What two Ministers said Frankly Speaking...
By A.A Fenty
Stabroek News
February 21, 2003

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Just a few fleeting comments on aspects of interviews I listened to, involving the Ministers of Culture and Home Affairs. Even as I contemplate just how I should observe and/or celebrate the thirty-third anniversary of our Republican status. I do not seek to attempt any profound scientific analysis of the two Ministers’ remarks, but to offer one or two provocative comments on their views and announcements.

Over the past weekend the Minister of Culture, in her usual confident, persuasive and sincere manner, explained, from her perspective why it is necessary, perhaps even vital, that the Republican Mashramani public celebrations be proceeded with. In the face of an opposing body of opinion that there should be no grand public display of merriment because there is nothing substantial to show or celebrate over the past year and primarily, out of respect for the scores of innocent victims injured, raped, robbed and killed in the unprecedented crime wave during that same year.

Minister Teixeira, in the course of her own rationale, obviously reflective of the administration’s position, pointed out why we as Guyanese should not succumb to the consequences of the criminal enterprise and forego what is now an institutionalised annual observance, soon to be a tradition. She also alluded to the fact that other societies which experienced similar national trauma - including post-September 11 USA - did not abandon their important national events. Some merely suspended them in a moratorium of respect and renewal. My own reaction is to agree with the minister, in principle. For a variety of reasons. I share two with you. One, to suspend or cancel the more public celebratory displays of Mashramani would be to signal significant defeat in the face of criminal onslaught. This “victory” for the minority but potent criminal “sector” would no doubt inspire its operatives to greater heights in holding communities and nation hostage.

This must not happen. Two, for the PPP/Civic there is a political no-win dimension. They would be seen as weak, spineless and not in control if they don’t facilitate the celebrations. And of course, as happened a few years ago, their government could be accused of turning its back on a festival which was established in the good/bad old days of their political rivals and tormentors, the People’s National Congress.

Additionally, all the informal polls and surveys indicate that, even though battle-weary and scared, Guyanese in Demerara need the release of the republic’s anniversary jollification to balance their current causes for gloom. For myself, in deference to the heart-breaks and other implications left with the numerous relatives of victims, I respect some people’s preference or right, to be sombre and indeed, to stage displays of remembrance for the fallen. As the Guyana Indian Heritage Association plans to do on February 23 at Lusignan on the East Coast of the Demerara.

Finally, I found interesting two different points made by Minister Gail. She is justifiably proud of the “decentralisation” of Mash. Calypso and other national competitions are now dispersed, and accepted, across the country. (I shall return to that development in a post-Mash discussion). Then I loved her subtle dig in support of carrying on with Mash regardless - or with restraint. The Minister, indefatigable and determined, revealed that from its inception, she would take her little daughters along the route to view the costumes, floats and revelry. Even though the Mass Games and so many displays, perhaps through compulsion, were extremely politicised to the point that Forbes Burnham’s deeds and face were omni-present! It was the nationalism which counted!? Great stuff!

Minawattie and Nankissoon

Why do I use those two names to comment, ever so briefly, on Minister Gajraj’s remarks? Well, I’ll illustrate soon enough.

On Monday, the doughty Minister responsible for our internal security as a nation, reported on his Ministry’s projections for 2003, in terms of the comprehensive programmes for the respective agencies under his portfolio. I do not envy this Minister his role and responsibilities. The Prison System, the Fire Service, the Police Force with its Immigration and Traffic Departments, to mention just two, all fall under the Minister’s purview. Now why would I, with weaker heart and timid disposition want such a job?

The Minister was obliged to enumerate the gory count of policemen maimed or murdered. He defended the performance of his troops under siege. He explained strategies, challenges, even delays, with regard to crime-fighting, still a priority on the government’s programme. As he has to do, the Minister gave the populace the usual assurances with respect to his Ministry’s concerns and initiatives regarding their collective safety and protection from the criminal enterprise. (“The police will continue to carry out its constitutional responsibility to protect and serve the citizens of this country”). I know of his constraints, both publicised and others, perhaps extant within the operational apparatus which are entrenched enough to sabotage even more effective and successful policing. Which brings me to Minawattie and Nankissoon.

You see, through no fault of their own, 68 year-old Minawattie, Nankissoon and many other residents of Vigilance, Annandale, Strathspey and other communities near to Buxton, ECD, will not at all appreciate the assurances from minister Gajraj. For on that same Monday he was giving assurances, this Stabroek was reporting on their fate. They were in the process of abandoning their homes and lives on the East Coast, because of the daily threats of robbery, arson and executions. Robberies by Buxton-based bandits were “normal” they reported. Disturbingly, they implied, based on visible evidence, that these criminals seem to have a certain level of immunity from arrest. They flaunt their weapons and loot in front of Security Forces, it is claimed.

Banditry, criminality has forced social disruption. The Minister’s police, themselves under siege, overworked and intimidated, cannot cope by themselves. Even when they want to! It was touching to hear of these people’s appeals to the young President of the Republic. What is the answer? Community Policing? By whom? Incidentally, it is now that phenomenon whereby teenaged criminals can rape, rob, maim or kill, but they must never be harmed. The courts and justice must do. If we are to remain intact as a civilised society (?)

But I have reason to suspect that this Minister a one-time soldier and grass-roots man himself - knows the score on the East Coast. He cannot properly divulge partly because there is still good reason to rely on his good troops. Besides the people’s own resolve for self preservation, what else is there besides the unreasonable expectation of 24-hour protection from the state? People say get to the “root causes”. I say the “causes” have changed! I will cautiously approach the Minister to comment on the implications when banditry forces the Minawatties and Nankissoons to flee their birthrights. The politics of banditry and bullyism might come into the discourse.


1) I am suggesting to Minister Gajraj: find Mr. Bynoe! It is not fair to the other accused; purchase one of those cellular-phone lap-top interceptors for your intelligence agencies if they don’t have one of their very own already; you can amend invasion-of-privacy legislation; recruit more male prison guards.

2) Prepare a grand well-deserved farewell for acting commissioner McDonald. It was not fair to him - the events he inherited and coped with.

3) Enter the Indian Arrival Committee, another new NG0. Why are they here, GIHA?

4) Next week: the Brazilians amongst us.

5) My congratulations for now calypso Monarch Vivian Jordan. But I agree with the knowledgeable who has made the distinction between Calypsonians and calypso singers. The calypso singers are the popular ones now. Read my full piece within a month, on this subject. My sympathies this year go out to Sweet Monix, Blazing Fire, Black Hat and Boss Stevens.

6) Has any cricket umpire ever been accused of match-fixing?

7) Plan a safe, secure Mash

`Til next week!

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