There are growing concerns within the Indian Guyanese community that the Government has embarked on large-scale discrimination against them. This is being fuelled by politically driven accusations by the PPP using the same emotive language used by the PNC/PNCR in the 1990s – ‘ethnic cleansing.’ I do not accept that there is such discrimination but the growing perception is a negative phenomenon so early in the life of the Government. It should not be dismissed because once such perceptions take hold, they are very difficult to overcome.
Guyana’s politics are organized for the expression of ethnic sentiments and are driven by ethnic considerations. The PPP governments of 1957 to 1964 were accused of racism and of being a ‘rice’ government and worse. During the PNC era of the 1970s and 1980s, the PNC governments were accused by the PPP of ‘racial and political discrimination.’ When the PNC lost the elections in 1992, one dominant theme emanating from its leaders, members and supporters was PPP’s discrimination. That theme quickly developed into accusations of ‘ethnic cleansing.’ It finally settled in to ‘marginalisation’ where it remained constant throughout PPP’s terms of office and became an accepted fact among African Guyanese. It attained great resonance when Dr. Luncheon said in evidence in Bharrat Jagdeo’s libel case against the Kaieteur News and Frederick Kissoon that no African Guyanese were qualified to be ambassadors.
With the advent of the APNU+AFC Government, many Indian Guyanese have become fearful of discrimination and, in particular, fearful of the loss of promotional or job opportunities, loss of access which is vital for overcoming bureaucratic inertia or maneouvering around bottlenecks in the conduct of business. The fear is being generated by the reality of Indians losing their jobs, notwithstanding that most of those are political appointments and are expected to resign upon a change of government or are public servants who have elected to climb a political platform. While on the ground there is little substance to any charge of discrimination, there have been worrying developments.
The negative phenomenon was given impetus when Clairmont Lye and Andaiye, two of the most powerful and respected voices in civil society, who do not go to press lightly, raised the issue by protesting in letters to SN the ethnically unbalanced and as Andaiye mentioned, the gender deficient, state boards which had been announced. To the Government’s credit, it swiftly recognized the complaint and undertook to review the appointments.
The dismissal of 2,000 community officers in the Amerindian community has been described by the PPP as an example of the ‘worst case of ethnic cleansing.’ I cannot say if the employment of 2,000 persons was for a political objective as alleged by the Government. It seems unlikely having regard to the large number involved. The Government, which has the responsibility, has provided no information of a credible nature to the public about this large-scale dismissal. The sudden loss of income by 2,000 in the most deprived community in Guyana has been met by public indifference. While I would be prepared to give the Government the benefit of the doubt, it would be conditional on an acceptable explanation for this destructive act with a stroke of the pen and the presentation of a plan for the injection of the same level of resources in the Amerindian communities, which have suffered this devastating loss.
The manner of the dismissal of Bharat Dindyal, the CEO of the GPL, one of the best and most dedicated managers in the State system, will send shivers down the spines of the ethnically sensitive. In justifying his dismissal, a not too subtle attempt was made to portray his continued employment without a written contract, even though he was continuing on the job only until a replacement could be found, as some sort of sinister plot.
The incidents that led to the dismissal were reported in SN yesterday. If the report is true, then Dindyal resisted gross and continued insubordination from his deputy, which was supported by the Minister. Dindyal’s display of rage is not what did him in. His dismissal was prompted by his resistance to the insubordination and the exposure of the political involvement. He has stood up and resisted in times past in different circumstances. This political culture in much of the Third World that infects our political system as well, embraces the type of gross political interference and insubordination which Dindyal perceived and which he protested. Political interference crushes all those in its path who attempt to resist. There were many from recent PPP governments. Dindyal is the first known victim since the elections and will not be the last unless the Government breaks with this culture.
The Government should have no doubt in its mind that these acts will all add up to the growing perception by the Indian Guyanese community that discrimination against them will become a part of their lot under the APNU+AFC coalition. The Government must understand that the rise of such sentiments are not determined by constructive examination of facts and rational conclusions arising therefrom. They emerge from perceptions rooted in historical circumstances that are given expression by our two party system which drive and sustain the perceptions.