“GUYANA IS A SAFE PLACE”! SAYS JOE HARMON


Last Thursday the United States renewed its Level 2 travel advisory on Guyana. It advised travelers to exercise increased caution. The US’s four travel advisories range from ‘exercising normal caution’ to ‘do not travel.’ The recent shooting to death of three men at Black Bush Polder, Berbice, and another three men in a home in Norton Street, Georgetown, that they had invaded, is a backdrop to the travel advisory, which is the same level of caution that Guyanese would normally exercise.

Most who live or work in Georgetown avoid certain areas and exercise increased caution even when not in those areas. Most do not wear jewellery or keep it safely hidden on their person. It is not safe for women to walk with handbags or for men to have easily accessible wallets which are easy targets for pickpockets, with the aid of knife or gun. Reports of harrowing incidents fill our daily news and these are only the tip of the iceberg of what happens every day in our streets and homes. Many overseas Guyanese, particularly from Berbice, do not visit Guyana on holiday because of the crime situation. All Guyanese know that visiting relatives are an invitation to bandits, as the Norton Street incident demonstrates.

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THE VOTERS’ LIST AND FREE AND FAIR ELECTIONS


It is generally accepted that Guyana endured a period of rigged elections between 1968 and 1985. The voters’ list was a critical element in the rigging throughout the entire period. The central counting of votes at one place in every region, which were completely sealed off by the military, facilitated the removal of the bottom from the wooden ballot boxes which were secured by nails. The boxes were then filled with a pre-determined number of fake ballots, although there was a limit to the number of such ballots that could be printed, marked with an X and inserted in the ballot boxes.

Thus, a multiplicity of schemes was devised. These included retaining on the voters’ list the names of persons who had died or migrated and padding the electoral list with fictitious names, impersonating and voting for persons who were legitimately on the list, securing proxies for employees from sympathetic or intimidated employers, postal votes and other devices. As these methods were exposed, different methods were rolled out at different elections. But a flawed electoral list was always a constant. That is why the elections due in 1990 was postponed for two years, by agreement with the then Opposition after an intense campaign, in order to conduct a new registration exercise for a new voters’ list.

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CORRUPTION HAS NOW BECOME ENDEMIC


Challenges to transparency in Government have attracted public comment in the past two weeks. I make no allegation or judgment  on recent events since they are based only on newspaper reports. But apart from these recent matters, allegations of corruption and nepotism are to be expected in the absence of strict and enforceable rules, which have been promised by the Government. These challenges have been occurring since Guyana gained its Independence and will continue until Governments take steps to enforce transparency and accountability. 
There is clearly no across the board political appetite for steps to curb corruption and nepotism. The PPP/C came to office in 1992 with one of its major promises being the elimination of corruption. It brought auditor general’s reports, which had been lagging for seven years up to date. It established a more transparent system of procurement. It implemented the Integrity Commission. However, in the ensuing twenty years, with the vast increase in public and infrastructure spending, corruption escalated to unimaginable proportions in every sphere of society. It became possible to grease palms to speed up or obtain services. Whatever the reason, so sensitive was the PPP/C Government to allegations of corruption, that when I described it as ‘pervasive’ in 2012 and called for additional steps to deal with it, I was severely attacked and forced to resign.

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POLITICAL OPPORTUNISM AND CONSTITUTIONAL REFORM


Guyana’s main political parties will only be interested in constitutional reform to transform our ethno-political system, if a sufficiently large portion of the electorate demands it. Consider the following: In free and fair elections, the PPP will obtain either the votes of the majority or of a plurality because the Indian Guyanese population is the largest single block. The PNCR will obtain the second largest number of votes because African Guyanese are the second largest block.

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STILL TIME FOR CONSTITUTIONAL REFORM


President Granger’s address to the National Assembly completely omitted any reference to constitutional reform.  Since a budgetary provision was made, the Guyanese people were entitled to be told what legislative initiatives to expect from the Government.   

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