Renata Chuck-A-Sang is passionate about her country and she is concerned that the systems that are there to move Guyana forward are failing but she wants to contribute where she can even if it is just to speak up when things go wrong and take responsibility as a citizen for her part in the country’s growth.
She is also known for her humanitarian work and contributions to art and culture and one would have thought that her national award would be for those attributes, instead, the Medal of Service that was recently conferred on her was for business. But as she pointed out, she did not nominate herself and did not know who did.
“I accepted the award because I felt it was given by the state of Guyana and it is always nice to be recognised by one’s own country,” she told the Sunday Stabroek recently.
Chuck-A-Sang was once the owner of the Dutch Bottle Café on North Road but ceased operation of the business in 2016 and has been involved in other interests.
She pointed out that restaurant business is hard as it is almost a 24-hour operation. The family business was opened in 2000 with herself and brother being the principals. The restaurant was robbed some years later and it was closed for about year, but she found when it was reopened she was not as passionate “and when that happens you find a lot of the things that did not irritate you previously begin to irritate you.” After a while she realized she was doing neither the brand nor herself any justice and walked away.
People now rent the building for various events. She likes to see it being used for arts and culture, but that angle is more of a charitable proposition.
“Let me be frank, if you are trying to eat and clothe yourself and there is not a lot of money around the last thing you would want to do …is support the arts and culture,” she explained.
Going back to running a business is not on the agenda for Chuck-A-Sang, who has grown accustomed to having her afternoons and evenings free; her brother is also not keen on walking that road.
But as a citizen of Guyana she is concerned with what she sees everyday, such as Georgetown becoming a city where buildings of all sorts just pop up without any real planning and order being followed. And the institutions, such as the Mayor & City Council, Central Housing & Planning Authority (CHPA) and even the Guyana Police Force that should be ensuring order are not doing their work.
Chuck-A-Sang pointed out that the Dutch Bottle is in a heritage building and they have tried to maintain it, but right next door is mining company that built structures not in keeping with heritage buildings. When approached CHPA said it was unaware there was a change in the application until the building was erected and since the council had given permission and the building was already erected nothing could be done. But Chuck-A-Sang pointed out that the law clearly states that the CHPA is the only institution to give such permission.
“So, if that institution has thrown up its hands then as an ordinary citizen what recourse do you have?” she asked.
She is also peeved by the council’s decision to allow small businesses to operate on the Merriman Mall which has seen them build “rather shoddy-looking things and conducting business” and while she is “all for people to conduct business… it must be done in a framework. You can’t have one set of persons follow the rule, get licences, get premises… jump through 600 hoops to get their building set up and another set of people just knock two pallets together and put tarpaulin over it and they are in a business.”
She noted that she does not have a problem if persons are given some time maybe on Saturday mornings to sell and they come up, pay a fee, set up their stall and at the end of the day they pick up their stuff and go until another time.
Chuck-A-Sang was also at the forefront of protesting the controversial parking meter contract for Georgetown.
Like many, Chuck-A-Sang is not convinced that with the advent of oil Guyana will become the country so many have dreamt of, pointing out that the country has always been resource rich. She pointed out that the 52-year-old country still has to depend on outsiders to develop its resources and that does not speak to us growing as a country. She pointed out that Singapore is the same age as Guyana and its natural resources are miniscule in comparison, but its Gross Domestic Product has far outstripped Guyana’s.
Systems need examination
The systems in Guyana need to be examined and if they are not working then they should be quashed.
“I deserve to go to parks that are well maintained, I deserve to live in a neighbourhood where the drainage works,” she pointed out adding that there are areas where as soon as it rains they flood and nothing is done to address the issue.
Guyanese deserve that every time they turn on their taps water should run, providing that they pay their bills, and every time they flip a switch, there should be electricity.
She is old enough and grown enough to know that there will be no saviour in the form of a politician for Guyana but she just wants the “guy who is responsible for standards [to do] his job and the person who is responsible for sewage to do his job and not take money. You get a job and you say these are the regulations I am going to follow…
“The point is, we have systems, but we don’t make the systems work… Basically each of us has to take ownership of what we are doing…”
Chuck-A-Sang is a member of the Women and Gender Equality Commission and she believes the work of the commission has been impactful as persons are more aware of gender equality and that it exists. On the issue of domestic violence, a sore point in Guyana as women continue to be killed and maimed regularly, Chuck- A-Sang said it is not an issue that government alone can address.
“The law that we have is pretty good. The implementation is a bit spotty in some instances and that again has to do with management of the individuals who are tasked with implementation of certain pieces of the regulation,” she said adding that people also need to take responsibility.
Another concern of Chuck-A-Sang is education and children’s inability to pass Mathematics and English, because those are the same persons who would need employment “and the jobs that require you not to think are getting fewer and fewer.” She pointed out that a number of jobs will become obsolete in another ten years and the Minister of Labour should be thinking along with the Minister of Education that persons need to be trained for jobs 20 years down the line and do what needs to be done.
Chuck-A-Sang studied mechanical engineering and has a Master’s in Business Admin-istration. Asked if she ever worked as a mechanical engineer, Chuck- A-Sang said she did it to “a certain extent…but it wasn’t as much fun as I thought it should be.
“I really like design and the whole process of designing and there wasn’t much scope for that in the position but what engineering teaches you is to problem solve and I still use that skill…”
She is currently wrapping up a consultancy with the Ministry of Public Health and will be taking up the position as Chief Executive Officer of the Guyana Responsible Parenthood Association at the beginning of November. Her first mandate is for the association to become more independent in terms of funding.