Flags of allegiance

Last Thursday evening, on the eve of Guyana’s forty-eighth anniversary of becoming a Co-operative Republic, the nation was served with a sharp reminder that it has a long way to go before we truly become One Nation, One People, One Destiny.

The occasion was the annual Republic flag-raising ceremony at Republic Park, Corriverton, Guyana’s easternmost town, which was stopped by the Guyana Police Force supposedly under the rule that the Corriverton Town Council (CTC) had not sought permission to host the occasion.

This incident, like many others, will be swept under the carpet and soon forgotten by most people, as they go about their daily lives. However, this one, in particular, needs to be put in perspective, since it presents a perfect example of what is wrong with us as a nation of peoples of varying backgrounds and descent, who appear to be rooted in our divided past, with no immediate signs of letting go.

The chronology of events as documented by this publication, began with the CTC inviting the Minister of Communities Ronald Bulkan to be the guest speaker at the flag-raising ceremony. When the CTC did not get a response from the Minister, opposition Member of Parliament, Adrian Anamayah from Region Six was invited to replace him.

The Mayor of Corriverton, Krishnand Jaichand said that he was contacted four days before the event by the Regional Executive Officer who insisted that the Minister of Public Security, Vice-President Khemraj Ramjattan be granted the honour of delivering the feature address at the event.   This call was followed by another from Minister Bulkan, who, according to Jaichand, spoke to him in a very professional manner and suggested that he reach back to the council and persuade it to allow Ramjattan to be the final speaker. This, he did, but the council would not change its mind, and welcomed Minister Ramjattan to share greetings as the penultimate speaker.

The Mayor subsequently received a call from Minister of Social Protection Amna Ally who, he alleges, indicated to him in a harsh tone that “this was a government thing” and she was responsible for allocating the ministers to the various ceremonies and that Minister Ramjattan had been allocated Corriverton. Mayor Jaichand returned a call to Minister Ally twenty minutes later, and informed her that the council’s position was unchanged. The Minister then told the Mayor that she had instructed the Commander “for tonight’s programme not to materialize.”

At around 4 pm the police informed the person who had been hired to play music for the occasion that he was not allowed to set up his equipment, since permission had not been granted for the event. He duly complied and left.  The ceremony was scheduled to begin at 7 pm with a march past. The band to lead the parade was told to cease playing once they had commenced, and the parade did not materialize.

Officials then decided to proceed with the programme. The National Pledge was recited, followed by prayers. The chairperson, then invited a child to recite a poem, at which time, the police intervened and escorted the chairperson, Ganesh Gangadin, former Mayor of Corriverton, off the stage.  The gathering was told that Mayor Jaichand would not be allowed to address them, but they would be allowed to raise the flag, which had been previously seized by the police.

At this stage, several parents collected their children, many of whom had spent weeks preparing to participate in the cultural part of the programme, and left Republic Park. The crowd, visibly upset with the turn of events, declared that they would accompany Gangadin to the station. At this stage the police stated that they would be allowed the flag, which they had earlier seized, to be raised.  The gathering decided against this activity and instead, took down the flagpole.

Commander of B Division, Lyndon Alves on Sunday stated that ranks did not require instructions to act when the law was being infringed.  Roy Baijnauth,  past Mayor of Corriverton,  from 1994-2012, during the current opposition’s time in office,  stated during his tenure, permission was never sought for flag-raising ceremonies and the police would always be invited to march and be part of the activities.

The Corriverton Town Council which is located in an accepted opposition stronghold, and controlled by the opposition, should accept the rules of protocol and convention. At events of this nature – and this is not a religious or cultural observance, but a national day celebrating our Republic ‒ a minister of government, regardless if he or she is a former member of the opposition and no longer warmly received by the community, as in the case of Ramjattan, takes precedence over the home town favourite and is entitled to the honour of being the guest speaker.

On formal national occasions in a democracy, government representatives in the first instance, speak for the nation, and then everyone else speaks after that.

Minister Bulkan implied that the CTC had yielded to political pressure from the opposition not to acquiesce to his request for Minister Ramjattan to be the guest speaker. If that is indeed the case, then the opposition is also culpable in this mess.

Even though that may be so, it is unfortunate that government politicians the world over have great difficulty separating the lines of government and state, and Minister Ally with her reported remarks that “this was a government thing” appears to be one of them. Though it has become the norm worldwide to hijack such occasions to promote themselves, governments need to be reminded that national flag-raising ceremonies are state occasions.

What was an absolute disgrace in this story, however, was the seizing of the flag by the police so it could not be raised. Minister Amna Ally has denied issuing that instruction, and as already mentioned, the police have offered some feeble argument about permission for the ceremony not having been granted by them as the reason. However, Minister Ally was also reported as telling the Mayor that she had instructed the police that the programme should not materialize. Even in the absence of an instruction, her sentiments at least corresponded to what transpired.

In fairness to the Corriverton Mayor and Council they did initially offer an invitation to the Minister of Communities to be the featured speaker, and only when they didn’t hear from him was an invitation extended to Mr Anamayah. And perhaps they didn’t hear from the Minister because Ms Ally was allegedly doing the ‘allocating’ of speakers. If, for instance, she denied Minister Bulkan permission to accept, then she shouldn’t have; and as long as Corriverton was within the normal protocol guidelines for these things, she should have let them choose who they wanted. And when they refused to go along with her decision of Minister Ramjattan and select an opposition figure instead, then so be it. Still let them go ahead, and lecture them afterward if necessary about their lack of conformity to the conventions. But do not under any circumstances, allow the flag to be seized and stop the ceremony.

After forty-eight years as a republic, it seems we can only resort in the end to ‘Lil boy bat and ball’ politics. As soon as the lil boy who owns the ball and ball gets out in a scrubby with his mates, he demands to bat again, or else he is taking his bat and ball and going home.

Will a white flag ever appear on the horizon to end this wretched state of affairs, where flags of allegiance ‒ to whatever or whoever ‒ are taking precedence over the Golden Arrowhead?

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