Anthony should set an example at home first before speaking at international fora

Dear Editor,

According to an online article, ‘Guyana calls for relevant inquiry into the state of world’s cultural wellbeing,’  (UNMultimedia.org, Jun 14) at the recent UN High-level Thematic Debate on Culture and Development, Minister of Culture, Youth and Sport, Dr Frank Anthony made the statement:

“As we examine the merits of reflecting this theme in the post 2015 developmental agenda, I take this opportunity to underscore the high importance that the Govern-ment of Guyana places on culture as an integral part of the development of the Guyanese society. It is a natural reflection of the diversity of our peoples and a testimony of the individual strengths that have combined to realize a proud and progressive society. In this regard, I wish to emphasize the power of culture in multi-ethnic societies such as ours, in promoting social cohesion.”

Whenever it is that members of the PPP government go and make grand pronouncements at international fora, they need to make sure that their policies at home at least in part resemble those pronouncements.  Minister Anthony may wish to explain why, after twenty-one years of the PPP in power (for seven of which he has been Minister of Culture) Guyana is yet to have a modern, fair, equitable cultural policy regime in place.  The Minister also claimed that:

“Guyana would therefore wish to see more agreements, conventions and declarations that establish an enabling environment for the sustaining, promoting, harnessing and harvesting of culture. A consensus on the multifaceted and cross-cutting relevance of culture must be firmly embedded into new international agreements.”

The problem is that the government of which Frank Anthony is part, and in which he plays a crucial role in adhering to such agreements, has absolutely no respect for them – like the Berne Con-vention on Copyright for example. In 1999, then President Bharrat Jagdeo promised to start the process that would see copyright reform within a year; in 2003, Gail Teixeira, then Minister of Culture, effectively scuttled any progress on this when the issue of the state radio paying royalties on music played came up; in 2008, Dr Anthony himself promised to initiate progress on copyright reform, something that was never done.

Instead, last year, Guyana was faced with the internationally embarrassing situation of the Government of Guyana, through the Ministry of Education, tendering for the illegal reproduction of textbooks, a position they had to back down from.  This year, I have charged – on information provided directly by Dr David Dabydeen, Caribbean Press Executive Editor – that the Caribbean Press has breached the intellectual property rights of at least myself and Ryhaan Shah, both Guyana Prize fiction winners, and that it is publishing the work of local poets without their knowledge or permission. The Minister’s response was to promise to look into it and, typical of him, there has been no update on the issue since.

In his speech, the Minister spoke about the need to preserve cultural heritage, a sentiment the launching of the Guyana Classics by the Caribbean Press was supposed to reflect.  He may then wish to explain why it is that, with some sixty books purportedly published by the Press, only 17 of those titles (all in single copies) are currently available at the National Library.  Not only is this in direct contradiction of what the Minister and Dr Dabydeen have repeatedly stated, ie, all sixty books have been provided to the Library, Austin’s Bookstore and local schools, but it is apparently in contravention of the Laws of Guyana – every locally based publishing entity is required to donate at least one gratis copy to the National Library.  If the Guyana Classics were supposed to preserve and promote our literary heritage, we should have at least have expected a fully stocked, publicly available Classics section in the Library – there is none.

Before the Minister of Culture goes to a global forum and makes some grand call for a “relevant inquiry into [the] state of the world’s cultural wellbeing,” he may want to set the example at home, starting by answering the questions directed towards him on Guyana’s own cultural wellbeing.

Yours faithfully,
Ruel Johnson

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