Youths are concerned about the ethnic divide and “traditional racial voting” which they believe plagues General Elections in Guyana. Speak-ers at a Youth Open Night which the Alliance For Change (AFC) hosted on Friday called for an end to this practice.
Guyanese youths want better education, employment opportunities and a safe country to live in. However, above these wants is a need for ethnic unity and an end to the traditional division between the two major ethnic groups (Africans and Indians) in Guyana. Youths also express-ed curiosity about whether a coalition is the best move to end this longstanding problem.
During an open-floor discussion with AFC presidential candidate Khemraj Ramjattan, prime ministerial candidate Sheila Holder, executive member Cathy Hughes and members of the AFC youth arm, young people asked for solutions to these problems.
The first question was put to the politicians by a young woman who was curious about whether a coalition would be a better move. Responses to this were given by Holder and Hughes both of whom were firm that the AFC is against such a move. They also dealt with the ‘racial voting’ issue.
“In the three-horse race we believe that we are poised and ready to win,” Holder said. “I believe that we will erode the support of the PPP.”
Holder believes that the AFC has been successful in dealing with the “racial vote issue”. Guyanese, she said, have voted “traditionally”. The average citizen, Holder explained, has voted for the ruling PPP or the PNC simply because their parents do so.
The “if they look like us then we vote for them” pattern must not go on, Holder said and urged youths to think carefully, to ask themselves what they want for their nation and then select leadership that they believe is most likely to make whatever their vision may be a reality.
“Don’t get away with the idea that a coalition is the only way,” Hughes said. She informed the gathering that her ancestry is a mixture of several ethnicities and that she has always refused to be “put in a box.
“I resent that because I am black the society says I must vote for the PNC. This is not about winning an election. This is about changing our country once and for all,” Hughes said to thunderous applause.
The AFC, according to Hughes, will create a new political landscape in Guyana which is not governed by traditional racial voting.
“Do not think coalition. The easy way out is not always the best way. Let us believe. Let us fight,” AFC youth member Sean urged the gathering.
“The segregation still exists and personally I am tired of having my life affected by this them-and-us battle still going on,” attendee Lawrence Squires said.
Having lived all his 39 years in Guyana, Squires, a resident of Golden Grove, East Bank Demerara, believes it is time for a change.
It is time for the Ethnic Relations Commission (ERC) to take a more prominent role in society, Squires told Stabroek News. Young people, he said, need to acknowledge the value of the ERC and use it to encourage a higher degree of ethnic unity than is currently present in our nation.
“Yes, I do believe that the ethnic division is still a big problem for us. While the two major ethnic groups have shown that they want to work together there is still that segregation being caused by the older generations and their traditional voting,” Squires said adding, “the younger people are tired of this division. We want change and here we see more unity than we have seen in a while.”
Meanwhile, 20-year-old Rupert Ramsaywack said he learnt of the AFC Youth Night from a neighbour and decided to attend so he could hear what changes were proposed. Ramsaywack, a resident of Corentyne, Berbice, explain-ed that he is more interested in seeing what changes will be made in the education sector. Action, he stressed, must be taken to stop the brain drain which has seen Guyana losing many trained teachers.
“When you have all the trained teachers leaving in search of better working conditions and standard of living then you will find that you have untrained personnel in the school system educating our population,” Ramsay-wack said.
Both Squires and Ramsaywack admitted that they feel stifled by the current conditions of the society in which they live. Opportu-nities, they said, are hard to come by and many times youths are forced to migrate if they are serious about “being somebody”.
Ramjattan promised youths a better education system, better pay for teachers and a healthier economy to curb the continuous brain drain.
Where will the financial resources come from? Ramjattan explained that it has been found that over $30 billion per annum is disposed of in corruption. An administration which can curb corruption and save at least a percentage of this sum, he said, will have resources available to invest in nation building.
He said the package for former presidents, from which President Bharrat Jagdeo will be the first to benefit, makes about $3 million in cash and other allowances available to that individual every month for the rest of their lives. This was approved in parliament several months ago.
Ramjattan said he will stamp this new law out and use the $36 million or more to invest in areas where it counts.
When the late President Cheddi Jagan took office, he further explained, there were 13 ministries in government. Under the Jagdeo administration, Ramjattan pointed out, there are now twice as many ministers of government.
“We now have ministers and we have ministers within a ministry in addition to the subject minister…these are all things which cost taxpayers money because all of these ministers get perks,” he said. “All of these cost unnecessary money and the AFC will cut the fat of the government.”
Further, addressing concerns about criminal activities, the presidential candidate said these largely occur when an economy is doing badly. With government fat cut, he said, the AFC will focus on job creation by reducing taxation to make Guyana a more inviting investment venue for businessmen and women.
“We feel if you set the economy right we will be halfway to solving the crime problem,” Ramjattan said.
He also said that more resources will have to be invested in the Guyana Police Force, the prosecutorial system and the prison system.
Broke with hope
A man who suffers from a disability questioned the AFC about its plans for providing better education and integrating people like him into society.
“Persons with a disability do not want to receive only $5,500 a month. We want to contribute to society, to be a part of society,” the man said.
Holder explained that the AFC recognizes that the poor, homeless, elderly and people with disabilities need special attention. The AFC government she said would channel resources to this group by increasing social assistance and by creating special schools for people with special needs.
The discussion started to wind down at this point and a cultural programme which included drama, singing and stand-up comedy by comedian Miranda Smartt began.
The event was well attended and after an hour’s delay kicked off to sluggish start before heading into action. It was also podcasted on www.voteAFC.com.
As youths arrived at the venue they were encouraged to fill out registrations forms to become members of the AFC.
Several members of the AFC youth arm spoke of their experiences and noted that the party gives them an opportunity to use the voice they already have.
AFC youth member Trevor Williams encouraged his peers to fight for the changes they want by voting on elections day and by making the right decision. He also encouraged youths to get involved in AFC driven activities.
“I am not with the AFC for the money but because they support my vision,” Williams stated. “We [the AFC] are broke. We don’t have money. We have hope.”