Textbooks and priorities
Without a doubt, the following rhetorical question by the Head of the Presidential Secretariat, Dr Luncheon at a press conference on September 12 will go down in the record of this government as the clearest self-admission of the criminalization of the state. It is as follows: “You could be a publisher with a copyright and you could offer to sell me the book for $1. My friend is a good photocopy artist and he could sell me the book for 10 cents. All of you are going to bid but who do you think is going to get it?”
The question and its clear meaning fall well within the parameters of the framework so magisterially enunciated by economist Dr Clive Thomas in his Sunday Stabroek series on the criminalization of the state in the hands of PPP/C governments. As stated in the Sunday Stabroek editorial of September 16 the core message of Dr Luncheon’s question was that expediency overrode the rule of law; this in an arena where impressionable children would draw the conclusion that it was alright to disregard the law in circumstances of impecuniosity.
One had hoped against hope that the statements of Dr Luncheon were another of the grotesque legacies of the Jagdeo government to be defenestrated. One had also hoped that Dr Luncheon’s question was just his usual bluster and grandstanding. His trademark is the incessant penchant to belittle the Guyanese people and make them believe that no matter the blatant misrule and corruption of the government, once he has spun his nonsensical explanations everything is fine. Admission of grave error is completely alien to Dr Luncheon and his government.
Unfortunately, it is clear that the sentiments of Dr Luncheon represented the views of this government as President Ramotar on Friday at his press conference made no attempt to separate his administration from this policy of piracy. All President Ramotar could say was “We are looking at that [the situation] right now. I am hoping to have an amicable solution to that matter, while at the same time we are trying to get value for money and ensure our kids have books and so forth.”
The only acceptable solution for the President to have adopted – forget amicability – was that the government had been engaging in piracy, would bring this to an end and would now energetically seek the lowest cost solution to providing the requisite textbooks to all students.
Obviously the best solution for Guyana would have been utilizing the abundant talent of Guyanese both here and abroad in developing texts. Ironically, the few heroic attempts at this have fallen victim to the cold shoulder and piracy here.
It is clear now that from the utterances of Dr Luncheon that the government had actively allowed piracy for a number of years for the purposes of supplying textbooks to public school students.
How the Minister of Education and the Attorney General, both officers of the court and the latter the leader of the Bar, can rationalize being party to this decision of Cabinet and a flagrant act of piracy is unimaginable. How the government could defend piracy and yet seek legal recourse to defend the Demerara sugar trademark in foreign courts is inconceivable. It, however, accords well with various stratagems of the government to have its way – in this case to pay next to nothing for textbooks – and in relation to public works ignoring the need for an engineer’s act and the Public Procurement Commission so that contracts could be channelled to many of its supporters who would not have been eligible. One urgent amendment to the procurement act that the government should make is to outlaw the use of any pirated material in public works contracts.
A major challenge of any government is to order priorities in such a way that absolute needs are taken care of in a lawful manner. That rider would have to be added to every government undertaking considering the government’s behaviour in this matter and its recalcitrance.
So does the government have its priorities right? Many would argue that it doesn’t. It is one of the reasons why the vulgar benefits that former President Jagdeo awarded himself and which have now been stoutly defended by President Ramotar have been severely criticized by a large sector of society. How can the government argue that Mr Jagdeo is entitled to millions of dollars a month in benefits while still of working age yet the government can argue that vital textbooks for children cannot be afforded?
There are very few markers remaining to denote this government as a working class one. It is light years removed from the PPP’s hype of being the poor person’s party.
Why couldn’t the lotto fund have been utilized all these years for part financing textbook costs? The answer is that it was used mostly and recklessly by Mr Jagdeo for his pet projects such as the wasteful Presi-dent’s Youth Choice Initiative and for electioneering handouts. President Ramotar should immediately propose to the commission overseeing these funds that an allocation be made for funding of textbooks via the Consolidated Fund. This will undoubtedly have the unanimous support of Parliament when it reconvenes.
Considering the budgetary constraints facing the country, President Ramotar should consider two other options: approaching Norway for emergency consideration of a portion of the forest funds accrued for the purchase of textbooks and setting aside a fraction of the growing take from the booming mining sector for textbooks.
The responsibility is now President Ramotar’s. It is not the inanities of Dr Luncheon, the legacy of Mr Jagdeo or what former Education Minister, Mr Shaik Baksh might have done or not done that matter. It is what the President will do. This issue is now not just about textbooks. It is about law and order, property rights across the board, international agreements and Guyana’s obligations within a community of nations.