeng, but having police officers that should have been at the concert gate to stop guns and robberies, spying on the Leader of the People’s National Congress as he goes around Guyana. This is counterproductive.
Too much time has passed for this regime to fix the real problems in education, agriculture, fishing, housing, good governance and the economy. Stop this selective blaming of others for the PPP’s policy shortsightedness.
Jermaine Figueira, MP
Shadow Minister of Culture Youth and Sports (Guyana)
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