We must empower ourselves to arrest the slide

Dear Editor,

I wish to thank those media houses which saw the merit of publishing my letter of Saturday, February 1, 2013 and also those readers whose e-mails and phone calls indicated that the contents had resonance with them.

My contribution today is more in response to a letter captioned ‘We need a structure and a few good men and women to build on what Mr Singh has proposed,’ published in the Stabroek News of Monday, February 4, in which Mr Emile Mervin stated that he anticipated hearing of “a Joe Singh Creative Partnership Initiative,” to tackle the dysfuntionalities referred to in my letter).

I wish to point out that finding the solutions to the issues is not the preserve of one man and I did emphasise the role of the citizenry within our country and specifically in our communities, in accepting a collective responsibility to make a positive impact on the deteriorating standards, by ensuring a collective response. If indeed it is true that within our communities we manifest some or all of the negative trends which I catalogued in my letter, the solutions lie to a great extent within each community. As an example, after the 2005 Great Flood, the lower East Coast Demerara villages grouped themselves, elected a steering committee comprising community and religious leaders, and commenced an environmental clean-up campaign to remove debris deposited by the flood. This community effort was so successful that post flood clean-up, it was sustained with outreach programmes in the schools and a start was made in addressing other issues of concern to the residents. The success achieved by this community-based and community-led initiative was so encouraging that other distant communities were invited to share in the experiences of the lower East Coast Demerara community. In other words, a model was identified whereby the lessons learnt could be shared with other communities that wished to adopt or adapt the model and tailor same to the particular community’s circumstances, since no two communities are exactly alike. The point here also, is that communities were empowering themselves to deal with issues that affected their well-being and by so doing it engendered a spirit of oneness, which went beyond mere cleaning up of garbage.

I am convinced that there are persons within every community who have the leadership skills, experience and presence to enjoy the confidence and trust of their fellow villagers. After all, this is the genesis of the functioning village councils of yesteryear, where persons were elected to the council based on their residency, their trustworthiness and their ability to set the example and to motivate others. This was the era of the village overseer, the community ranger and the sanitary inspector, who, along with the dispenser, agricultural officer, postmaster, headmaster and religious leaders, had a commitment to ensure the efficiency of services, the maintenance of infrastructure, the education of youth, the health and well-being of residents, the enforcement of anti-truancy measures and the promotion of sports and cultural activities. There was a level of accountability integral to their stewardship.

Times have changed. Institutions that were working at the time of Independence were retooled, politicised and centralised and we the people became alienated from these grass roots structures because most were unrepresentative of the communities. Citizens then spent more time looking after themselves and those with the  resources,  created their own safe havens, in splendid isolation from the realities of community life – the infiltration by the narco-traffickers, the rise of truancy among youth, the increasing incidence of absentee fathers, the dilemma of mothers who by default became the breadwinners of the family, the deteriorating infrastructure because of ‘fly by night’ contractors, and the rise of sub-cultures that attracted  the ‘youth men and women.’

Our institutional structures for local governance have been eroded or their significance diminished and there are strident calls for local government reform to allow for the restoration of we the peoples’ role in selecting our local government representatives from persons resident in our communities, who have the leadership skills and integrity to manage on behalf of the communities, matters relating to their welfare, well-being and their development. While advocacy increases for such reform to be incorporated in the new legislation, it is imperative that communities demonstrate that the reform will not merely be a paper exercise. We must accept our collective responsibility now and demonstrate that we have the capacity, commitment and desire to uplift this country that we call home. We must empower ourselves to arrest the slide and demand much of ourselves and of those in authority who are elected to serve us.

Yours faithfully,
Joseph G Singh
Major General (rtd)

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