The current tensions do not spring from the recent elections

Stabroek News
March 30, 2001

Dear Editor,

It will be simplistic and foolhardy for an objective observer to conclude that the current tensions in the society have their genesis in the recent elections. It will also be an inaccurate assumption that the protest which has erupted is confined to those groups of persons who, in the absence of any other means of articulation, resort to physical action. It is possibly true that those persons see their faith, at least their hopes, extinguished by the polls. Be sure, however, that they are reacting to the continuation of earlier hopes and expectations for equal opportunity being capriciously and consistently frustrated and diminished.

This state of befuddlement is by no means unique to these vociferous groups. It applies equally, and perhaps more significantly, to every economic and social level of a large `minority' of the society, whose members function at various levels in the formal structures of both private and public sectors, moreso the latter, particularly since individual opportunity for economic and professional growth in the former sector has become increasingly marginalised.

In the public sector the most senior expert and experienced public servant can relate numerous and authentic accounts of discrimination, in personal development terms, were it not for the professional integrity which many insist restrains them. Indeed these victims of unremitting organisational stress have refused to transmit their fears and negative experiences either to sympathetic politicians or the public. They sublimate and share confidences only with fellow victims. Together they constitute a significant proportion of the citizenry who are in need of the sort of counselling neither priest nor politician can provide.

Interestingly they feel it unbecoming of their status and image to join with the herd in street protests. But they are at the same boiling point. And whether subliminally or otherwise this deep-seated siege mindset is transmitted in their respective relationships with family, friends, colleagues, clients, customers and fellow club members.

Nevertheless, some actually distract themselves by indulging in more productive extracurricular activities in a valiant effort to fill the spiritual void in which they are continually engulfed. At best these social contacts help to keep their morale afloat.

The following brief scenarios should exemplify the stress with which these professionals have to cope:
a) Because of having a certain type of surname a well-qualified candidate is invited to interview for a prominently advertised position. When the prospective employers recognise that the interviewee did not fit the image which the name portrays, they go through a series of rather `transparent' prevarications and obfuscations, eventually terminating the candidature of the interviewee, while in the same breath acknowledging the high relevance of the qualifications to the advertised requirements.
b) A high professional with impressive qualifications and track record is interviewed and accepted for a most senior executive position in one of the largest organisations in the country. Senior Management's recommendation for the appointment to be made is rejected at the political level - because of the admitted `minority' image of the candidate.
c) A very senior Public Service appointee of several years in that grade, is superseded by an imposed parvenu, and is downgraded to being a de facto `Deputy', thus confirming the `minority' image of the incumbent.
d) Another parvenu takes up a first appointment to work alongside an established public servant. Their tasks are identical, yet the new appointee is paid at least twice the rate of the more experienced (`minority') incumbent, through a special mechanism designed to bypass the Public service Commission.
e) Highly qualified professional is interviewed for a prominently advertised position, only after `friendly' intervention. To all appearances all was well received by the panel, and actually offered the position. However, the remuneration and conditions offered were carefully designed to leave the candidate little choice but to refuse the offer.
f) A respected and competent senior executive in a large organisation is told of having to be replaced following a change of administration, which instructed that the (`minority') image had to be changed.
Indeed all but one of the `minority' senior executive images were erased from their positions on a phased basis.
g) A local consultant is advised by certain agencies that they are constrained from utilising his services because of his non-professional (`minority') image.

Every one of the above accounts can be confirmed. They are not figments of the imagination. The people, the incidents and the organisations concerned are real.

Tragically there are too many permutations of this theme of rejection. The stress and disaffection spread cancerously from the victims to all with whom they are in trusting contact. Their passions are also simmering and are not assuaged by the repetition that "they are no skills available". Hence the import of the right images from neighbouring countries.

What is being expressed is no political protest. It is a protest against unemployment and the lack of opportunity. It is a protest against blindness - the inability to see the future. It is a reflection of fundamental social unease. It is a cry for equal application of a fundamental human right. While some are preoccupied with physical action in the streets, others will be well advised to be sensitive to the potential for a less visible but more substantive dislocation which can be rendered to our organisational structures if explicit, comprehensive and urgent action is not taken to confront this rage in waiting with determination and uncompromising integrity. Or else there would be no winners.

Yours faithfully,
Ian Wyman