Folks who come back to Guyana, even for a visit, are hardly off the plane before they suddenly become experts on what’s wrong with the country. They’ve been away for 15 years, they’re only here for 10 days, and 6 of that they’re gone in the interior, but they can tell you how to solve all Guyana’s problems. Everybody living here has encountered that scenario. Well I’ve been back now about four years, I’m a careful observer, and I think I have gained some credentials, so let me give you my ideas of fixing some problems in GT.
Going in, some things are hard to fix. If for example you have the condition Guyanese call “bow foot” (it’s actually “bow-legged”; nothing is wrong with the foot), I have no idea how to fix that. Or if you have no ear sound and can’t carry a tune, I won’t be of any help. Believe me, I’ve tried with the no-ear-sound folks; it’s hopeless. Also, I can’t help you stop smoking. I used to smoke but giving it up is very difficult; as the saying goes, “Giving up smoking is easy; I’ve done it many times.” However, I have had a good look at some of Guyana’s problems, and I have some fixes in mind.
Let’s tackle the easy ones first. You know how Guyanese hate to get in line for everything and just rush to get in front? In foreign, the white folks line up like soldiers; no pushing, no shoving; they will line up in sub-zero weather for a movie – I mean, 10 below. It’s so cold, the theatre people are on the sidewalk handing out cups of hot chocolate and coffee…folks are shivering, but they’re in a nice neat line. I drive up; I know the temperature; I see the line; I drive off. Guyanese don’t like to line up; our approach is to rush the gate. You know how it is; one mass of people pushing, shoving, holding up their tickets to get in; all the folks with bad body odour gone to the front; no line; one big clump. Well we can fix that in five minutes.
You remember years ago in the cinemas they would have a guy controlling pit, making everybody behave? Astor had a guy with a whip – I mean an actual whip. Remember that? Okay, every place where you have to line up you get one of those pit marshals with a whip, shouting “Form a single line.” When he cracks that whip, every man jack would jump. The line would be so straight you could paste wallpaper on it. You recruit six bannas with whips. You put one at the Motor Licence Office, one at the Passport Office, one at the Mon Repos market, and one at the GT&T phone giveaway. That is four whips; you have 2 left over for when Mavado comes to town.
Everybody in line; problem solved.
Then we have the speeding minibus problem: we can’t fix that by writing letters or staging protests; nobody listens; in fact, even the passengers on the buses seem to encourage it. Also, it’s a waste of time fining the driver (the bus owner will pay the fine), or taking away his licence (the bus owner will hire another driver), and it would be very controversial to fine the passengers – I doubt there is a politician alive who would endorse such a law. So when a minibus is caught speeding, you don’t waste your breath lecturing the driver, you immediately suspend the bus licence for a month; second offence three months’ suspension. Mr Bus Owner will be in shock at losing his cash cow; overnight, the speeding will stop. Minibus drivers will be doing 35mph and signalling you to go around them.
That’s the easy stuff, but then you have the big problems – corruption, smuggling, under the counter business – the real biggies.
Here’s what you do. You create a watchdog post in government called No Corruption Now (NCN). To fill the posts you bring in foreign priests, Jesuits, preferably; they’re hard to corrupt; you can’t bribe those guys and they have no cronies to give fat contracts to. Besides, they take a vow of poverty, so no big salary is involved. Offer them unlimited XM, and a charge account at New Thriving, and they’re happy. You give these watchdogs the power to fire people caught working deals, and you put one in every government ministry. Overnight, corruption will nosedive; nobody will be trying to smuggle in a Benz; and no dubious contractors will be getting big jobs building bridges that don’t hold up, or creating steel structures that break, or stellings that float away in the night. Problem solved.
Holes in the road. Most roads in Guyana have some level of holes forcing you to manoeuvre, but we have some cases where the hole takes over the whole road. There are some cavernous holes in roads in distant parts of the country – we’ve seen some of them reported in the press lately, but I don’t have to take you on any long trip to prove my point. Come where I’m living, in Oleander Gardens. In there, particularly when it rains, like now, top speed is 5mph – and that is if you’re walking. If you’re driving it’s less.
And then, 5 minutes from there, on the Railway Road going east past the UG intersection, on the next road on your right, the northern part of that road has holes in it that could swallow a Morris Minor; remember those little British cars? They would disappear in that road. People living in that area have to circumnavigate – drive back west to the UG road make a left, another left, and come up from the south. Going in from the north, forget it. Sophia back road, same story. I’m sure you have your own bad road examples. We can fix that. You know these cars carrying the PM and other politicians – you know, the ones with the sirens? Well you bribe the driver on one of those trips to take a short cut – “A short cut here, PM” – and he comes through that road in Industry. The PM’s car makes one trip through that crater; guaranteed, next day the boys with the crusher run are out there backing and filling.
It should be obvious by now that I’m being somewhat facetious here – humour is often mankind’s balm for problems he cannot contain – but there are actually some practical ideas in the list I’ve given you. The one about the whip for example; I concede the human rights people will complain, but you know the old truism – to make an omelet you have to break eggs. The fining of the minibus owners though; that one has definite possibilities. I mentioned it in a speech at Rotary recently, and applause broke out. Maybe some fledgling political party could take up that one; it would probably win them a few seats in the next election. They would definitely get my vote.