GUYANA: The country has grounded to a halt – By Leonard Gildarie

  Jul 19, 2020  Features / Columnists, Kaieteur NewsThe Story within the Story 

By Leonard Gildarie

On March 2- Elections Day- I arrived at work and marched upstairs to find out about Kaieteur Radio’s coverage of the proceedings.
It was the mother of all elections in Guyana. The December 21 no confidence motion and the shenanigans along with the brutal campaign that followed had clearly set the tone.
An unwilling Guyana was bracing itself for a battle.

We were clearly unprepared, as the radio station had only been in operation for a few months and attempting to find its footing.
It was after 11am that I took a decision to give intermittent updates. I started calling reporters assigned on the streets and private sector officials. Then the diplomats, ministers, and other representatives followed.       

With little training, we were all pushed to the limits, managing the calls, keeping a running commentary and being up-to-date.
It was clear that there was a hunger for news. Our numbers climbed. As the count began, there were more updates. The next day, I was back at it again. As the proceedings began at Ashmin’s building, the work was plenty. We even had a few candidates in the studios.

As the drama continued at Ashmin’s, the stories that came out that left me stuck in the Kaieteur Radio studio were many.
It evolved into Elections Watch. With COVID-19 on us, it was clear there was no escaping to writing…what I knew best.

Radio is a whole different ball game. People hear your voice. With social media now, the video streaming part picked up a life of its own. Radio can literally leave you drained. There is so much behind the scenes that need to happen before programme time.

It has been more than four and half months now and elections are not over yet. Our people, being who they are, did not fail. We are about to be entered into the Guinness Book of World Records for the longest unresolved elections, they quipped.

It has been one of the most difficult periods for me. The long hours in a field that I had little idea about and training have been heavily taxing to the mind and body.
Perhaps, the difficult part was the ad hominem attacks and the cries of the desperate poor for assistance as COVID-19 fallouts continue.

I am not sure whether we have a grasp over the level of hardships facing our people.
We have been receiving calls in and out. This week, it hit home hard.
During a call-in segment on Elections Watch, a woman appealed for help. I gave out my number on air and it opened the flood gates. My phone has not stopped ringing. The stories are heartbreaking.
Many of the persons were crying. Even the listeners and viewers were crying.
A number of them made it clear that they are ashamed to be asking for help but there are little options.

The level of suffering, based on the appeals, and many anecdotes coming out, is a clear wake-up call that we are facing a full-blown crisis.
One year ago, the world had its eyes on Guyana. A small oil-rich country had struck black gold and there was only one way …that is up.
The investors were streaming steadily in with Marriott and Ramada booked weeks in advance.

It has all changed dramatically. Today, we are writing stories of Guyana begging international donor partners for help.
We are being likened to a country with dictatorship.

Sanctions have been slapped on Coalition officers. Unheard of.
The elections crisis has divided this country in a way that had someone told me that this would have been the situation a year ago, I would have told them to get the hell out of here.

As we speak, South Rupununi villages in Region 9…21 villages to be exact…have announced a lockdown. This was after clear indications that enough was not being done to curtail the movements of persons across the Brazil border.
In fact, it is coming out now that there is systematic people’s smuggling, never mind Brazil is the country with the second most COVID-19 cases in the world. It is fast closing the gap with the US.
Several COVID-19 cases have been recorded in Region 9 with teachers and students now in isolation.

Food supplies, the loss of income and general contraction of businesses have all contributed to a deeply worrying situation.
The story is not dissimilar in other regions.

While the country waits with bated breath, hopeful for a resolution to the shameful happenings on the political scene, the private sector has reached desperation point.
In fact, extra time given to persons who took loans and mortgages is fast running out.
Banks will find themselves in the ultimate position of either granting another six months, or seizing properties which have been used as collaterals.
There is little conversation on the way forward.

Nothing from the Ministry of Finance. Nothing from Bank of Guyana.
Thousands of small businesses will not make it back up.
We can go on and on and repeat what is well known.

Perhaps what is more confounding is the contradiction that exists.
The Ministry of Public Health has announced and introduced measures to ensure compliance and force people to protect themselves. We have closed our borders, at least officially, and our airports.
We have said no crowds, and for us to be at least six feet apart.

Guess who is not doing their jobs? The police…the enforcers?
Nightclubs are still open. Bars are still open. The minibuses are still overloaded.
People don’t wear masks in the open. I can go on and on.
Our country has grounded to a halt and there is very little help going to the people.

The pressure and shame from the overseas bodies and countries have been piling on.
One has got to ask what happens if the status quo does not change in another two weeks, what happens then?

What kind of country will we live in? For what? How will we live with our neighbours who are of different ethnicity?
Don’t let us bury our heads in the sand and say that our politicians have not fanned the ethnic division flames.
We have lost our moral compass.
I am ashamed.

(The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Kaieteur News.)

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