DIASPORA – editorial in Stabroek News

DIASPORA –  editorial in Stabroek News

Guyana: President Ramotar

President Ramotar

Last week GINA, the Government’s information service, reported that President Donald Ramotar had met Guyanese in Washington and Queens, New York, in the course of his visit to the United Nations, and that he had asked them to return home and invest in the country’s economy. One wonders if he was serious when he put that question to his compatriots in the diaspora, or whether he was just going through the motions.

If he was serious, then he is truly divorced from reality; we have been waiting twenty-two years for this flood of returnees to swamp us with their US dollars, their overseas skills and their drive to nurture their homeland, and no one, even President Ramotar one would think, anticipates that they will do so in the immediate future.

Even given the framework within which President Ramotar is working, it is always conceivable that retirees from the diaspora with the kind of nostalgia for their homeland which the younger generation does not harbour, might be tempted, given the right conditions, to spend their remaining years here. Financially secure and with no children to educate, they might be persuaded in certain circumstances to impart some of their skills on a part-time or voluntary basis in their various fields. A few have done so, but not in the kind of numbers which would make any impact.

Before that could happen, where older potential remigrants are concerned, they would require as a prerequisite physical security and good health institutions. President Ramotar cannot be unaware that what obtains at present in those departments does not fit the bill. (And a specialist hospital, if it existed, still would be insufficient.) If the next generation down were to contemplate remigrating, they would also be concerned about the quality of the educational institutions locally, for the days when foreign diplomats were comfortable sending their sons to Queen’s College have long since gone.

For all possible returnees, middle-aged or old, there is the deterrent of the offensive environment and the foul garbage-dumping habits of the locals, not forgetting either the challenge of a defective and clogged drainage system. So just what does Mr Ramotar think members of the diaspora who return should invest in? More garbage trucks?

Then there is simply the virulent nature of our politics and the sheer vulgarity of some of our politicians. Who from abroad would want to expose themselves to that if they didn’t have to? The venomous exchanges between the guardians of the state and their opponents, and the pervasiveness of the malignant political atmosphere, would not persuade any remigrants that the country was going anywhere in developmental terms, or that any modest investment financial or otherwise on their part would make the least difference in terms of the development of the society.

This does not seem to have crossed the President’s mind, however, as he duly zoomed off down to Florida where along with the Attorney General, he belaboured the diaspora on his favourite topic of how the opposition is strangling development. If nothing else, the gathering would have recognized that those who rule in their homeland would not be getting to grips with the real world any time soon. Back in Guyana the Head of State was soon holding forth at the opening of GuyExpo on Thursday about “transformation” in the lives of Guyanese, but his largely local audience, like their counterparts in the diaspora, have heard it all before and just let it wash over them like the receding tide.

It was Mr Ralph Ramkarran who eloquently invited President Ramotar in a recent column, to take up “the pen of history.” Aside from the fact that there may be more than one “pen” in the Guyanese inkwell of history, neither the Head of State nor his party has any intentions of making amendments to the PPP’s well-thumbed script. And if there was any doubt on that score, General Secretary Clement Rohee, invariably a man of unvarnished expression, soon dispelled it. He made it clear that Freedom House was seeking an overall majority in the next general election – no surprise there; however, he conveyed the impression that the party seriously believed this was going to happen, since it had been working with its base which was now recommitted.

As has been said before, it is always possible that the PPP will manage to secure an overall majority in the next national election (whenever that may be), but in the medium to long term demographics and various other factors are against it. In any event, even supposing that the ruling party did secure its coveted majority, it will not find that events will proceed as they did, say, between 2006-11; too many things have changed since then, and will continue to change, added to which the population (the PPP constituency included) is suffering from incumbency fatigue.

The ruling party has never understood that trying to control everything means that you will lose control of most things. And trying to control everything leads you down paths not compatible with a liberal democracy, and certainly not with the freedom which they so noisily tout.

People need areas of their life over which they have control without having to look over their shoulders to see whether a vindictive government will make them pay in some way for a decision they have made; they need to be able to choose their own local authorities and exert pressure on these if they do not perform, without central government interfering by appointing officials who answer to it and not the ratepayers; they need autonomous institutions which function in accordance with the law and not the whim of government; and they need a vastly expanded and professionally staffed Audit Office (among other agencies) to confront the corruption that besets us all around. There are many other things too, including constitutional reform, but in brief, it can be said that the people need to breathe.

So when the President and his fellow party members talk idly about ‘freedom’ and ‘deepening democracy,’ they don’t mean anything by it. And when they talk about ‘development’ they don’t mean anything by that either. Of course, they have their list of ‘successes’ since they came into office, many of which do them credit, it is just that in terms of an overarching vision for the country and how to reverse the exclusion experienced by significant segments of the society, they have not had a new idea since 1992. And without those, there will be no dramatic advances, and certainly no flood of remigrants.

When President Ramotar lauds development under the current regime to the diaspora, therefore, he is conveying the message of more of the same. In addition, since most of those who turned up to listen to him in North America would have heard it all before, they would understand very well what the primary purpose of his engagement with them was, ie, to lay the groundwork for raising funds should an election be in the offing.

Until circumstances in Guyana itself change, as said above, there will be little in the way of overseas-based Guyanese repatriating; however, even now they could still be more than just sources of party funding. A creative connection could be cultivated with the diaspora along the lines which David Jessop, for example, has outlined in some of his columns, and which the Jamaicans have begun to develop. However, this government has demonstrated to date it is far too parochial in its outlook and far too obsessed with clinging on to power to explore the possibilities of a different kind of relationship.

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  • compton de castro  On 10/11/2014 at 7:28 am

    Interesting read verbatim and between the lines.

    Short analysis
    Dream on its free.
    Politically Guyana is at its embryonic stage of development.
    Still in the ex-colonial cycle.
    Has experirented with capitalism
    Socialism may be next…as per obamaland.
    Followed by some new form of isms …as per HK-CHINA

    DEMOCRACY road is long and hard … 50 years since independence the ‘lessons’ learnt period is enough.
    Guyana should have graduated and be in her career
    development already.
    Political reformation long overdue.

    Guyana and guyanese must remove themselves from mental slavery in copying others systematically. Develop system of
    its own influenced by ROW. CHANGE FROM WITHIN is more
    permanent and beneficial than expectations from outsiders
    for that change.
    If one request help from outside one should expect strings
    in some cases rope to be used to hang them.
    Guyana must stand up to be counted.
    Politicians must remain accountable for their actions/decisions from top to bottom.
    Class the big issue.
    My spill

  • Deen  On 10/12/2014 at 11:51 am

    Guyanese love Guyana, but under the current conditions of its political, social and economic instability, it would be foolish for Guyanese abroad to return to Guyana to work or retire amid such circumstances. It would be a risk and eventually a regret.
    The government of Guyana would continue to try to cajole Guyanese to return as a means to their ends or benefit, but to no avail. Of course, their investment and remittances are the key issues.
    If the government of Guyana want to attract Guyanese to return home they have to put their house in order….stabilize the country, reduce crime and wanton corruption. improve sanitation and health services, reinforce emphasis on educational standards. etc. Health care is a key concern.
    Lots of work to be done to cleanup their act. Looks like wishful thinking..
    I’m sure the Guyanese abroad would prefer to endure any hardship where they are rather than return to suffer the poor standards and uncertainty in Guyana.

  • gigi  On 10/13/2014 at 11:27 am

    There is a lot of underlying resentment (personal) in this piece. Dear editor, perhaps if you stop your shameless promotion of the US (and its lap dogs UK and Canada) agenda, selling out Guyana and the Guyanese people and stymieing Guyana’s progress, the situation would improve — encouraging Guyanese to return and invest in their country. That is not to say that govt does not attract its fair share of corrupt officials, especially when its the psychopaths and narcissists who are most attracted to politics and law, particularly the mediocre with strong vices. They are ones who are easily corruptible. Exposing corruption should be encouraged and exposed. However, when those doing the exposing are equally corrupt along with their motives, it makes their credibility suspect.

    The following is not the kind of democracy that Guyanese people should strive for, but which seems to be emanating from those representing the Guyana media

    “There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.”
    ― Isaac Asimov

  • Cliff  On 10/14/2014 at 5:12 pm

    Gigi, A very nice article and I agree with it. Guyana is now more progressive prior to 1992 but some of us close our minds when Guyana was down in the dumps and completely bankrupted. Many of us are tempted to repeat the past even now. There is not only a cult of ignorance in the US but right here in Guyana. Many know it but do not want to accept it.

    I always read your article that make lots of sense so keep on writing.

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