It's time to go berserk

Cassandra's Corner
Stabroek News
July 9, 2000

Now, let's see what subject we'll discuss today. For sure, it is impossible for me to write with any degree of levity on matters pertaining to the everyday road carnage. After so many years of unnecessary deaths, one thinks one is immune to the mayhem on the roads. Then little Joel Hamer smiles impishly at you from the pages; and the young families Geer and Budram are wiped out, and Priyata will never share the twinkle in her eyes with the world again.

I want to retch. I personally have ceased to read the texts accompanying the gruesome headlines. It's the same old story: recklessness, drunkenness, unroadworthy vehicles, unroadworthy drivers. I have no statistics at my disposal, but I would seriously doubt whether most of the minibus and taxi drivers have ever taken and passed a driving test. I would wager my meagre life savings that many taxi and minibus companies don't ever bother to investigate thoroughly the licences of their drivers. In fact, the Traffic Chief should undertake a survey/census of all drivers in Guyana and how they got their licences to drive a lethal weapon.

Anyway, enough of this talk. I am going right now to get interested parties together to put some pressure on Slowe, Nadir, Ramson and Jagdeo like they have never seen before. No holds barred. It is time to go berserk. Our citizens are being brutalised, maimed and murdered by unthinking and uncaring drivers. We are not going to take it any more. Every avenue of protest must be used - from a ten-thousand citizens march which will block the minibus and taxi parks and commerce to class action law suits. Enough is freaking well enough. I want to sleep without seeing Joel's eyes and Priyata's smile and Alicea's curly hair.

Notwithstanding the above, I am heartened by the fact that there are still those in our society who will admonish Mark Benschop for his lapses in addressing the Ambassador of Suriname as "You guys". And I am delighted when a letter writer points out what mathematical nonsense it is to state that the odds of picking five correct numbers out of twenty-six are the same as choosing six correct numbers from thirty-one (why did SN print K. Dynally's letter in the first instance?) I am also left wondering why there is a debate between Tony Vieira and Alfred Bhulai when they are essentially saying the same thing. No comment is needed about the claim of Guyana's 98.3% literacy. We have already established the head-in-sand fixation.

We tend to make so much noise about trivia. Look at the schoopidness about Jerry Slijnaard's military uniform (worn at negotiations) being interpreted as a mark of hostility and disrespect. Somebody tell somebody dat uniform equals bellicosity, and therefore it has no place at a bargaining table. And dat latter somebody (the tellee not the teller) believe it and decides to make a pronouncement on it. I might be mistaken, but I seem to recall Fidel and Yasser Arafat addressing the United Nations in army green and Intifada garb, respectively. Mr. President, don't be sidetracked by those underexposed advisors who would want a confrontation. Instead, ask those who felt insulted why they have participated (and collected per diems) at conferences in Caracas, Barquisimeto and Paramaribo, when on the walls of the congress halls were maps of a Guyana in which severe denudation of the 83,000 square miles seemed to have taken place. In the case of Venezuela, there is always their national flag prominently positioned on head tables and in conference rooms. The flag has seven stars, but we know that Venezuela has only six provinces. Guess which province is represented by the seventh star? But we have never made an audible noise about this "irregularity" - not since 1966 anyway. Why then the song and dance now at a time when we should be seeking compromise and, in the case of Suriname, throwing the first overture on the possibility of a unified State of Guyana and Suriname.

Last Sunday, Ian wrote a beautiful piece entitled "Delay as an end in itself". Well, Ian knows that something is wrong. He surely has had shattering experiences dealing with mindless bureaucrats. He might even have worked with some of these creatures. I, on the other hand, live perennially with these beasts, against whom there is no defence. I have seen great and competent technicians, ministers and even other bureaucrats wilt under a constant barrage of obfuscation and pussyfooting. Day in day out, I am confronted with these practitioners of protraction, experts at obstruction, reincarnated clones of Fabius Cunctator. Allow me to amplify Ian's thesis.

You may not believe this, but I have worked with almost a score of ministers over a two-decade period. You would expect that especially ministers of government would want to see a galloping revolution and not creeping development. Well, you would be wrong. Few of these gentlemen displayed anything but inertia and a singular lack of vision, which they camouflaged with a stultifying set of "systems" and "management styles". One such minister never called a staff meeting with his senior officers under the pretext of already knowing all the solutions, even though he was a political appointee and not at all knowledgeable about the subject matter in his ministry. Another was a mere child who couldn't lead a Chihuahua and surely not an important ministry. Recognising his deficiency he stymied every progressive effort with an on-the-spot concocted "rule". My favourite was the minister who boasted that he placed all incoming mail in the "pending" tray and let them simmer there for a month. He bragged how effective this management tool was, since 90% of the matters in the incoming correspondences would have solved themselves. I don't need to enumerate the resulting debacles which ensued, because the issues were not dealt with promptly. To this day the repercussions of this decision not to decide still haunt us, as expressed, for example, in the paucity of trained staff within the ministry. Overseas training offers came and went without this ministry's participation. Another classical CYA specialist was Mr. "Wukkin Pun It" who was constantly overheard explaining to the unsuspecting how efficiently he was handling the problems. His aide was Mr. "Streamline", so called because he was always involved in "streamlining the organisation and the processes", while in effect he was just spinning buck-top in mud.

Don't think that this behaviour is only to be found in the Public Sector in Third World countries. NGOs and aid donors and banks and insurance companies are experts in the game of delay and frustrate. I remember once requesting a donation of a few motorcycles from an international agency. That petty cash request was considered too insignificant. They started to add on projects and soon the entire emerging sub-sector (public and private) was involved. Two years and a huge Feasibility Study later, they were asking the government to put up a US$120 million in counterpart funds. How ridiculous can one get? Needless to say, I never got the motorcycles, and I used the tome "Study" as a door jam. I promise one thing: if ever I get around to writing about experiences, this particular topic and this particular example will occupy a special chapter. But will it change anything? Methinks not.

Enjoy the week.

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