50+1 years later

first_imgThe speeches have been made, the songs have been sung, and the Golden Arrowhead has been raised for the 50+1 Independence celebrations. It might therefore be appropriate to reflect on where our country is in relation to the promises that were held out in 1966.If “independence” is to mean anything to a people whose lands were expropriated from them and whose labour was coerced through systems of slavery and indentureship, then it has to be judged by the degree of freedom that is enjoyed by the descendants of those indigenous peoples, slaves and indentureds. Freedom, as we were reminded by Isiah Berlin, is of two variants – negative and positive. In the former, it means the removal of restraints over our autonomous actions, especially by the state. Unfortunately for us, for the first two decades of our “independent” existence, Guyanese experienced a government using the apparatus of the state to increasingly impose controls over the people in what is ironically labelled “democratic governance”. The right to choose a government – the most fundamental in an independent, democratic state — was denied between 1968 and 1992. The freedom of assembly and the free speech of citizens were severely restricted as government goons regularly and violently broke up political meetings of the opposition. In one instance, the head of the government publicly regaled a Congress of his party about an opposition leader scaling a fence in his desperate effort to escape from the political enforcers.The freedom of movement was denied many opposition figures via “blacklists” that were issued to the immigration department at the airport. Today we have a case of the present government creating a list of 200 citizens who are not free to travel out of the jurisdiction. But even their names have not been made known, creating a dark and ominous cloud over persons who may fear they have been targeted. In a climate in which a slew of criminal charges were brought by the state on grounds that can only be described as “frivolous” and “vexatious”, this restraint on the freedom of movement of those citizens on mere suspicion at the very best makes a mockery of the freedom promised by ‘Independence’.It is redolent of the practices that were prevalent in the dark period of authoritarian rule, which all assumed would be banished forever after “free and fair” elections were returned in 1992. But based on utterances from the general secretary of the major party in control of the government — the same PNC that had ruled with an iron fist before — the new “blacklist” might just be the signal of what lies ahead under our negative freedom. “Positive freedom” speaks to the creation of conditions in which the citizenry can express the full spectrum of their full potential to be the very best they can be. And in the modern world, this means a government that is sensitive to the imperative to at least guarantee the basic needs of its citizens, primarily through securing full employment in the economy, educating the young to take advantage of those employment opportunities, providing health care, and providing a safety net for the aged, infirm or unemployed.At 50+1 years after independence, however, we witness the Government already dismissing 1700 workers in one sugar plantation, and promising to dismiss at least another 7,000 imminently. In an economy that has shrunk in all sectors except in gold mining, this callous action is tantamount to dooming those individuals and their families to lives that would be “nasty, brutish and short.”We witness, also, corruption in the procurement of pharmaceuticals — that has led to widespread shortages that endanger the health of the sick and infirm. We have also witnessed the imposition of the onerous 14% VAT on private education, which restricts the freedom of choice in this critical area of positive freedom.In retrospect, the question has to be asked: “What is there to celebrate after 50+1 years of independence?”last_img

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