Almost a year ago I wrote a letter to the press entitled ‘Opportunity knocks for Guyana.’ A year later Guyanese can say that the present administration and the opposition in Parliament have reached a stalemate in so many endeavours. While the government continues to function, while the national budget was presented in Parliament and was subject to cuts by the opposition (and quite legitimately so), while the Gold Board boasts of surpassing 400,000 ounces of gold declared, while questionable projects are implemented, the quality of life for John Public has not improved. We are not engaged in nation-building, and we are now closer to 50 years of independence. We need to change course now.
Corruption is rife in the society. Let us not pretend. John Public knows it, sees it, feels it. The situation will get worse before it gets better, and that is if we ever start to arrest the situation. It stands to reason, because the situation is worse now than five or ten years ago. After a year in office, the PPP/C does not admit to John Public that it did not win the November 2011 General Elections. It won the presidency according to the constitution, but it failed to gain a majority in Parliament. The PPP/C does not admit that the level of corruption is pervasive, and is unacceptable. While civil society provides direct and circumstantial evidence, the government is in denial.
The man-in-the-street knows the truth. He will know how to vote at the next general elections, if he has not yet voted with his feet. Today almost every Guyanese (at least on the coastland) has a car, or has a close relative or friend with a car. He can speak volumes about experiences with traffic policemen. The often touted story of ‘lef or write’ is not an example of an isolated case. John Public knows of the devious ways to obtain graft, and now he aspires to be in a position to do the same. The evidence of corruption is all around us. How do you explain that vendors in and around Stabroek Market at the last Diwali were openly selling squibs wholesale and retail, while the market constables and the policemen allowed it? How do you explain that contractors and ‘businessmen contractors,’ big and small, do substandard work, collect hundreds of millions of dollars, and are still allowed to secure further contracts? The Auditor-General’s reports are informative. John Public is watching.
But there is another disturbing feature in society. It is practised in the field of education, and it also has far reaching consequences. The majority of Guyanese in the 20-40 year age-group have been in the CXC syndrome. If they have written CXC examinations, they must have attended ‘extra’ lessons for at least one subject, especially if they attended secondary schools in George-town. Since the 1980s ‘extra’ lessons have become a feature of the high school experience, even from as early as the lower forms. This feature was the outcome of a shortage of qualified teachers and a shortage of textbooks. However, what is disturbing is that some ‘extra’ lessons are conducted by the regular teacher, who hustles to get home to the ‘lessons place’ to teach some of his/her regular students topics deliberately omitted in the regular class. This is a clear case of wilful neglect of duty. The underpaid teacher can explain the reason for such practices, and the poor or not so poor parents are ever ready and willing to pay for the additional help. However, the young students are unwittingly inculcating a different sense of value, which remains with them for life. After thirty years, it is not easy to reverse this situation. It will take mountains of goodwill and co-operation. And so, nation-building is in jeopardy. The qualified and ambitious young people have a different agenda from us the older Guyanese, who are still awaiting true national development.
Therefore, the politicians must act now and become statesmen. It is apposite to point out the difference between the two characters. The politician looks to the next election, while the statesman looks to the next generation. There is no sign that the present trends of minority government versus majority opposition will change.
We need to make a bold decision in the interest of the future of Guyana: Share out the cabinet posts between the PPP/C and the APNU, and make the AFC the opposition, with the presidency for one party and the prime ministership for the other. One party must not have both the finance ministry and the home affairs ministry. If education goes to one party, health goes to the other. Agriculture for me, and works for you. We must show the world that we have competent persons with integrity in our society to work out a satisfactory solution between the two major parties.
We must note that time is not on our side. The cancer of corruption is eating away at the very fabric of our society. Traffic rules are being flouted openly with disastrous consequences. Foul language and uncouth behaviour are prevalent everywhere. The improper or wrong is defended by spurious arguments. We have a nation to build for generations yet unborn. We need to start now.
All is not lost!
Walter B Alexander