Equal Access and Equal Opportunities for all …..

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Topic: Equal Access and Equal Opportunities for all ensure a Peaceful and Developed Society

Address given by Major General (retd) Joseph G Singh MSS, MSc, FRGS

At a Public Forum at Linden, on Monday, February 28, 2011

Article13 of our Constitution states:The principal objective of the political system of the State is to establish an inclusionary democracy by providing increasing opportunities for the participation of citizens, and their organizations in the management and decision-making of the State, with particular emphasis on those areas of decision-making that directly affect their well being”.

1. The Rising of the People

Chairperson, Chairman and Members of the ERC, Ladies and Gentlemen, and youths. I am sure that most of you have been following the recent events in the Arab States where citizens have taken to the streets in Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, and Libya to demonstrate against authoritarianism, lack of freedoms, self serving systems of governance, corruption, lack of jobs and opportunities and the pervasive presence of State-sponsored security.

While the specific country circumstances may vary, one common thread seems to be the preparedness of people, the ordinary citizens, to empower themselves to demonstrate against injustices by using the tools of technology, the social networks, and the philosophy of and moral suasion of peaceful protest, to unsettle the incumbent power and to bring about their removal from office and power.

2. What has brought about this chain reaction?

I believe that there is a shared vision among all people to live in peace and harmony and at the same time to develop in such a manner that succeeding generations would enjoy the benefits of structured development in an environment that is conducive to realizing their true potential.

If this is generally true of all societies, then it should follow that every effort would be made to work individually and collectively toward the achievement of common goals. The reality however is that human beings have become corrupted by power, material wealth, and the quest for dominance. The systems of governance, socio-economics, justice and the rule of law, and security have been manipulated to serve the interests of whoever exercises dominance. Those who exercise such power and authority, utilize the tools at their disposal to entrench themselves and to surround themselves by self-centred allies who exploit the vulnerabilities of those over whom such power is exercised. The examples of the Arab States that are in ferment, provide us with a frame of reference of societies at a distance and sometimes it is easier for us to comment critically on others rather than to examine ourselves and see what are the systemic issues in our own society that need to be identified and analysed and action taken to correct any aberrations before they become cancerous, eating away at the fabric of our multi- ethnic, multi-cultural and multi-religious society.

3. Aim

I have been asked to speak on the Topic: “Equal Access and Equal Opportunities for all ensure a Peaceful and Developed Society”.

In preparing this presentation, I have been guided by my own experiences from what I refer to as the University of Life and I have therefore resisted the temptation to quote extensively from learned men and women. As I elaborate on the topic, I shall draw from my institutional memory of people, places and events, as I believe they will have greater resonance with you.

4. The Issues

We have just celebrated 41 years of being a Republic and in three months time we will be observing the 45th Anniversary of our Independence. Those of us who are old enough will reflect on the experiences we have had of growing up under colonial rule and of the machinations of the Western powers employing the strategy of “Divide and Rule” leading to cleavages in our society. We witnessed in the faces of our citizens, the trauma of ethnic strife in the early 1960s. We celebrated the euphoria of Independence and all that it promised. We felt the impact of the Cold War and were victims of the polarization between the West and the East. We supported the nationalization of the commanding heights of the economy. We countered the attempted secession of the Rupununi and managed the tensions on two of our borders. We were impacted by the militarization of the society in response to perceived threats to territorial integrity and internal security. We lived in an environment of increasing authoritarianism and international isolation that spawned resistance, fueled outward migration, and increased the downward spiral of our economy.

M y generation then witnessed the end of the Cold War; the collapse of the Berlin Wall and of the Soviet Union; the rise of Glasnost; the liberalization of the economy; the emphasis placed on respect for human rights, freedom of information, freedom of worship and, freedom of association; and the struggle for free and fair elections and elections free from fear. These brought about a wind of change and high expectations in the early 1990s.

While the risk of nuclear war receded, the international community faced new challenges-the narcotics trade; the pervasive influence of the imported, unfiltered, material culture; uninhibited sexual revolution; the rise of HIV/AIDS; the free but uneven trade; the removal of preferential markets and erratic movement of global commodity prices; the rise of radicalism and the spawning of terrorism; global warming and more frequent climate- related natural disasters; and, the shrinking of the world through the power of the internet.

We have had to grapple with the impacts of all of these and we perhaps ignored or did not pay enough attention to the way in which our society was evolving. We ignored this at our peril and it came back to haunt us in the sense that,  like the almost spontaneous rising of peoples in the Arab world, we have, in a relatively short space of time,  come face to face with a multiplicity of challenges to the social fabric of our society. Some of these had their genesis in the colonial system of governance but others evolved from our own negligence or lack of awareness that the impact of systemic issues that engender dysfunctionalities and inequalities, if not addressed in a timely manner, would fester and compromise our society’s ability to live up to the requirements of our national motto:  “One People, One Nation, One Destiny”.

  1. What were some of the indicators of the systemic issues that inhibit equal access and equal opportunities and that are festering in our society?
  • The drug trade and the exploitation of vulnerabilities of poor and unemployed by the syndicates.

As an example, just this past week it was reported by the media that cocaine to the tune of G$44M and marijuana with a street value of $G24M were interdicted by the Customs Anti Narcotics Unit, CANU. These seizures have been estimated to be just a small percentage of the drugs that transit Guyana. While the persons interdicted are in the main, overseas based persons, there is a local logistics chain which carries out all of the aspects of the processes involved in the courier service that brings the drugs from across our borders to the coast where the final parceling and packaging are done and the couriers identified and recruited for the specific courier role because of their economic vulnerabilities in their country of residence. These are the sacrificial lambs. The intellectual authors and their facilitators  continue with the arms length remote control of the trade while channeling the proceeds from the lucrative trade into legitimately run businesses, which are a mere façade for ‘washing’ of the money. When citizens who are on the bread-line see the display of affluence by the middle level nouveau riche, it breeds jealousy and fuels criminal thoughts leading to the targeting of business places and individuals that are perceived to be benefiting from the trafficking in drugs. Those at the top of the drug trade pyramid are virtually untouchables living in well garrisoned homes, protected by their retinue of body guards and counseled by their highly placed and highly paid advisers. It gets more complicated when the drug lords, having attained a certain level of affluence, seek legitimacy from the society by becoming philanthropists-giving to the poor, going to church, getting involved in the management of organized sports and cultural activities and, in fact, providing in a very unconventional way the access for vulnerable youth to opportunities which they may not have had, if it had not been for their newly found benefactors. Sadly many of the perceived opportunities turn out to be exploitive and mere mirages. Scams involving passports and visas, trafficking in cocaine, and smuggling of gold are some of the consequences of the exploitation of vulnerable but ambitious youth.

  • Absence of bonding between children and their biological parents.

The migration of males, including youth, to the gold and diamond fields; and, the decline in the bauxite production sector, along with the high prices of gold and diamonds, were the drivers that catalysed the proliferation of medium and small scale operations in the six mining districts of Guyana. While the structured development of the mining sector and legitimate activities that devolve from the mining for gold and precious stones should be encouraged, the implications of this movement have resulted in the long absences of the father figures and role models from their families because of the logistics of working in the hinterland.

In the case of the increasing number of single parent families, the female bread- winners, many of them working in the private security and hospitality sectors, have little choice but to entrust their children to the care of extended family members. The important phase of bonding between children and their biological parents is sacrificed. This has far reaching consequences because failure to carry out parenting roles of nurturing and providing the  love, care and guidance for their children, leads to alienation and dysfunctional behavior especially among the poor and intellectually challenged households. [N.B. Relate examples (2) of the NOC experiences].

Denial of access by youth to opportunities because of absentee parents, challenges our society to find creative ways of ensuring that these youth are mentored by elders, the religious organizations and trained and reliable members of the extended family.

  • Exploitation of youth by unscrupulous persons of influence and affluence

The consequences of unequal access and lack of access to opportunities are also manifested in the unlawful practices of two categories of predators: the wealthy and well connected, who are in positions of influence in the society and who can pay for sexual favours; or, those who demand sexual favours in order to provide a perception of access to the victim. Again, peer pressure and the social networks advertise the heights reached by females and males who have no foundation in education and skills that would account for their lifestyles, or whose progression in their careers-academic or professional would not have been achieved had it not been for the compromises they would have had to make in their sexual and social behavior pattern.

  • Declining numbers of functionally literate youth and increasing numbers of unemployable youth

There is visible evidence of the large number of youths in economically depressed areas who can be seen idling their time away when they should be in schools or attending vocational training programmes. The shortfalls in skills at the national level such as artisan skills, heavy duty vehicles operator skills, and agriculture production and processing skills, result in poor competencies in the construction sector and on the production-line. Access to upgraded skill levels is a necessity if youth are to be made employable. There are very few examples of contractors and businesses that are investing in a programme of recruitment, training and retention of skills persons especially from stigmatized communities. Such initiatives will provide greater access and opportunities to them and showcase the positive changes in attitude, behavior and sense of purpose that can motivate other young people from the same communities. Businessmen and contractors need to commit to a culture that integrates profit-making with a social conscience and corporate social responsibility. Such a commitment between businesses, contractors, communities and community-based institutions, agencies and enterprises, can be secured through creative and sustainable partnerships.

  • Ill-discipline in the society

Such examples of ill-discipline include the littering of public places and erratic driving on our roads and trails. When we fail to fix the small infractions, they lead to even bigger and more untenable situations such as degradation of our environment from the indiscriminate dumping of pollutants and non-biodegradable items, which eventually get into our drainage and irrigation canals, rivers and tributaries. Flooding and garbage pile up create conditions for an unhealthy environment. Loss of lives and injuries result from road and river accidents. These lead to a default situation where citizens, who are victims of environmental-related illness and road accidents, are denied equal access and access to opportunities anyway, since chronic illnesses, serious injuries or death, render the victims unavailable for any developmental role.

  • The increase in alcoholism and substance abuse

These self- destruct mechanisms guarantee that whatever access or opportunities are available to utilize the real or latent productive talents and capacity of our human resources, remain uncharted and unexploited and inhibits the development of the individual into a responsible citizen and as  well, a productive one.

  • Increasing occurrence of incidents relating to domestic violence and child abuse

When citizens feel deprived, perceive that they are denied equal access or equal opportunities, are unable to realize their full potential, and experience a degree of sustained stress in their daily lives, they reach a level of frustration and intolerance of their fellow human beings. The manifestations of such behavior pattern can be substance abuse, alcoholism, abuse of their spouses and children and in an increasing number of cases –murder and suicide.

The fundamental or root cause of such a mind set or state of despair needs to be addressed in a creative and comprehensive way. The religious organisations and community based, family counseling and women and children’s welfare agencies, have to network in a collaborative way in order to identify those symptoms that would indicate the systemic issues that need to be addressed.

  • Increase in violent crime, gang-related violence, murder and assassinations

Denial of equal access and equal opportunities that have the potential to fulfill reasonable expectations especially among young people, provide fertile ground for alternative pathways which are based on living off the proceeds of crime and criminal activities. Our recent experiences of the trauma of violent crime, citizens’ insecurity and the infiltration of the security forces by undesirable elements, warn us of the consequences of seeking only to deal with the symptoms by funding some prestige projects within the communities, but failing to identify and resolve the chronic, systemic issues undermining the social fabric of the society

  • Application and Dispensation of Justice

There is a genuine perception especially among the poorer segments of our society that the scales of justice tended to weigh heavily on persons at the lower rungs of the ladder while ‘big ones’ seemed to escape the kind of sanctions consistent with their indiscretions and malpractices. I quote  from the Editorial of the Guyana Chronicle of Saturday, February 26, 2011 the following: “The powerful and the monied can easily purchase and subvert justice in this country: and the jail proliferates with many innocent victims, while many real criminals walk the streets, free to continue the depredations on the real victims of society”.

Such scathing criticism published in the editorial of a newspaper not recognized as being unfriendly to the current administration, is in my opinion, a most encouraging statement to those in civil society, who have been advocating against a skewed pattern in the dispensation of justice. This feeling of justice being denied, fuels a sense of hopelessness that the inequalities in access and opportunities which stymie personal development, will never be resolved in the individual’s life-time.

Thoughts on reasons why these systemic issues are allowed to prevail

Although there are mechanisms in place which can contribute to the mission of providing equal access and equal opportunities to ensure a peaceful and developed society, I wish to posit that there seems to be an intellectual log jam on the methodologies which will have the desired effect. The UN Millennium Development Goals and several other local initiatives such as the PRSP, while well intentioned, have brought superficial relief to some vulnerable citizens and communities but many projects have not been sustained or are unsustainable because of flawed planning or poor execution. Those that have achieved a measure of success as to make them working models should be evaluated and replicated in other areas.

The enabling environment for success and sustainability has not evolved to the extent that it should have and the limitations experienced reflect on a number of factors:

  • Lack of resolve on the part of political and civic leaders to forge true national unity as a cross cutting theme
  • Absence of an efficient and effective local government system with constituency- based representation
  • Lack of counseling and guidance in communities, schools and homes
  • Absence of safe spaces for youths in their communities
  • Absence of or inadequate programmes and facilities for socialization and interaction
  • Absence of civics in schools
  • Failure to appreciate the strengths of each other’s culture and religion
  • Absence of constructive criticism for fear of sanction
  • Acquiescent, poorly organized and fragmented civil society
  • A perception of less than transparent public and private sector employment practices and promotional opportunities
  • Skewed decision-making in the allocation of resources
  • Poor public awareness of laws and regulations and lack of sustained enforcement
  • Lack of confidence in the security sector and in the dispensation of justice.

7.    What will promote equal access and equal opportunities to ensure a peaceful and developed society?

  • Democracy and Governance There is a requirement for the institutionalisation of democratic principles and practices. We have to ensure that the Inclusive Governance Model which brought into being the Ethnic Relations Commission, Women and Gender Equality Commission, Rights of the Child Commission and the Indigenous Peoples Commission, functions efficiently and effectively and that the work of these Commissions will encompass the whole of Guyana and be integrated into the methodologies and decision-making processes that promote equal access and equal opportunities.
  • National conversations on national policy issues Decisions on policy issues must be premised on the outcomes of national conversations with relevant stakeholders. Operationalising of these decisions cannot be centralized but the responsibilities need to be devolved to the most basic implementation level. However, capacity has to be built and we need to advocate for fair and equitable allocation of resources. The reform of the local government system must devolve decision–making at the most fundamental level within our society. The Neighbourhood Democratic Councils and District Councils must reflect constituency-based representation and an equitable allocation of resources for the implementation of decisions that directly affect the well being of people that these councils represent.
  • Devolution pre-supposes that there is a level of competence, capacity and integrity that would ensure decisions are based on fact and not fiction or on what is politically expedient; that there is transparency in the consultation process; and, that there would be proper systems of monitoring and accountability to evaluate the effectiveness in the use of resources.
  • Economic Recovery This is perhaps the most fundamental of the processes to be implemented in areas of persistent poverty. Allocation of house lots must go hand in hand with homesteading and with job creation, access to relevant education, vocational and technical training, and access to micro- credit and market-oriented production-line management. Community- based enterprises encourage community growth and development, give a greater sense of empowerment, stabilize families and engender confidence in the future. This is particularly relevant in the light of the announced government IT policy of one lap top per family. What information can be accessed? How will it level the playing field in the context of equal access and equal opportunities to ensure a peaceful and developed society? The social networks such as Face Book, Twitter and Blogs mean the window on the world is literally the screens on our   TV sets, computers and mobile phones. Processing of the vast amount of information available to us requires computer literacy skills and a level of assimilation, interpretation, and decision making, to ensure that the information is used for our betterment and not for us to become addicted to or worse, overwhelmed by information overload.
  • Professionalism of the Security Services. Citizens expect that there will be a professional core in each of the security services that will ensure the mandate applicable to each service is faithfully executed without fear and favour. The relationship between the citizens and the security forces must not be based on fear, but on trust and mutual respect. Understanding and appreciating each sides role and responsibilities and how these can be mutually reinforcing would engender and sustain good relations between the security services and the communities. Equal access and equal opportunities for all citizens regardless of their economic or social standing, must be the hallmark of the relationship.
  • Fairness in the dispensation of Justice. In the application of the rule of law, justice must be seen to be applied in a fair and even –handed manner.
  • Psycho-Social Recovery. This is the desired outcome of a system that promotes equal access and equal opportunities. The feeling of hopelessness which overwhelms those who are denied equal access and equal opportunities because of the systemic issues plaguing our society, must give way to hope and optimism in the future of Guyana. We shall create the conditions for peaceful development when entrepreneurs and professionals have a genuine sense of accomplishment, when young people have access to career opportunities that are challenging, motivating and open to all based on merit and performance, and when citizens across Guyana experience peace of mind, good neighbourliness and share a vision of a stable, productive and developed Guyana.

  1. 8. Conclusion

Region 10 and Linden in particular has had more than its fair share of challenges over the years.

Linden’s evolution can be traced from the transient community of McKenzie, whose workers came from other parts of British Guiana, such as the West Coast of Berbice. Most commuted weekly via the RH Carr and worked in a highly organized production-line system but also in a highly socially stratified environment. Richmond Hill, Watooka and Wismar, were separate enclaves within the whole. The transient bauxite workers of McKenzie morphed over time into the settled community of Linden that has expanded from mining and shipping   of bauxite, prospecting for and mining for gold and diamonds in the six Mining Districts of Guyana. Some are involved in agricultural production in the intermediate savannahs, chain saw logging in the forests, and vendoring, tourism and hospitality skills in the township and communities.

Memories of the cleavages which occurred in the 1960s and which resulted in trauma to families on both sides of the ethnic divide have been assuaged by political, religious and cultural initiatives led by community-based organizations. I believe the lessons of the 1960s in British Guiana and examples of ethnic and tribal confrontations in other parts of the world have been convincing in conveying the hard truth: that violence begets violence and does not lead to a viable solution.

Citizens who perceive that they are being discriminated against because of their inability to enjoy equal access and equal opportunities are unlikely to remain docile and acquiescent under conditions that breed frustration, distrust, despair, disillusionment and hopelessness. The outward manifestations of their agitation and advocacy may, on deeper analysis, reveal more systemic issues as the root causes. Local conversations with all stakeholders must be one of the first steps in defining the issues and identifying possible solutions. The implementation of a strategy to resolve such issues will require the establishment of a system of representative governance that executes agreed policy decisions in an equitable, transparent and just manner and, one that delivers to the expectations of all citizens. This will generate confidence among citizens in the future of a Guyana where they feel empowered, comfortable, respected and motivated, and will, more than likely, encourage the dismantling of those inhibiting obstacles to the peaceful development of our society.

Cumulatively, such initiatives and their successful outcomes will promote the development of a citizenship where Guyanese are conscious of our history, proud of our country and excited about our collective future.

[END]

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Comments

  • Sharon Deebrah  On March 29, 2011 at 3:24 pm

    This political speech writer has failed miserably. Wake me up when you find the relevance to Equal Access and Opportunity. Do people really talk this way?

  • Ian Manchester  On March 30, 2011 at 5:09 am

    Thanks Major General Joe Singh for this.

    This lecture of Major General Joe Singh is quite
    comprehensive as it outlines in detail many of the issues that affect the Guyanese people. However I think that he did not fully itemize all of the real reasons why the systemic issues are allowed to prevail. Here are some of them that I see:

    1. The people in power, who are responsible for governing the country, have as their main goal their own personal enrichment so you cannot expect them to focus on social issues that have no return on investment for them.
    2. The Judicial system is purposely used as a racist control mechanism just like they do in the USA where you suppress the lower classes, jail them and then paint them as undesirables . This area of suppression will be the flash point of the “revolution” when it comes. people are on remand for years as there are not enough judges… do you still wonder why??
    3. When Guyanese are outward looking and just raping the country’s wealth and exporting it … they do not really care about the underclass… After all they have their US and Canadian passports ready to fly out if things get really hot… so everyone with money is looking to make more, pay little or no taxes and launder it. The Guyana government has a taxation shortfall which has to be addressed to fix the infrastructure and social issues you have pointed out.

    I am really concerned about Guyana. If there is no change in direction to address the issues you raise here, then I – for one – will no longer be interested in what happens there. Guyanese living there and voting will have to live with whatever choices they make. I will be looking on with interest!

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