August 29, 2016

Museums foster development

“Education is critical for development. Education that is devoid of the cultures of the people in the society is empty and incomplete. One of the fundamental objectives of the museum is to educate, and it is only the museum that has the capacity and the ability to impart cultural education effectively as it houses the tools and materials for doing so in its collections. In modern society, the museums enrich the educational process by exposing children and indeed the public to their history in a positive way; they assist our future generations to understand and appreciate their history and culture and take pride in the achievements of their forbears.”
These words were spoken by Emmanuel N Arinze, President of the Commonwealth Association of Museums, at a public lecture at the National Museum here in Georgetown in May 1999.
Arinze makes the point that museums are not “dead” spaces, meant only for the repose of artefacts and records but are living, breathing institutions that are essential for the development of a nation. In a place like Guyana with its racial divisions, museums are central to creating a more understanding and respectful environment.
President David Granger’s plans to have the artefacts and records housed at the Walter Roth Museum of Anthropology hoisted off to some other space – and this without any prior consultation, as is usual with him – brings the role of our museums into sharp focus.
That Granger is often touted as a “historian” adds another level of grievance to his plan since their interest in the past should make any historian particularly sensitive about preserving anthropological and archaeological materials.
The Walter Roth Museum’s artefacts and records are not only substantive to Guyana’s history but to the history of the world and Government must be aware that moving any of the collection’s pieces, some of which are prehistoric, would require the expertise of trained preservationists.
Granger was, however, also the leader of an elections campaign that exhorted Guyana to “forget the past”. The irony of a “historian” having such utter disregard for history was never lost on a good section of the electorate.
The Walter Roth Museum is home to historical materials of Guyana’s indigenous peoples and the Museum of African Heritage houses a collection of art, artefacts and records that are important to the history of African Guyanese.
Castellani House is both an art gallery and museum that allows students and art historians to trace the development of local art themes, styles and techniques. By acquiring pieces from Guyana’s major artists for the National Collection, the gallery provides recognition for the artists and their work, and international status and exposure for the country’s art.
The National Archives and National Museum round off the list of state funded institutions that preserve past records and allow for research and analytical study by students and academics.
At Meten-Meer-Zorg, WCD, the private Heritage Museum, curated and managed by Gary Serrao, is an eclectic collection of maps, pamphlets, books, and an array of artefacts that also tell the Guyana story.
Absent from the above list is any museum dedicated to the history of the Indian-Guyanese people. Premier Cheddi Jagan was urged by Indian leaders in the early 1960s to use the monies remaining in the Indentureship Fund to build Indian cultural and research centres in the three main regions. He refused.
When Forbes Burnham came to power, he used those very funds – earmarked for the return passage of Indian labourers to India – to help finance the construction of the National Cultural Centre.
A good friend of mine approached a PPP parliamentarian at the turn of the century with a query about the PPP/C Government establishing an Indian Museum and Research Centre. He was rebuffed by the curt response: “If you-all want a museum, you’ll have to build it yourself!”
One hundred years after the end of Indentureship, there is, as yet, no national repository of Indian Guyanese artefacts and records and it is unlikely that any of the Granger Government’s cultural policies will note the lack and make the establishment of an Indian Museum and Research Centre a national priority.
It does appear that any such an institution will have to be built through private efforts and from funding from the Indian-Guyanese community since governments here are yet to acknowledge the essential role of museums in fostering national development.
The Granger Government’s shoddy behaviour over plans to move the Walter Roth Museum proves it as does the absence of any state funded museum dedicated to the history and heritage of the Indian-Guyanese people.

Celebrating exam successes

By Ryhaan Shah

It has become an annual rite to celebrate the achievements of the students who have excelled at the CSEC and CAPE examinations. We heap praise on them and share in the joy because this is the one measure of true merit and excellence that all Guyana can trust.
Because the exams are marked abroad, they have the cloak of secrecy and anonymity and we therefore feel assured that they have not been corrupted or tampered with at any level.
The top performers who excel have become the standard bearers each year of the excellence that is still possible.
This in a society that has become jaded and cynical about every reward, award, prize, title and position because they are almost always infected by one or more of the corruptions of cronyism, nepotism, racism and partisan politics.
It is always a case of who you know, who knows you, or what you are willing to pay to gain an advantage or a win. In this environment, we can hardly be criticised for celebrating the only standard of meritorious achievement that is left to us.
My congratulations go out to all the top performers and to every student who worked hard and gained those valuable passes at the CSEC or CAPE which they need to fulfil their dreams and ambitions.
This year, as in recent years, regional schools took many of the top spots at CSEC. It is a remarkable feat since most of the student intake at these schools are not usually the top performers at the NGSA (National Grade Six Assessment) exams.
Those top performers are placed at leading city schools like Queen’s College and Bishops’ High School and they are almost always expected to dominate the winning positions in the CSEC exam results.
Last year, however, Saraswati Vidya Niketan (SVN), located at Cornelia Ida, had the best CSEC performer. This year, SVN took four of the top 10 CSEC spots and two others were won by students of Skeldon Line Path School and Anna Regina Secondary. Three went to Queen’s College and the topmost performer attended St Roses High School.
With six of the 10 top performers coming from regional schools with students who were not, according to the NGSA results, academic high fliers, questions could be raised about the methodology used or the placements that result from the NGSA assessments which are done locally.
Or, perhaps, it is the academic programmes of the regional schools that have created top performers from average students that should be studied with an eye to establishing their academic programmes in other schools.
SVN, in particular, has seen its performance rate rise steadily since the school was established. With its winning performance last year – and again, this year – anyone would expect the Ministry of Education to make an effort to meet with the school’s principal and staff to look at the policies and programmes that have created such success.
To date, no such consultation has happened. Perhaps, it is because of SVN Principal Swami Aksharananda’s active participation in public discussions on various subjects, his ideas and arguments being geared to encouraging critical thinking and spirited discussions on important national issues.
In Guyana, however, critical minds are ignored and sidelined. It is sycophants who are rewarded. In fact, critics and criticism are not welcomed. They are viewed as being contrary to national development and even unpatriotic, and Swamiji has suffered such public abuse on occasion.
Because this particular corruption infects every level of government and society, information and advice that could help improve our education system and give more of our children a better chance at academic success are sacrificed for petty political expediency. Our young people show how much is possible with their winning results then often watch their prospects dwindle as the reality of Guyana’s corruptions sets in. Then they leave for countries where it is merit that matters. And who can blame them?
The brain drain of our best and brightest have continued for 50 years and counting and no government has moved to root out the culture of corruption. Creating a fair and just society remains a pipe dream.
This does make our annual celebration of all that is possible ring hollow. But we do it, perhaps, with every hope that this time, this year, we will work to make it right for our children and their future. They are our pride and hope. When will we fulfil our end of the bargain and start the process of changing Guyana for the better?
When will we stop failing our children?

Guyana will not forget


By Ryhaan Shah

After all the accusations levelled at the PPP/C Administration about its alleged corruptions, the David Granger Government has, in no more than a year, racked up an impressive number of shady deals, financial wastage and displays of arrogance.

The National Assembly sitting this past week uncovered a few more. We learned that Government wasted over $406 million from the Contingency Fund on one of President David Granger’s pet projects for which there was no public consultation, namely the D’Urban Park Development Project. This was the centrepiece for what turned out to be a PNC/Afro-Guyanese Golden Jubilee celebration which was completely forgettable for its mediocrity, confusion, and its less-than-gala dinner.

But it was the line item of $25 million also spent from the Contingency Fund in July for a security deposit on a building that caught the Opposition’s eye and started a line of questioning that unravelled a scandalous corruption with Health Minister George Norton at its centre.

It appeared that way until it was disclosed Norton was simply following directives from Cabinet. This only heightens the fiasco and places Government itself at the centre of the sole-sourcing and financial corruptions involving the deal that was made with a company named Linden Holding Inc, a bottom-house outfit in Sussex Street, Charlestown, which is undergoing renovations to make it suitable as a drugs storage unit.

For this unfinished facility, Government is already paying out more than a $1000 per square foot rental which is over three times the New GPC’s rates for its state-of-the-art and fully certified drugs storage facility. Government’s decision to forgo the arrangement with the New GPC appears to be driven more by a refusal to work with anyone affiliated with the previous Administration than by good business sense and a concern for the nation’s welfare, especially since it is essential that medical drugs and supplies are always stored in well monitored and secured facilities.

Also dogging Norton’s heels is his interference in the management of the Georgetown Public Hospital where the board has reinstated CEO Michael Khan after a government audit cleared him of any wrongdoing.

In overturning the board’s decision, Norton contravenes the Public Corporation Act which places the responsibility for the appointment of the hospital’s CEO within the board’s remit.

Staffing and other issues at the GPHC continue to make headlines and, for the sake of the nation’s health, the CEO is needed back at his desk where he will remain with the board’s support. On this issue, Government seems more interested in saving face than in doing what is right and just.

Amidst all the reports of corruption over the past week, the most worrying of all was the ongoing attempt by government’s main coalition partner, the PNC, to rewrite Guyana’s history according to their playbook. Letters writers to the press have started to correct the untruths being peddled about Burnham and show him for the brutal, corrupt and racist dictator that he was.

No progressive nation is ever built on a body of lies and Granger and the PNC should be embarrassed by their revisionist statements about their party’s past. Except that they are not. Their arrogance is well learned from their founder/leader Burnham.

Social cohesion – of which Burnham is now hailed as the author – is being pushed down the public’s throat even as the Granger Government engages in some of the most blatant acts of prejudice. It’s Burnham’s way, that kind of haughtiness.

Those who ignored the clear warning issued by the coalition during its elections campaign to forget the past are beginning to understand why the past matters. It matters because those who forget are bound to repeat it.

Thus far, there seems no danger that Guyana will forget.

Whereas Burnham muzzled the press and dictated everything that was disseminated by his state media, Guyana still has a free press and this past week even the usual sycophants reported fully on Government’s latest crop of corruptions.

One such report was that the project to widen Carifesta Avenue has been abandoned. Granger, in true Burnham style, held no public consultation on fashioning his vision of a widened avenue with a median lined with light poles that were to be hung with the flags of the Caricom nations.

The vision, costing 180 million taxpayers’ dollars, was to be his showpiece for the Caricom Heads of Government conference last month. Well, the project has been abandoned and the renaming of Carifesta Avenue to the grander Avenue of the Caribbean has been abandoned along with it. Abandoned like so many of Burnham’s visions.


Full STEAM Ahead!

By Ryhaan Shah

A great deal of emphasis is being placed on STEM subjects – science, technology, engineering and mathematics – in our schools today and with good reason. It’s the future. The way we live and communicate are changing fast because of technological breakthroughs and the possibilities seem endless as to what is yet to be discovered that will make our lives better in every field whether it is medicine, space exploration or our environment.
There is a need for the innovators of tomorrow to be able to solve tough problems, to gather and evaluate evidence and to simply make sense of information. These are the types of skills that students learn by studying STEM subjects and Guyana should not be left behind even though to speak of such innovation seems purely academic since many of our schools have no computers or even a steady power supply. But everyone tries to do as much as possible with limited resources.
There is a case to be made, however, for a STEAM education instead of a purely STEM one, the “A” in the acronym representing the Arts of literature, music, dance, film and drama, the visual arts, and every kind of creativity and craftsmanship.
I ran into dramatist Francis Quamina Farrier recently and we had a spirited discussion on the subject of having an Arts curriculum at primary and secondary levels and he said that he does whatever he can to promote reading, poetry and drama in schools.
We agreed that an education in the Arts is integral to every child’s development. The earliest cave paintings and shards of pottery show clearly that creative expression is part of being human and more than anything else makes us emotionally and spiritually complete.
Studies have shown that an Arts education actually enhances the learning process. The systems they nourish include our integrated sensory, cognitive, emotional, and motor capacities, and these are the driving force behind all learning.
A strong Arts education sharpens children’s critical thinking and cognitive skills and gives them a chance to be creative by using their own imagination and drawing on their own perceptions of the world around them.
The Arts also provide students with non-academic benefits such as promoting self-esteem, aesthetic and cultural awareness, emotional expression, as well as social skills and an appreciation for diversity at the individual, community and national levels.
Not every child will become a painter or a poet but they should have an education that provides them with an appreciation of reading and writing that goes beyond the practical necessity of simply being literate. The same goes for appreciating film, drama, dance, the visual arts and music, and having them leave school with a knowledge that can speak to everything from Plato to Picasso and to our own poets and artists.
In a country as diverse as ours, artistic expression can bridge cultural differences and become the shared link, the glue that shapes our understanding of how we see ourselves and each other.
An Arts education still provides the greatest sense of wonder about our world and showcases what the human mind, spirit and imagination can create. These go beyond what is possible within laboratories and the constraints of mathematical equations.
At a recent literary event, someone asked of a local poet why there are no poems written about science and technology. It’s a good question. However, while no one has yet written an ode to a computer, you only have to read the great poets or pick up the Bible, Bhagavad Gita or Quran to discover the wonder and eternalness of the heavens that scientists are still trying to explain.
In fact, as the world becomes more reliant on computers for information, there might well be more value placed on the one human ability that cannot yet be automated: our emotions.
While information gathering and problem solving are essential workplace demands, the values that often matter most in our lives are integrity, honesty, flexibility, dignity, cooperation and creativity, and these are best learned from the words and works of the poets, philosophers and artists of every generation.
An effective Arts education allows students to stretch themselves beyond the material and tactile world into that of the imagination. This is where innovation happens because there the mind is free from rigid certainty and is open to new discoveries.
The universal need for stories, poems, music, dance, and visual art expresses an innate urging of the human spirit and corporate entities do recognise that the human intellect draws inspiration from many sources.
An Arts education is the gateway to the greatest source of all.

Those infernal dress codes!

By Ryhaan Shah

I had occasion to write before about those infernal dress codes that seem to multiply just to harass and aggravate the general public. The codes do not just emblazon our public service offices – try taking a passport picture in sleeveless attire. No matter once the photograph is cropped just your neck and a bit of your shoulders are showing but the photographers enforce the “law of sleeved dress” as if our lives depended on it.
Who made these rules that our arms, legs and toes are either highly erogenous zones or such horrors to public servants’ eyes that they must be covered up when we stand before them to transact our – the people’s – business? Why do we taxpayers allow ourselves to be bullied in this purely nonsensical manner?
I first wrote about my run-in with these dress codes in a letter to the press years ago. I had gone to the National Public Library to donate some books only to be refused entry by a burly female guard with gaping buttons that exposed her undergarments. But I was the one that was badly dressed because my floral, tropical frock had “fine straps” and these were taboo according to the code. I have never set foot in the library again.
I will use that example as a comparison to my experiences in civilized countries. I had worn that same dress just weeks before to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Manhattan and had stood in awe before the original “Water Lilies” by Monet. That moment was much more sacrosanct than entering our public library and no one cared about my dress because the museum has no such silliness as dress codes.
I have had occasion to go to public libraries in Florida where everyone in those cool, air conditioned spaces are always in breezy tropical wear: flip-flops, shorts, strapless frocks, and even bikini tops. No one bats an eyelid. There, officials are more concerned that the public – however dressed or undressed –borrow books and read than they are about pronouncing on the length of their skirt.
If you feel that the security guards at our gates have no discretionary powers and are forced to follow the rules, think again. Here’s another gem on our dress codes. When I was the GTV Manager, the station was visited by officials from the South African Broadcasting Corp, one of whom was a white South African woman. We were scheduled to pay a courtesy call on President Janet Jagan and the lady turned up in a pretty sleeveless frock for the occasion. I said nothing.
It would have been embarrassing to have tried to explain Guyana’s backwardness to her and, anyway, I was curious as to what would happen because just weeks before I had turned up for a meeting in just such a frock and was told in no uncertain terms that I could not enter the compound because my dress had no sleeves.
The male official I was scheduled to meet sent me his jacket to wear. I wore the jacket in the guard hut then took it off as soon as I exited the hut. That such silliness satisfies the dress code proves its silliness.
But what did the guard do about the lady visitor in her sleeveless frock? Nothing! He smiled and waved her though with nary a word. They save their sadism entirely for us locals who they push around with much officious authority because they have been given such unlimited powers – by whom?
But sanity prevails amidst the madness and Commissioner Trevor Benn of the Lands & Surveys Commission must be commended for his commonsense approach to the dress codes. He has stated that to turn people away from paying their bills to the cash-strapped agency because they are wearing slippers or sleeveless shirts would be “foolish”.
Now that the GRA has also removed the dress code, other Ministers, Commissioners, and Department heads should follow suit.
There are situations, occasions, and events that do require socially accepted and appropriate attire – weddings, funerals, parties – but for Government to demand that the public must have a wardrobe change from their regular, everyday clothes just to pick up a library book, or to look after business at government offices is simply ridiculous.
I do not know who has been appointed Guyana’s “fashion police” but I am appealing to First Lady Sandra Granger, who wears sleeveless dresses to many official functions, to use her influence to rid the country of this nonsensical aggravation.
Please have those dress codes removed.

Practising social cohesion

“Social cohesion” is all the rage these days. In Europe, such plans are crafted for homogenous populations dealing with new immigrant minorities. This is hardly the situation in Guyana where the racial/political divide goes back to the arrival of Indian indentured labourers 178 years ago, to our divisive colonial politics, and to the ensuing race politics that started in the 1950s, and exploded into violence in the 1960s, a violence that still threatens because the social, cultural and political causes are yet to be dealt with. Hence, the lack of social cohesion.
In a previous column, I explored the lack of political will on either side of the divide to change anything for the better, and stated that Guyana is saddled with lazy, short-sighted politicians who are deathly afraid of a nation of peoples who will actually be united enough to see past race and vote intelligently on issues. Should this ever happen, they will all be summarily rejected. They need the divide.
A cohesive society is built on several basic elements, these being primarily trust, respect, transparency and accountability, justice, economic progress, and national security. To get there, Guyana simply has to enforce current laws, conventions and recommendations, and practise a healthy measure of fair-mindedness in our governance.
This is yet to happen and the David Granger Government in one year has managed to create deeper and wider racial divisions in Guyana than has happened in over 20 years. Everywhere, everybody is vexed: the business community, the labour sector, the young unemployed, fired public servants, Georgetown’s citizens, metal recyclers, street vendors, and the public at large.
If this Government is serious about building social cohesion, it must start with President David Granger himself who must forgo his hauteur and unilateral decision-making for democratic processes that are fair, transparent and consultative of the people.
A vibrant economy is fundamental for job creation, job security and national progress, and since Government is bereft of ideas of how to proceed with economic development – both public and private – there is urgent need to establish an Economic Advisory Committee that will comprise our successful business and manufacturing leaders.
All Guyanese businesses, no matter their political persuasions, must be represented. Government’s overt partisanship of “jobs for the boys” as is evident in its public service is non-cohesive, non-representative, and contrary to national interests.
The recent Golden Jubilee celebration was another such overt racial/partisan exercise where the favoured African-Guyanese population were the main participants. Such government actions make its talk about social cohesion purely hypocritical.
Social cohesion means putting into practice the tenets of the Guyana Constitution and the UN Human Rights Charter where all Guyanese share a common belonging to country, and have an inclusive sense of their Guyanese citizenship which acknowledges and guarantees their identities of religion, culture, ethnicity, gender, etc.
Given that these are guaranteed constitutional and human rights, it is abhorrent that Indian-Guyanese in particular have to continue to explain and justify our presence as if we are indeed outsiders whose ethnicity and cultural values are somehow contrary to national interests.
Mutual respect for all of Guyana’s peoples must start in schools and communities with lessons in well-researched social and political history which highlight the contributions that each group has made to the country’s development.
The media has an important role to play in this regard especially in instances where “unity” and “racial harmony” are presented by certain sections as racial intermarriage and miscegenation, and as the solution to the country’s racial divide.
Granger himself never addresses this single most pressing issue in any of his statements on social cohesion and has been heard to infer publicly that the solution to the divide is the “mixing” of the races.
Marriage must remain a sacred personal choice and not ever become a Government policy that pushes a “race mingling” agenda as was attempted under the Burnham dictatorship.
On the vital issue of national security, there are two reports that are languishing and gathering dust: The International Council of Jurists and Disciplined Forces Commission both recommended that Guyana’s armed forces must reflect the country’s diversity if there is to be security from all threats, including internal political violence, but no government has yet moved to correct the blatant racial imbalance in our army and police.
The overarching document that will craft the way forward for a Guyana of inclusive and fully participatory government of, for and by its peoples is the much-needed reformed constitution.
This is where real social cohesion will begin. The APNU/AFC Coalition did promise such reform. We must hold them to their promise.

The Brexit from diversity

The Brexit vote in Britain to cut ties with the European Union is part of an emerging trend that has also gained ground in the United Stated via “Trumpism”. The results of the referendum in the UK came as a surprise to many and there is already some buyers’ remorse as the consequences for Britain in its future relations with Europe sink in.
Whereas those who supported the UK remaining in the EU campaigned strongly on the negative economic impact an exit vote would mean, the leavers pushed home the point that the country would regain its authority over its borders and on immigration issues if it leaves the EU. This was the issue that won the referendum.
The idea of prosperity and progress on continued favourable trade deals with their European neighbours meant less to the majority of voters than their ability to decide on immigration, ie, who is allowed to live and work in Britain. Following the success of the Brexit vote, there was an immediate rise in racist attacks on British Asians and on the large Polish immigrant population in Britain.
The presumptive Republican nominee for the US presidency, Donald Trump, is enjoying a similar success in America based on a similar trend. There, too, it is less about the economy and more about building a wall to keep out Mexicans, and banning all Muslims from entering the US that have made Trump a populist leader.
In both instances, statistics show that the followers of Brexit and Trump are less college educated than those who voted to stay in the EU and who are not backing Trump, respectively.
Britain and the US are divided nations and the division is spurred by a rise in anti-immigrant prejudices and nativism. This translates into intolerance and race hate as the national conversation becomes less about jobs and the economy and becomes more existential with the primary concern being a move to consolidate nationalist sentiments and what is perceived as the “native” status quo.
It does appear to be a rejection of diversity and of the social cohesion that is championed by European nations even though some view Brexit as a refusal by the British to transform their country into a homogeny as dictated by the EU.
Guyana too is a divided nation where Indians are still trying to gain an equal footing in cultural and political spaces within the context of the majority African Caribbean population.
Oddly enough, it is the struggle for human and cultural rights by Indian Guyanese that is condemned as racist rather than the dominance of Euro/Afrocentrism which pushes for a physical and cultural assimilation that would translate into ethnic and cultural loss for Indians. It’s a loss that no human rights convention encourages or supports.
The Brexit trend is not an unknown in the wider Caribbean where Jamaicans, Guyanese and many small islanders face immigration issues in places like Trinidad and Barbados despite Caribbean single market agreements which are intended to foster trade and allow the free movement of people within the region. It is a rejection of “others” just as in Britain and the US and, just as in those countries, immigrants are seen as threats to job security and nationalist interests.
Whereas respect for diversity is trumpeted as a good thing, it goes against the grain of globalisation which does not only involve globalised trade but fosters the idea of a one-world culture. Hollywood movie franchises, Starbucks and McDonalds are all part and parcel of a globalised culture and the internet and social media are vital links in helping to shape that one-world.
Whether diversity will triumph over this new trend is yet to be seen but human cultures have been built up over centuries and not many are willing to forgo their uniqueness for a globalised identity when there is still a primal human need for cultural rituals and values, and for a unique identity among most of the world’s peoples.
In Europe, for instance, despite being suppressed for decades, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Chechnya, Tajikistan, Moldova, Kyrgyzstan, and Dagestan all reappeared almost overnight. They are all differentiated by culture, ethnicity, and language.
While the success of such diversity depends on respect for differences, taken to its extreme, securing one’s identity over others can become xenophobic and can fuel race hate, violence and extremism.
As Great Britain grapples with the fallout of Brexit and the US with the rise of “Trumpism”, Guyana and the rest of the Caribbean should take note and reject any trend that fosters intolerance and hate.

Who is Caricom’s “Caribbean”?


Tomorrow is Caricom Day. It is a holiday and we are expected to celebrate and reflect on being part of the regional community. But who makes up the Caribbean according to Caricom?

A look through their official website, especially on the subject of culture, is telling. The usual politically correct lip service is paid to the region’s diversity in race, religion, languages, and cultures but throughout there is an African dominance with hardly any Indian, Amerindian, Chinese or European presence.

True, the region is predominantly African by race and culture but the 20 per cent Indian population that comprises the English-speaking Caribbean is hardly insignificant.

“Through their chronicles and analyses, historians such as Jacques Roy Augier, Hilary Beckles, Kamau Braithwaite, Carl Campbell, Lisa Goveia, Douglas Hall, Neville Hall, CLR James, Keith Laurence, Woodville Marshall. Lucille Mathurin-Mair, Mary Noel Menezes, Walter Rodney and Eric Williams have played equally important roles in capturing our varied experiences.” So says the website.

The list does not include academics such as Basdeo Mangru, Brinsley Samaroo, Dr Clem Seecharran and other Indian Caribbean historians. By excluding them, Caricom’s “varied experiences” also excludes Indian Caribbean people, their history of indentureship, and their contributions to social, political and economic development in the region.

VS Naipaul, of course, did give Indians a history and a presence through his earlier works in particular. Perhaps, this is the root of the African Caribbean vexation with him: he makes Indians visible. Many would remember that his 2001 Nobel Prize was met here with criticism rather than celebration by sections of the Euro/Afrocentric media which often condemn him for his biting criticisms of the region.

Sir Vidia, however, could not be overlooked or ignored and he is the lone Indian Caribbean to be recognised on any of Caricom’s lists – he is included as a notable writer – for the list of regional artists is as prejudiced as their list of historians.

Not a single Indian artist from Suriname, Guyana or Trinidad and Tobago makes the cut when no art historian or curator would ever fail to note the work of Trinidadian artist James Isaiah Boodhoo whose use of colour has often been compared to Gauguin’s.

Caricom reduces the Indian cultural presence in the Caribbean to Naipaul, and a mention of roti and curry, and chutney music. It is no wonder that Caribbean Indians have never seen the regional body as representing their interests and have never asked for nor expected any help or support from them on any issues including those of cultural and political justice.

In Guyana and in Trinidad and Tobago, Indians continue to be culturally excluded except for politically correct tokenism, and their religions of Hinduism and Islam are still viewed by some as pagan and can make them targets of race hate. The Alexander Village Mandir in Georgetown was repeatedly vandalised for some 11 years during the Diwali festival.

Bishop Juan Edgehill on a recent television programme on Channel 28 admitted that many evangelical Christians view Hinduism as a pagan and idol-worshipping faith.

In Guyana, of course, the ethnic divide between Indians and Africans is also political and has spilled over into violence that targets the largest minority group, Indians.

It is not as if Caricom is silent on issues about regional racism and discrimination. Its Regional Cultural Committee made much a year ago of the deportation of Haitians from the Dominican Republic calling it a “gross denial” of the basic human rights of Haitian-Dominicans. And Caricom is supporting the African Caribbean Reparation Movement, as well it should.

But what Indians remember most about Caribbean leadership is hardly flattering. During the dark days of the PNC era, Forbes Burnham enjoyed a cosy relationship with the region’s politicians in what appeared to be pure racial solidarity. They all looked the other way as he destroyed our country.

Notwithstanding that Prime Minister Burnham was instrumental in bringing Caricom to fruition, regional leadership gains no credibility when it cherry picks the issues it will support especially when these appear to underline prejudiced views.

Caricom has done nothing to date to allay perceptions and fears of its own discrimination and if they plan to be truly representative, the organisation has to begin to look beyond the majority population of the region and become more ethnically and culturally inclusive with its practices and policies.

Indian Caribbean people have contributed greatly to the region’s progress in cultural, social, political and economic matters.

Caricom must recognise these contributions officially and ensure that the Indian presence is given its rightful place as part of Caribbean nationhood.


The politics of parking

By Ryhaan Shah

A decision to install parking meters in a city would appear an innocuous issue except that ours in Georgetown has become mired in scandal, suspicions of fraud, and bears the hallmarks of highhandedness, all of which are signature elements of the Granger Government.
There was no public consultation on installing the meters and had there been one, the vital question would have been: Why?
Parking meters are used in large, congested cities worldwide to dissuade drivers from using their vehicles. In these cities, there are ready alternatives. Besides fleets of taxis, there are good public transportation systems of buses, subways and trains.
In Guyana, besides taxis, the only alternative are minibuses which are often overcrowded, rush about our roadways recklessly and put everyone’s lives at risk. It therefore makes sense for those who can to own and drive their own vehicles.
There are some parking issues in the city centre but empty lots can be leased by the M&CC and drivers charged a nominal fee for parking to cover the rental cost.
No Caribbean city uses parking meters and in a small city like Georgetown, creating cycling lanes would make better sense. Encouraging people to bicycle into and around the city would ease traffic congestion, fit in with our greening strategy, and make for a healthier and fitter citizenry which would translate into less sick days and less stress on our medical services. That’s a win-win-win-win-win situation. The benefits would far outweigh the initial cost.
Also, Government is thinking about raising bridge crossing fees, drivers licence fees and vehicle fitness fees so drivers are already paying more to use our roadways. These increased fees are already “burdensome” to use President David Granger’s word and since Guyana hardly tops the region as being economically progressive, the population is already hard pressed to make ends meet.
Investigations into the companies selected by the Mayor and City Council to install the meters reveals neither Smart City Solutions Inc nor National Parking Systems existed on the worldwide web before April last which, suspiciously, coincided with the time that there were fresh discussions on the meters’ installation.
Furthermore, there is absolutely no business sense in anyone signing a contract with a company before investigating their product as was done by the M&CC. Had they not done this, they said, their tour to Mexico would not have been paid for by the company! Duh!
The signed contract, according to Mayor Patricia Chase Green, is a “private document of the administration”. How and when does the use of ratepayers’ monies ever become private business?
This reads like a Hollywood script for a comedy in a banana republic about greedy and corrupt politicians in which, swaggering back from their all-expenses-paid trip to Mexico, one official says to the media, “I have no apologies to make; I getting like Harmon.”
Except that this is not fiction but fact. Those words uttered by Chairman of the M&CC’s Finance Committee and People’s National Congress (PNC) stalwart Oscar Clarke are chilling and return us to the days of Burnham’s excesses.
No one expects the review of the contract being undertaken by Clarke’s PNC comrades Attorney General Basil Williams and Finance Minister Winston Jordan to amount to anything but a rubber stamp of approval.
It appears that the lack of accountability, transparency and responsibility with public finances is a policy of the Granger Government, including at the local government level where elected PNC/A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) officials are using their authority to push through decisions by whatever means necessary.
Deputy Mayor Sherrod Duncan of the Alliance For Change minced no words when he said of the M&CC’s behaviour that “such levels of arrogance are not only nauseating and sickening but places Guyana right back to the days of executive thuggery”.
The PNC has learned everything from its past of party paramountcy and thuggery, that very past that they wanted the electorate to put aside and forget when they cast their ballots at last year’s general elections.
Whereas this should be a straight case about the citizenry insisting on integrity and honesty from our public officials, it will descend into being just another example of partisan politics where PNC hardliners will continue to behave with arrogance because it is the party’s culture as learned from their maximum leader Forbes Burnham who they continue to praise and shower with awards.
It is from this point that tyranny arises. The disappointment with the Granger Government is absolute and the citizenry must support the Deputy Mayor and every right-minded City Councillor on this issue and reject the attempts to foist a project onto the city that reeks of corruption.

Politicising our classrooms

Parents and guardians across the country need to be seriously concerned about the Granger Government’s move to use The Guyana Learning Channel (TGLC) for the promotion of Government and, possibly, party propaganda.

This marks a serious breach of trust between the Government and the nation’s parents and children whereby a television channel established with the sole mandate of educating our children is now being misused to disseminate Government “information”.

It is a new low for the Granger Government to take advantage of impressionable young minds and to use TGLC to push their propaganda. There can be no countering argument that the material is unbiased since all governments have agendas and policies that are subject to opposing views.

Since fostering debate and critical thinking are important to a well-rounded education, as they are to the very notion of democracy, it is very dangerous for children to be given the idea that only one viewpoint exists – the Government’s – and that a government comprises only the ruling party with no oppositional voice.

The learning channel is not the place for the broadcasting of Government propaganda and Sahadeo Bates alerted the public to this new direction of TGLC in a letter to the press, as did a subsequent report in Guyana Times.

It has always been imperative that educational material be carefully worded and selected in order that the lessons presented are sensitive to and sensible about the world of diverse values and belief systems that obtain in Guyana including the democratic values of fairness and justness.

Unlike most countries that have homogenous populations with pockets of minorities, Guyana is somewhat unique in having a population of six ethnic minorities. The idea of a national identity is, however, promoted as Afrocentric with token elements of Indian, Amerindian, Chinese, etc, thrown in for good measure, if at all.

The recent jubilee celebrations affirmed this prejudiced view of our nationhood and parents would be concerned that this idea will find its way on TGLC as “educational”.

Bates also wrote about his locally produced 3D animations being rejected by TGLC because of budgetary constraints. This is unfortunate since a vital part of any education is that the child gains a sense of self-worth by seeing themselves and their environment reflected in the words and pictures in their school books and programmes.

Even a basic mathematics programme that counts mangoes instead of apples would present a child with images that are familiar and make them see their world as meritorious. The impact of VS Naipaul’s work on my generation was immeasurable. Miguel Street gave us a new sense of ourselves by placing us on par with Dickens’ characters, for instance. Naipaul reshaped world literature with our presence, language and humour.

Dave Martins’ song about the Caribbean alphabet falls into this category by refashioning the alphabet with images with which we readily identify.

While TGLC broadcasts many pre-packaged educational programmes on science and mathematics that would not necessarily demand local sensitivities, it makes little sense to have the hardware of the broadcast technology at our disposal if it is only used to transmit outdated programming produced for other countries’ classrooms.

Surely there should be a budget for locally produced programmes to supplement these especially since Government can find funds for low-priority projects like refashioning Durban Park and Carifesta Avenue?

How much better for those funds to have been invested in our nation’s future, our children? How much would it take to have our children recite poems, tell a story, play games, and show off their talent? How much would it take for the significance of our national holidays – Diwali, Easter, Eid – to be explained even by the children themselves and to be appreciated by their friends?

Government talks incessantly about building social cohesion and there is no better place to start creating feelings of nationalism and pride based on mutual respect than in the classroom.

The learning channel can be an effective medium to promote social cohesion if the programmes are done correctly and with the right sensibilities towards the values, cultures and religions that make up the Guyanese nation.

It appears that the channel has fallen into the rut of mediocrity that is the standard for everything in Guyana including local television programming which, mostly, lacks imagination, creativity and even good production quality.

Now that the Granger Administration has chosen to air its political propaganda on a channel established for our children’s education, the innocence of our nation’s children is being seriously compromised along with any vision for their future possibilities.