September 28, 2016 By
September 27, 2016 By
Child Protection Week in Guyana came to a close recently. During the Week, planned events, awareness programmes, exhibitions, lectures and fun activities were held across the country to sensitise the populace and to raise awareness about the causes and effects of child abuse, as well as preventative measures.
A call was made for the public to assist in reducing child abuse and child sexual abuse which, the Child Care and Protection Agency (CCPA) said, are on the increase. Director of the Agency, Ann Greene reported that from January to July 2016, there were 2238 reports of child abuse and 441 cases of sexual abuse in Guyana. These numbers are alarming and confirm that we have a serious problem.
The head of the CCPA acknowledges that these figures are “really too much” and child abuse, in all of its forms, should be eradicated. What is even more worrisome is that these figures only represent the reported cases.
None of us need to be reminded that child abuse and neglect are serious problems that can have lasting harmful effects on its victims. The goal, both globally and nationally, in preventing child abuse and neglect is clear – to stop it from happening in the first place.
The provision of safe, stable, nurturing relationships and environments for all children and families can prevent abuse and help all children reach their full potential.
Towards this goal, local advocates are urging parents, caregivers and society at large to look for the signs and to be the voices of the voiceless.
Undoubtedly, these are complex problems rooted in unhealthy relationships and environments. Preventing child abuse and neglect requires a comprehensive approach that influences all levels of social ecology (including societal culture), community involvement, relationships among families and neighbours, and individual behaviours.
These strategies to stamp out child abuse range from a focus on individuals, families, and relationships, to broader community and societal change. This range of strategies is needed to better address the interplay between individual-family behaviour and broader neighbourhood, community, and cultural contexts.
Not only do children suffer acutely from the physical and mental cruelty of child abuse, research has found that they endure many long-term consequences, including delays in reaching developmental milestones, refusal to attend school and separation anxiety disorders. Other consequences include an increased likelihood of future substance abuse, aggressive behaviours, high-risk health behaviours, criminal activity, somatisation, depressive and affective disorders, personality disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, panic attacks, schizophrenia and abuse of their own children and spouses. The vicious cycle seems never-ending.
The Social Protection Ministry, CCPA and other advocates are all on the right track. Every effort to rid society of this scourge is commendable and a positive one. Having acknowledged this, it is vital to also face the reality that the current efforts are not enough. Every week should be designated to fighting the battle against child abuse, in all forms. If this is not already a national emergency, then it should be considered as such. What is currently being done is merely a drop in the bucket.
During the week-long activities, much has been revealed about this issue, including important statistics, suggested preventative measures and the challenges facing the advocates. One of the major challenges, according to the head of the CCPA, is the law itself and the hurdles in the way of attaining justice for the abused and neglected.
Clearly, the authorities, advocates and policymakers need to re-examine the approach to the issues. Effective prevention strategies should focus on modifying policies, practices, and societal norms to create safe, stable, nurturing relationships and environments. Again, it would be beneficial to examine what has been done elsewhere.
What remains important, in the wake of all efforts, is that action is being taken, education continues and that there is commitment to eradicating child abuse countrywide.
September 26, 2016 By
Last week, there was a Conference of the Non Aligned Movement (NAM) next door in Venezuela, but the resounding silence in the local and world media about the event that involved 120 nations is perhaps symbolic of the waning of this once powerful organ of the poor and the powerless of the world. It was conceived as an alternative path between the two superpowers – the US and USSR – engaged in their post-WWII Cold War that became very hot in a number of colonies of the Empires.
NAM was actually conceptualised during the Asia-Africa Conference held in Bandung, Indonesia in 1955. The conference was led by Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, Egyptian President Gamel Abdel Nasser, Ghanaian President Kwame Nkrumah and Indonesian leader Sukarno, and brought together leaders of 29 states from the two continents. It was formally launched in 1961 in Yugoslavia. During the Conference of Foreign Ministers of Non-Aligned countries held in Guyana from August 8-11, 1972, a monument to the four founders was unveiled by the then President, Arthur Chung at Company Path Gardens, in front of St George’s Cathedral.
This Conference was the high point of Guyana’s then vigorous international diplomacy that was located within the NAM’s insistence that countries must be allowed to pursue paths that were aligned to their real interests rather than those of the superpowers. While the decline of the importance and interest in NAM – how many Guyanese know of the monument, much less have visited it? – might be due to the end of the Cold War in 1989, the question of “national interest” as a guide to the activities of the vast majority of the members that remain enmeshed in poverty is still critically relevant.
And this is why it was somewhat surprising that Guyana did not attend the Conference. In general, some may explain that as due to NAM’s declining importance: only nine leaders showed up in Venezuela last week. But then that could be due to the fact that the annual United Nations General Assembly meet that attracts most world leaders was held almost simultaneously. The fact remains, however, that representatives of most of the member countries did attend.
And this is why Guyana should have been there. Just as during the heyday of NAM when Venezuela tried to burnish its global credentials, our Government could have followed the example of the then Government of Forbes Burnham which adroitly used the organisation to present Guyana’s case on the Venezuelan-precipitated border controversy. Guyana embarrassed Venezuela then as a larger power imitating the superpowers and bullying a small poor nation and Guyana could have done the same in the present.
Maduro went out of his way to host a successful NAM conference by stressing his “progressive”’ credentials and more than anything else, we could have applied pressure on him and his Government by showing the world how Venezuela was still a bully. To wit, that they are insisting on continuing with the UN Secretary General “Good Offices” process that has not produced any progress on the controversy and yet refuse to agree to the juridical process that is also an option available.
Guyana could have demonstrated to the delegates the reasonableness of our position: why would a country deny having an impartial and credible UN organisation like the World Court at The Hague settle the border controversy, unless it was very unsure of the bona fides of its case. Attending the NAM conference would not have been at the expense of President Granger not attending the UN General Assembly where he admirably pleaded with Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to move the process forward. But any proposal by the latter would have to be agreed to by Venezuela and this is where Foreign Affairs Minister Carl Greenidge could have brought immense pressure for Maduro to do so, via the representatives of 120 countries who were attending a “progressive” conference.
September 25, 2016 By
The year 2016 began with a two-day seminar in Georgetown on tackling domestic violence in Guyana, organised by the Commonwealth Secretariat. Mark Guthrie, a Legal Adviser at the Commonwealth Secretariat reminded the participants that domestic violence was concerned about the rule of law: “It concerned equality before the law and human rights, and the right of victims of domestic abuse to be accorded respect and receive justice in the courts. It is the obligation of any state to secure the human rights of those who live within its borders.”
Participants ranged from judges to police officers and the discussions were led by a team of experts from a range of Commonwealth jurisdictions including England, Cayman Islands, Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago, India and Turks and Caicos Islands. Two decades before, following the Second World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna in 1993 and the Fourth World Conference on Women in 1994, the Domestic Violence Act (1996) had been enacted against a background of mind-numbing violence against females in Guyana, to provide the legislative framework for handling cases of domestic violence.
Violence against women jeopardises women’s lives, bodies, psychological integrity and freedom, and is known as ‘gender-based’ violence because it partly stems from women’s subordinate status in society. Yet at the January 2016 conclave, a representative of Red Thread had to declare: “Let’s stop talking about causes and effects and let’s see what we can do to help women be independent and escape violence. Women have the right to safe homes. That’s a line we need to push to our governments.”
A Domestic Violence Policy Unit had been created in Guyana’s Ministry of Human Services and Social Security to oversee the implementation of the National Policy on Domestic Violence. The policy calls for the Government to provide temporary shelter services, counselling, social work services, and legal aid for victims, as well as training about domestic violence for healthcare workers, police, judges, magistrates, lawyers, and others.
However, back in 2010 the then minister bemoaned that one of the greatest challenges Guyana faced in countering domestic violence, especially sexual violence, was in changing the attitudes of service providers – such as Police, magistrates, social workers, and healthcare providers – towards domestic violence and gender equality.
She should have also mentioned the “attitude” of those placed at the very top of the Governmental apparatus. This month, her successor Minister in the APNU/AFC coalition Government has continued to defend her use of the euphemism, “deflowering” rather than “rape” for the act that impregnates preteen girls, which she complained had become rampant in certain communities in Guyana.
The laws of Guyana defines intercourse with any person under sixteen as “statutory rape” and the Minister’s refusal to use the term, and to mask it as a “deflowering” which is merely the piercing of a female’s hymen, ignores rape as the ultimate act of violence against females and illustrates the “attitude” her predecessor complained of.
Last Wednesday, there was another high-level forum to highlight the scourge, this one hosted by the Delegation of the European Union (EU) in Guyana at the Georgetown Marriott Hotel. The “wide cross-section of civil society stakeholders working in areas of human rights and gender rights”, according to the EU Delegation, were sensitised via a skit performance on domestic abuse and an excerpt from a documentary film called “Six Days”.
The EU’s release emphasised that violence against women and children has tremendous costs to communities, nations and societies and can remain with women and children for a lifetime and can pass from one generation to another.
Representing the Ministry of Social Protection, Gender Specialist Adel Lilly pointed out: “Awareness-raising campaigns are critical to prevent gender-based violence, not only by raising awareness of what constitutes violence and its unacceptability, but also to challenge the underlying attitudes and behaviours which support it.”
Maybe she can have a discussion with her Minister about her “attitude”.
September 23, 2016 By
Months have passed and it appears as though the National Industrial and Commercial Investments Limited (NICIL) has no intention of releasing the findings of a report on the missing US$5 million GTT shares. NICIL had sold the Government’s shares in GTT for US$30 million of which US$25 million was received at the signing of the agreement. The outstanding balance, which should have been paid by the end of December 2015, has not been discovered.
Over the past two weeks, a number of media reports have highlighted the fact that the report on the findings of the probe into the missing money is with NICIL.
However, as has become the ostensible norm in Guyana, officials use the bureaucracy of the system to withhold answers that the public demands. This was evident last week when the media sought answers about what really happened to the missing US$5 million but the responsibility for such a disclosure shifted from one agency to another. This supports Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo’s comments that it is “clear as day” that NICIL does not want to release the findings on the issue.
The chronicle of events on the missing US$5 million started earlier this year when Government announced that it recovered documents, which revealed that the monies were paid. However, controversy erupted shortly thereafter when NICIL shut down the Government’s claims by announcing that Guyana’s former Ambassador to China David Dabydeen had facilitated the US$5 million debt waiver with Datang, the Chinese company, on the grounds that it was not granted the same minority protection rights enjoyed by NICIL (that is, two, instead of one, representatives on the GTT Board of Directors).
What is, however, baffling is the fact that when the US$25 million was paid, it was made by international wire transfer, from one bank to another. In this information technology driven world, such a payment can be easily traced. Then what is the hold-up? Why this cannot be done rather than shirking the public?
In one instance Chairman of NICIL Board, Dr Maurice Odle said that he cannot furnish a response to the media but rather that was the responsibility of the Government.
However the Government, through Minister of State, Joseph Harmon, made it pellucid that it was NICIL’s responsibility to release any findings on the issue.
It was only then that Dr Odle asked the media to furnish an official letter to NICIL requesting information which he will present to the Board.
All of this is being done at a time when there is much criticism about the accountability or transparency of the Administration. The public genuinely deserves an answer about the US$5 million and further delays will only add to the fire of the lack of transparency on major decisions for the nation.
There is no doubt that the creation of public trust in the accountability and transparency of any administration will foster goodwill for the nation. As such, Guyana should move towards a more effective, robust, answerable system to safeguard taxpayers’ money. We can start by revealing to taxpayers exactly what happened to the US$5 million.
NICIL must come clean on its affairs and cease to argue in its defence that it is a Private Company registered under the Companies Act and as such, is under no obligation to make any disclosure.
NICIL is but one of the guardians of public affairs and public monies and were the David Granger Administration to attempt to display some modicum of its commitment to its promise of transparency and accountability, then a good place to start would be to reveal exactly what happened to US$5 Million—G$1 Billion, monies that could have gone towards putting measures in place to begin paying its employees a liveable wage and not the pittance it has made in its ‘final offer.’
September 22, 2016 By
When Parliament reconvenes on October 10, notwithstanding the strenuous objections of the Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA), the Private Sector Commission (PSC) and the Opposition PPP, which has only a single seat less than the Government, the latter will pass the State Assets Recovery Agency Bill 2016.
Most well-known for his aphorism “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely”, Lord Acton was called the “magistrate of history” because of his profound study and understanding of that subject. The flipside of his scepticism about power, not surprisingly, was his abiding devotion to individual liberty, and he further noted: “Liberty consists in the division of power; absolutism, in concentration of power.” The Government has ignored both Acton’s aphorisms and their historical justifications if reference is made to the powers of the State Assets Recovery Agency (SARA) created by the Bill –- and also its director.
The clear and present dangers posed by this Bill is illustrated by the “Star Chamber” created with all good intentions by the Tudor monarchy in England to supplement the activities of the courts in both civil and criminal matters against the upper class that ordinary courts balked at convicting. But by the time of the Stuarts, however, it had become an instrument for the King to persecute and punish those he dubbed his enemies. Its name became synonymous in judicial circles down the ages, with arbitrary prosecutions and punishment. The US Supreme Court in this millennium charges it operated within the following themes: “brutality, abuse of power, oppressive state might overpowering the helpless individual and persecution.”
Upon evidence presented, it would not be hyperbolic to suggest if the legislation is enacted, Guyana would be taken backwards in history to create our own “Star Chamber”. We can begin with the objections of the GHRA to SARA, which it claimed were triggered by “the sweeping powers available to the Director of the Agency and the manner of his/her appointment….With respect to the powers, the following private and State institutions are only a selection of those which must comply with ANY request from the Director of SARA for information they hold: the Commissioner of Police, the DPP, Head of CANU, the Bank of Guyana, private banks, and the Chairperson of the Gold Board.”
More insidiously, the GHRA continued, “Rather than the established procedure whereby other agencies provide the Guyana Revenue Authority with information on which it can act, the new Bill requires the opposite: the GRA must provide information on which the SARA will act. The Director of SARA is effectively a political commissar exercising enormous powers.”
The PSC’s objections were guided by a legal opinion it solicited. In addition to echoing the objections of the GHRA, the PSC pointed out that the appointment of the Director failed the “fit and proper test”: “The Schedule to the Bill provides that the person appointed as Director or Deputy Director of SARA shall be a fit and proper person.” There are no specifications of what constitutes “fit and proper”, but one of the criteria must include independence and exclude “politically exposed persons”, senior politicians and important political party officials. The application of this test would exclude Professor Clive Thomas, a co-leader of the Working People’s Alliance, a party in the ruling coalition. “In addition to the Director being a member of a political party in the Government, one of the members of the Agency is also a member of the WPA, Desmond Trotman and another is Eric Philips, a member of the Reparations Commission who has taken a strong public position accusing the Opposition PPP of appropriating State assets. There is the danger of political persecution.
The PSC contends the Bill has a “frightening array of overlapping laws, concentration of power, violation of the Constitution and constitutional principles, violation of the Standing Orders of the National Assembly, and a potential reduction of the civil liberties: due process and the presumption of innocence.”
The rule of law is under threat.
September 21, 2016 By
A report by US-based Inter-American Development Bank and the Organisation of American States has revealed that Latin America and the Caribbean are highly vulnerable to potentially devastating cyber-attacks.
The report said that four out of five countries in Latin America and the Caribbean do not have a strategy to prevent cyber-attacks.
The report added that nations such as Mexico, Colombia, Trinidad and Tobago, and Chile have an intermediate level of preparedness, but remain far from advanced nations like the United States, Estonia and Israel.
When we hear about data breaches in the news, it’s usually the big names in countries that are thousands of miles away. We hardly stop to think about our own vulnerabilities and examine ways we can protect ourselves. However, as many countries and large corporations invest in ramping up security, hackers are turning their sights elsewhere, to targets that may not have the resources to fend off their attacks.
The international institutes have called on regional governments to step up cybersecurity, saying that two out of three countries do not have a command and control centre for cybersecurity.
The question is how can persons protect themselves, organisations and employees? We need to understand why the issue of cybersecurity is important in the first place. In this high-tech era, cybersecurity is more important than ever. Most of our daily transactions are being conducted via digital technology, from socialising to e-commerce. It is true that we may be lagging behind most countries in this regard, but we are well on our way.
Quite recently, Telecommunications Minister Cathy Hughes revealed great plans for Guyana’s e-governance system which are aimed at decentralising Government’s services, providing telemedicine services, distance education and the submission and marking of examination materials even at the level of the Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC), among other things. They pointed to the establishment of an interconnected digital platform that can provide Government services to citizens in an efficient, cost-saving and efficient manner.
To make this a reality, the Administration has consulted with the Chinese telecommunications giant, Huawei, to assess the feasibility of expanding the coastal fibreoptic network to include other areas of the country.
Sections of the local media reported that Government’s announcement comes at a time when US security experts have cautioned major telecommunications companies like AT&T against using Huawei’s services because of fears of espionage.
Amid the uncertainty about this partnership, the Telecommunications Minister assured that Guyana has been placing great emphasis on cybersecurity and Guyana has been sending officials overseas to conferences “so that we can be up to date about mechanisms that could be put in place to protect the integrity of national data”.
Officials also assured that every conceivable step was being taken to protect data, largely with support from the Organisation of American States of which the United States is a major supporter.
Whether there is genuine cause for concern is left to be seen; however, we need to take the possibility of a cyber-threat seriously.
Experts recommend simple steps that can be taken to prevent hacks and protect information. Many in today’s workforce do not realise how easy it is to be fooled by innocent-looking attachments and links within malicious emails. Viruses, ransomware, and malware can invade your system with just one click. Once the trap is sprung, all of a person business’ sensitive data becomes a free-for-all for cybercriminals. Ensuring that employees are aware of the risks is crucial.
Persons also need to ensure the company hired to host its website has a good reputation and utilises proven security practices such as encryption. There are many other small, albeit crucial measures that can be taken to safeguard ourselves. These include but are not limited to securing our websites with SSL encryption, using a Secure Hosted Shopping Cart; persons have to be able to trust e-commerce platforms (online shopping is becoming increasingly popular in Guyana), protecting themselves and business with Web Application Firewalls and certainly, by no means least, changing passwords regularly.
No matter what preventive measures a person take, there will always continue to be more advanced hackers trying to get at personal or company data, persons simply need to ensure that they are doing all that they can to guard against cyber-attacks.
September 20, 2016 By
We need to get serious about disaster preparedness. What does that entail? Disaster preparedness refers to measures taken to prepare for and reduce the effects of disasters. That is, to predict and, where possible, prevent disasters, mitigate their impact on vulnerable populations, and respond to and effectively cope with their consequences.
It’s the conversation that no one wants to have: how to prepare for a disaster. It could be a fire, flood, a shooting, a break-in, etc. All of these things constitute a disaster in one form or another. They have all affected the lives of someone we know and yet, we tend to push the possibility that they could happen to any of us, at any time, to the back of our minds.
Take, for example, the recent fire in Berbice that left 15 homeless. There were several children residing at that premises. Thankfully, we did not have a replay of what happened when fire gutted the Drop-in-Centre in July and two innocent children lost their lives. This might have been prevented. In the wake of this tragedy, we need to take stock. Were there appointed and identified fire exits? Was there an emergency procedure in place? Was it customary to conduct fire drills? Was there an identified muster point? Was the building overcrowded? There are many questions to be answered, and we have not even considered the firefighters’ response.
The point is: we fail to prepare for such eventualities since we are taken up with ‘more important’ issues. “Who really has the time anyway?” Before a fire erupts, contingency plans must be mapped out for efficient response and for survival.
Fire is, by no means, the only disaster which can strike at a moment’s notice. There is also the increasingly rampant home invasion-type robberies. This too can be considered a disaster and yes, we do need to prepare for this. There is an epidemic of home invasions sweeping this country and no one is addressing the matter of preparedness.
Let us face the harsh reality, a difficult economy is causing criminals to not only target businesses but look elsewhere to perpetrate their crimes and sadly they, see people’s homes and residences as much easier and less risky targets.
Home invasions are among the most insidious of crimes, shattering the sense of safety and security for children and families for many years after the crime, often for a lifetime. With the rise in these types of crimes, it’s important to learn what persons can do to safeguard their home and family. It is crucial that we “burglar-proof” our homes as best as we can. Reinforced doors, bars on our windows, guard dogs and, in some cases, if it is affordable, a security service.
However, all the steel bars, bull dogs, and minefields in the world cannot keep the unwanted out if they are not used. A few personal measures can make a world of difference. This is where our disaster preparedness comes in.
For example, persons should at least look through a peephole or out the window before answering their door. Many home invaders wait until someone opens the door a crack, then they kick it in and push their way into the home. If this happens, all your security measures would have gone to waste.
Be wary of uninvited solicitors, “repair men”, utility representatives or any unfamiliar individuals. Always call and confirm before you open the door. Keep a phone nearby, of course – most of us own cell phones so this is not an issue. You may need it on hand at a moment’s notice to call the Police.
Most importantly, persons should have a plan that their entire family understands. In the event of an attack they should be able to relay a password that let people know what is happening. Then the rest of the plan should kick into action. This plan should involve all family members. The main objective should be to get the family to a safe area and to defend that area.
Defending against a home invasion, or any disaster, is no easy task. But if people are prepared, they can prevent or survive any attack. Have that talk today. Make your disaster plan.
September 19, 2016 By
Contrary to what most of the political pundits outside US borders thought would be the case by now, Donald Trump is still setting the agenda for the US presidential race against Hillary Clinton. With their elections less than two months away and the polls indicating Trump is trailing Clinton by a whisker, it seems that with the capacity to outspend Clinton in advertisements and commercials during that time, Trump is well on his way to becoming the next president of the United States – as this paper proposed back in March even before Trump secured the Republican nomination.
The force driving Trump forwards and over Clinton is he is representing some very deep fears in huge swathes of Americans who have seen the boast of “American Exceptionalism” (AE) exposed as being just a hollow boast. Clinton, as part of the old politics, is blamed for allowing America to become “ordinary” and be subjected to all the ailments and challenges that only other nations were supposed to face – such as depending on “foreigners” to offer it credit to maintain its standard of living.
American exceptionalism arose from three strands of thought, the first of which sprouted in the circumstance of their formation as the first nation to have become independent through a revolution. This revolution was not confined to defeating the colonial power Britain on the battlefield, but spread to instituting new ideas in governance, constitutionalism, individualism and business. Very early on, the US leaders also undertook a mission to export their vision of what the world ought to look like through doctrines such as the Monroe Doctrine in 1823 and its wars to “make the world safe for democracy” into the present. And finally, there is the firm conviction that because of their “exceptionalism”, the US is superior to other nations.
After WWII, US was challenged by the USSR in the Cold War between the two nations, but by 1989, America emerged as the lone superpower standing as the USSR disintegrated. But even then, the seeds had already been set by economic forces that would witness the emergence of other nations such as Japan, China and India that would command enough resources to become quite independent of the US hegemony.
Interestingly, the growth of those nations was facilitated by US-based global corporations that felt impelled to seek greater profits through first licensing their technology to foreign countries with cheaper labour costs and then to actually “outsource” production and operations there. American manufacturing prowess atrophied and their well-paid blue-collar work force atrophied. Trump is exploiting the resentment of the millions that have been adversely affected by this move by promising he would reverse it through “macho” unilateral actions that evoke “American Exceptionalism”. In trying to be more nuanced and acknowledging the limits of modern American power, Clinton is seen as “weak”.
Simultaneously with the “outsourcing” of American production and services, illegal immigrants – generally non-White – were allowed in to perform the menial jobs that the Americans would not accept at the rates offered. At the other end of the spectrum, skilled workers – most of them also non-whites from India and China – were also encouraged in to perform high-paying jobs in the STEM areas. This created a backlash of “nativism” – that Trump has also exploited through threats of mass deportations and building a wall on the border with Mexico – against which, Clinton, as part of the old order, cannot compete.
Finally, while both Trump and Clinton have committed to “defending democracy” abroad, Trump has placed more emphasis on other countries accepting greater responsibility for defending themselves. While this may appear to be a diminution of the American Exceptionalism commitment to “bear any burden” to defend “democracy”, Trump, much more effectively than Clinton, has struck just the right note of bellicosity towards the US traditional allies to be defended, which masks the retreat.
September 18, 2016 By