THESE have been very exciting times on all fronts for our Guyanese people. Positive stories of development and progress continue to emerge and politics could not be more controversial as well as hectic.
For me, the rains dampened our spirits just a bit, with a wash-out of the India-West Indies ODI, which accompanied the three-game, T20 white-wash.
But I tried to recover by joining the ministerial caravan, the latest that was held Friday in La Parfaite Harmonie, a sprawling housing scheme on the west bank of the Demerara River, where an estimated 20,000 persons live.
The scheme had ground to a halt when the previous government fell short of some $16 billion to complete essential infrastructural works, leaving behind a neglected community and a nest of discontent.
Friday, the APNU+AFC Coalition Government rolled out a $1.5 billion package for roads, sidewalks, drainage, street lamps, playgrounds, etc. The package includes commissioning within two weeks of a new police station, construction of two new wells, subsidies for home-owners to build core homes; and grants to upgrade low-income homes. Works will start within days.
The people were jubilant that the government had come to them with working solutions. Much of the credit for the initiative should go to Joseph Harmon, the Director-General in the Ministry of the Presidency.
The previous Friday I was with the team that inter-faced with the Mahdia mining town in the heartland of the Potaro-Siparuni region that is renowned for our magical Kaieteur and Orinduik Falls, the ever-green Pakaraima Mountains, gold and diamond mines, and an unimaginable expansive spread of green, tropical foliage.
Public Infrastructure Minister David Patterson drove me around along the new concrete roads, where once there were huge craters and red dust. As I jumped into his “Patmobile” (an improvised ATV), I recalled in my childhood years the comic books that I loved, with Batman in his Batmobile coming to the rescue of distressed folk in the dangerous Gotham City. I would credit “Patto” with similar feats in places such as Mahdia, Lethem, Bartica, Mabaruma and elsewhere in Guyana, about which I will write later.
But I must digress from the unfolding stories of progress in Guyana under our government, to again comment on the controversy over how soon fresh elections should be held in Guyana.
EXTENSION OF TIMEFRAME
Mr. Lincoln Lewis, the GTUC’s general-secretary, has written a letter emphasising that the Caribbean Court of Justice has made no edict or order as to the date on which elections can be held (SN 9.08.19). But the editor was quick to append a note that the elections “must be held” within three months after June 18, “unless there was an extension” by the National Assembly.
Extension of the timeframe has to be by a motion supported by two- thirds of all the elected Members of Parliament. We have NOT arrived at the “unless” stage, and the Opposition is ambivalent as well as confused on whether or not it would support such a motion, even on any reasonable grounds that could be advanced by the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM).
While the opposition leader has repeated that his MPs would not return to the National Assembly to support any such motion in the House, his closest aide, Ms. Gail Teixeira, has left some room for a little extension of the so-called drop-dead date. She painted two scenarios, as follows:-
(1) Elections could be held ‘as close as possible to the September 18th deadline’ if the court were to rule on August 14 to halt the on-going house-house registration of Guyanese 14 years and over, and elections preparations were to start immediately;
(2) Elections could be held ‘as soon as early mid-October should GECOM decide to halt the exercise on its own and undertake a claims-and- objections process over a three-week period. This option is premised on use of the 2018 voters’ list, which expired on April 30, 2019.
Ms. Teixeira, however, contradicted her boss when she posited as follows: “Both options would knowingly be past the September 18th deadline, but not too far distant.”
Given a reasonable timeline after the “drop-dead” date of September 18, it appears from the Teixeira options that the Opposition would return to Parliament to support an extension motion.
There is nothing to preclude the completion of the house-to-house registration exercise under which well over 100,000 persons have already placed their names on the new master data base.
The new Chairman of GECOM, Madam Justice Claudette Singh, seemed to be supporting the commission’s campaign. She was quoted at saying last Friday that “(I)n order to vote, you must be registered. That is your first task; you must be registered before you exercise your constitutional right to vote.”
Whether the voters’ list is bloated by 200,000 persons or not could only be verified by a house-to-house enumeration. The presence on the 2018 list of 633,155 eligible voters, using figures from Ms. Teixeira, in a population of about 750,000 persons is untenable. To this list should be added the names of young voters who have turned 18 since the last elections.
While Teixeira wants to flex on the date for elections, her colleague Mr. Anil Nandlall is pressing GECOM to scrap the registration exercise. He launched a rearguard campaign against the new chairman when he petulantly accused the body with procrastination. In a letter captioned, “New Chairman should have already moved to comply with terms of CCJ ruling,” Nandlall chided Justice Singh when he accused her with “non-action” after she said that she would await the decision of the chief justice on August 14 before making any pronouncements on the issue.
DEATH OF TONI MORRISON
Leaving politics aside, I wish to express my sense of personal loss at the death of Toni Morrison, the great African-American novelist whose writing has greatly influenced me. Condemning racist attacks on Haitian migrants in my column last week, I referred to her prize-winning novel, The Bluest Eye, in which she told the poignant story of a young Black girl who wanted to be like Mary Jane. She could not; yet she had a right to dream and to be, like Haitians, Cuban or Venezuelan migrants.
Her writing also influenced my first novel, Hendree’s Cure, in which I blended fictional and documentary styles as I used imagination to recreate the life of my ancestors who had migrated to the then British Guiana from Tamil Nadu.
I was inspired by what Toni Morrison said in her novel, Beloved, that when all that remains of a people’s history are bits of information and incomplete data, the writer’s business is to “give intelligence to such scraps – and a heartbeat” by imagining the lives of people. I gave a heartbeat also to my second novel, “Fragments from Memory,” which was published in 2014 as the first part of my memoirs. I salute your memory, dearest sister!