Guyana Chronicle
April 5, 2004

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Under the People’s National Congress (PNC) watch, a great damage to the cultural psyche of working-class East Indians and Africans in Guyana was inflicted through gross violations of the rule of law and their societal impact vis-à-vis fraudulent national elections from 1968 to 1985 and through a ruthless implementation of the National Security Law. However, East Indians felt the brunt of discriminatory assaults on their participation levels in the occupational structures. This statement is evidenced through examining ethnic involvement in various State Sectors during the PNC era.

Some features of the East Indian experience in the Caribbean may very well add up to a profile in historical marginalization. These features include dislocation from India, massive burden of labor in the Caribbean, ethnic victimization in the post-colonial era, and migration to the metropolitan centers. Such characteristics generate a double marginalization, as Naipaul would say (Birbalsingh). First, there is marginalization via their relationship to a subservient American and Euro-centered Creole-Caribbean condition. Second, there is marginalization via their ‘outsider’ status as East Indians in the Caribbean.

However, the main focus here is on samples of social marginalization of East Indians during PNC rule. Social marginalization depicts a group that is not allowed to participate fully in the institutions of the dominant society through prejudice and discrimination. In this case, their marginality is mainly experienced through their participation levels in the occupational structures.

Limiting ethnic participation
The following is what Mr. Burnham had to say about national unity in 1971. “When I described 1971 as the year of national unity…I meant the active involvement of the overwhelming number of Guyanese in our national goals and aims.” However, Guyana’s serious economic failures and a developing authoritarianism under the PNC dramatically curtailed active participation by all working-class Guyanese in building national unity. A few economic failures and some elements of an emergent dictatorship are now presented:

The 7-year Development Plan (1966-1972) buckled in 1969.

The ‘Feed, House and Clothe the Nation’ Development Plan remained a catchword without producing substance.

The Third Development Plan (1978-81) increased the debt burden accompanied by little or no industrialization.

Hoyte claimed in 1981 that the economy ‘was disastrous’, and the New Nation noted that the economy was ‘tottering on the brink of collapse’.

Rigged elections continued to be the norm.

The militarization of Guyana was enhanced with about one military personnel for every 35 citizens.

The women’s section of the PNC proposed a one-party state for Guyana in 1971.

High real interest rate and high inflation led to declining productive investments and transformed the economy into speculative and trade dealings.

Currency devaluation from G$4.15=US$1 in 1985 to G$126=US$1 in 1992.

Norman Semple of the Guyana Public Service Association talked about ‘a crisis of authority’ induced by ‘a blurring of the line of authority between political and administrative decision making’, creating a problem in’…the efficiency of the administrative machinery of the state…’

Decline in the East Indian student population at the University of Guyana possibly correlated with the operations of the National Service.

Perceptions that acquisition of significant jobs is related to holding a PNC membership card abounded.

My interpretations and discussion on ethnic participation in the State Sector are based on the findings of Debiprashad and Budhram’s study of East Indians in the Caribbean, published in the 1980s. How did East Indians and Africans fare under the PNC when it came to active participation in the public sector?

In agriculture, the data from six crops showed that more than 70% were East Indian operators. The crops were rice, sugar, coconuts, green vegetables, citrus, and pineapples. East Indians, according to the researchers, clearly contributed the most positive role in agricultural transformation of the economy.

East Indians in their rural habitat provided an important food basket for Guyana at a time when the slogan ‘feed, clothe, and house’ the nation became a catch phrase. Later, the phrase remained a mere slogan.

After 1964, East Indians experienced declining guaranteed prices for rice purchased by the Rice marketing Board, the beginning of the fall of agriculture.

Public Service
Table1: Public Service-Senior Administrative and Executive Ranks

Total Nos. EI A O % EI % A % O

Ministers 29 7 20 2 24 69 7

Other Senior Positions 66 31 25 10 47 38 15

Permanent Secretaries 29 2 25 2 7 86 7

Principal Assistant Secretaries 38 14 21 3 37 55 8

Personnel 22 5 17 - 23 77 -

Accounts 19 9 8 2 47 42 11

Other Departmental Heads 139 19 102 18 14 73 13

Source: Debiprashad & Budhram’s East Indians in the Caribbean (1987)

EI=East Indians; A=Africans; O=Others

In the Ministries, only a handful of East Indians occupied senior administrative positions. Africans filled most of these posts, as evidenced in Table 1. In 1973, there was only one East Indian Permanent Secretary compared to two in 1979. About 37% of Principal Assistant Secretaries and only 23% of Heads of Personnel Divisions were East Indians. There were 7 East Indian Ministers and 20 African Ministers. Some ethnic balance is evidenced in the Accounts Division. Africans clearly dominated positions of Other Departmental/Divisional Heads, including Regional Development Officers.


Table 2: Ethnic Composition of Heads of Main Educational Institutions

Total Nos. EI A O % EI % A % O

Higher Institutions of Learning 9 - 9 - - 100 -

Multilateral Schools 5 - 4 1 - 80 20

Community High Schools 25 5 19 1 20 76 4

Other Secondary Schools 40 23 15 2 57.5 37.5 5

Education Officers 20 6 14 - 30 70 -

Source: Debiprashad & Budhram’s East Indians in the Caribbean (1987)

Table 2 shows the racial and ethnic imbalance in education during the PNC’s ruling years. Africans headed all higher education institutions, including the University of Guyana, Cyril Potter College of Education. No East Indian headed the Multilateral Secondary Schools, while only five East Indians were Heads of Community High Schools out of a total of 25.

A serious racial imbalance of Education Officers prevailed. Out of a total of 20 Education Officers, 14 were Africans.

State Boards
Africans dominated the Chairmanships and memberships of State Boards, Committees, and Commissions. There were 35 Chairmen of African origin of a total of 44 Boards/Committees/Commissions. Of a total of 487 members of Boards/Committees/Commissions, only 97 were East Indians and 365 were Africans.

At the time of the study, there were 38 corporations and companies under the jurisdiction of the Guyana State Corporation. Each corporation had a Board of Directors and a General Manager. In a total of 270 Directors, 170 were Africans and 53 were East Indians. General Managers numbered 24 Africans and 7 East Indians. Even among Deputy General Managers, Africans dominated, carrying 18 out of 27 positions.

This racial and ethnic imbalance demonstrated in the 1970s and 1980s, achieved a high level of sustainability almost throughout the PNC’s ruling years. This is part of the PNC’s legacy of sustained ethnic imbalances in the public sector, a legacy that has corroded the foundations of the social and economic infrastructures of this country.

The World Bank Group Report (1994), referring to the 1988-1992 period, noted “The government ' s capacity to deliver essential services has virtually collapsed. Infrastructure remains severely dilapidated. The supply of potable water is limited to a small proportion of the population, drainage and irrigation systems have deteriorated to the point that they are no longer useful, and health and education services have become so inadequate that social indicators for the country have fallen to among the lowest in the Caribbean.”

When the Opposition elements complain about the performance of the People’s Progressive Party (PPP/C) Administration, they should know that many of these infrastructures are being rebuilt. The PPP/C Administration, erroneously perceived as an East Indian Government, has not created East Indian control of the public sector, in the same way that the PNC regime concocted an African-dominated State Sector. At any rate, the sample evidence definitively indicates that East Indians were marginalized in the Public Sector during the PNC’s ruling years.