Thursday, September 29, 2005

Stella says... Freddie has Value to Guyana’s Ongoing Development

(Originally published in the Kaieteur News on 29 Sept 2005)

It seems almost improbable that I would ever find myself in the precarious and unpleasant position of defending Freddie’s worth in Guyana, yet here I am. In Tuesday’s paper a scathing letter was printed from Chief Magistrate Juliet Holder-Allen that reduced sweet and sensitive Freddie to nothing more than a raving lunatic.

Though I do this with great apprehension because I know of varied opinions held of this particular columnist and do not wish to be associated with the likes of some of the more volatile judgements, at the same time, I feel a certain obligation to advocate a free marketplace of ideas – even if it is Freddie’s. In reality, I suppose I’m not really defending Freddie as much as I am Guyana’s openness to intellectual discourse.

I will not respond to the personal insults flung at Freddie since he is a grown man and will have to deal with those in his own way. However, my desire is to speak to one specific point made in this letter when the Chief Magistrate said, “A proper society that is well-ordered would have no place for the likes of Freddie Kissoon.” I take exception to this statement and will now proceed to explain the rationale behind why I find this statement objectionable.

The press in Guyana is like none other that I have ever encountered. Indeed, in the states where I received my journalism training, the practice of an ongoing discourse between letter writers and columnists is frowned upon. However, I find it immensely refreshing to have a truly open marketplace for every type of idea. Do I agree with all of the idea being expressed? Of course not, but I do enjoy reading each one of ideologies and after applying the relevant background and social implications, I enjoy analysing and exploring these thoughts to better understand the respective writer.

Freddie Kissoon is one character I find especially interesting. Though he is far too passionate about his cause of the day, which causes him to lose his objectivity, and though he does not seem to have the ability to back down on an issue even if he has been proven to be errant, his writings hold in them the promise of a free and open society.

Do I think Freddie oversteps the boundaries of social norms in his attempts at saving Guyana from itself? Most definitely; however, I would be amiss if I did not confess to the very same transgression. In fact, every one of us - at one time or another - have gone overboard in a passionate frenzy to convey a zealous point. So it is best to show understanding in these types of circumstances rather than to write off an otherwise plausible argument.

I believe Freddie, with all of his murk and quirk, to be one of the best things to happen to Guyana. His need to fight the system and to defend Guyana from whatever foe is assailing her borders of common decency that day is a commendable one. In fact, more countries need a Freddie Kissoon. Right or wrong, I believe his fight is well intentioned and well reasoned. Again, as I’ve shown with my constant sparring with him, I don’t always agree with his reasoning – but I do respect him for at least being ready to defend his position.

To stymie any thought simply because that thought is not widely held as orthodox or is offensive to others makes for an intellectually stunted society that is incapable of forming or processing new and original thought. If anything, Guyana enjoys a wellspring of idea exchange. In fact, I would say this nation is far more advanced in this practise than most of the otherwise technologically and economically superior countries.

Attaining knowledge is the foremost goal of any intellectual. Sometimes we are lucky enough to be able to attend a university or other advanced learning institution to further evolve our knowledge base. Sometimes life does not afford us such a grand opportunity, but we gain wisdom each day through lessons learnt and problems overcome.

In fact, a friend of mine relayed a story to me about a recent visit to a rum shop and how he felt that listening to the older men as they sipped rum was more profitable than reading a newspaper. Should we discount the wisdom of these older men because of lack of education? Certainly not, in fact we would all do well to pay frequent visits to such venues.

In the end, we all have relevant knowledge and information to share with the world; therefore, no one – not even Freddie (especially not Freddie) – should be excluded from voicing their ideas and sharing their wisdom. If there were anything missing in Guyana’s wonderful exchange of open ideas, it would be the need for even more. Surely we do not need fewer Freddie’s in Guyana – if anything we should seek to find others who are capable of further diversifying our intellectual landscape.

Perhaps a “proper society that is well-ordered” would have no place for Freddie, but a society that is thriving in intellectual stimulation and encourages a healthy exchange of ideas and philosophies would be lost without him.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Stella says…Can We Be Friends, Mr. Persaud?

(Originally published in the Kaieteur News on 27 Sept 2005)

When I stumbled on the story of President Jagdeo’s appointment as the next Chairman of the World Bank, IMF Board of Governors – I almost fell off of my sofa. This is simply wonderful and I would love to extend my heartfelt congratulations to the President.

I did literally stumble on this story as I was casually browsing the paper and thinking I had already covered most of the important news of the day. That such an important story was buried on page 29 of the Sunday Edition of the Kaieteur News caused me to furrow my eyebrows in a quizzical pondering for a brief moment, then I realised that the announcement probably came in late and thus its unseemly placement.

However, the placement of the story was not what caused me to consciously force the cogs in my brain to work extra hard. Usually when I do this, I can resolve the issue or problem at hand and move on with life as usual. Conversely, this particular puzzle is not proving to be as easy, so I decided to solicit the help of PPP Big Dog, Robert Persaud.

I suppose that after my rant last week, it would be highly inappropriate to ask for Mr. Persaud’s help since he is probably a bit miffed at me right now. Therefore, I have decided to offer a sincere apology before petitioning him for any assistance.

I am hoping that he has a big heart and will be able to overlook my harsh response since I am offering this apology with the utmost humility and sincerity. I just hate for us to get off on such a bad note right from the start. What do you say Mr. Persaud? Can we be friends? I can only assume that because you do not allow trite interactions to cloud your ability to be gracious, that you have accepted my extended hand of friendship.

I feel so much better now; a burden has been lifted and I am very excited about our newly formed camaraderie. It’s like I told Freddie just the other day, it just doesn’t pay to be so harsh with others. Now don’t assume that I will not point out certain faux pas here and there, as I love to do with Freddie. After all, what good is a friend who doesn’t help you through the hard times, eh?

However, I do promise that we can talk through these issues and I will extend to you the same type of respect afforded to sweet and sensitive Freddie. I do feel like it would be only right to give you a pet nickname too (I don’t want you to feel left out). I thought about Big Dog, but the other big dogs may get jealous. And you cannot be sweet and sensitive – that is Freddie’s thing. Did you know he loves steamy movies?

I got it! How about smart and sharp Robert? Yep, I think that fits you well. Now don’t gush, it’s not becoming a man in your position (and it dampens the whole smart and sharp persona). So here we are, smart and sharp Robert. We have dispensed with the necessary apologies and established a solid friendship. What shall we talk about?

Oh, I know! Let’s talk about the President’s appointment as Chair of the World Bank and IMF Board of Governors. How exciting is it that His Excellency is not only the first Guyanese to sit in this position, but the first Head-of-State from anywhere in the Caribbean? Guyana certainly has good reason to be proud this week.

However, smart and sharp Robert, I am in quite a quandary about this whole thing. So as a friend, would you mind helping me out? GINA detailed a list of qualifications that are usually applied to candidates being considered for this position, but I wasn’t too sure which of those credentials helped the President attain this surprise appointment. Would you be so kind as to share that information with me?

The guidelines specified that candidates considered for this position “should ideally be a member of International Financial Corporation, International Development Agency, Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency and the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Dispute, in addition to being a member of the IMF and the World Bank.” Is Guyana currently a member of any of these groups?

According to the Chronicle, other prerequisites are that “the Chairman's country should be in good standing in the World Bank Group and the IMF in terms of cooperation, participation, and its financial relations. For instance, a country that has overdue financial obligations to one or both institutions would not be seen as a viable candidate. Good standing is also necessary in the international community, and the person who is expected to be the Chairman should be widely respected among finance and development officials.” Which of these requisites does the President meet?

I apologise for my ignorance in this matter, but this is information that I would love to attain and that the people of Guyana should know so they can be proud of this distinguished appointment for their President.

Honestly, this seemed an almost improbable move by these financial big wigs. Isn’t this the same institution that just two years ago released a report that said Guyana was on the brink of being a failed state and was in a “crisis of government”? Why on earth would an institution appoint the leader of a country that, according to its own report, is in a crisis of government to chair such an important position?

Even more so, it seems the President was chosen over other Caribbean presidents who have turned their nation’s stale economy from being dependent on colonial goods such as sugar into vibrant markets for oil and tourism. As such, this is truly a notable event considering that we are still struggling in this area.

To accentuate this remarkable feat even more, it should be noted that His Excellency was trained in a communist state under what I can only assume would be communist economics. So for him to be appointed to this position in an institution that is primarily capitalistic is almost hard to comprehend.

That all of this comes on the heels of a recent visit to China and quickly developing relationships with Cuba and Venezuela is also very interesting, don’t you think? I suppose in the end, my real question is this - do you think this is a significant gesture of goodwill to move Guyana’s focus away from its current course of solidifying the socialist stance that was only recently championed by the government?

To be sure, these Western countries have been very good to Guyana – doling out aid to the tune of a billion US dollars and now even dismissing a large portion of the same debt. I’m just wondering if any one else sees this as a concerted effort to shift the government’s focus? And if so, what do you expect the response to be?

Whatever the reasons, this appointment is good for Guyana and a great opportunity for His Excellency, so there should be dancing in the streets and singing in the showers. Thanks for this little talk, smart and sharp Robert. You are an apt listener and I promise to respond in like manner when you need to bounce around some ideas or questions. After all, that’s what friends are for!

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Stella says…Your Sentence Did Not Match the Crime, Freddie

(Originally published in the Kaieteur News on 25 Sept 2005)

Freddie, thank you so much for the “warm” welcome you extended to me this week. You really are such a sweet person and I am so excited to be a Kaieteur News columnists. I would not dream of turning down an opportunity to have a regular avenue by which to maintain our tender exchange of banter and wit.

In fact, I almost dropped by the university to pay you a surprise visit when in Guyana last month. But my time was spent on family visits, shopping and eating – and oh boy do Guyanese know how to eat! A friend who was married just two weeks earlier treated us to seven curry! I’ll try to squeeze you into my busy schedule next time in town, okay?

Meanwhile, I feel compelled to share the definition of a very important word with you. Although this is a word I am sure you have come across several times in your field of study, it seems that its real meaning must have escaped your need for implementation. The word is diplomacy.

Dear sweet and sensitive Freddie, your column entitled “Magistrate declined to talk,” which was published this past Thursday, did in fact highlight some very important points. However, in the end, you became guilty of the very same thing that you were trying to expose - inequity in justice. I’m not one to tell others how to do their job (yeah, right!), but since we are such close friends I feel obligated to show you how to dispense justice with diplomacy.

Firstly, let me point out that I agree with your analysis of Guyana’s judicial system in that it needs a serious overhaul. For example, early this past week a man who severely brutalised his wife received a measly three months in jail for his atrocious crime. Meanwhile a teenage mother who was found to have illegal drugs in her sink was sentenced to three years in jail.

I find these sentences to be extremely disproportionate. According to the Kaieteur News article, the aforementioned man had given his wife “lacerations to her forehead, right arm, back and bruising to her left eye.” In other words, he beat the holy hell out of his wife. For restitution, he got a mere slap on the wrist of a three-month sentence, which means he could be back to torture her again by Christmas.

Meanwhile, a teen girl who had evidently been exposed to some serious criminal behaviour early in life was not afforded the same type of leniency. As she sobbed for mercy from the judge, she was sentenced to be locked up for three years from her child. When I first read about these cases, I had to ask myself this question, “From whom does society need more protection – the violent wife beater or the druggie teenage mom”?

I’m not even sure I am equipped to answer that question. However, upon further reflection I came to believe that the mother who was sobbing for mercy was probably more apt to be rehabilitated and so, as a judge, I would have given her the three-month sentence and the wife beater the three-year sentence.

However, as I have already pointed out, I am not qualified to make these types of decisions since I have not studied Guyana law and have never prosecuted or defended anyone accused of a crime. In fact, I am assuming that since drugs are such a problem in Guyana, there might even be a mandatory sentence for drug offenders. As there should be for violent crimes against women. And as there should be for illegal possession of arms, which brings us back to your story, Freddie.

Just because I have not studied enough in this particular area to be able to render sentences judiciously, that doesn’t mean that I cannot see injustice when it is staring me in the face. This is what happened to both of us this week in the separate cases we analysed. However, Freddie, I must say that the judgment you rendered for Magistrate Reynolds was just as unbalanced as her rulings contrasted in your column.

You would not find one person in the country who would argue against the fact that Guyana’s judicial system should be subject to serious scrutiny and repair. However, telling a nation rife with crime that it has at least one judge who is incompetent is not the way to reform the system. The people of Guyana are just as quick as you and I. They add the components of this equation together and see the stark injustice being dispensed daily too. They are certainly not blind to judicial indiscretions.

My issue is this Freddie, if we remove all the magistrates from the bench – who will be left to sentence the real criminals? I completely support any protest against injustice, but I believe there to be a better way to get the job done. There is an old saying, “A spoonful of honey will catch more flies than a gallon of vinegar.” This is so true, Freddie. However, your column served up about five gallons of vinegar.

You even went as far as to describe the magistrate’s clothing, dress style and body type! Dear Freddie, didn’t your mother teach you any better? You should never remark on a woman’s appearance unless it is in the form of a compliment. Even the mere notation of a body type could be offensive to her and to any other woman with that body type and even women who wish they had that body type but are instead on the pudgier side, which means you could have alienated a large portion of your audience and rendered your argument as pointless from the start.

However, the most faulty part of that particular column was that you employed the same type of injustice that you were attempting to interpret as being a travesty. You sentenced Magistrate Reynolds to a strict verdict by saying you feel she is too incompetent to be on the bench. This is a harsh judgement. Would a review by her superiors be in order? Of course, but not removal from her position.

I think it would behove of us all to dispense justice tempered with a little more mercy. I am preaching to myself now too since I feel my tirade on Robert Persaud this week was far too stern. Those were the emotions I felt at the time, but it would have been advantageous to take a more merciful route instead of stooping to the same level that I was in fact criticising. I know that I am more than capable of making my point without making enemies. This is diplomacy in action.

In short, Freddie, remember that groovy people practice what they preach. You cannot expect others to correct their errant ways while you display the same type of behaviour in exposing the initial offence. Don’t worry though dear friend, I’ve got your back and I’m here to help you through these tough life issues. And when I do come to visit you, I’ll be sure to bring you plenty of honey!

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Stella Says… Let’s Play a Game!

(Originally published in the Kaieteur News on 22 Sept 2005)

Let’s play a game! Let’s pretend for a moment that this new Third Force that everyone is talking about: 1) can bring together a racially diverse group that is representative our Guyana, 2) can actually work together for the good of the nation without the usual ego-promoting gobbledygook and 3) can garner enough momentum to win the election next year. Grant it, this is a lot of assumption, but for just five minutes, let’s assume that all of this can and will happen. What should this new form of government look like?

I know this question seems a bit premature right now, but it is a question the participants in last Saturday’s Third Force meeting need to be asking themselves very soon. They cannot wait until they are in office to make this decision and the country wants to know right now what will make this group any different from the last two parties that have ravaged Guyana.

I would like to offer what I think is the most essential aspect of any democratic government as a foundation on which this group can start – open government. This is exactly what Guyana needs, not another group of power hungry politicians who are more concerned with silencing as many voices as possible.

Last night I went to an event to hear Bob Woodward speak. Woodward is the Washington Post reporter who cracked the Watergate scandal and a hero for many journalists. The event was to promote his new book on how he broke that story, detailing the aspects of Deep Throat who is finally known to the world as Mark Felt.

Woodward said something that touches on a feeling I have been having about Guyana lately. He said that he felt it would not be terrorism or a natural disaster that kills America – it would be a secret government. This hit me right in the heart because this is precisely why Guyana has been slowly dying for decades.

My last column was a tirade on Robert Persaud’s attempt at stopping the thrust of a new party before it even got a chance to get off of its feet. I detailed several aspects of his piece that bothered me, but what I did not say was that it left me feeling like they just want everyone else besides the PPP to shut up.

This isn’t the first time either. My introduction to Guyanese politics was when I wrote a letter railing the President for suing a newspaper. Then there is also the appointment of a PPP Vice Chancellor to the UG against the protests of many. And now we have Persaud’s attempt at silencing all other columnists beside himself.

This type of behaviour leaves a chilling effect on everyone in the country. The message is frighteningly clear – the people do not matter and should not have a voice. It is not the crime or the poverty that is killing Guyana; it is the government.

The government of any democracy should always have an ear bent to the people. It should be open, transparent and responsive. Most importantly, it should be accountable. That means doing away with government-owned media outlets since these conduits serve not other function than to peddle party propaganda, which is an insult to the intelligence of the people. These outlets do not function in the role for which free press was created – to be watchdogs for people. Instead, they are lapdogs for greedy politicians.

The Third Force would do well to take this bit of advice into consideration during the early stages of its formation period; otherwise it could open the party up to the same type of corruption that has plagued the current and past administrations. Guyana does not need another incompetent and impotent government. It needs governance that is ready to roll up its sleeves and get to work for the good of the nation.

Therefore, the country needs to ask any new party these very important questions - What will this new governance look like? What will make you any different from the PPP and the PNC? How will you create and maintain a government that is accountable to the people?

If the Third Force cannot answer these questions, then there is no reason to get our hopes up. If it can answer these questions effectively, then it certainly may have the potential to be a formidable force in the next election. Though I started this column out with a game, Guyana’s future is no playing matter and she cannot afford to have another party that has no game plan once it gets in office.

- Stella Ramsaroop

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

The value of Stella and the descent into semi-fascism - Freddie Kissoon

Here's Freddie's Column today welcoming me as a columist to the Kaieteur News:
Stella Ramsaroop has joined us as a columnist at the Kaieteur News. I am going to avoid the banalities of welcoming her.

Everybody in Guyana wants to hear an independent voice and read a mind that is not fed by PPP or PNC propaganda. So let's not waste time with inconsequentialities about welcoming Stella. My point to Stella is that her perspective on Guyana 's social structure cannot be complete until she delves into the arena of lives in Guyana . Then the nearness will show her dimensions of life that one will never see from a distance.

One of the needs of this country is the public use of an independent mind. This country cries out for Guyanese who think differently. Stella Ramsaroop as an independent columnist will make a crucial difference in Guyana at a time when we are at the crossroads in the life of Guyana . If Ms. Ramsaroop should visit her homeland often (I am assuming that she doesn't; if I am wrong I apologise), she would discover the longing, the desire of her fellow Guyanese to read a refreshing mind that does not pamper to the robotic repetitions with which the two major parties have poisoned this rich country.

My only response to Stella Ramsaroop as a Kaieteur News columnist is that her value will mean a lot to the people of the country and she must be prepared for the long haul. One hopes that with Stella we will have another enduring mind that can expose fifty years of PPP and PNC bankruptcy. People like Stella Ramsaroop are needed in a country like this where politics has an evil base. I mean evil in the real sense of the word. The practice of politics of the PNC as a ruling party and as an opposition party has been evil.

Yesterday that was my topic, so I need not lament any further; the same pertains with the PPP. The practice of politics is evil. That the PPP will fall in 2006 for me is a definite possibility — more than a possibility, it will become a fact. If by some weird psychic contortion, the PPP wins back the government with a majority, there will be a velvet revolution in Guyana . I am convinced of this. We are in a period of uneasy calm. I believe a combination of factors like Christmas, extreme poverty, the preoccupation with eking out a living, and a cautiously patient waiting game by the private sector will see Guyana through till the next election

However I am convinced that, if the PPP wins an outright victory, the velvet revolution will come. After fourteen years in power, the PPP has simply exhausted the capacity for psychic stability. The PPP is incapable of generosity and humanism in the use of power. A fairly large number of persons during the past three weeks, since August 30, have asked me what has so driven me about the government's interference in UG to cause me to pen so many articles on one topic in the past two weeks.

I have not explained the frenzy of articles on the UG crisis in my columns as yet but here it is now. My deeply emotional abhorrence at what the Government did on August 29 at UG has absolutely (and I repeat, absolutely) nothing to do with Dr. Mark Kirton. He is a long-time, friendly acquaintance but Mark and I have never been buddy pals. He has his buddy chums, I have mine. It has absolutely nothing to do with Dr. James Rose. I confess I prefer we advertise for the post of Vice Chancellor but I am not personally driven to deny Dr. Rose the job. It has absolutely nothing to do with governmental interference in the function of UG. Yes, all democratically inclined citizens should be concerned about Government's crude tampering with autonomous institution, but I didn't run ten articles on the UG crisis because of that particular act

Here is the answer. More than anything that this government has done since it got back into power, in 1992, nothing comes closer to semi-fascism than the repeat of a nasty piece of totalitarian politics as in the order of the Government once more to force the UG Council to put Dr. Rose back as the Vice Chancellor. I know you will disagree and cite extra-judicial adventurism as being more of an act of semi-fascism than just the bullying of UG for the second time. You are confusing substance and form. Unfortunately, I cannot argue this out here in a short newspaper column. In an upcoming academic conference I will argue that out in a paper entitled, “Can an elected Government become semi-fascist?”

One has to understand that, with extra-judicial violence, the Government was facing the loss of power. The police force was psychologically immobilised. The GDF was not performing to expectations. The private sector was in a tailspin. Society then was facing collapse. Had extra-judicial mechanisms not been resorted to, the state of Guyana would have disintegrated, society would have been in ruins. The resort to extra-judicial cabals was deus ex machine, but in terms of realpolitik it had practical and pragmatic results.

The morality of it can be questioned. The politics of it is another matter all together. It has worked politically even in the traditional, democratic countries in the West

With the extra-judicial agenda, the intention is survival of state power. There isn't any subterfuge or machination to expand the state's power base for the sake of political aggrandisement. Political motives then are more commonsensical and purposeful with the large picture of state preservation always in mind when extra-judicial action is put into effect. None of these considerations went into the 2000 and 2005 assaults on the University of Guyana .

The semi-fascist replica of the 2005 act has to be analysed against the original motive in 2000. Then the intention was the desecration of the legitimate social order for the maximisation of power. The expansion of power for the purpose of domination of society was what drove the first episode of aggression against UG in 2000. To repeat that conspiracy again shows how desperate, shameless and power-driven is the state. An interpretation of semi-fascism is applicable here.

Anyway, the point of this whole essay is to let Stella know what Guyana is like and how needed are her independent analyses. I know I wrote above that welcoming her is a banality. But what the hell, welcome to the club, Stella!

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

engagement announcement

Stella Says…Desperate Times Call for Desperate Measures

(originally published in the Kaieteur News on 20 Sept 05)

In his column on Sunday, September 18, Robert Persaud, Information Liaison to the President, rambled on and on about the fact that some new political parties have members who have columns in Guyana’s newspapers. Does anyone else see the irony in this action?

This article was no more than a prolonged whine from the PPP because other parties are getting some spotlight now too due to the upcoming election. It is more than obvious that the PPP are shaking in their shoes with the thought that another party might be able to win the hearts of the people and rescue Guyana from race-based politics.

So they sent out one of the big dogs to belittle and bemoan the up and coming “Third Force” with the hopes that his proliferation would sway the people to view any other party as a sham or “hoax” – and Mr. Persaud most certainly does have a big bark.

However, while it is obvious that Mr. Persaud has a way with words, it is also apparent that he is the clean up man – the one who takes care of little messes before they become too much of a problem for the party. So while he states his case quite nicely, one doesn’t have to be a genius to see the agenda behind this article.

Desperate times call for desperate measures – which is exactly the feeling I got from this article. After all, how pathetic is it for the PPP, which has a government owned newspaper, radio station and TV station, to snivel over the fact that other media outlets are allowing would-be politicians to write columns for their papers?

What’s even more preposterous is the fact that Persaud himself, who is a big dog with the PPP, has a column in this newspaper himself. Why on earth would a politician who has column with a newspaper then chide that newspaper for allowing other politicians to write columns too? This is certainly hypocrisy at its best.

Persaud also attempts to undermine the integrity of any media outlet that has given talking time to this new opposition group by claiming that the coverage is biased reporting simply because it exists at all. However, if a new party starts to show promise in any country, it is news and deserving of significant coverage. This is even truer for Guyana, where the people are weary of politics as usual and hoping for an alternative.

That some of these columnists have decided to entertain the idea of helping Guyana recover from its current state of misery through politics is far more gallant than the Information Liaison to the President attempting to act self-righteously unbiased while he heads the organisation charged with overseeing the government-run newspaper that has no other function than to promote the PPP’s agenda.

Further, compared to the state owned newspaper that incessantly peddles its party’s propaganda, these other newspapers have created quite a diverse group of columnists who speak from wide array of perspectives – including his own (another wanna-be president of Guyana). So the media “hype” supposedly enjoyed by this new party is nothing that Mr. Persaud himself has not been afforded.

I also noted that Mr. Persaud once again questioned the motives of those seeking a chance at governing this country. I wonder why he does this so often? Could it be that his own motives are askew and therefore assumes that everyone else is driven by cockeyed motivations as well? I’m not going to be as presumptuous as Mr. Persaud by assuming I know the hearts of others, so this is where I graciously refrain from attaching any kind of agenda to his column other than the most obvious – the preservation of his party. At least for now I will refrain.

Me thinks this is a badly engineered defensive play for the PPP…a political rebound gone awry.

Yes, fear is rife in the PPP and well it should be. But pretending that a new political party is not making inroads will not make their problems go away. In fact, it is stunts like this one that make the people even more determined to find another form of governance. Maybe another party would rid the country of the truly biased media – the government owned outlets.

In conclusion, Mr. Persaud, if a newspaper writes an extended article on a new party; please understand they are simply doing their job, not being biased. And any opportunity to write a column has also been extended to you and your party to ensure a diverse group of columnists. So please stop whining about your competition. Just accept that things are changing and go with the flow.

I understand that politicians have to play these types of games to either preserve their place in office or to win a chance at governing. However, it would be really nice if when we have to be subjected to such diatribe as this that it would at least be a logical rant with a promising outcome. I simply hate to waste my time on superfluous dribble when I could be getting my groove on.

- Stella Ramssaroop

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Hoax! - Robert Persaud

Here's Robert Persaud's column from the Kaieteur News today. This definitely merits a response.

Elections are to be held in about one year. Already, we see the long queue getting set for the hustings. I have just lost count of how many political parties we have either registered or have indicated an interest in contesting those elections.

But there is a 'favoured' few who get special attention from sections of the media. These elements are singled out for extensive coverage and even full access to the airwaves or the newspaper columns. This reflects an emerging trend (in our context) where owners/publishers are directly supporting political parties and leaders. There is nothing legally wrong with this exercise, but it is an act that does not bode well for the journalistic profession. This form of endorsement has caused these media houses to hype their political preferences and consequently attempt to ‘tear-down’ their adversaries. In this case, the PPP/C administration.

Many individuals have written or queried the motive for the hype about a particular group or certain individuals. We read long stories and even columns given by a few media establishments to these opposition political operatives, especially those who call themselves `the Third Force,’ now rebranded the Alliance for Change. Newspaper and television station owners are well within their right to make space available to whom they see fit. They should declare publicly their preference and the reason for the undue hype about certain elements.

There is not only hype by sections of the media in relation to the Third Force. This particular political excursion is turning out to be a political hoax of monumental proportions.

The whole thrust of the Third Force is based on three strands: commitment to change, newness of political players, and support among young people. It would be instructive if we examine these planks. Those who advocate change have not suggested anything new on how they will achieve this change. The only change they seek is to remove the PPP/C administration. No coherent, different or thought-out plan or vision for Guyana has been presented. The same hackneyed, worn-out slogans and phrases are being uttered, devoid of true content and irrelevant to our national needs. All the public has been hearing of is more of the same old attacks against the PPP/C which are being employed by the Opposition.

This then leads to the other plank - newness of political players. Every single player in the Third Force has been in the political fray for no less than a decade. The two main activists – Trotman and Ramjattan - have served in the leadership of the PNCR and PPP, respectively. They were with these parties for a long time and helped shape and implement the policies and programmes. The others were all political activists in and around the PNCR, WPA and ROAR at some time. There are efforts by their friends in sections of the media to do an image make-over and present the players as new. They were all opposed to the PPP/C at some point in time. The Third Force cannot show a single new political face.

And the third plank has been the supposed appeal to young people. Our young people are sensible and seriously care about the future of this country. Several days ago, Ann Stone, an electoral personality brought by the US embassy for two workshops, related how impressed she was about the enthusiasm, intellectual capacity and willingness to be part of this country by our young people. She further said that contrary to views being peddled, there is little or no desire among young people to cut and run. It is this reality the Third Force’s proponents are facing. I wish to remind them that being young does not mean one is mindless. The only ones busy talking about the Third Force are those who have been politically spent. A friend of mine known for his wit remarked that they look like the `spent force.’

Not making any in-roads, those behind the Third Force are telling their handlers of much public and financial support. Where is this support in Guyana other than the organised and managed reports in sections of the media?

On the whole, the attitude of the PPP/C has been to ignore these elements who pose no political threat. Further, I respect their right to seek public office and make full use of the democracy which this government has restored and nurtured. The more political parties, the more ideas we have before the public is a good sign that our democracy is healthy. We have today even the right to commit a hoax. However, those who do so will also have to face the consequences.

Those of us tasked with keeping the public au fait with national issues must do our part to ensure that the citizenry is kept abreast. Even if we have to expose a naked hoax being carried out on the nation by a few with their own agenda. The ordinary Guyanese know this plot, but the gullible elements here and overseas who only gauge the national mood from newspaper reports should be brought into the reality frame. People are increasingly aware of this particular hoax.
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Stella Says... Freddie, This is How to Get Your Groove Back!

(Originally published in the Kaieteur News on 18 Sept 2005)

It seems so many people are losing their groove these days. Since sweet and sensitive Freddie was so kind to caution me about how Guyana politics could cause me to lose my groove, it seems that other political junkies have been losing their groove left and right.

Cheddi Jagan lost his groove, Jerome Khan lost his groove and even the WPA seems to have lost its groove. I even heard through the grapevine (Peeping Tom’s column last Monday) that the ever-groovy Freddie Kissoon has lost his groove too. This is most certainly a national crisis!

If everyone keeps losing their groove, there will be no one left to dance - and dancing is the one thing the Jagdeo administration has thus far left unscathed in its quest for complete national control. Maybe the reason for this conspicuous omission in the pursuit of domination is because they haven’t yet realised just how important a good groove is to a nation. Then again, they still haven’t figured out very much of what is good for a nation at all. Now, back to my groove thing.

So Freddie, in the spirit of all good groovers worldwide, I am going to graciously share some of my secrets on how to sustain a healthy and vibrant groove. It all starts balance. You see, if one cannot maintain balance, there is no way you can groove.

Balance is the key element to all of life’s quirky little issues. In order to have a ying, then one must also find the yang. For example, if a groovy person decides one political party is in need of a good tongue-lashing for being puppets of backroom politics, then it is only right to dole out the same manner of reprimand to the opposition for being spineless and complacent.

Rhythm is also very important when you are in the groove. Can you imagine someone trying to groove without rhythm? Yikes! It’s just not a pretty picture. Where does one find rhythm? Quite honestly, you have to be born with it.

Rhythm is the ability to move with the beat of life. When life goes down, you know how to get down too. When life is up, you’re dancing on the ceiling. Almost everyone can groove to a slow beat, but when the pace of life quickens up, most people can’t follow. You have to keep step with the beat or you can lose your groove very quickly.

That said, I acknowledge that it is sometimes difficult to groove when standing next to someone who has lost their groove. But no matter how tricky it is, it would be wrong to find a new dance partner. This is the most important rule with groovy people.

It’s important to understand that it is so hard to find your groove when you can’t even find your next meal or when you son was just gunned down by some druggie who was trying to get at another druggie. Who feels like grooving with your children are wearing rags to school? No wonder so many people are losing their groove in Guyana.

This is when we take that person’s hand and help them find their balance and rhythm in life again. Before long, they are back in the groove and we are all grooving together again. Well, until the government reads this and realises they need to control the people’s dancing too. Maybe that is why they forced their man into the UG, they want to keep an eye on all those college students who know how to groove.

There is one more thing you should know, Freddie, if you want to be the grooviest of all. You have to realise that everyone else is groovy too – in their own unique ways. Well, except for all those self-seeking politicians. Don’t waste your time trying to help them find their groove - since one cannot possibly get back a groove never existed in the first place.

Just know that although grooving is so much fun, it can also be exhausting. Therefore, one must stay in shape. So make sure you get your work out in today, Freddie…so you can keep up.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Your energy is best spent on the good fight, not the petty one Freddie

This letter is written in response to Freddie Kissoon’s column from Tuesday, 6th of September.

Okay Freddie, you have my attention. Now what? I suppose you want me to delineate on the evils of journalism to nurse your hurt little feelings. Dear sweet Freddie, I warned you about how harsh Guyanese politics could be for someone as delicate and sensitive as yourself. Alas, you didn’t heed my warning and in the process your good sense is now being called into question.

I will graciously refrain from the “I told you so” retort, which itches to jump off the edge of my tongue even at this very moment, to get to the heart of the matter – ethical journalism. To be sure, this subject is not one to be taken lightly, so I will attempt to address your concerns as best as possible so as to lighten the burden you carry of what you view as an unjust assault on your character and mental capacity.

I continue to stand by my assertion that freedom of speech is a foundational right deserving the utmost protection and reverence in any democracy. Conversely, I also emphatically believe the press should have clean hands when it comes to the delivery of news and information.

It goes without saying that every newspaper should hold itself to the highest of standards regarding ethical journalism. Anything less is counter-productive because the people will not trust a paper that displays any type of partiality, bias or unsavoury behaviour – and rightfully so. Unethical journalism is a hindrance to freedom of speech, not a facilitator as it is designed and expected to be.

Ethical journalism is even more important in a country where lawlessness abounds. When government officials are shady, criminals are ruthless and the people live in fear, a newspaper should be the beacon of hope - not another avenue for victimisation.

Journalism is one profession that, when implemented properly, perseveres as a guardian of democracy. So I understand your frustration and resentment concerning the spiteful comments you mentioned in your column Tuesday.

However, I do not think it is necessary to take these comments about you to heart – or to court. I understand how difficult it must be for a university instructor to have his/her intellectual capacity questioned. However, you accused me of losing my groove. What if my groove were just as important to my life as your intellectual prowess is to yours? Would that mean that I could then sue you for libel?

Nah, I just took it in stride and had fun with it, which is what you should do as well. You do not have to prove your intelligence to anyone, it has been on proud display for quite a long time for all to see and enjoy.

If you lowered yourself to a battle of wits with the rest of us peons, I would lose a great amount of respect for you. I expect a man of your status to rise above petty little comments and remain focused on the real issues at hand that are far more important than an insult tossed about for reactionary purposes.

Frankly, I cannot possibly see how anyone could ever call your mental capacity into question, as it is very obvious to all that you are one of the more brilliant minds in Guyana today. That said -you are also a very public figure, due in large part to your column, and that makes you a target for the type of insults to which you have been subjected of late.

If we toss in your no-nonsense approach, which I can truly appreciate, it should be no surprise when others to take you to task. In other words, you cannot and should not expect everyone to agree with you or to remain silent when they disagree. As an academic, I would expect you already know that anyone who proposes a thought a particular topic should be able to defend their position, and if need be, digress when your theory has been chewed to pieces.

That is not to say that you have lost the war, just one battle. The war wages on and if you find yourself feeling especially vulnerable, it is no shame to retreat ever so slightly to regroup and return with an even more effective strategy to win the war.

This is how intellectuals wage war. We do not fear those with swords because we know the pen is sharper than the sword. Throughout history the pen has dealt fatal blows to even the keenest of dictators. Freddie, my advice to you is to not allow accusations or innuendo to ruffle your feathers so. Your single voice is far more influential than the voices of dozens of other Guyanese combined.

Which brings to light another important journalism code, to give a voice to those who have no voice. That is what you do and what you should continue to do. Don’t let these sideshows steal your attention away from the important issues of the country – like who will be serving as the next Vice-Chancellor of UG. That is a noble fight requiring your full attention.

Though we may not see eye to eye on every issue, we are definitely fighting on the same side. If you find yourself being challenged, as in the last few weeks, view it as simply a test to see if any part of your position has weaknesses. If you find weak points, strengthen your position by shoring up those vulnerable areas for the next battle.

This country tends to lose its focus so easily. Oft times the people are caught away in a torrent of emotional fury and in the process the primary objectives are lost in the fray. As an academic, I expect more from you. Don’t allow the strategic diversions like this one to steal your attention or wear you down. Your energy is best spent on the good fight, not the petty one.

- Stella Ramsaroop

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Are you in the pantomime, Stella? - Freddie Kissoon

Freddie Kissoon's Column in Kaieteur News on September 6, 2005:

Guyana can sometimes be described as a comedy performed by circus clowns who keep falling over each other, and the audience laughs and calls for more, completely unaware that the jokers are not going through their regular paces but are bungling things up.

Guyana can sometimes be described as a Greek tragedy where the hero is crowned by the gods but ends up as the villain of the peace.

Guyana can sometimes be described as a game of cricket where the umpires go through the motions of allowing appeals for Leg Before Wicket, but in fact the sides consist of a team of eleven and a team of thirteen, the two umpires being part of the charade. Guyana is such a flawed society it can be described as anything you choose to describe it as.

Enter Stella Ramsaroop. Stella wrote an acerbic letter in defence of the Stabroek News when the President of Guyana sued the paper for publishing a certain viewpoint of Mr. Christopher Ram. Stella's argument was wide ranging.

She believed that public figures like the President should be broadminded enough to take criticism. She felt that when public figures resort to the courts, press freedom is in danger. What was missing in Stella's judgement was her delineation of press freedom.

I replied to Stella implying that she had lost her groove. My point was that if Stella had her groove intact she would have known that other people who want press freedom only want it to operate in their favour, and they seek to deny it to others when it suits their purpose.

Now that can hardly be an enlightened approach to freedom of the media. Stella of course did not know that Mr. Ram had sued me and the Kaieteur News for libel, and that therefore the paper and I could have interpreted that as an infringement of press freedom.

Stella lost no time in replying to me. She was assertive and apologetic.

She reaffirmed her opinion that the President was wrong to sue the Stabroek News, but said she didn't know what Ram had done to me and the Kaieteur News. But the part of her correspondence I like is when, in bold terms, she told me that she had never lost her groove; it is alive and kicking, and she has no intention of losing her groove and her marbles.

Well, Stella is in trouble if we don't hear from her after this column hits the newsstands. The Stabroek News, that Stella was so adamant in defending, is entangled in a web of double standards at the moment.

Is Stella going to extricate the paper she loves, or is she going to assert her groove and sock it to them? Let's tell Stella the story.

In the Stabroek News of August 31, 2005, the paper carried a letter entitled “I am not the only victim of Kissoon's sick mind” by Kit Nascimento.

Now I am a university lecturer and a public figure. Both Nascimento and the Stabroek News have ridiculed me in the eyes of the public by concluding that my mind is sick.

That is big, big libel. How are they going to prove that I have a sick mind? That is such a huge act of libel that even the most brilliant civil lawyer will find it impossible to defend.

Of course it was nothing strange that Mr. Nascimento did not send his missive to Kaieteur News even though he was replying in the Stabroek News to one of my Kaieteur News articles. The Kaieteur News will never print an opinion that says a public figure has a sick mind.

I replied to Mr. Nascimento in both the Kaieteur News and the Stabroek News; the latter printed my letter in its edition yesterday. But then something unthinkable in the media occurred at the bottom of my letter.

The Stabroek News asked Nascimento for an opinion on my response to him and published it at the bottom of my letter. Mr. Nascimento's comment was anything but complimentary.

This is unprofessional journalism at its worst. I have been associated with the Kaieteur News from the beginning and I can state without any fear of contradiction that neither the publisher nor any of the senior editors would allow me to make a comment at the end of a letter written about me.

The Kaieteur News had an incident whereby Adam Harris, then editor, placed an editorial comment which was in the form of an opinion at the end of one of my columns.

The essay was on the inconsistent bail structure of former Chief Magistrate, Juliet Holder-Allen. Mr. Harris defended Ms. Holder-Allen. I was livid when I saw that and lodged an official protest with the publisher, Mr. Glen Lall.

Mr. Lall summoned a meeting of all the senior editorial employees and he made several calls to media experts in and out of Guyana in our presence.
The consensus was that the editor can only intrude in an opinion piece to correct dates or established facts, such as if the columnist located a building in the wrong street.

The point was that the editor cannot interfere with the opinions of a columnist. One editor in Barbados told Mr. Lall it was unheard of. Mr. Harris did the decent thing and apologised the next day to me.

What the Stabroek News did yesterday was to severely lower the standards of its media behaviour in the eyes of the entire nation. I can say without fear of contradiction that the Kaieteur News would never do such a thing.

I go in and out of the Kaieteur News daily, and I am never told that there is a letter coming out on me. And it is unthinkable for any senior editor to insert a comment from me at the end of the letter. Newspapers cannot be so openly biased.
Mr. Nascimento had his say; I replied. Mr. Nascimento should have been given the privilege of responding if he didn't like my rebuttal. This is the problem with this society – double standards in every sphere, in every dimension of life in Guyana .
I once wrote that, if our political problems were to be solved in the immediate future, then Guyana 's social problems would not come to an end. We are a hypocritical society that love to criticise others, but we practise not one ounce of the virtue that we expect the government of the day to embody.

So where does this leave Stella Ramsaroop? I would like to hear Stella's analysis of what the Stabroek News did yesterday. I would like to hear how she feels about this aspect of press responsibility.

In closing, let me say that since I have done critical commentary on the role of the Stabroek News I am fully aware that I am not in that paper's good books. But professional ethics demand that institutions curb their personal vendettas in the interest of press responsibility.

Think of how the government would feel about what Stabroek News has done. Would the Government find the Stabroek News a source of objective commentary?

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