There is no doubt that Guyana has made tremendous progress in every area of life in the years since 1992 when the PPP/C was first elected to office. Most people, including me, believe that in some, or even many, areas more could have been done, or things could have been done differently. But this does not detract from the fact that visible and substantial progress has been made so that the lives of Guyanese people are measurably better that they were twenty years ago.
Guyana has come of age as a democracy. There are periodic, free and fear elections. There is a robustly critical press. The judiciary is, and is seen to be, independent from the many decisions made against the interests of the Government. All Opposition motions and questions are allowed in the National Assembly. In the very few cases where they violate the Standing Orders, amendments are usually accepted to bring them within the rules. The committee system is functioning, so much so to the extent where it is now overloaded.
In the social sector Guyana’s progress has been nothing short of spectacular. The housing programme, particularly for low income earners, has been the flagship of the Government’s drive to improve the lives of the Guyanese people. Progress in health and education tell similar stories notwithstanding the fact that Guyana spends far less proportionately on these services than its neighbours in the Caribbean.
In the economy, the growth in GDP has been slow for reasons which have nothing to do with the Government’s performance but with contrived circumstances. Nevertheless the Government’s dedicated management of the major fiscal and monetary factors, which has been repeatedly praised in reports by the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, have laid the basis for a take off of the economy.
Factors such as political instability, criminal terrorism and natural disasters have receded and have been replaced by a surging confidence in the future, the maintenance and continuity of which the Government would do well to ensure.
This is the broad picture and it places Guyana firmly in the category of countries, particularly in the Caribbean, which have a functioning democracy. Having said that, it cannot be denied that Guyana faces numerous hurdles in dealing with continuing challenges, in ensuring that recommended standards are implemented and in seeking new ways to expand rights even further. It is not the intention to detail these here. They have been dealt with in earlier articles and critics of the Government write about them regularly and, often, exaggeratedly. But the impression is sought to be created and highlighted by Guyana’s challenges including the recent call from Britain, Canada and a few other countries, for an investigation in past extra judicial killings, that somehow Guyana human rights is under siege by its own Government. The acceptance by Guyana’s delegation of 57 of the 112 recommendations and undertaking to consider the remaining 55 did not receive the attention that it deserved. Nor did the praise for Guyana’s poverty reduction strategy and other programmes.
Guyana is not unique among democratic countries for violent upsurges in crime which sometimes attract unusual responses and excesses by security forces. Brazil and Jamaica are two such countries in this region. The allegations of chopping off of the heads of criminals by off duty policemen and mass slaughter of rioting prisoners or rebellious criminals from the slums in Brazil are not unusual. In Jamaica a few years ago twenty-five criminals were killed by security forces in one weekend siege. Reports are surfacing that in Haiti prisoners who attempted to escape during the earthquake were shot and killed by security forces. Despite these challenges to the maintenance of human rights these countries have sound democratic credentials.
Over the past few years Guyana faced two major upsurges of criminal terrorism bordering on internal war. It is well known that political activists who opposed the Government publicly defended the criminals without a word of condemnation by the opposition. A state of siege was created in Guyana for a period of six years when the people of Guyana lived in terror. Innocent citizens and numerous policemen were gunned down mercilessly and in cold blood. Those who then silently witnessed these atrocities, or reluctantly voiced a tepid condemnation or two, now gloat over the call by foreigners for an inquiry. They never fail to challenge the Government’s commitment to democratic principles.
The fact that other countries have similar challenges do not provide an excuse for Guyana committing atrocities. The question is whether the Government is taking steps to deal with them. And it is. Wherever possible, atrocities are condemned and charges are laid. This is the test and the Government passes with flying colours.
I had the honour of presiding a few weeks ago over the election of the Chairs for the newly constituted Women and Gender Rights Commission and the Rights of the Child Commission, both provided for by the Constitution and long overdue. Among the members of these Commissions are Guyanese from all walks of life, civil society and persons experienced in these areas. In other words these bodies are so constituted that their deliberations will impact significantly on the issues which they intend to deal with. The establishment of these commissions are not the acts of a Government that is not interested in the human rights of the citizens of Guyana. (www.conversationtree.gy)