Questions for Dr Dabydeen

Dear Editor,

The Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sport recently sent out a press notice informing the media of the launch next Friday of 15 new titles of Caribbean Press books. While the notice did not announce his presence, I understand that Dr David Dabydeen, Ambassador to China, Permanent Representative to UNESCO and perennial Executive Editor of the press, is currently in the country.

Now, since Dr Frank Anthony has ceased to even pretend to try to justify his mismanagement and complete lack of accountability in the operations of the Caribbean Press, I hope that the Press’s editor, obviously unaware of the continued criticisms (operating as he is all the way in the Far Orient), would take the opportunity as he is currently here to provide the public with certain clarifications, some new and some continuously unresolved.

In a 2010 interview with Stabroek News, Dr Dabydeen claimed that, “The editorial board comprises several outstanding Caribbean writers such as Nobel Laureate Derek Walcott, Earl Lovelace and Pauline Melville.” Could he confirm whether or not those three writers were ever in fact part of any such mechanism? Also, as of July of last year, there was no board in place, with Dabydeen, Anthony, and President Ramotar committing to establishing one – what progress has been made in that regard?

In a 2010 interview with GINA, reported on by Stabroek News, Dr Dabydeen was quoted as saying “the press would provide jobs for Guyanese while increasing the intellectual capacity as well as the printing capacity in the county.” Could he clarify for us, how many jobs were created for Guyanese over the past five years of the Press’s operation, and how many of the now 75 titles comprising over 40,000 books were printed locally?

And two related follow-up questions: of the paying jobs created by the Caribbean Press, as Executive Editor of the Press, would Dr Dabydeen be able to provide the names, country of residence and remuneration of those employed; and could he provide the names and addresses of the printers involved in producing the Caribbean Press books, both locally and overseas?

Another thing that has been of concern is that of the related issues of printing method and print runs. Would Dr Dabydeen be willing to clarify what method of printing is used to print the Caribbean Press books and how many copies are produced in a single print run? Would Dr Dabydeen also be willing to confirm his claim last year that there were 40,000 copies of Caribbean Press books printed and distributed primarily in the school system in Guyana? And since he has claimed that 400 copies are produced for each title, would he confirm that as of Friday, August 15, there will be an additional 6,000 copies of Caribbean Press books in Guyana? Further to this topic, the Minister of Culture himself could not give an account of the books distributed to schools in Guyana – would Dr Dabydeen be able to assist us on precisely who it is that handles responsibility of the books from printing to final distribution?

Last Saturday, at the Princess Hotel, Dr Dabydeen held a meeting on the Caribbean Press with less than ten carefully selected people in attendance. Would he and the Minister be willing to widely advertise and host a more open forum where interested persons can find out more about the Press’s operation, the plans for its future and how they can both take advantage of what it has to offer as well as contribute to its operations?

Since the Minister has indicated that I have been invited to Caribbean Press meetings and failed to turn up, let me state that I am ready and available for any such meeting.

Finally, Dr Dabydeen in his defence last year of his unilateral selection and publication of a novel by Ashley Anthony, the then 13-year-old daughter of Minister Frank Anthony, claimed that the book was subjected to a rigorous editorial process by him personally, and in other interviews, also by his nephew.

Would he clarify for us, who was responsible for the editing of the work of the resident emerging “doggerel and puppyrel”-producing Guyanese writers whose books are scheduled to be released on Friday?

I have many more questions that Dr Dabydeen and Dr Anthony have evaded for years on the Caribbean Press, particularly in the past year and a half, but respect for column space and time constraints imposed by the planning of additional writing workshops under the Janus Cultural Policy Initiative do not permit me to continue. What I will add however is that there is a clear opportunity for both the Minister and Ambassador to finally both clear the murky air that surrounds the Caribbean Press and to incorporate the concerns of a wide cross-section of stakeholders in ensuring the press is run transparently, with good governance and accountability for the millions in state funds that have been poured into it.

In closing, I’d like to congratulate Dr Paloma Mohammed on the publication of her Guyana Prize-winning play, Duenne, by the Caribbean Press, and I understand she has at least one other book by the press scheduled for release. It is interesting to see established writers taking advantage of and lending support to such a mechanism as this one.

Yours faithfully,
Ruel Johnson
Janus Cultural Policy Initiative

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