October 26, 2016

Guyana’s democracy is not dead, but it is very very sick

Guyana’s democracy is not dead, but it is on life-support, very, very sick right now. After 23 years on a journey, beginning October 1992, nurturing and strengthening freedom and democracy, Guyana has reached a stage where our democracy is facing stern challenges and threatened with reversal. We are poised to return to the post-independence harrowing experience of dictatorship, a period in which party paramountcy prevailed. Since May 2015, we have taken a detour to an all-too familiar road that takes us dangerously into dictatorship.
Two recent events provide eerie evidence that we are knocking on the door of dictatorship. The first occurred when President David Granger just this past week suspended Carvil Duncan as a member and the Chairman of the Public Service Commission and also as a member of the Police Service and the Judicial Service Commissions. Duncan is a legally appointed member of the Public Service Commission and the other two service commissions. But the A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC) view Duncan as standing in the way of APNU/AFC to do as it pleases with the public service, exercising unfettered power; the kind of power we see in dictatorships.
Since taking office, APNU/AFC has targeted certain people, intimidating them and in different ways trying to embarrass them because they refuse to act like puppets. Duncan is one of those people. They charged him with a criminal offence and have established a tribunal to try to get rid of him as Chairman of the Public Service Commission. Neither the criminal charge nor the tribunal has convicted Duncan of anything. Yet APNU/AFC has arbitrarily acted against the Constitution and suspended Duncan from carrying out his constitutionally mandated duties. This is not how a democracy behaves. This is the playbook of a dictatorship.
The second event occurred also this past week when Dr Max Hanoman, Chairman of the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation (GPHC), held a press conference to announce that Cabinet has instructed the GPHC Board to terminate the contract of Michael Khan as the CEO of that institution. Just a few weeks ago, the GPHC Board had agreed that Khan should continue as the CEO, emphasising that there was no reason why Khan should not continue to do so. Since the Board could not find any reasonable or legal reason to end Khan’s contract, Cabinet took the unprecedented action to reverse the Board’s decision and terminate Khan’s contract. This is the continuing harassment of a longtime public servant because APNU/AFC could not get him to be a puppet. Earlier, soon after they took office in May 2015, they had sent him on leave pending a forensic audit. The audit did not find any reason why Khan should not resume his duties as the CEO.
These are merely two recent events. There are a myriad of other daily events and actions which show the stark threats against Guyana’s democracy. I will just cite two others here out of the several dozen we know of. The CEO of the Guyana Livestock Development Agency was removed by the Agriculture Ministry and sent to a junior position in the Guyana School of Agriculture without the involvement of the Boards of either entities. The Manager of the Guyana Rice Development Board was sent home and a new Manager appointed without the involvement of the Board.
In the meantime, people appointed by APNU/AFC are running amok, carrying on as if they operate with unfettered powers. Space only allows me one example: the CEO of the Guyana Water Incorporated (GWI) is running the public corporation responsible for delivering safe water as if they are accountable to no one. He hires without the Board and he undertakes procurement without any tendering etc. The latest scandal with the GWI is it has arbitrarily undertaken to switch from the well-tested and internationally approved chlorine as a sanitizer for water to a chemical called Antinfek which has not been approved for use as a sanitizer for water, putting the health of thousands of people at risk.
We have entered a dangerous period in our development story as a free, democratic, sovereign country. Governance in Guyana is not following the blueprint of democratic states. Rather it is following the footprints of dictators and tyrants. It is the reason why we could close sugar estates without consulting anyone. It is the reason why we could ensure Cabinet gives itself unprecedented pay increases and then tell people to live with it. As I have said before, we do get what we asked for. We believed dictators and gave them the keys to our democratic state. Now we are reaping the result – we are on the road to where dictators live. (Send comments to doc_ram@hotmail.com)

Trump wants to be America’s 1st tin pot tyrant – he wants to jail his opponent

In a debate on Sunday night, the Republican Party candidate for the Presidency of the United States of America, Donald Trump, declared that should he be elected President, he would lock up Hillary Clinton, his Democratic Party opponent. He wants to be America’s first ever “tin pot” tyrant. Many Americans were horrified by the declaration, likening the threat to what happens in certain “banana” republics and dictatorships. Locking up political opponents is a lamentable act, but not rare where despots and tyrants reign. Trump threatened to take America down the “third world” realm of dictators and tyrants.

Just recently, before the May 2015 elections, APNU/AFC leaders constantly threatened that should they win they will lock up former President Bharat Jagdeo, President Donald Ramotar and many of their cabinet members, including me, Roger Luncheon, Ashni Singh, Anil Nandlall and Irfaan Ally. Those threats were made in Parliament many times and became a staple of virtually every speech made by APNU/AFC leaders during the election campaign. They claimed they had the evidence and given an electoral mandate, APNU/AFC would exercise unfettered power to lock up their political opponents and in their own words “throw away the key”. While some of their supporters reacted with glee, most Guyanese were appalled, just as most Americans are horrified by Trump’s threats.

Unfortunately, locking up political opponents is part of our colonial political heritage and part of the modus operandi of dictators and tyrants. Cheddi Jagan and many of the political leaders of the People’s Progressive Party were locked up by the British Government in Guyana. While Burnham, their hand-picked dictator, did not lock up Cheddi Jagan, the People’s National Congress did lock up several leaders of the People’s Progressive Party during the PNC-led dictatorship after Independence. Today, the APNU/AFC is using several different strategies to intimidate their political opponents. The point is that countries like Guyana and too many others around the world with fledgling democracies or still fighting for democracy too often endure the despicable reality that political opponents are imprisoned and intimidated.

The ‘tin pot” dictators who threaten and lock up their opponents are not people that leaders in democratic countries emulate. But Donald Trump, the candidate for President of America, has gone there. He wants to be America’s first “tin pot” dictator. After my initial shock that a candidate for the Presidency of America could make such a public threat to lock up his opponent, I realised that Trump is deep down a dictator. The people he admires are all “tin pot” tyrants – Kim Jong-un of Korea, Putin of Russia. He does not seem to recognise that jailing your political opponent takes America to a dangerous, chilling place it has never been, far from making America great. Trump, with his anti-immigration policies, does not recognise that most Americans ancestries are linked to escaping tyrants.

Trump places American foreign policy and diplomats in a lamentable place. When “tin pot” tyrants threaten, intimidate and jail their political opponents, America and its diplomats are expected to stand up and reject such violation of democratic principles. For more than 240 years, America has rejected the practice of locking up political opponents and has even gone to war to defend citizens against such dastardly violations of human rights and democratic principles. Electing Trump threatens political leaders around the world because tyrants and dictators will quote Trump that this is the spoils of winning an election.

These are present and recent examples of the people he wants to be like: former Ukrainian President Viktor Fedorovych; the military Junta in Myanmar that locked up Aung San Suu Kyi, the present Prime Minister, for almost two decades; Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak; Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni; Zambian President Edgar Lungu; Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei; Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe; Congolese President Joseph Kabila; Cambodian President Hun Sen; Republic of Congo President Denis Sassou Nguesso; President Maduro of Venezuela; in addition to Putin and Kim Un Jung.

Trump speaks with relish about locking up his political opponent, he boasts about sexual assault of women because his wealth and fame provides him with entitlements. His claim of making America great again is really dog whistle for bringing dictatorship to America. His mission is to return America to a monarchy, but worse to install a despot as the head of America and the free world. This is what America must resist. But there are lessons for Guyana. We get what we wish for sometimes.   (Please send comments to doc_ram@hotmail.com)


Clueless in agriculture – now APNU-AFC wants to import chicken

When I was Agriculture Minister, Guyana was self-sufficient in chicken production. We had achieved this level of production for several years before I became Agriculture Minister. In fact, by 2012, we were not only self-sufficient in chicken production, we were preparing to overcome trade barriers to allow us to export within Caribbean Community (Caricom), to take a portion of the US$250 million Caricom market for chicken. It is, therefore, shocking to read that A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC) has issued import licences for chicken and that one of those licences has been issued to one of the People’s National Congress leaders, Dr Richard Van West-Charles, the son-in-law of Forbes Burnham.

This is Agriculture Month and the biggest news surrounding agriculture is that the APNU/AFC wants to import chicken into Guyana. This is simply ludicrous. They have not explained to the citizens why there is a need to import chicken. Is it that Guyana can no longer produce chicken to meet local demands? Or is this another excuse to kill another agriculture power house in Guyana? Did APNU/AFC consult with the Poultry Producers Association or are they ignoring the poultry producers?
The announcement or rather the issuance that have been exposed demonstrates how clueless APNU/AFC is on agriculture. Sugar is in dire crisis; rice is on a downward trajectory; fish export is reduced; food import is on the rise. Now a solidly self-sufficient industry is being threatened with imported competition. At a time when agriculture output is dropping, it would have been sensible to ensure that poultry farmers are not discouraged. But issuing importing licences for chicken is a death blow to an industry that has made phenomenal progress. No doubt this is another assault on the agriculture sector and the economy is collateral damage as APNU/AFC pursues narrow political greed.
The poultry producers were producing more than 30 million kilograms of chicken annually by 2012. In 2014, poultry meat consumption in Guyana averaged about 42kg per person per year, compared to less than 8kg in 1990. The average consumption in the Americas in 2014 was 38kg. Globally the average consumption today is about 15kg. The fact is that the poultry producers meet the local demand for poultry meat and has the capacity to increase production for export in a Caricom market, with an average annual consumption of about 45kg per capita, but production capacity of less than 25kg per capita. What has changed to necessitate import licences being issued?
The industry is not only saving Guyana from foreign currency expenditure but has contributed to significant employment, and lends support to other downstream associated economic activities. Have they not considered that importing chicken will also impact stock feed production? One important consumer for broken rice is in fact the stock feed producers. By importing chicken, the rice industry is also affected. Clearly, the decision to issue import licences for chicken is a travesty because it threatens not only the poultry producers, but the livelihood of thousands of other people. Incidentally, killing the poultry industry will affect the efforts that I started – to develop a soya and corn industry in Guyana.
Agriculture is collateral damage for pursuing selfish paydays for a handful of people. Just like the warehouse scandal, the parking meter fiasco and other corrupt dealings, the importation of chicken is intended to enrich a handful of APNU/AFC donors and supporters, threatening the livelihood of thousands of people. We have seen a well-defined pattern that APNU/AFC has crafted, a pattern intended to benefit a few at the expense of the vast majority of the Guyanese people. This pattern is evident in the incredulous importation of stone for the Cheddi Jagan International Airport upgrading project. This too is putting a local industry at risk and exposing the livelihood of hundreds of citizens and their families.
What is stunningly painful about this latest APNU/AFC ineptitude is that its head, President David Granger, is on record as saying that Guyana intends to help reduce Caricom’s food import bill. Caricom has a food import bill in excess of US$4 billion and importation of chicken accounts for between US$200 and US$250 million annually. Guyana has the capacity to reduce its own food import bill and to meet some of the food demands of Caricom. There should not be any doubt that Guyana can be the food basin of Caricom. But we cannot attain our potential of being Caricom’s food basket by threatening our agriculture producers, merely because we have donors and supporters to enrich. The continued focus on satisfying the greed of donors and supporters diminish our potential as Caricom’s bread basket. Guyana becomes collateral damage of a greedy, short-sighted charlatan administration.

APNU/AFC’s downgrades sexual abuse of children from a crime to something harmless

Child abuse is a big global problem. From reports, one in four children suffer abuse and between 10 per cent and 50 per cent of these are sexually abused. In Guyana, the Childcare and Protection Agency (CCPA) announced that up to last week, the Agency received more than 2200 reports of child abuse, including more than 400 who were sexually abused so far in 2016. This is just the tip of the iceberg since most sexual and child abuse cases go unreported.

Any country that does not see stamping out child abuse as a central component of its development agenda is doomed. Indeed, child abuse is one of the vilest denials of the fundamental and basic rights of children and adolescents. It is a repugnant and a massive problem for every country in the world. Governments anywhere cannot extricate themselves from the responsibility to fight against child abuse and to eliminate it. The commitment of any Government to fight child abuse is testimony to its soul.

I have had a difficult time over the last several weeks not giving voice to something that really rattled and outraged me. The Social Protection Ministry issued a statement which sought to highlight the heinous crime of sexual abuse of our children by describing it as the “deflowering” of our children. I chose to wait and see the response from the Minister and from the President and his Cabinet. I waited to see if anyone of them will have the decency and will take responsibility to withdraw that statement and for them to apologise for such an irresponsible, reckless attitude towards sexual abuse.

No one in Government has stepped forward to rebuke those who made such a blatantly irresponsible statement. The Minister has steadfastly not addressed and corrected the recklessness of the official statement of the Government. I thought that as we observed Child Week last week that it was a good time for the Minister and her colleagues in Government to apologise. But I am still waiting in vain and, therefore, I decided to speak out. While I commend some of the NGOs for immediately raising the problem, it appears that all of them have gone silent again.

This is fighting for our soul as a nation and we must not rest until the Government shows that it will remain strong on fighting child abuse. Viewing sexual abuse of our children as merely “deflowering” shows a nonchalance that is frightening. The fact is incontrovertible – sexual abuse of children is a heinous crime, nothing less. When we got together as a nation under the leadership of President Bharrat Jagdeo and Minister Priya Manikchand, we took a huge step forward as a nation to stamp out child abuse, deeming sexual assaults of our children as nothing less than a heinous crime. Sexual assault of anyone is a crime, but the sexual abuse of our children must be seen as among the most heinous crime anyone can commit.

The statement that rape of our children is just a “deflowering” of our children has unfortunately placed us on a retrogressive path – moving sexual abuse of children from a heinous crime to merely a deflowering of our children. Deflowering is not a crime. Remember that every day we go to the flower shop to buy roses for our loved ones; it is the business of deflowering. It is not a crime. An attempt to describe the crime of sexual abuse to deflowering represents a frightening attitude that moves sexual abuse from the crime of violence and denial of human rights to just an everyday, harmless thing.

The care and the protection of our children must be a non-negotiable tenet of any development programme anywhere in the world. When the People’s Progressive Party Government decided that the Constitution must cater for the human rights of our children by ensuring the establishment of the Rights of the Child Commission and the Childcare and Protection Agency, it placed Guyana on a pathway where our Government reinforced its responsibility to ensure that the welfare of our children is a central and enduring component of the development agenda. The attitude of the A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change Government on child abuse has been nothing but frightening. Its reluctance to reject and reprimand those responsible for downgrading the crime of rape of a child from a heinous crime to merely “deflowering” is adding to a history of downplaying the crime of sexual abuse. We must not forget that the Minister and her Government deliberately allowed a person charged with sexual abuse of a child to be a candidate for the People’s National Congress in the Local Government Elections and he is one of their Councillors in the city. The time is long past for the Government and the Minister responsible to apologise and take responsibility to ensure that our attitude towards child abuse is one that is non-compromising.

(Send comments to doc_ram@hotmail.com)


By the way, what happened to the Mexico rice market?

Even as the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) is teetering on the edge of an abyss, the A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC) is clueless in finding a way forward. In fact, they have clumsily made the crisis at GuySuCo worse. Now they have inexplicably turned to rice for an answer, even as they have caused a downward trajectory in the fortunes of the rice industry. It must have shocked many to find out that GuySuCo is proposing to cultivate rice at Wales. It seems like APNU/AFC is desperately throwing darts and looking to see if any would stick. It is ironic that APNU/AFC’s solution for sugar is rice, given that APNU/AFC has precipitated the most severe threats that rice has confronted in more than two decades.
Moses Nagamootoo has been conspicuously silent about the Mexico rice market for months now. In fact, he has shown an absolute disinterest in the rice industry. He and Ramjattan who presented themselves before the 2015 elections as the champion of rice farmers now have little or nothing to say to the rice farmers. They have betrayed these farmers, like they have betrayed the sugar workers. The Agriculture Minister Has not mentioned the Mexico rice market once in the last several months. It appears as if everyone, but the rice farmers and the rice millers, has forgotten about the Mexico rice market which APNU/AFC boasted would be a panacea for the rice industry.
After Nagamootoo returned from Mexico almost a year ago, he boasted that he had personally negotiated a new market for Guyana’s rice. He and APNU/AFC, reeling from the loss of the Venezuelan rice market, felt compelled to kerfuffle the Guyanese people and, particularly the farmers, by conning the people that they had secured a new and better market than Venezuela for Guyana’s high quality rice. They ignored the reality that the problem was never markets; there are many destinations that Guyana can export our rice to. The problem is finding markets that guarantee Guyana’s farmers the best prices. The Prime Minister triumphantly proclaimed last year that Mexico is an even better alternative than Venezuela.
Almost a year later, could Nagamootoo, the Agriculture Minister, the President, anyone say what happened to the Mexico rice market? Because we had negotiated a large high-priced market in Venezuela, the so-called ‘Jagdeo rice deal’, millers after 2009 voluntarily reduced their export to Europe, a good, reliable, but lower priced market. But as our production reached record levels after 2011, Guyana increased its rice export to Europe. With the loss of the high-priced Venezuelan market in 2015, we are forced to further increase our export to lower-priced European destinations, switching from high-priced to low-priced markets. APNU/AFC had promised that rice export to Mexico would have alleviated the problem.
Before the 2015 elections, APNU/AFC promised farmers they will increase prices from just above $3000 per bag to $9000 per bag of paddy. Once they got into power, the first thing they did was to recklessly lose the Venezuelan market, leading to an immediate fall in paddy price to under $,500 and even below $2000 per bag. This has led to a significant reduction in acreage under cultivation and a reduction in rice production. We were supposed to have reached a record-breaking production of 700,000 tons in 2015. After a record-breaking production (365,000 tons) in the first crop in 2015, the second crop failed to meet its target. This year, we are unlikely to even reach 600,000 tons.
Significantly, thousands of acres of rice land are presently not being cultivated since the paddy price is often below cost of production. In addition, hundreds of farmers are still owed by millers for paddies they supplied almost a year ago. APNU/AFC has an obligation to ensure that farmers are able to utilise the rice land that is presently available. Yet without addressing the challenges that rice farmers face and in the absence of any credible plan for Wales, they have now decided to cultivate rice at Wales.
Astonishingly, it appears that APNU/AFC is turning to the failed policies and approaches of the old People’s National Congress, including party paramountcy. Those same policies brought Guyana to its knees with poverty rates by 1988 reaching between 66 per cent and 88 per cent; depending on whose statistics you believe, including the statistics of Clive Thomas, the present Chairman of GuySuCo. Once before, they thought that rice would be a good solution for GuySuCo. The rice mills and the rice fields are still standing idle at Blairmont to remind us that rice is not the answer to sugar. History has not taught APNU/AFC anything as they stir the pot with another toxic concoction of jingoism and chauvinism as an economic and social development platform. (Send comments to doc_ram@hotmail.com)

APNU/AFC endorses the Cunha Canal Project they voted against in 2014

As corruption swirls wildly around us, crime spirals out of control, the economy in a freefall, growing more dismal daily and international debt threatening to again overwhelm us, we console ourselves with an occasional trickle of good news, such as the government’s announcement that the Cunha Canal Reconstruction Project is underway. The preparation was in the making since 2011. But the project nearly did not happen. It took a herculean effort to persuade a pessimistic World Bank technical team and we had to overcome APNU/AFC budget cuts in Parliament. I am proud of my own role as Minister of Agriculture in bringing this project from a mere concept to reality. Even as some of my staff at the time insisted it was futile, Lionel Wordsworth and his team helped me to make the technical, economic and social justice case for the Cunha Reconstruction Project.
APNU/AFC should not be embarrassed or hesitant to implement a PPP project that they voted against in 2014. The project is in the interest of the country and the only good news coming out of their administration has been in their implementation of PPP-initiated projects. After the World Bank approved GRIF projects in 2013, the PPP had budgeted for the Cunha Canal as part of the GRIF Programme in 2014. APNU/AFC voted against the GRIF programme as part of cutting the budget by billions of dollars, hoping to inflict harm and to stymie Guyana’s development trajectory.
It was rotten political opportunism as they sought to embarrass the PPP government, with the Guyanese people as collateral damage. But I was convinced that they knew then, as they do now, that the Cunha Canal Reconstruction Project and the entire GRIF Programme was in the interest of the Guyanese people. Having let the people down when they voted against these projects previously, it is no humiliation now for APNU/AFC to do the right thing. It is the sensible thing for APNU/AFC to proceed with this most worthy project.
The Cunha Project is one of the GRIF (Guyana REDD+ Investment Fund) projects under the Conservancy Adaptation Programme (CAP). I had personally made this one of our priorities while I was Minister of Agriculture and, in spite of some early reservations by the World Bank technical team, the PPP Cabinet, President Donald Ramotar and the World Bank agreed that the Cunha Canal Reconstruction was a worthy infrastructure initiative as part of Guyana’s climate change adaptation.
I became involved when my technical team at the Ministry of Agriculture failed to convince the World Bank team that the project was worthy of consideration. Working personally with Lionel Wordsworth, the then head of the National Drainage and Irrigation Agency (NDIA), we made the technical, economic and social justice case for the Cunha Canal Reconstruction and obtained the approval of the GRIF Steering Committee in June 2012. Subsequently we successfully obtained the endorsement of the World Bank technical team that visited Guyana in July and November 2012. It was, therefore, despicable when APNU/AFC in an act of political cowardice, voted against the project in the budget considerations of 2014.
The Cunha Canal Rehabilitation is a part of Guyana’s Low Carbon Development Strategy (LCDS), a signature Jagdeo footprint. The project was designed to improve water management in the East Demerara Water Conservancy (EDWC) and to enhance the drainage for residents and for farmers on the East Bank of Demerara. The proposed physical works for the Cunha Canal include the widening of the canal, the rehabilitation of the former outlet structure, rerouting the canal to re-establish its original alignment and construction of a bridge on the East Bank of Demerara Public Road where the canal intercepts the road.
This project became an imperative because the former PNC government, the parent body of APNU/AFC, in a reckless act closed the original Cunha Sluice and rerouted the Cunha Canal to accommodate the Barama Logging Company in 1990. In rerouting the Cunha Canal, the original alignment was changed to link Cunha with the Sarah Johanna Channel. This overloaded the Sarah Johanna Channel and flooding became more frequent and more intense. Areas such as Kuru Kururu, Coverden, Pearl and Sarah Johanna with about 1,000 hectares of farmlands became agriculture wasteland and the effective drainage of the EDWC also became a nightmare, increasing flood threats for Mahaica and Mahaicony.
The project was designed to correct the recklessness of a previous disastrous decision of the old PNC government. It will improve the livelihoods of thousands of families on the East Bank Demerara and, together with the new Hope Canal, significantly reduce threats of flooding in the Mahaica/Mahaicony areas. While it is true that the project has the footprints of the PPP Government and Bharat Jagdeo, the only thing relevant is that the project is in the interest of the people of Guyana. It is the right thing to do.
Dr Leslie Ramsammy

The health of our people is under crisis

When the A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC) took office in May 2015, I wished them well and wanted them to succeed, in spite of our political differences. After all, it is not about the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) and APNU/AFC; it is about the people of Guyana. I was hopeful that the gains we had made between 1992 and 2015 would be further improved, for the sake of our people.
It is for this reason that I mostly avoided commenting on the health sector of Guyana since APNU/AFC took over government. I wanted to give both Ministers in the Public Health Ministry the space they needed to stamp their own vision on the health sector. Both Ministers were supportive when I was the Health Minister and both had worked under my leadership. They both conceded that Guyana made significant progress in health under my leadership. I have never doubted that both Dr George Norton and Dr Karen Cummings really wanted to protect the gains we made and to further enhance the health sector of Guyana.
But it has become increasingly difficult for me to maintain my relative silence. While I understand that the political instinct would be to attack me for my comments, I am pleading with Dr Norton and Dr Cummings to remember that as Public Health Ministers, we work to better the health and lives of our people. We must score political points, but never forget that the health of our people is not a political football.
After just over a year under APNU/AFC, the health sector of Guyana is in crisis. The recent and ongoing warehouse rental scandal is merely one more negative in an accumulating stack of negatives in the sector. I know that Minister Norton is the fall guy in this scandal and rather the corruption at the level of the Public Health Ministry, I am convinced that the scandalous and disgraceful contract to rent a house as a warehouse is a contract that emanated from other parts of the APNU/AFC Cabinet.
As horrendous as the warehouse contract is, the crisis in the health sector is an even greater scandal and the health and lives of ordinary Guyanese citizens have been compromised. Even as you read this article, the physical and technological infrastructure of the health sector is rapidly deteriorating. All regional hospitals and many of the health centres require urgent attention to repair and reconstruct the physical infrastructure. Not only has the plans to reconstruct hospitals like Skeldon and West Demerara seemed to have been shelved, but the other hospitals and health centres across the country have been neglected and routine repairs and maintenance have been ignored.
Across the health sector, operating rooms are frequently inoperable. Far too often surgeries are deferred or patients referred to other hospitals because operating rooms have been closed. Whether it is because of physical infrastructural problems, equipment malfunctioning or simply the lack of supplies, patients’ well-being have been compromised. On a daily basis, one or more of the operating rooms in the public health sector is not working. As you read this statement, any check will show that somewhere in the public health sector, the operating room is not working.
There have been so many excuses when it comes to the unavailability of medicines and medical supplies; it is exhausting to recall them. As I am writing this note, the public health sector is experiencing a life-threatening shortage of insulin across the country. But this is only one of the life-threatening shortages of supplies. There are routine shortages of vaccines; diabetes, blood pressure and heart medicines; antibiotics; and laboratory supplies. It is kind of ironic that as the Public Health Ministry rented a house to store supplies at a cost of almost $16 million per month, it has not been diligent in procuring the supplies the sector needs.
With the increase in malaria and other infectious diseases and the appearance of new infectious illnesses, the Public Health Ministry appears clueless. The Ministry has not made optimal use of the public health laboratory which in my time was one of the top public health facilities in the Caribbean Community (Caricom). It is equipped to perform high-level testing and was internationally certified. The fact that we still depend on CARPHA or other international laboratories for testing of ZIKA demonstrates how poor we have been in putting together adequate public health responses. The public health lab is equipped with PCR technology that should have allowed the Ministry to develop testing protocols for ZIKA.
Space does not allow me to detail the full scope of what is wrong with the public health response, but make no mistake, the gains we made in the sector between 1992 and 2015 are rapidly being squandered. My hope is that there will be more intense scrutiny of the State of public health in Guyana and that this will prompt the Government to heed the deterioration before we see dramatic impacts on life expectancies, child and maternal health and worsening impacts of diseases such as cancer, heart and kidney diseases, diabetes and hypertension.

(Send comments to doc_ram@hotmail.com)

Nagamootoo insults Indo-Guyanese again, questioning their competence


President David Granger appointed a PRIME MINISTER whose main duty is to be bumptious and bloviate enough to distract people, making it easier for the leader of the People’s National Congress (PNC) to achieve his dream of continuing the work of his idol and hero, Forbes Burnham.

The goal is a new period of dictatorship, a new period of PARTY PARAMOUNTCY. Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo is surely earning his keep; we have never seen bloviating at this high level of expertise in our history. The puerile nonsense he most recently espouses not only insults Indo-Guyanese again, but it is questioning the intelligence of all Guyanese.

This week he pronounced that the reason for ethnic imbalance on State Boards is that the A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC) appoints members based on competence, implying that there are not enough competent Indo-Guyanese or Indigenous Guyanese that can serve on State Boards.

I dare Nagamootoo and his President or anyone else in APNU/AFC to dispute that there are people of all ethnicities that are competent and qualified to sit on any State Board. In a population where, by far, the largest ethnic group are the Indo-Guyanese, Nagamootoo wants us to believe that there are just not enough competent Indo-Guyanese to be appointed on State Boards, hence the ethnic imbalance that exists.

This is not just arrogance and puerile nonsense; it is utter derision of the largest ethnic group in Guyana. There are enough competent and qualified persons of all ethnic groups in Guyana to serve on State Boards and for the State Boards to reflect the Guyanese population. As long as competence is the criterion, the Boards will reflect the nation.

But the blunt truth is that APNU/AFC’s only qualification for candidates to sit on State Boards is political affiliation. Nagamootoo opened his mouth and the story jumped out.

I dare him go to Whim, Bath Settlement, Albion, Essequibo and other places and tell them that the reason for ethnic imbalance in the State Boards or in the public service is because APNU/AFC chose people on the basis of competence. I dare him to stand in Parliament and pronounce that competence was the deciding factor that resulted in ethnic imbalance.

Nagamootoo has to every day prove to Granger that he is heart and soul a part of Granger’s PNC. Fidelity to principle will not stand in his way for self-advancement.

It is the reason Nagamootoo took Bharat Jagdeo to task when Jagdeo accused APNU/AFC of discriminating against Indo-Guyanese and the indigenous people. The fact is that of the hundreds of public servants who have lost their jobs since APNU/AFC took over government in May 2015, more than 99 percent are Indo-Guyanese.

The fact is also that almost 2,000 Amerindians were laid off from their jobs as Community Development Officers. Unable to dispute this fact, Nagamootoo resorted to calling Jagdeo the “Collie Bully”, insulting the Leader of the Opposition and insulting all Indo-Guyanese.

In order to prove to Granger and the PNC that he is one of them, Nagamootoo, in New York before the 2015 elections, denied he was an Indo-Guyanese. He insisted that he is a Guyanese, even as people like Granger and others at the same meeting refused to similarly deny their African origins and insist they too are simply Guyanese.

The truth is, then and now, they are saying that Guyana has no place for Indo-Guyanese. Their position is that Indo-Guyanese must reject their East Indian identification if they want to fit into the fabric of a Guyanese society.

African Guyanese do not have the same obligation, nor should they. Nagamootoo, as the designated bloviator for APNU/AFC, was and remains the chief proponent of this heinous proposition.

I firmly support the proposition that Guyanese can be Guyanese and equal citizens, without disavowing and while simultaneously celebrating their ethnicities and culture. Granger should be a proud Afro-Guyanese, just as Nagamootoo should be a proud Indo-Guyanese.

The sad reality is that we now live in a fiefdom and the new emperors lord over us as they please.

Recall during the 2016 budget debate, Raphael Trotman emphatically declared that the People’s Progressive Party/Civic needs to reconcile with the fact that the “kingdom” is now in the hands of APNU/AFC. This is how they see Government.

There is no place for anyone who will not prostrate themselves and be a loyal sycophant, rewriting history and denying citizens their equal space in our country. Dismissing ethnic imbalance on State Boards as a consequence of placing only qualified and competent people insults all the ethnic groups that are not represented or that are under-represented.

(Send comments to doc_ram@hotmail.com)


African Reparations and the Indian security dilemma  

As I wrote in my last piece, the issue of reparations for Africans is a major issue being debated in Guyana and the Caribbean community, particularly since Caricom is keeping the issue on top of its agenda. In Guyana, reparations are closely tied to Eric Phillips, who as the leader of the Guyana Reparations Committee, has made a serious commitment to seeking reparations from European countries which committed “crimes against humanity” in their pursuit of chattel slavery, resulting in the forceful removal of Africans from their homeland and distribution to plantation economies around the world. It was the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sport, under the PPP government, which established the Guyana Reparations Committee in 2013. Mr Phillips has since served as its Chairperson.
For the record, I have no problem with demands for reparations by African leaders in Guyana, as long as reparation claims do not brand the Amerindians and Indians as perpetrators of this crime against humanity, overtly or covertly. A civilized world owes it to humanity to correct past injustices against its fellow citizens. Social justice and correcting historical wrongs should not create additional strains in our already racially divided society.
No doubt, Phillips, who is quite capable of leading this charge, is determined to seek out justice for his fellow Africans. According to his resume, Phillips is listed as a consultant and a former White House Fellow. He is a lecturer at the Business and Management Department at the University of Guyana and a Director of the African Cultural and Development Association (ACDA). Needless to say, Eric is well grounded in the African tradition, and his role in the Reparations Committee makes him a central leader of Africans in Guyana. Additionally, his current position as a Presidential advisor puts him in a position where he can effectively influence the Guyana government on this issue. Not surprisingly, President Granger, in a recent presentation at the Cuffy 250 symposium, made it clear that the Guyana Government is interested in more than an apology from the guilty party, and that his government will pursue the call for reparations with a sense of urgency.
Whether Africans like it or not, Phillips is speaking on behalf of the over 200,000 or more Persons of African Descent living in Guyana and their ancestors who have made Guyana their home for over three hundred and fifty years, following the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. Phillips is not alone in this struggle. There is a silent majority, represented by a wide ranging number of African organisations in Guyana that have accepted the reality of reparations as a compensatory act towards the injustice of slavery. If most African organisations are not on board yet, they will probably join the calls for reparations at some point. As Granger reminded us, these African organisations, with those formed over the last 25 years, include, but are not limited to: the African Cultural Development Association (ACDA); African Heritage Foundation (AHF); African Welfare Convention (AWC); All African-Guyanese Council (AAGC); Forum for the Liberation of African-Guyanese (FLAG); National Emancipation Trust (NET); Movement for Economic Empowerment (MEE); Pan-African Movement (PAM); and Revival of Awareness and Promotion of African Culture (RAPAC).
History has recorded that Africans “had driven back the sea and had cleared, drained and reclaimed 15,000 square miles of forest and swamps” [equivalent to 9,000,000 acres of land]… installed “2,580,000 miles of drainage canals, trenches and inter-bed drains…3,500 miles of dams, roads and footpaths, and 2,176 miles of sea and river defence” and the Venn Commission has noted that “a value of 100,000,000 tons of earth” was moved by African slaves to humanize the Guyanese physical landscape. This is no small accomplishment, but the labour that went into this turning point in Guyana’s early history, converted a wasteland into a habitable environment for future generations.
In his quest to convince the naysayers that justice for Africans will be achieved through reparations, Eric Phillips has eagerly over-extended his reach and has taken antagonistic positions against his opponents. While he has been criticized for downplaying the Amerindians’ case for reparations, he now seems to have placed Indians as perpetrators of the injustice against Africans. Here is what he said:
“…denying the descendants of Africans in Guyana their just reparations in terms of lands is simply another ‘crime against humanity’ by those who came after them”. He left us dangling by saying that his comments on these issues “will have to wait”. Is there any doubt as to what he meant?
To be continued.

The public health sector is a running away cash cow – risking Guyanese lives


Under the APNU/AFC, the public health sector has become a cash cow, milked to create jobs for activists of the APNU/AFC and to give lucrative procurement contracts to donors and friends of the APNU/AFC. In 2016, the $28B budget is being milked for political pay-offs and for buying political loyalty, rather than to improve people’s lives.

The latest scandal to rock Guyana is a house bought by a businessman for $25M and then rented out to the Ministry of Public Health as a medical warehouse for $12.5M per month. Clearly this sweetheart deal is a political farce that smells like some people are lining their pockets. The so-called ‘warehouse’ is still under construction even though the Minister clearly pronounced that they were forced into a non-tender, sole sourcing devise to rent the building because of the urgency of storage space for medicines which are sitting at the wharf. The Minister lied and, in the meantime, the scandal of drugs and medical supplies shortages at every hospital and every health centre in all ten regions continue.

The smell of such a blatant, corrupt, rotten deal even shocked some of the most ardent supporters and apologists for the APNU/AFC. In response to the shock and the uproar, the President pretended to be surprised and established a Cabinet Review Team, headed by Raphael Trotman, the Minister of Natural Resources and the resident governance czar. Within days, he reported that the team had completed the review and that they found nothing wrong with the contract, even while admitting that the Minister of Public Health may have misrepresented some of the facts. Trotman simply recommended that the Minister apologise.

One detail in this warehouse scandal that deserves highlighting is that the Minister of Public Health reported that the make-believe warehouse met all of the PAHO/WHO requirements, a pronouncement that was reiterated by Trotman. But how could PAHO/WHO, or anyone, else certify that a building has met PAHO/WHO requirements, when it is still a house being reconfigured as a warehouse? Trotman himself insisted that the Cabinet Review Team had visited the building and they themselves have determined that the building has met all the requirements.

Truth is, someone should ask them to produce any certificate that any expert team has visited and certified that the building has indeed met all the requirements. The owners who rented the building also need to provide such a statement. No matter what anyone says, the truth is pellucid – both Norton and Trotman are lying about the building meeting PAHO/WHO requirements.

But the hypocrisy is even starker – Cabinet appoints a Review Team to look at a contract that shocks the whole country by its shamelessness and sheer audacity. This, however, was another hoax because Cabinet had to approve this contract. Did they approve the contract without knowing about it? Renting a house that the owners bought for just $25M, just within the last few months, for more than $450M over three years and renting it as a medical warehouse which has certain rigid requirements, must have raised urgent red flags. Red flags had to be raised further because the Ministry could have rented space for less than 25% this cost, space that was utilized by the Ministry for free for the last decade and which is certified as an internationally certified warehouse.

The truth is, all of this is symptomatic of the health sector being viewed as a place to stash large sums of money to maintain a political cash machine or a cash cow to allow the APNU/AFC to build political loyalties. For example, a person shows up at the GPHC as the new Deputy CEO. The Ministry of Public Health is unaware of his appointment. This is not a rare example of people being appointed to big jobs in the public health sector without the requisite qualifications and without the knowledge and input of the Public health Ministry. It happens every day somewhere in the sector. In one instance, the supervising doctor at one hospital went to work one day and was met by another doctor who had just graduated and was informed that he was no longer in charge.

In the meantime, medicines and medical supplies are absent, and often patients are told that medicines must be obtained through the private sector. Operating theatres are closed because there are no supplies. Dentists cannot do their job because they have no anaesthetic. Children are put at risk because there are shortages of vaccines. Diabetic, heart and high blood pressure patients risk their lives because they cannot get medicines from their hospitals or health centres. There are serious shortages of laboratory supplies and often the blood bank runs out of blood bags, etc. These have become common, everyday occurrence in the public health sector. Throughout it all, Granger and his merry band of APNU/AFC Ministers only see the cash cow to be used for buying political favours.