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Articles by Janet Jagan 2007

A Consistent Aim for a Better Life for all Guyanese

by Janet Jagan (Dec. 8, 2007)

I was reminded, in a letter in Stabroek News, by a prominent civil servant in Premier Cheddi Jagan’s office in the 1960’s,  Mr Tiwari  (which put an end to all the fuss about Mr Abraham), about a publication he was involved in – “Patterns of Progress.”

Upon getting hold of this rare publication, I found it of great interest today although it was described as “The Story of Achievement 1957-60.”

I am particularly reminded of some of the recent snide remarks in the letter columns of prominently anti-government media, that because of racial preferences, the PPP/C focuses in agriculture, mainly on rice and sugar. However, the facts tell a different story.

The PPP government of 1957-61 introduced an incentive programme of providing bonuses to farmers for special crops cultivated on a new land; “Patterns of Progress” explains: “Government is now paying bonuses to farmers for new lands  put under the following crops – onions, cabbages, dholl, peanuts, sesame and other oil seeds, cocoa and coconuts. Farmers are also being assisted with seed and planting material. For certain of these crops there are guaranteed prices and steps will also be taken to restrict importation of similar products when the crops are in sufficient supply, credit facilities are available to farmers.”

This was not words or propaganda – but a reality. I remember that I sat in Parliament in a seat won in the Essequibo – Pomeroon Constituency. I visited my constituency regularly, although I was also a Minister, and in the Pomeroon River, hundreds of thousands of coconut plants were freely distributed and bonuses given to farmers who made the area fruitful in the production of copra. Also, the government placed a high tax on imported coffee to protect the Pomeroon coffee producers, who at that time produced the best coffee in Guyana.

During that period, some 90,000 acres of land were given out to farmers, of which about 11,500 were given to Co-op Land and Producers’ Societies. Another 23,000 acres were given to settlers in main land settlement schemes at Black Bush Polder, Garden of Eden, Mara and Onverwagt.

What is of historical significance is the fact that the Co-op Movement at that period made considerable strides “both in number of societies and volume of business.” It was during this period that co-ops grew and were strongly encouraged by the PPP and its leader Dr Cheddi Jagan. There are numerous records of writings and speeches he made encouraging the Co-op Movement.

The pity of it all is that Co-ops were blooming during the PPP period in office 1957-61 and 1961-64. But with the manipulation (by the US and UK governments) of the PNC/UF into government in 1964, the Co-op Movement met a slow death. This, in spite of Mr Burnham and his PNC naming this country “The Cooperative Republic of Guyana” – a name we do not deserve, since the Co-op Movement died long before the restoration of democracy in 1992.

I can remember how strong the Co-op Movement was in those days. I recall being invited to declare open a machinery co-op on the East Bank Berbice in the 60’s when, instead of the proverbial champagne at such events, we poured coconut water over the farm machines.

The PPP government at that period in the fifties and sixties set the programme to open Industrial Estates (the first at Ruimveldt), improvement of livestock and the growth of the poultry industry, the expansion of the rice industry, assistance of fishermen with bonuses and help in building trawlers, greater attention and expenditure on drainage and irrigation and the setting up of the Marketing Division.

The Marketing Division afforded producers an assured market at fair prices. Export of plantains, for example, to the Caribbean rose in 1960 to 3 ½ million lbs compared to 1.6 million in 1959.

In fact the Marketing Division was so popular that it went to all areas where farmers brought their produce which was purchased and paid on-the-spot and paid higher prices than the middle men offered. It was even extended to trucks carrying produce to the urban consumers at prices well below what was going in the markets.

During the PNC years, this process, like so many, failed and fell apart. I remember talking to our dear departed Minister of Agriculture Sash Sawh about the days when the Marketing Division was so helpful and popular among farmers and consumers. He took my remarks seriously and re-invigorated the Marketing Division, but it never reached the top levels of the 50’s and 60’s.

“Patterns of Progress” also deals with the PPP’s programmes in health, education, housing, water, transport, sea defences and other aspects of the government at that time.

Of interest today is the foresight of the earlier PPP government on the subject of a road to the Brazil border: “In the years to come it might very well turn out that the builders of the interior road was the most important item in the current Development Programme. Not only will this road help to develop the areas through which it passes, but it will also stimulate trade with the neighbouring territories of the Rio Bravo and Amazonas and provide them with much needed outlets through Port Georgetown.”

What is of significance in “Patterns of Progress” is to understand the consistency of the PPP’s endeavours to improve the lives and welfare of the Guyanese people. These clarify the unbroken chain in our history from the earliest days of the PPP in government to the present – that of the unchanging aim for a better Guyana and a better life for all those living here.

Copyright ©  Nadira Jagan-Brancier 2009

 

Increase the Retiring Age

by Janet Jagan ( August 11, 2007)

It was a good decision of Education Minister Shaik Baksh to employ retired teachers for the nation’s schools. They are definitely needed and their many years of experience will go a long way in the teaching field as well as guiding young teachers in the profession.

I have before, expressed the view that the retiring age for teachers, nurses and public servants is cemented in the past. Things have changed drastically since the last two centuries when the age of retirement was 55 years. Medical science have moved ahead by leaps and bounds and today’s 55 year’s old is not like yesteryear’s 55 year old. Men and women in their fifties are like their counterparts in their late 30’s and 40’s of the past. Science, improved living standards and all the fantastic advances of humankind, have changed the lives of most people on this earth.

When I was a child, one had to be very rich to own a refrigerator, one of the major advances in food preservation and the lessening of burdens on housewives. We had an “ice box” and depended on the delivery of ice to keep our food from spoiling. That is just one of the changes that have taken place, and today, there are not many in Guyana without a refrigerator. Improved medicines have lengthened our lives and in most societies, except the poorest, people live much longer than before.

In most jobs, the longer the person works in the particular field he/she was trained for, generally the greater the knowledge and expertise. This applies to most jobs, particularly the professions like nursing, teaching, engineering, medicine and so on. A teacher of, say, 35 years in the profession, is generally much better than a beginning teacher, no matter the level of the teacher’s education. The experience a teacher gains throughout the years is an almost incalculable asset – the understanding of children, knowing how to deal with difficult children, putting over the subject so that the student understands, being a role model to children and so on.

These same considerations apply to the other professions. A doctor in private practice does not retire at 55 years. In fact, patients usually prefer a doctor of long experience, not one just out of medical school. Even in the government medical services, the 55-year-old doctor is not retired, the reason being, he/she cannot be replaced and better judgment rules.

We are losing many of our professionals, particularly nurses and teachers, to the migration syndrome, and moreso, these particular professionals because of the needs of the First World countries where women in particular, are moving on to jobs of higher pay and greater status. Women have moved up the economic ladder so swiftly in the last few decades that in countries that offer higher status jobs for women, they are moving into these and, leaving behind the traditional women’s job like teaching and nursing. This is a phenomenon of the late 20th and early 21st centuries where women’s struggles for equality in all aspects of life, including jobs is now paying off, particularly in the First World countries. That is not to say that it is not happening in developing countries like ours, where women have climbed upwards into many fields hitherto held only by men.

Since these realities exist, it is time, now to officially change the age of retirement. My suggestion is from 55 years to 65 years, and I hope it is done sooner than later!

Copyright ©  Nadira Jagan-Brancier 2009

 

Divisive Mischief

by Janet Jagan (Oct. 28 2007)

It is regrettable that one of our three daily newspapers, the Stabroek News (SN) continues to spray mischief through its pages. Not only mischief, but rank racism. Its letter columns abound with all sorts of lies, distortions, rumours and vicious racial references. I read one not so long ago, that really turned my stomach upside down. A frequent letter writer called on all Afro-Guyanese to rise up against the PPP/C. The implications of armed struggle were there, hidden under the usual racial garbage.

A newspaper, unless it’s openly aligned to a political party or some specific entity, is not expected to be strongly biased one way or the other, but to objectively present the news and through its editorials, express its opinion on various matters that concern the public.

Not so Stabroek! Last year it was a strong, I would say, very strong advocate of the new party, Alliance for Change, led by two strays from the two major parties. To give credit to Stabroek News, it really tried, really! However, the election results must have been discomforting for the higher-ups in that newspaper. It proved one point quite clearly, that Stabroek News has little effect on the electorate or the outcome of elections.

Now, SN is trying hard to stir up mischief that the President is considering a 3rd term in office. He has clearly denied this and the PPP General Secretary has labelled it "rubbish," yet SN tries to keep the pot boiling on the non-issue.

In its issue of October 18, 2007, S/N printed Part I of  "Reflections on Six Decades of General Elections in Guyana" written by Ms Cecilia Mc Almont. I don’t know her background as an historian, but as one who has lived through the times she records, she is way off!

She starts out on the wrong foot by these words: "As part of our British colonial heritage this practice (free elections and democracy) has been enshrined in our constitutions for more than a century."

Maybe she was unaware of the restricted voting system up to the 1953 elections when a voter had to have a job of a stated salary or own a property – which excluded many, many workers and others, as well as women from voting. The Legislative Council had many members nominated by the British Governor, mostly sugar planters and big businessmen. The Executive Council was hand picked.

We didn’t get Universal Suffrage until the political movement, started mainly by the Political Affairs Committee in 1946 and the PPP in 1950, agitated for full suffrage nationally for a couple of years.

In describing the 1957 elections, the historian noted that the PPP won 9 seats "roughly the same percentage as East Indians in the population." So what is she implying? That the PPP won office in 1957 on the basis of the exact number of East Indians in Guyana? Sheer, bigotry and racism! The PPP from earliest times and after the Burnham split in 1955, always had a strong working class/farmer base. Neither of these is of one race – no! Not even farmers who are of all racial origins!

I can speak for myself. I was Minister of Labour, Health and Housing (1957-61) and as such, worked out the criterion for distribution of houses in Ruimveldt and La Penitence which was a slum clearance project. I carefully gave priority to those most in need, considered their existing housing situation, number in family, income and other relevant factors. Need I mention which group dominated in the allocation of houses? In those days, there was no finger pointing and adding up of numbers.

Also, as Minister of Labour I introduced the first protective legislation for domestics, who at that time – it is different now – were mainly of one ethnic group. In making these small points, I am emphasizing that the PPP was never and is not a party that plays the racial card.

Ms Mc Almont also refers to "the Indo-Guianese birth rate exceeding that of the other ethnic groups and a pattern of continued racial voting." This is highly offensive to anyone who expects academics to be objective and to do their research carefully, rather than parroting the race patterns some wish to use to pull down Guyana into racial strife.

But the lady’s final jab at the PPP and trying hard to stick a label on that Party says this: "The 1961 general elections served to confirm that ‘Apan Jhaat politics’ which had visited in the 1957 elections had found a home."

Ms Mc Almont quoted from "The West on Trial," in her article, but neglected to read what Dr Jagan said about that accusation of "Apan Jhaat". On page 114, Dr Jagan explains that Daniel Debidin’s United Farmers’ and Workers’ Party in the early 50’s attacked the PPP for its position on  Federation. "And so it originated the slogan "Apan Jhaat" (literally, own race) – the use of racism, emotionally to frighten the Indians away from the PPP".

A good editor would never permit such racially divisive and incorrect writings to be published, unless he/she had a specific agenda.

Despite my strong criticism of the content of Stabroek News, I repeat my earlier call for the end of the advertisement ban on that newspaper.

Copyright ©  Nadira Jagan-Brancier 2009

 

Protecting our Environment

by Janet Jagan (Nov. 24, 2007)

Generally speaking, the various threats against the environment come mainly from the developed nations, their massive industries which belch poisonous chemicals into the atmosphere and the millions and millions of vehicles which pollute the planet.

Global warming, the climate changes resulting from uncontrolled pollution are the results of years of neglect of these major issues. At last, it appears that some attention is being paid to this problem which adversely affects the lives of those living on this earth. Unfortunately, the biggest offenders are the slowest to move in the direction of reducing pollution and while all peoples all over the world suffer from the results of this neglect, the poorer ones take the heaviest damage and suffering.

In Guyana, even though we do not contribute in any positive way to the world’s environmental problems, on the contrary, we are part of those countries which help contain the growing threat to humankind. Our largely untouched forests provide a breather to the noxious gases being emitted by so many larger and wealthy nations. For this, we can be proud not to be the sinners in the rapidly growing hazards of the world’s environment.

But within Guyana, we face another form of environmental problem which is extremely harmful to the nation. That is the almost uncontrollable wanton and careless soiling of our environment by waste and garbage.

One peaceful, beautiful Guyanese Sunday morning a friend took me for a ride in the Botanical Gardens, once the pride and joy of our country, known for its beauty and wide range of Guyana’s flowers and plants. No more!

It was shocking to see what has happened there. I am not exaggerating, when I say I saw more than 15 areas of refuse, scattered all over, despite the presence of refuse bins. It was a disgrace! However, it was a reflection of what one sees in many parts of the capital city and elsewhere. However, credit must be given where it is due and many rural and interior communities can take pride in the cleanliness of their villages and settlements.

Besides the fouling-up of the Botanical Gardens, there is no longer the quality and beauty that once existed, under, I suspect, expert botanists or landscape specialists who once had the Gardens in great shape. I can remember years ago, walking in the Gardens with my son in a pram, looking at the gorgeous plants, flowering which made the Gardens full of colour and beauty. I used to walk from our home in Queenstown to the Gardens about twice a week, one of the days, I think Thursdays, to hear the Police Band play.

The zoo, too, is no longer resplendent with examples of Guyana’s rich wild life. Many of the children’s stories I wrote – mostly about animals and birds were inspired by those in the zoo. Now it is pitiful!

But, of course, all of this is not limited to the Botanical Gardens. The whole city  is like a dump site. I pass almost daily, the seawall from Bel Air to Subryanville and it is shocking to see! The area is littered, one can barely see the grass, by bottles, boxes and all sorts of scraps from the night before where a mostly car-crowd enjoy the Atlantic breeze and throw everything they use to the ground – and despite a large number of refuse bins at frequent intervals. I often wonder if they do the same in their houses.

One of the daily newspapers published a photograph of the state of the washroom facilities at the Providence stadium. Looking at it, I’m not inclined to blame those responsible for keeping it clean. I think the blame lies with the users of this facility who have no regard for their responsibility to use the facilities in a clean and careful manner. Public facilities such as toilets are not to be abused, but for the user to keep in mind that others will be making use of the same facility and to behave in a responsible manner.

What has happened to the psyche of the average Guyanese who until fairly recently, had respect for his/her community, and kept it clean and free from waste and garbage? I have often advised that a part of the school curriculum should be devoted to teaching children their various responsibilities as citizens when they grow up. Many countries begin this process early so that a child knows that he/she cannot and should not throw ANYTHING anywhere except in a place for waste disposal – a refuse bin, a waste basket, whatever and to hold on to the disposable item until he/he reaches one. I learned that lesson as a child in school and to this day cannot throw away, even a small candy wrapper, but put it in my purse or pocket until I find a disposal object. But it takes years of repetition to pound that idea into a child’s head. But isn’t it worth it, to have a clean environment?

Guyana is a beautiful country and our city used to be splendid in its cleanliness and beauty with clean canals and streets. Not so today. I remember a period when we had an interim management committee made up of prominent and dedicated citizens who kept the city working and clean. Maybe it’s time for that now and replace those who are unfit and unable for the task.

  Copyright ©  Nadira Jagan-Brancier 2009

 

The Battle Against the Abuse of Women

by Janet Jagan (Dec. 1, 2007)

Everywhere, it’s the same thing. Women and girl children are at risk, their lives and well being threatened and those responsible for the age-old and continuous assaults on their gender are mainly men. There is hardly a country that can hold up its head and say: “Our women are not sexually molested or endangered by violence. Our women can live without fear.”

It’s not an easy task to determine if today there are more assaults on women, percentage-wise, than existed in previous centuries. It’s probably that for a number of reasons – quicker communications, more public awareness of the crimes, more women speaking out, more cases before the courts or whatever, but we can safely say that assaults on women are better known today than in former times.

And, of course, a considerable amount of the attention now being paid to assaults on women is due to the growth of women’s rights groups. These brave women began the struggle for women’s rights about a century and a half ago and had to face unimaginable hostility from both men and women.

Today, in most countries including our own it is different. Women’s groups and individuals speak out frankly, women are moving into powerful positions. For example, about 20 women have led their countries as Presidents or Prime Ministers and scores have served as Cabinet Ministers or Mayors and many have hit the top CEO’s of large corporations and so on.

But despite the advance of women’s rights, we can see even today, the absolutely horrific disadvantages some women face. There are two such cases that have hit the headlines in recent times and probably many, many more we never hear of. One brave woman in Pakistan challenged the courts in a vicious gang rape she suffered, which the courts put down to protect the attackers. But she persevered up to the high courts.

But the most recent and almost unbelievable outrage took place recently in Saudi Arabia where a woman was gang raped by seven men. While the rapists were charged, she was also charged and condemned to 90 lashes. Her lawyer protested and spoke to the press. Her fine was then increased to 200 lashes and imprisonment. This case is still before the world court of public opinion. But to Saudi Arabians, that doesn’t matter and the punishment of this grossly abused woman will probably proceed. It is impossible to imagine that she could live through 200 lashes. This case and others show the distances we have to go to achieve women’s rights, to be protected by law against all forms of abuse and assault.

Just closer by, in Brazil, our neighbour, it was reported that a young woman (her age between 15-20 years) was placed in a jail for a very minor offence. The cell she was placed in contained 20 men and for a month she was repeatedly raped! How on earth could such horrendous episode like that take place? But it did – and not too far away from where we live here in Guyana!

Almost every day, there are media reports of rapes, gang rapes, rapes of infants and little girls, sodomizing of both males and females, bludgeoning and killings of women, assaults by husbands on their wives and so on. The stream of attacks on females of all ages, all races and religions and all layers of society never ends.

And we can add to what the media reports, the hundreds who do not and will not report the assault to the police. I read AA Fenty’s “Frankly Speaking” on November 3, 2007 in Stabroek News in which he bemoaned the fact that many rapists get off, scot-free in the courts. He quoted from that stalwart of women’s rights Josephine Whitehead (and it bears repetition) concerning rape victims: “The combined effects of the myths and fallacies and the rules are as follow:

Very few women who have been raped make a police report – this is even less surprising given the fact that at least one woman who has gone to police to report having been raped, has been raped again by the very men to whom she has gone for help.

Those who do make a report find that the police are generally unsympathetic in dealing with the matter and make only limited attempts to find and arrest the attacker.

In the few cases in which charges are brought, the victim is made to feel as if it is she who is on trial, and the vast majority result in the accused getting off or being given a light sentence.

"The long and short of it is that nearly all rapists remain or soon go free to rape again, while their victims are left with the guilt and shame and the realization that rapists are not the only enemy. Experience in other countries has shown how difficult it is to change attitudes towards rape, but the government can, and should, lead the way by changing the law.”

Ms Whitehead speaks about the shame of being raped. Years ago, I visited Bangladesh, which had, then, become a separate state from its former inclusion in Pakistan, following a long war. Many thousands of women had been forced into prostitution for the Pakistan Army – either that or death. The Japanese did the same thing to Korean women during World War II. After the end of the war, these poor women were treated as if they were the criminals, not the victims. No one wanted them. Their husbands refused them, even their parents refused to allow them home. The new state had to find homes and jobs and rehabilitate these abused women. And in less terrible conditions, like Guyana, a woman whom is known to have been raped is scorned and treated like dirt. No wonder so many rape cases go unreported.

In St Lucia, just last week, a mother was sentenced to one year in prison for knowing that her 15 year old daughter was raped by her grandfather and did nothing to protect her child. This is also a frequent happening when a mother knows that her daughter is being sexually molested by the father, stepfather, uncle, cousin, etc. and does nothing.

Our young and energetic and resourceful Minister of Human Services has brought forth a brilliant working paper concerning all forms of abuses against the female sex and how to deal with these, particularly in the courts. Consultations are now going on and it is anticipated that proposals will go to Parliament for approval in strengthening the ways of dealing with those who abuse women and children. Domestic violence and all forms of violence against women, would be dealt with in an effort to reduce its incidence in Guyana. Our women need better protection so that they can get ahead with their lives, make the maximum use of available education and move up the scale to enjoy equal rights and equal opportunities.

  Copyright ©  Nadira Jagan-Brancier 2009

 

We Have a Good Health Care System

by Janet Jagan  (Dec. 15, 2007)

There was a recent report in the Guyana Chronicle, that over 40 million Americans cannot afford health care. As a result they have to go without drugs, eyeglasses and dental care. Statistics provided said that in 2005 “more than 40 million adults did not receive needed services because they could not afford them.” Also, nearly 15 million adults did not receive eyeglasses and 25 million had no dental care. Also, 19 million Americans did not get needed prescribed medicine and 15 million did not get medical care – all due to cost.

This certainly gives a grim picture and one that re-enforces the information about high poverty rates in the USA, which is supposed to be one of the richest countries in the world. However, statistics from the same year, 2005, show that the top one percent of all Americans, some 3 million people, received the largest share of the national income since 1928; that is 21.8%, up from 19.8% only the year before. That is a 10% increase in one year. The income  of this group, those making more than $348,000 (US) per year, rose to an average of more than $1.1 million each or about 14%.

Further, the top 10% of the population took some 48.5% of all reported income in the US in 2005. And, even further, the top tenth of one percent, that is, 300,000 people and the top 100th of a percent had the average income of $25.7 million a year. Thus, the top one tenth of one percent of the US population had nearly as much income in 2005 as the bottom 150 million Americans. In fact, while total reported incomes rose about 9% in the US during 2005, average incomes for the lower 90% of the population actually dropped by 0.6%.

We can now better understand, with this information why it is that over 40 million Americans cannot afford health care. The number of Americans living in poverty has expanded dramatically under the Bush Administration; with nearly 16 million people now living on an individual income of less than $5000 (US) per year or a family income of less than $10,000. These figures come from a 2005 official census data analysis.

According to the “Independent” (UK):  “The widening of the income gap between the haves and haves-not is nothing-new – it has been going on steadily since the 1970s. What is new, though, is the rapid increase in numbers at the bottom of the socio-economic pile. The number of severely poor have increased faster than any other segment of the population.”

Those who hate the PPP/C government and decry its continued gains at free and fair elections, fail to realize or admit that these electoral results have a lot to do with the massive improvements taking place in our society. The housing programme speaks for itself and very few can find valid criticisms to “belly-ache” about. Even the hardened racists have a hard time picking holes in the allocation of house lots!

In health care we are well ahead of many countries. Our health care reaches the poorest, who are not required to pay for hospitalization, surgery, tests, medicine and regular medical supervision, a factor that 40 million Americans can’t find.

Sometimes I get annoyed with people who have the disease I diagnose as “gripitis.” They gripe and complain about everything – even things that help them. I’ve had people in need of health care telling me that they go to private doctors or hospitals, which they cannot afford and have to go into borrowing for it, when similar and better services are obtainable at public institutions. Major complaint is they have to wait too long to be attended to. Well, if they have to wait and the medical personnel are heavily engaged, they’ll have to wait and be patient.

I’ve had my own experiences. My grand daughter, a student and superb athlete who lives in Canada, broke her ankle on the basketball court of her school. It was not a simple fracture but a complete severance of the bone. Her mother, my daughter, took her to the neighbouring hospital but was referred to a more specialized one. Upon arriving there, they had to wait more than eight hours to be cared for. And in those long hours – there was no nursing care or any form of medication for pain. They had to wait! If that happened here, it would be a front page attack on the government’s health care.

Guyanese have to learn to appreciate what they have, and they have an awful lot going in their favour for their welfare. When I visit the Georgetown Public Hospital, I see a clean floor, I see nurses and doctors going about their business in a professional manner, I see the Pharmacy section with people taking their turn to fill prescriptions and a big sign saying that all drugs are free and no one must pay.

The PPP/C has provided health facilities in all parts of the country – urban, rural, riverain and interior – not an easy task. The University of Guyana is training doctors and medical technicians. The Health Ministry has dramatically lowered the incidence of the killer disease Malaria and Filaria is under control and our children are inoculated against diseases that once kept infant and child mortality rates high. There is free dental care for our children, and eye glasses too!

We can and we must be proud of these achievements which many in other countries do not enjoy – particularly as a free gift from the State and its People – all aimed at having a healthy population!

Copyright ©  Nadira Jagan-Brancier 2009