Rekindling our collective soul

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ONE of the consequences of allowing a society to descend into a state of disrepair is that when a decision is taken to tackle the problem, the will to do so is often lacking.

Look at the reaction some years ago to Minister of Public Security, Khemraj Ramjattan’s decision to enforce the 2:00am curfew on bars and nightclubs. The reaction from citizens was unbelievable. As the minister himself said recently, he was “called all kinds of names, and abused,” because he decided to enforce the law.

The change of government in 2015 brought a new sense of patriotism and purpose among sections of the society. We witnessed a spontaneous outpouring of civic engagement, which was highlighted by the clean-up campaigns around the country. It is easy to point fingers at the political directorate for its failure to harness and steer that new energy to a place of hope. But our problems run deep in national veins.

The last three decades of structural adjustment, imposed from outside and administered locally, has taken its toll on the country. President David Granger called it right when he said, some time ago, that the damage done to this country during the ‘decades of troubles’ is most manifest in the demoralisation of the public and security services; the erosion of public trust and the lowering of the ‘quality of life.

Young people opt out of organised national endeavours when they do not discern individual gains, and older citizens have retreated to their narrow confines. One just has to look at the way we use the roadways. It is difficult not to conclude that civility and regard for the community are no longer part of the consciousness of some.

From the minibus drivers to the commuters, to the drivers of private cars, we seem to have signed on to a destiny of disorder and disregard for life and limb. As the frequency of road fatalities rise, reckless driving has become more entrenched. There are more law enforcement officers on the streets, but they appear to be helpless in the face of the anarchy around them.

And while we quote statistics to show a decline in crime, one cannot help but take note of the gruesomeness of the murders, such as the recent slaying of a money changer and his daughter in Better Hope last week. And the killing of a 21-year-old on Sunday over $500 must alert all of us to the urgency of now, to quote Dr. Martin Luther King. The rapid rise of unbridled individualism, accompanied by a decline of collective commitment to community and country, has produced a changed society, where values have been discarded.

We come now to our Opposition Leader, Bharrat Jagdeo, under whose tenure, as president, there were heightened allegations, some not without justification, of racial tensions and conflicts; groups targeted for exclusion based on geography, political association, and identity. Imbalances in budgetary allocations and resources directed to, or taken away from, regions where the government under his leadership did not control, were noted.

The narco-economy was allowed to flourish, which Professor Clive Thomas noted represented a significant percentage of the economy. The criminalised state was also coined, because, in addition to the narco-economy, corruption was pervasive. Transparency International ranked Guyana the most corrupt Caribbean English-speaking country, a shame and stigma that require much work to remove. During this period, when hundreds of dead bodies were turning up all over the place, Dr Roger Luncheon famously described the carnage as being done by “phantom” squads.  Later, it was learnt that the government’s hands were bloody.

Dissent and alternative views were not treated as a right or opportunity to engage or review. President Jagdeo assented to the Bill that allows a person not more than two consecutive terms to be president. On demitting office, he began putting a process in place to create a framework to see his return as president, though, throughout Donald Ramotar’s presidency, he reiterated his non-intention of holding constitutional office again. The 2015 elections proved otherwise. Jagdeo not only appeared on the List of Representatives, but successfully manipulated the system and became Leader of the Opposition.

Amid the despair, the coming of oil and the determination of President Granger and his steady leadership to revive this nation, the recent results of the National Grade Six Assessment have given us some hope that our country is slowly being rebuilt. It is time that our politicians on both sides of the political divide come to grips with the fact that Guyana needs repair work beyond political rhetoric. While our leaders spar about macro-economics and politics, our nation is dying at its very soul. But it’s not only our politicians who must take responsibility for our condition; the citizenry at large has to find its collective soul again. Something drastic and intentional has to be done to pull us back from the brink.