Revisiting the role of Civil Society

-The new government: My 10 simple things

Last Friday I directed the attention of those interested to the role of newspapers and how our four major dailies are used at elections time.

Today, in a most brief effort, I enjoin you to consider some concepts, some activities, some realities, as they relate to what skeptics describe as “amorphous” – Guyana’s Civil Society. What is that? What does it, should it do? How is it regarded by the elected authorities and how does it regard itself?

Moreover, is not Civil Society and its activities subsumed by the government and the politicians at elections time? (Except, of course, unless Civil Society representatives themselves become openly and aggressively political and activist during campaigns.)

I know all the above represents more questions than answers. So I offer my usual layman’s perspectives and views on the issue(s).

Traditionally here, “Civil Society” was composed of Service Organisations – Lions, Jaycees, Toastmasters – the Ladies/Church groups, human rights and trade union outfits, later the vibrant ethnic-specific representatives, “fronts” for political organisations and newer youth groups. Frankly Speaking, I’ve watched as sometimes the Government itself would sponsor and promote certain active elements of “Civil Society”. So where are we now?

Nearly four years ago I encountered a Dr Philip H Mozart Thomas who eventually awakened in me an appreciation of the depth and width of Civil Society’s domain. He also introduced the concept of a local Public Policy Think-Tank. This is an intellectual reservoir of brains specializing in a variety of disciplines. (In Suriname, one such NGO actually framed environmental legislation for a friendly government’s consideration. Here, would a Ramotar Regime accommodate any neutral, independent, professional grouping at this time?)

Since meeting Dr Thomas, concomitantly I’ve witnessed the ”birth” of numerous new NGO’s and Civil Society Organisation (CSO’s). One year ago the same Thomas revealed to me and his other Public Policy Council members, his objective of mobilizing all of Guyana’s CSO’s/NGO’s into one collective, influential National Council. Knowing a few to be politically aligned, I balked initially at his bravado, but admired his purpose.

 

Council? Article 13 my eye!

 

Well, last December the government wasted no time in destroying even the concept of a National Council to represent elements of non-political society. All strands of government – the executive, its mouthpieces, the President’s Office, his Party – all shot down Thomas’ initiative, whilst attempting to prove that the man himself was a complete fraudster. (He is still to deal with that matter)

 

Frankly Speaking, Bharrat Jagdeo and Donald Rabindranath Ramotar had/have no time for NGO’s except those created by them. The Civil Society empowerment provisions of the Constitution’s Article 13 are frowned upon or treated with indifference. After all, which embattled regime, parliamentary weak, would accommodate a strong Civil Component of Society? At election time?

For the government and its parent party will conclude that even if the CSO is a-political, its members will still vote. So in a way this regime routinely violates Article 13 as it did when it influenced sponsors and the Convention Centre’s management to undermine last December’s Conference/Summit. And Christopher Ram advises that strong as the non-justiciable, aspirational Article 13 is, it has been converted into rights by the Constitution’s Articles such as 146 thru 149 (especially.) Do check them out to see if you concur.

The still newly-elected Civil Society Council has been slow out of the blocks. I part company with Thomas over his reactions to the Government’s assaults – especially as I’m aware of the “ammunition” he has at his disposal – and the lack of constructive aggression by the Council. I suppose they know best. Or better?

My view? I feel that this is an appropriate period wherein Civil Society – from Jaycees to churches to EAB to Human Rights to Trade Unions etc. etc. – should separately, or better, collectively, organize to let the political participants know what will be demanded of them at this time. During and after the Polls, Society has the power – power to monitor, to scrutinize, to vote or not for any or none. I suggest that Civil Society makes its voice heard; its position known. Now.

 

Ten (10) just for me…

 

Had I been a voting person I might have chosen the Retired Brigadier. Why? For a few simple perceived reasons.

I feel as a military, upper middle-class, excellence-oriented person, he would insist on, would “decree” desirable national standards of excellence – in our social environment in regard for order and cleanliness.

However, whichever government you-all – the electorate – decide upon, I’m obliged to accept. And as a citizen entitled to good governance – like Jehovah Witnesses and under-18’s, I beg the new Administration to do these 10 “little things” for me – and all of us.

Keep Georgetown and its cemetery scrupulously clean and orderly-regulated. (This means education and enforcement and Stabroek Square must be “landscaped” as in the little Caribbean Islands.) Penalise those responsible for the wasted millions at High and Princes Street. Erect big bus stops throughout the city. Inspire the use of 36-seater buses. Remove squatters from the city incrementally. Make new laws to rescue street-dwellers to become productive.

Find ways to illuminate village streets every night. Equip every station to have vehicles and google-type maps of every community!

Assist private people to operate modern stellings and boat landings. Promote consumer buying clubs amongst work-places and trade unions.

What a simple list! What? The Financing? That’s why you elected them in the first place. What’s your list? Macro-projects?

 

Ponder…

 

*1)   As Dave Martins just asked: What’s going on here”? The Caricom Rice Mills Limited (CRML) seems to have Occupational Health and Safety issues. Or are other “forces” at work?

*2)   I applaud Ms Broomes’ Women Miners Group. Should not the Ministry, the GHRA, the Seventh Day Adventist Church and the Police join her in sudden surprise visits?

*3)   Assist me here: Is there anything legal/constitutional to prevent champion Dr Bharrat from being a running-mate to the PPP’s presidential candidate? If he wanted to? Discuss…

 

‘Til next week!

(Comments?

allanafenty@yahoo.com)

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