Frankly Speaking… By A.A.Fenty

-Reminiscences and Repasts
I’m still in places where it’s cold. And I mean very, very, very cold! Yet it is stimulating to savour the intricacies and nuances of American politics- including the political behaviour of the country’s top politicians, under the brand new Administration of President Barack Obama.

Sometimes I dare  to attempt comparisons with our own goings-on along the corridors of power sited in a once picturesque, pristine capital city, Georgetown. Oh, but I suppose the now decrepit, collapsing state of Georgetown mirrors the very relationships between our major decision-makers. In Georgetown, the feeling is vivid and unmistakable: there is daily consistent acrimony and cheap one-upsmanship amongst our leaders on vital issues; issues man-made and natural which beset our beleaguered land.

On Monday, Americans of all political parties, or with no allegiance at all, saw and heard that seventy-one thousand (71,000) jobs would be lost to workers in a matter of days!! Think about lost incomes, benefits and families’ ability to survive. Talk about a crisis in the world’s “richest” democracy!? Obviously a sensible, effective, acceptable economic stimulus progamme is urgently needed. So on Tuesday, next day, President Obama, left his Oval Office and, in almost unprecedented manner, visited with the Republican Congress and Senate – his “Opposition”- to invite their bi-partisan support for his Stimulus Package.

He has a most comfortable majority of votes; doesn’t need Republican votes, but still chose to go to them. Now imagine President Jagdeo visiting Congress Place, Sophia!! Further comments necessary?
Freedom of (what) information?
But two developments- in Washington DC and Georgetown- “stimulated” me to offer brief comments on the most significant issue of Freedom of Information.  In democracies (of varying levels) that right or freedom is often guaranteed in National Constitutions of (Intent).  In well-written, legally crafted rhetoric. But not too many governments enact actual laws to enforce the right to certain information to be easily accessible by citizens.

I recall the mild furore generated when the Com-monwealth Parliamentary Association conducted its Media/Parliamentarians Workshop in Georgetown mid-2008 and the whole question of a Freedom of Information Act took centre stage. Whilst Trinidad educated us on how to enact legislation and operationalise it with respect to citizens accessing information fit for and relevant to the interested public, our own government spokespersons, led by the voice of the President’s Office assumed an attack mode, even disparaging the fact that “foreigners” were introducing the issue.

Dr Luncheon sought to explain all the modalities that must be in place to make FOI legislation practicable. Granted there has, indeed, to be several facilities, archives, legal permits, verifiable record retrieval systems in place to make such laws useful and meaningful, MP Trotman – and the whole Opposition-know that government will look at drainage, the Berbice River and the search for oil, long before attending to any FOI law. Do you suspect why?

These thoughts surfaced when, at his first meeting with his own new White House staff on his first working day,  Barack Obama declared that there was “too much secrecy in this town (Washington, DC)” and pledged to really stand by the intent of the US Freedom of Information Act-as never before. He was emphasising one campaign promise to be activated- transparency and accountability in government.

Almost simultaneously in Georgetown, I gather, President Jagdeo was confronting the nation’s lawmakers to declare their assets to the National Integrity Commission. Under a Freedom of information (FOI) Act all Guyanese citizens should be able to access our Parliamentarian’s worth. (They are all “honourable members” right? But, in true Guyanese style, the Opposition has its concerns about the requirements. I tire. Could Guyana’s electors expect real openness? From either side?

Mind you, any good, responsible Freedom of Information Act will respect officials’ personal privacy and the nation’s security, even the right and sense to withhold sensitive information from uninformed curious citizens. By its nature FOI legislation is complex, demanding the highest standards of professional technical competence, to advise lawmakers in any Parliament.

You are dealing with the Constitutional right to know of your citizens. But certain government records, agreements, investments, Development Plans etc can be compromised by outsiders and even greedy corporate entities- Thus, some FOI laws really dictate that: “At this time you are entitled to know this, but not that!” The more developed and matured a society the more can be let known to its citizens.

FOI laws must also, accommodate a nation’s Secrecy Acts, Defence Acts, Privacy laws and an individual person’s rights. I’ll let MP Trotman take this up but consider the following: Should you know how much Minister Kellawan Lall made legitimately last year? Can’t you know the strength of the GDF today? Does PNC Leader Corbin get travel and security allowances from your taxes? Could you access all of the geo-physical maps of Guyana from Lands and Mines? Could you access the President’s e-mail? Why should you know how much that police operation cost? Where in Guyana is there the best chance of finding Uranium? How much should we Guyanese know- under our own Freedom of Information Act? Don’t outsiders- with their intelligence and super satellites already know? It’s an intriguing subject! Floods or no flood?
Remembering, then the repast
My space is limited so I have to summarise. I did attend the Farewell Service for Yoruba Singers original, William “Syrup” Bascom in Brooklyn, New York, last Saturday.

The Hawthorne Street Church built up by Guyanese Reverend William Lloyd Andries was treated to fond remembrances of a musician and Africanist with navel-string buried in Guyana.

Once again as I listened to and saw dozens of Guyanese living outside of our country’s borders, my heart lamented but my soul understood.  I saw their love for the distressed homeland, but appreciated why they chose to leave.

The repast in the Church’s Basement afterwards was a true celebration of a life well lived. Eze Rockliffe  flew in to pay tribute and lead many original Yoruba Singers men in song and music. Guyana folk and queh-queh fuh so! “Syrup” surely appreciated (I thank Syrup for the food!)
As Mash 2009 “warms up” this week end, even though I’m not there, pay attention also to the intellectual elements- the debates, the spelling bees, the essays , the quizzes – “From 1763 revolution to Republicanism”.

The resuscitated Guyana Annual in 1998 carried Ayube’s pilgrimage to India. Vic and I then conspired to misplace the man’s precious photographs- for months. Until we recovered them. RIP Ayube- a true icon.

“The Minister or P.S. must see this, before we release it!”
I can appreciate how welcome the Bharrat-Varshnie marital `story’ serves to distract you all from rain, flood, high prices and the four daily miseries: cocaine trafficking, murder, traffic accidents and fires.

Coming Next Week: “Why Barack- and Alicia, Halle, Mariah et al – are black”!
Personal milestones! Today I complete (16) years , non-stop, of this column! Tomorrow I complete another year on this planet! Earth-shattering aren’t they?
‘Til next week!

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