There is no future for Guyana without teachers

“The only lies for which we are truly punished are those we tell ourselves.” V. S. Naipaul

 

Teachers are not to be blamed for the empty classrooms at the beginning of the school term tomorrow. The problem is the structure of the system in which they operate and our support of that system through ignorance or silence. Part of the solution is to ensure that teaching is a well-paid position and that our educators benefit from the best opportunities for professional development.

I do not take it lightly when political leaders attempt to use a moral position to shame teachers out of a strike. Shame is not a solution. We must learn to manage our differences in productive ways. Productivity should be highest when conflict is at its peak. We must learn to manage and resolve our differences in ways which increase our productivity as a people. This is an opportunity for our leaders to demonstrate that they understand this and to show us how it’s done.

Guyana cannot continue to squabble in its own house while the rest of the world is watching. If we are a house divided against itself, the world will make easy work of eating us alive. Oil has put us on the map again and promises a second chance at becoming a leader in the region and an example to the rest of the world in much bigger ways. If we are to secure our place in the world and the future of generations to come, we must all commit to a clear vision for Guyana that is supported by everyone regardless of skin colour, religious preference, class, political loyalty or anything else which separates us.

There was a strike during my third year of high school in 2003. The teachers at St Stanislaus College who stood their ground during that year taught me how to stand up for my rights. A few years later I graduated in the top ten of my Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) class and after that I was among the ten best performing Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examination (CAPE) students in the country. The same teachers who went on strike spent many extra hours working with me, caring for me. I am because they are, because we are.

Taking Guyana into the future requires serious investment in building the capacity of our people to meet our arising needs and addressing the high migration rates, particularly of University of Guyana graduates. We cannot do this without investing heavily in teachers who are the heart and soul of the education system.

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Featured Image: I was unable to identify the source. Help me identify if you can.

Disclaimer:

This article is not meant to advance any position on behalf of any political party or any other entity or group. It is part of a collection of commentary and analysis – expressed in simple language by a young Guyanese – made available for anyone interested in learning and thinking more deeply about the types of solutions needed to address the issues arising from Guyana’s current political state.

A note from the Author:

Given the custom by party loyalists to misrepresent and misuse any type of political commentary to support their own positions, I feel that it is necessary to borrow the following from Thomas Paine (an English-born American political activist, philosopher, political theorist, and revolutionary) with whose work I became acquainted as a student of History at the University of Guyana:

Who the Author of this Production is, is wholly unnecessary to the Public, as the Object for Attention is the Doctrine itself, not the Woman. Yet it may not be unnecessary to say, That she is unconnected with any Party, and under no sort of Influence public or private, but the influence of reason and principle.

Craig Village, East Bank Demerara, September 02, 2018

 

Have a question or require further information? You can email me at sarabharrat@gmail.com

A question every successful leader should be able to answer: “Who is replacing you?”

This is the third article in a five (5) part series – Parliament: It’s not about Politics, it’s about People. The series was inspired by a string of occurrences during the 74th to 82nd sittings of the Eleventh Parliament of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana. It offers brief commentary and analysis in simple language to anyone interested in learning, and thinking more deeply about the types of solutions needed to address the issues arising from Guyana’s current state.

The last time I saw him, his eyes were a bit tired but the rest of him was so alive. He hugged me like he was truly happy to see me and I hugged him with all the hope I still have for Guyana. I didn’t know how to tell him that our hope was attached to him and the other men and women like him. Before I left him that day, I looked him in the eyes so I could feel him, measure him, before I finally said: “Mentoring is the most important thing you can do for us now”.

Not so long after, I saw another man like him from the other end of the loyalist’s spectrum. He told me that leaders were ordained by the good Lord or chosen by the People. I looked him steadily in the eyes and I did not miss his meaning. He was really telling me that I should not think of myself as a leader because I was neither ordained nor chosen. I looked at him closely that day, I could see that his body was failing, that his spirit, though strong, was no longer full of light.

These men are more alike than either of them would ever admit. They are so wrapped up in their respective loyalist priorities and in their struggle against each other that they have either:

  1. failed to recognize that a good leader can always identify who will replace them and is always teaching and guiding the development of future leaders;
  2. recognized the importance of mentoring but believe they have all the time in the world to do it;
  3. become so self-interested that they no longer truly care about securing Guyana’s future;
  4. chosen to believe that they will never die.

More than 65% of our population is currently under the age of 35 (my stats may be a bit outdated). With the rest of the world fast learning that Guyana is not Ghana and biting into our story hard, we need to ensure we are building the capacity of our young people to lead Guyana into the future. Our contemporary leaders may not be able to claim success unless they can answer a very simple question: who is replacing you?

I have had the good fortune of sharing words with and looking in the eyes of some of our national leaders. Some of them are working hard. Others treat supermarket parking lots as their stage for demonstrating that the bad-man-run-things attitude of power drunk politicians is very much alive. Both kinds sit on either side of the National Assembly and, together, they share responsibility for ensuring Guyana has strong leaders to take her into the future.

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Featured Image: Copyright Keno George (Parliamentary Stories)

 Other articles in this Series:

  1. Parliament: It’s not about Politics, it’s about People
  2. The most important question Guyanese will ever ask themselves

Disclaimer:

This article, like all others in the series Parliament: It’s not about Politics, it’s about People, is not meant to advance any position on behalf of any political party or any other entity or group. It is part of a collection of political commentary and analysis – expressed in simple language by a young Guyanese – made available for anyone interested in learning and thinking more deeply about the types of solutions needed to address the issues arising from Guyana’s current political state.

A note from the Author:

Given the custom by party loyalists to misrepresent and misuse any type of political commentary to support their own positions, I feel that it is necessary to borrow the following from Thomas Paine (an English-born American political activist, philosopher, political theorist, and revolutionary) with whose work I became acquainted as a student of History at the University of Guyana:

Who the Author of this Production is, is wholly unnecessary to the Public, as the Object for Attention is the Doctrine itself, not the Woman. Yet it may not be unnecessary to say, That she is unconnected with any Party, and under no sort of Influence public or private, but the influence of reason and principle.

Craig Village, East Bank Demerara, August 22, 2018

Have a question or require further information? You can email me at sarabharrat@gmail.com

The most important question Guyanese will ever ask themselves

This is the second article in a five (5) part series – Parliament: It’s not about Politics, it’s about People. The series was inspired by a string of occurrences during the 74th to 82nd sittings of the Eleventh Parliament of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana. It offers brief commentary and analysis in simple language to anyone interested in learning, and thinking more deeply about the types of solutions needed to address the issues arising from Guyana’s current state.

The National Assembly is a mirror. Anything we see when we look inside it reflects who we’ve allowed ourselves to become as a nation. It is nothing less than madness to expect our Parliamentarians to operate by a set of principles and values which we do not hold them to and which many of us do not live by.

This is the hardest lesson I’ve learnt these past weeks. I do not say it to cast blame, cause shame or heighten anyone’s suffering. I say it because it is important to acknowledge that the fault lies not only in our political leaders but in ourselves (the people who have chosen them) as well. Parliament is about people and it is also about their choices. During the 74th to 82nd sittings of the Eleventh Parliament, we witnessed the consequences of our choices, our actions and lack of action.

Speaking of government is not equal to speaking of a single political party. Government is made up of three branches: the Legislature (National Assembly), the Executive (the President, Cabinet and Government Departments) and the Judiciary (Courts). All our major political parties have a voice in Parliament: A Partnership for National Unity (APNU), Alliance for Change (AFC) and the People’s Progressive Party (PPP). Together, they represent most of our people.

In many ways, the unsettling events we’ve witnessed in the National Assembly recently are products of a type of political loyalty that is built on and strengthened by distrust. We do not trust each other nor do we feel entirely safe among each other. Our distrustful nature is in turn a product of both periods before and after Independence.

Loyalty is the currency we have used to pay for protection and a feeling of security. And what threat is it that terrifies us so much? Each other. Beneath our distrust is a deep-rooted fear of each other which feeds frustration, anger, resentment and hate.

Our loyalty to the group we believe keeps us safe, blinds us. In such a situation, loyalty is no longer a virtue but has become a vice. It is perhaps the root of all the vices preventing us from operating by a set of principles and values necessary for moving Guyana forward and from demanding better from our leaders.

As Guyanese and at this point in our history, I believe the most important question we will ever ask ourselves is: have I placed my loyalty where it will benefit my country and all our people or have I used it to buy protection from an imagined threat which feeds a political culture that continues to destroy us?

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PS – A very merry Christmas to you and your loved ones. While this is the sort of thing we’d rather not think about during the holidays, such thinking – once it leads us closer to a solution for Guyana – is the greatest gift we can give to the people we love.

 

Featured Image: Forbes Burnham and Cheddi Jagan boarding British Guiana Airways Ltd (The Road to Independence, Stabroeknews.com)

 

Other articles in this Series:

  1. Parliament: It’s not about Politics, it’s about People

 

Disclaimer:

This article, like all others in the series Parliament: It’s not about Politics, it’s about People, is not meant to advance any position on behalf of any political party or any other entity or group. It is part of a collection of political commentary and analysis – expressed in simple language by a young Guyanese – made available for anyone interested in learning and thinking more deeply about the types of solutions needed to address the issues arising from Guyana’s current political state.

 

 A note from the Author:

Given the custom by party loyalists to misrepresent and misuse any type of political commentary to support their own positions, I feel that it is necessary to borrow the following from Thomas Paine (an English-born American political activist, philosopher, political theorist, and revolutionary) with whose work I became acquainted as a student of History at the University of Guyana:

Who the Author of this Production is, is wholly unnecessary to the Public, as the Object for Attention is the Doctrine itself, not the Woman. Yet it may not be unnecessary to say, That she is unconnected with any Party, and under no sort of Influence public or private, but the influence of reason and principle.

Craig Village, East Bank Demerara, December 16, 2017

 

Have a question or require further information? You can email me at sarabharrat@gmail.com

Parliament: It’s not about Politics, it’s about People

This is the first article in a five (5) part series – Parliament: It’s not about Politics, it’s about People. The series was inspired by a string of occurrences during the 74th to 82nd sittings of the Eleventh Parliament of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana. It offers brief commentary and analysis in simple language to anyone interested in learning, and thinking more deeply about the types of solutions needed to address the issues arising from Guyana’s current state.

For as long as I live, I will never forget the spirit in which the 74th to 82nd sittings of our Eleventh Parliament were conducted. I am deeply disappointed in both sides of the House and severely wounded by what appeared to be a complete disregard for the sacred calling they each chose to answer, for the trust our people have placed in them, for the sacrifices our ancestors made to ensure that we could enjoy the right to govern ourselves, and for their own dignity.

The men and women who sit in Parliament are no fools or dunces. They are among the best and brightest minds this country has produced in their generations. They are also some of the most courageous among us because they chose to stay and give their life in service to this country. Why then have they so easily reduced the highest form of our national conversation (our Parliamentary Discourse) to nothing more than a common cuss-out?

Perhaps our Parliamentarians and many of us have forgotten that our National Assembly – one of the symbols of our right to call ourselves a free people – is something that we paid for in sweat and blood. To disrespect the sanctity of Parliament is to spit on our past, present and future.

The birth of our society was like any other birth. It was full of pain. Some of our people came here out of necessity or in search of fabled riches. Many more of our people were forced into this land either through enslavement or a false promise of prosperity. Our birth was also full of life and need, if not love. We came together and stayed together for survival.

Before 1966, our struggle for freedom from our colonial masters united us. Our fight was against a common enemy and we burned with desire for the right to be our own people. I don’t think we fully understood what that meant. With our vision turned outward on that long ago enemy, we perhaps failed to fully think through what would be required of us to build a nation.

Just over five decades since that first historic win (Independence), the common enemy and the immediate needs which bound us together have faded. Our sense of duty to each other has weakened and we are now each other’s enemy. These past weeks Parliament has, now more than ever before, been a house turned against itself.

I have heard many people describe the recent events in Parliament as “just politics”. Is it really? Parliament isn’t about politics, it’s about people and their lives. Every Member of the National Assembly is responsible for representing the interests of our people. They have been chosen to lead the advancement of this nation in a manner that is in keeping with the best interests of Guyanese. Now take a moment to think about the last two weeks without trying to decide which side of the House is to be blamed for what and ask yourself: have they been able to do this?

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Featured Image: Copyright Keno George (Parliamentary Stories)

Disclaimer:

This article, like all others in the series Parliament: It’s not about Politics, it’s about People, is not meant to advance any position on behalf of any political party or any other entity or group. It is part of a collection of political commentary and analysis – expressed in simple language by a young Guyanese – made available for anyone interested in learning and thinking more deeply about the types of solutions needed to address the issues arising from Guyana’s current political state.

 

A note from the Author:

Given the custom by party loyalists to misrepresent and misuse any type of political commentary to support their own positions, I feel that it is necessary to borrow the following from Thomas Paine (an English-born American political activist, philosopher, political theorist, and revolutionary) with whose work I became acquainted as a student of History at the University of Guyana:

Who the Author of this Production is, is wholly unnecessary to the Public, as the Object for Attention is the Doctrine itself, not the Woman. Yet it may not be unnecessary to say, That she is unconnected with any Party, and under no sort of Influence public or private, but the influence of reason and principle.

Craig Village, East Bank Demerara, December 16, 2017

 

Have a question or require further information? You can email me at sarabharrat@gmail.com

Politics Will Not Decide Who I am

When I was 7 or 8, I lived along Craig Sideline Dam at my grandparents’ farm house. I farmed my own little plot of cash crops to help buy my school books and I spent hours stooping in slushy mud, between pakchoy and lettuce banks, picking snails and weeds from among the healthy, thriving plants. This is something I haven’t very often shared about myself.

I have milked cows, sold fruits and vegetables on the road side and cleaned out chicken pens. During my teenage years, I stood behind the counter of my uncle’s shop in Craig Old Road selling into the night. I fetched cases of rum, bags of sugar and rice and occasionally bunches of plantains from the boat by the Craig trench landing to our house.

Most of my immediate family are traditional PPP supporters. My maternal grandfather was a cane cutter and farmer. His wife, was a seamstress and market vendor. On my father’s side, they were rice farmers from Essequibo and later moved to the East Coast of Demerara. These are things about myself I used to be afraid to share because I was afraid that I would be shamed.

I became politically aware during my early 20s. I realized then that everyone stereotyped me. Because I looked Indian, because I was of Indian ancestry, it was automatically assumed that I was PPP. And guess how we stereotype PPP supporters? PPP supporters are painted as backward cane cutters, as lacking intellectual capacity, as being dishonest, as being evil, as being the people responsible for the state of Guyana.

So when some people look at my face or any face like mine, this is what they think of us. This is the product of identity politics in Guyana. It has robbed us of the right to be and to be proud of who we are and where we came from. It has robbed us of the opportunity to really see our parents and grandparents, to truly value what they have brought to this nation. My grandfather died without me ever recognizing what an extraordinary man he was and how hard he worked for his country. I never got a chance to look him in the eyes and tell him how much he meant to me. You see, before he died I didn’t realize that he was a victim of a system that he couldn’t control.

I do not for a second believe that my experience is unique to me or to young people of Indian ancestry. I believe this is something that is experienced by all of us, no matter what we look like or where we come from. Our political culture has blinded us. We don’t see each other. We see the political stereotypes that have been painted of us for decades.

For a while, I hated looking in the mirror. I hated seeing my own face and what I believed it represented. Since then, I’ve realized that my ancestral history is so much more than the politics that has hijacked it.

And the worst part by far is that I cannot even speak up for my identity without having my voice politicised. If I speak for the Indian identity, for my right to this part of my culture and heritage, then I will be labelled as a pro-PPP racist. Most people don’t care for my independence, they only see what I look like and the stereotype that is attached to my features.

Yes, I am Guyanese and part of what makes any of us Guyanese is our unique sub-cultures and heritage. These differences give the Guyanese identity value. To attempt to take away any one facet of any of our identity, is to rob our country of part of its history and part of what makes it what it is.

We cannot have a Guyana without any of its people. We cannot have a Guyana without PPP supporters and they will never join us unless we stop demonizing them, stop crucifying them for their political beliefs, stop making them afraid to be among us. These people are our mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, our friends.

The PPP alone is not responsible for the crisis of identity politics in Guyana. The PNC, now under the unity umbrella of the APNU-AFC Coalition, is equally responsible. I say this not to cast blame on either party, but to acknowledge that identity politics has been a weapon of both our major political factions. And until Guyanese begin to see what identity politics has taken from them, we will always be shamed for being who we are.

Is a 50% ministerial pay increase really the best way to address corruption?

I originally wrote this article as a sample to be submitted to an editor. I decided to publish it today because there are some questions which must not be allowed to sleep for too long. If you would like a copy of the original article complete with references feel free to reach out to me either by commenting here, email or Facebook.

“I believe it is justifiable. You cannot have a situation like in the PPP where they were prepared to accept low salaries because they were thiefing money all over the place. We are not going to do that…and so we have to pay people well if you want them to perform.” Joseph Harmon, Minister of State, Stabroek News, October 7, 2015.

 

When Minister of State Joseph Harmon announced the 50% salary increase for Government ministers last year, many Guyanese expressed outrage for two reasons. They were angry because the move was perceived as a violation of the principles on which the APNU+AFC Coalition campaigned earlier that year and they believed that it expressed gross insensitivity to public servants at the lower end of the hierarchy.

On the day Harmon made the announcement, he was reported by Stabroek News and other major media outlets as saying that he believed the pay increase was justifiable because “You cannot have a situation like in the PPP where they were prepared to accept low salaries because they were thiefing money all over the place”.

Harmon’s statement alludes to the existence of a link between low pay of senior government officials and corruption. The World Bank has (since 1997) defined corruption as the abuse of public office for private gain. By “thiefing money”, as the Minister of State so eloquently alleged, the former PPP government officials were using their office or position of power for personal gain; they were engaging in corruption.

This corruption, as Harmon’s statement suggests, was due – not primarily to the lack in morality of his predecessors – but to the fact that they were willing to accept low pay. Within this context, the exorbitant salary increase appears to be a method for addressing corruption by way of prevention and for ensuring that senior government officials perform.

The most distressing thing about this statement is that it stands in stark contrast to the stance the APNU+AFC Coalition took while in opposition and on the campaign trail in 2015. These same PPP salaries, which Harmon now describes as “low” enough to be a cause for corruption were once represented in his and his peers’ rhetoric as being exceedingly high and for the “fat cats”.

In the interest of diplomacy, we can say that Harmon and the Coalition’s position on the matter has changed. However, since diplomacy has never been the best language for truth, the only thing left to say is that the campaigners of change have lied to the people.

But even in light of this most distasteful fact, Harmon is correct in presuming that an increase in pay for senior government officials is one way to tackle the corruption problem. Whether this is the best move that Guyana can make currently is another issue. Would it have made more sense to offer public servants lower down the hierarchy a salary increase in order to curb corruption?

In the absence of scientific data, some amount of introspection is necessary to support the statement which immediately follows. Petty corruption – as it exists at the lower level of the public service ladder – is now cultural. When a police man pulls over a driver, the former will most likely ask for money, the latter will willingly pass “a lil raise” and perhaps neither will fully grasp that they are engaging in an act of corruption.

Similarly, the practice by citizens who go to any government office is to hand over a “lunch money” in order to get efficient service. The rampant practice of corruption by lower to mid-level public servants has been linked by studies to wages that are too low.

Employees, Augusto Lopez-Claros writes in “Six Strategies to Fight Corruption”, may find themselves under pressure to supplement their incomes in “unofficial” ways. Lopez-Claros further refers to the popular study by Van Rijckeghem and Weder which shows there is an inverse relationship between the level of public sector wages and the incidence of corruption.

Increasing the pay of public servants across the board has been part of a national strategy that Singapore has successfully used for years. Singapore is one of the least corrupt countries in the world. One of the reasons Singapore has been so successful in fighting corruption is because it keeps the salaries of its politicians and civil servants high in order to prevent brain drain and to stamp out the economic incentive for engaging in corrupt activity.

The important point to note here is that Singapore did not just give hefty salaries to its politicians and top government officials but to public servants throughout the hierarchy. Hong Kong has since followed this example.

Will the Government of Guyana be doing the same? And if we assume that the ministerial pay increase is just the beginning, why did they decide to begin the increase at the top, was it really the best decision and when can public servants expect their salary increases?

Statements made by Minister of Finance Winston Jordan in “Don’t expect an elaborate increase” – an article published in the March 17, 2016 edition of the Kaieteur News – provides some of the answers. According to the article, Jordan warned that “the expectations for handsome increases need to be tempered” and public servants can expect only a “top-up” to their salaries.

The finance minister justified this “top-up” approach to the salary increase of low and mid-level public servants by agreeing with a recently released report by the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The IMF mission, which was recently in Guyana, suggested “moderating the growth of wages, as well as reforming public enterprises with a view to reduce their reliance on government support.” Jordan agrees.

It is clear that public servants lower down the hierarchy will not be receiving the same treatment as the Coalition ministers.

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New home, same life

Window View Diamond
View from my front window at sunrise.

 

My family and I finally moved into our house in the Diamond New Housing Scheme. I can’t say that I like it nor can I say I hate it. The traveling is hard and the morning traffic is harder but the place has a certain quietness to it that I like.

It’s been a long time since my mother, younger brother and I have shared a home together. At my age, I think I’ve spent too much time chasing life and chasing causes and not enough time seeing the people I love. A big part of loving people is witnessing their lives and caring about what you witness. I’ve been working on it.

And of course, I’ve got some interesting neighbours and naturally I’ve got that one neighbour that’s the epitome of jackassifiyishness. Almost every weekend they vibrate my windows with their huge music box while their battalion of children back-ball and juk the floor, the wall and each other. Sigh. I’m trying hard to mind my own business.

Just before the rain started this morning, I helped my mom wash. We used blue-soap, hard-brush and scrubbing-board. These days I look forward to washing with mom. I’ve seen her age these last few years and it forced me to accept that my time with her is not endless. Time is not endless for us.

I wait up for my brother at nights now and we do dumb things or watch pointless TV. I’m watching him become a man and I know that I won’t always be around to witness his life first hand. There’s no telling where life will take us. My mother’s eldest sister has lived in another country for most of their lives and they haven’t seen each other in years. One day, distance may stretch between my brother and I and we’ll fill that space with memories and Skype and annual visits.

This is also the first time in more than 15 years that I haven’t lived with Nani. She is there in her house and I am here in mine. Sometimes, it feels as if our worlds are not the same and never were and never could be but every now and then we meet and we laugh. Laughing makes everything better.

Life will never be perfect and happiness is not constant. But who wants that? Seriously, perfect and constant are predictable and boring.

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