By Svetlana Marshall
MINISTER Amna Ally has defended the Ministry of Social Cohesion, positing that it has made significant progress since its establishment.On Thursday, in the National Assembly, she declared: “Only a visionary would consider the need for a Ministry of Social Cohesion; but one whose thinking is warped would rename it the Ministry of Social Bribery.”
Minister Ally disclosed to the House that the Ministry of Social Cohesion was established to foster a peaceful and inclusive society.
But even as she attempted to defend the relevance of the Social Cohesion Ministry, People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) Member of Parliament Nigel Dharamlall shouted from across the chamber: “Which Ministry?”
Brushing aside the questions and comments from Dharamlall and his colleagues, an apparently unmoved Minister Ally explained that she has been tasked with the responsibility to lead a national process that is geared towards addressing issues of exclusion and marginalisation.
“I am required to ensure that there is an environment where people feel a sense of belonging. I have to ensure that, through our programmes and projects, scope is created for citizens to be included in these processes (and that) they participate in initiatives at the local and national levels,” she clarified.
Guyana cannot continue in disunity, disharmony and division, the Social Cohesion Minister said, as she warned Members of Parliament to desist from creating division. “Let me caution my dear friend, Honourable Cornel Damon, that if we are to progress as a nation, let us see ourselves as Guyanese, even though we may belong to different groups. We have to move together as one. It would be nice if we, as Members of the National Assembly, lead by example — by being agents of change,” Minister Ally said.
In its quest to create a cohesive society, the Social Cohesion Ministry has been working closely with other ministries and governmental and non-governmental organizations, she declared.
Turning her attention to the 2016 Budget, Minister Ally asserted that the budget would support the work of the Ministry of Social Cohesion to develop policy and programmatic and operational frameworks. Additionally, she said, the budget would help to build capacity and develop strategic partnerships for pursuing an agenda of social cohesion in Guyana.
“Our budgetary allocation would allow us to work with communities across the regions of Guyana, giving opportunities for citizens to cooperate with each other in order to survive and prosper,” she disclosed. Once the budget is approved, she said, the Social Cohesion Ministry would hold further meetings and consultations with communities in all ten administrative regions.
Information sharing and coordinating meetings with key stakeholders, ministries, regional administrations, municipalities and other related entities are also on the agenda, she declared; in addition to mediation, conflict resolution, and peace-building initiatives.
Although the Social Cohesion Ministry was established only eight months ago, Minister Ally said, its journey has been very promising, and it has had several outstanding achievements.
It was pointed out that international organizations, such as the United Nations and the British High Commission, have already offered financial and technical support to the Ministry of Social Cohesion, particularly in the hosting of the Social Cohesion Round Table held in September, 2015.
“Others have indicated their interest, and have begun partnering with the Ministry; and this includes the Institute of Applied Science and Technology (IAST). They are partnering with the Ministry by assisting to foster cohesion and expanding micro-enterprise initiatives in the regions of Guyana, which is emerging as one of our good practices,” she told the House.
Soap making project
This minister further reported that, with the help of IAST, the soap-making project in North Rupununi (Region 9) has been gaining momentum. Additionally, the Ministry has played a critical role in helping Aranaputa and Parishara to expand their multiple uses of peanuts.
The Social Cohesion Ministry has been playing an even greater role in the area of education, having been in the forefront in providing the items needed to ensure children attend school regularly and punctually, Minister Ally said.
Upon hearing this, her colleague shouted “Yes! Yes!” much to the dissatisfaction of PPP/C Member of Parliament Ganga Persaud, who replied: “We already achieved universal education.”
Nevertheless, Minister Ally, protected by House Speaker Dr Barton Scotland, submitted that there is a correlation between one’s level of education, one’s inclusion and participation in development processes, and one’s opportunities for upward mobility.
She said that if the Social Cohesion Ministry can contribute to a child’s academic life, it would have made a significant contribution and investment in that child’s personal development; and by extension the development of the community and nation.
“Mr Speaker, regardless of what has been said, the truth is that the Ministry of Social Cohesion has partnered with Guyana’s business community and, to date, over 300 bicycles have been distributed in Regions 1, 3, 4, 6, 7 and 9 to children who live long distances from school,” she told the House.
“Tell dem bout de boots!” PPP/C Cornel Damon butted in from his side of the House, but his comment was not enough to gain the attention of the minister, who further disclosed that six boats have to date been distributed.
Boats have been distributed for utilization of students in Region 2 (Upper and Lower Pomeroon), Moraikobai (Region 5), Baracara, and Berbice and Demerara Rivers. The partnership has also resulted in students in Regions 4, 5, 6 and 7 benefiting from provision of six buses.
“Mr Speaker, let me say to the Honourable Dr Vindya Persaud, on the question of the distribution of the boats, buses and bicycles, that APNU+AFC will not be daunted by your accusations of our distribution outlets. If you really knew where those items were distributed, then you will be put to shame,” Minister Ally said to Dr Persaud, who appeared at a loss for words, although the usual smile was plastered on her face.
In defence of his colleague, Damon again shouted: “But you discriminating!”
“Sorry if your supporters are gravitating to us,” Minister Ally rebutted.
Minister Ally put to rest the accusation that these projects are being funded by political investors. She assured the House that the contributions are from good corporate citizens who simply have confidence in the APNU+AFC Government.