Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Stella Says…Sin City Can Be A Model For Protecting Guyana’s Women

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

In my last column, I showed a side of my heart that I do not often share publicly because my love for my children is a very personal matter. However, the situation called for a mother’s love to express the emotions that stirred in me over a recent rape victim.

Today, I am going to be very blunt regarding those who sexually abuse and assault women and children. I believe it is time we started calling these acts what they are – crimes. And it is time to start calling the perpetrators of these acts by their rightful titles – criminals.

Someone asked me the other day why so many people get upset when men invade a home and rape a woman, but no one says a word when a little girl is raped repeatedly by her dad, brother, uncle or family friend. Good question. Both acts are equally atrocious.

Therefore, today I am calling every single father who has ever touched his daughter in such a way exactly what he is – a vile and disgusting criminal. The same holds true for the brothers, uncles and family friends. I hope there is a nice cosy jail cell with each of your names on it.

I have so much hope for a better society because I know for certain that the good and caring people of Guyana far outweigh those monstrous predators. I also know that loving and nurturing fathers far outnumber the ones who use their own precious daughters for self-gratification.

Peeping Tom explored some forms of punishment for sexual assault in his column last Friday. I agree with him on the notion that we should be locking these perpetrators up for a long, long time. In fact, did you know that in Nevada, the home of Las Vegas (a.k.a. Sin City), a person over the age of 21 can be sent to jail for life without possibility of parole if convicted of sexual assault against a child under the age of 14? That includes the child’s father.

Sin City even goes so far as to convict of a misdemeanour anyone “who knows or should know that a violent or sexual offence has been committed against a child, and does not report that offence to a law enforcement agency within 24 hours.”

It seems Sin City has a model that Guyana can use. How can a city known for its perversion have higher standards than an entire country of people who are known for their devout religious beliefs?

I want to applaud the new legislation recently passed by the National Assembly that pushes the age of consent from a young 13 to reasonable age of 16. I would have liked to see this age set at 17, but I will take 16 over 13 any day of the week. This legislation was far too long in coming though and the result has been catastrophic on the women of this nation.

However, I am a firm believer that most of these monsters would curb their tendency to sexually violate others if they knew they would go to jail for it. If every one of those repulsive fathers knew that he would get put away for the rest of his life if he ever touched his little girl in a shameful way, like the daddies in Sin City do, then I am willing to bet those men would find legal ways of satisfying their appetites.

I am also willing to bet those mothers, sisters, brothers and other family members who know what is going on (or should know), would stand up for that little girl if they knew they could go to jail just for keeping their mouths shut. Legislation like this puts more power on the side of the victim and takes away that power from the predator.

Upping the age of consent to 16 is a great start, but there is still so far to go. We cannot stop at this point and take another five years to enact additional legislation on sex crimes. Guyana needs tough new laws, like the ones Nevada has enacted, to rid itself of these criminals – and we need these laws now.

Legislation like this would mean the little girls of Guyana would be a lot safer than they are now. I join with Help & Shelter and Red Thread who on Friday called for women’s issues to be on the forefront of the national agenda for the upcoming elections. If women’s issues are not a part of a party’s platform, that party is not worthy of any woman’s vote.

It is time to wipe the smirk off of the face of each father that violates his own daughter. It is time to silence the chuckles of the perverted deviants who invade our homes to pillage the virtue and vitality of a woman.

It is time to turn the table and let them be the ones who live with the constant shame of these barbarous acts. Let them dream of freedom, knowing it will never come – just like the women they violated dream to be free of the horrible memories of torture inflicted on them.

Members of Parliament please change these laws on sex crimes as quickly as possible and stop this constant assault on the women of the nation. It is your responsibility to create laws to protect the people. The lack of protection afforded to Guyana’s women is a direct result of the National Assembly’s indifference for their safety and well-being.

As a society, we need to do everything within our power to help the victims of rape and incest. We need to support them, provide them with the peace of mind that comes with knowing their assailant(s) is locked up and help them rebuild their lives.

Oft times these victims feel devalued. The current legal and social system in Guyana reaffirms that feeling by disregarding their plight and treating them like they have done something wrong. It is our responsibility as a society to show them just how valuable they still are to us. We can help these women overcome the trauma of these assaults and show each how they can still have a beautiful and productive life.

These women and children are forced to deal with feelings of anger, confusion, fear, loss and so much more. The one thing their family, friends and neighbours should not do is force them to feel ashamed for something they never wanted in the first place.

It is the disgusting perpetrators who should be made to feel ashamed, not the victims. These women did not ask to be victimised. They did not want to be sexually assaulted. Their only “crime” was being born a woman.

It is time for Guyana to start treating its ladies like it is an honour to be born a woman – not a crime.

Email: stellasays[at]gmail.com

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Stella Says…My Heart is Broken

(Originally published in the Kaieteur News on 24 Nov 2005 and again on 27 Nov 2005)

There are but a few times each year when a nation is called upon to stand together as one against the darkest forces of evil that can pervade a community. This week Guyana has been so challenged.

This week an 18 year-old girl was brutally raped by three men whom she knew and trusted. This week innocence was crushed. This week a beautiful life has been trampled.

I have an 18 year-old daughter. She is the most beautiful young woman I have ever laid eyes on. She has her daddy’s cocoa colour, my late mother’s mouth and my features. She is the oldest of my children and when she was born I would stare at her in her crib for hours. I still steal these moments every chance I get.

She is very intelligent and has the capacity to be anything she wants to be in life. She is ten times the leader that I will ever be and she doesn’t even know it yet. She is self-confident, but not arrogant – though she can be a snob at times and I am quick to chastise her for such transgressions. I told her from the time she could talk that a woman can be beautiful on the outside, but if she is ugly on the inside – then she is just plain ugly.

My daughter has the type of personality that lights up a room just by entering it. When she darkens a doorway, the occupants of the entire room will pause to look at her beauty and to wait for her smile that can chase away the darkest storm clouds.

Her big brown eyes are the first thing a person notices, they are so striking. But when you get to know her, you soon realise that her vivacious personality dwarfs those eyes like a giant oak tree dwarfs a blade of grass. And those eyes burn with an irresistible love for life.

I know I sound like a gloating mother, and to some extent I suppose that would be true, but if you ever met my daughter you would know that every single word I have told you about her is true.

She is away at college now and sometimes I miss her so much that my heart physically hurts. We talk on the phone all the time, but that just isn’t the same as seeing her face to face. I know she has to prepare for the incredible future that lies before her. I also know that a good portion of my job is done now and it is time for her pave her own road in life, but it’s not easy to be so far from her.

I worry about whether she is eating right. I worry that she will forget to study. I worry that she might make the wrong decisions, even though I know she will and that is part of the learning process too. I worry about so much, but most of all I worry about her safety.

A mother’s worst fear is that a vile criminal will steal her daughters smile, crush her beautiful personality and destroy her promising future. This week in Guyana, there is a mother whose worst fear was realised. I can feel this mother’s pain almost like it is my own and I sit here in tears as I type this column.

This mother cannot protect her daughter from what has already happened. She cannot give this girl peace and joy. She cannot tell her daughter that everything will be all right, because everything will not be all right. This girl has been crushed. She will forever live with the memories of the sights, smells and pain that was inflicted on her by three of the most loathsome type of animals to ever walk the earth.

My heart breaks for this mother and her broken daughter. I’m sure every mother who gave this event two minutes of consideration feels the same way, and the father’s too for that matter.

The question is this though, how many Guyanese gave this event more than a passing glance or a shaking head? After all, this is just one more girl on a long list of sexually and physically assaulted women in Guyana. What is one more broken woman?

Guyana, I can not let this opportunity pass me by to beg you to see this girl as more than another news story or statistic. I implore you to see this girl as I see her, my own daughter. She is your daughter. She is your sister. She is your wife. She is your mother.

What is one more broken girl in a country full of broken women? Guyana let this girl be the one who wakes the nation up. Let this violation of innocence be the occasion that causes an outcry for justice. Please don’t let one more girl feel the hopelessness of watching her assailants walk away without retribution for what they stole from her.

Guyana is not like these vile animals who prey on the weak. These putrid villains have no heart. They have no soul. They can steal the sunshine out of an 18 year-olds smile without even a twinge of guilt. But you have a soul Guyana! You have a heart!

I am today, with my face and shirt wet with bitter tears, begging you to do something about this wicked act Guyana. This evil has to be stopped. We can no longer treat these acts as if they are simply a part of our every day lives. We must demand that the police and the courts do EVERYTHING possible to bring this girl the justice she deserves.

In fact, I am calling on each of you to demand justice for every woman who has a sexual or physical assault case pending. Women of Guyana, stand up and demand justice. Men of Guyana, protect your daughters by demanding the incarceration of these animals.

There are but a few notable times when a nation must put its apathy aside and unify as one to demand that righteousness prevail. If it means a peaceful march in front of the courts, then so be it. If it means a demonstration for the President, so be it.

Whatever it takes Guyana, don’t let the fire that burns in your daughter’s eyes be smothered out. Let your voices be heard across the globe, “Don’t you dare touch my daughter!”

Writer’s Note: I just found out that a march and rally is being organised by the Men Of Purpose (MOP) on Friday in observation of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. All men, women and children are all welcomed to participate in the march. It will start at 14:00 hours at the junction of Main and Quamina in Georgetown. I encourage everyone to attend this march.

This is your chance to make a difference, Guyana. Take a stand against this wickedness and tell these vile criminals to stay away from your daughters.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Stella Says…Let’s Explore the Good, the Bad and the Ugly

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

I have found myself exploring numerous statements and events of the last few weeks with the intention of finding the good ideas and tossing the not-so-good ones. There is always so much going on in Guyana, so sometimes I think it is necessary to cover more than just a single topic in one column.

For example, there is an ongoing debate about the marginalisation of the Afro-Guyanese. I have watched this discussion with much interest and although I have very much to say, I am only going to touch on this subject ever so slightly just to state the obvious.

Why not treat the marginalisation issue with more love?

In my opinion, if a race in any society feels it is being marginalised, then that feeling should be taken seriously - even if the rest of the society does not seem to think this claim has merit. Have we grown so cold-hearted that we can so easily dismiss the feelings of others when they cry out for help?

To ignore this claim of marginalisation is the same as having a child who tells his parents they give all the other children more attention than they do him and the parents respond by waving it off as being silly. Whether the claim is true or not, the child feels he is being marginalised and good parents would go out of their way to make sure that child feels as connected to the family as the other children.

Disregarding these feelings could lead to very harsh consequences as the child grows farther away from the family and resentment sets in because his feelings of marginalisation have been proven to be true since the parents have done nothing to help him feel more accepted and cared about.

It is not as if there needs to be empirical proof that marginalisation is actually occurring for us to care about each other. Why should we need proof that a portion of Guyana’s countrymen are feeling alienated from the rest of the nation before we extend a caring hand of inclusion?

If this is the perception of any part of Guyanese society, we should be working to bridge the gap rather than debating its merit. Again, it is not the proof that needs to be considered, it is the perception. Why not just help other Guyanese to feel like they matter too?

This brings me to my next topic, which touches on how we should care for the people of Berbice and why we should not fully employ Peter Ramsaroop’s version of running a government like a company.

In his business column last Friday in Stabroek News, Peter drew a strong correlation between running a country and running a company. I know Peter personally, so I know how successful he has been as a businessman. He runs a tight shift. However, although there may be certain aspects of running a company that can successfully cross over into running a country, I am just not too sure it can be applied across the board.

Peter mentioned the example of how the Berbice Bridge project should have been put off and the road to Brazil started instead. I am sure this makes sense to a businessman who is hoping for an economic boost in Guyana. However, I am not too sure there would be even one person in Berbice who would agree with Peter on this idea.

There are times when a government must choose to pursue a project that is not going to bring a profit. Sometimes the choice must be to help the people and the result will be a loss of money. It is at these times when we must remember that although the government has a responsibility to stabilise and grow the economy, they also have a responsibility to build a solid infrastructure that connects all parts of the country.

From an economic standpoint, I am sure the Berbice Bridge is a revenue vacuum that will suck up lots of money – a sharp contrast to what a road to Brazil would produce when done. However, good leadership is about more than making a profit; it is also about taking care of the people. This time, the people need a bridge – here’s hoping they actually get one.

While we are on the topic of caring about the people, we can move on to our next subject. I want to reiterate a question that was asked not to long ago – Why not bring in outside help to combat the crime?

At the beginning of October, businessman Deo Sighn made a very good point, why has Guyana not brought in outside help to combat the crime? This is exactly a question I asked a friend after reading about how UN peacekeepers have brought stability to previously crime-riddled countries.

There is an ominous foreboding that plagues each election year with intense fear. Further, there seems to be crime spurts that pop up out of nowhere and then disappear just as fast. The crime spurt phenomenon alone is enough to peek the interest of even a casual observer, much less those who actually keep track of these types of activities.

For example, during the most recent crime spree the criminals exhibited behaviour that was not typical of their usual modus operandi. They were brazen and forward, even to the point of conducting their unseemly activities in broad daylight and on high profile targets.

However, just as quickly as these crime spree show up, they disappear and somehow the criminals go back to conducting their business as they always have – under the cover of night and on those who have little recourse for protection. Very curious indeed.

Of course there is also the ever-looming threat of election-time violence. It weighs heavy on my mind and heart, as I’m sure it does for many others as well. Which brings us back to the question at hand - why hasn’t Guyana brought in outside help to keep peace during volatile times like the elections?

The very presence of UN troops in other countries has curbed violence and saved lives. Perhaps it would be wise to ask for some outside help to keep violence at bay before it ever gets started – especially since the elections are coming soon. It is obvious that Guyana’s government cannot handle these types of situations and if it can save lives and keep peace, why not give it a try? It could be well worth the effort.

Email: StellaSays[at]gmail.com

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Stella says.... Let's turn Guyana 's brain drain into brain gain

(Originally published in the Kaieteur News on 20 Nov 2005)

An article from the November 3 issue of the Economist entitled, “Fruit that falls far from the tree,” stated that 89 percent of Guyana 's graduate population live and work in the 30 relatively rich countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).In case you were wondering, Guyana is not one of these countries.

If 89 percent of this country's most educated citizens are living in all of these other countries, this means Guyana is left with a meagre 11 percent on which to build its own country.

Even if all of this 11 percent were to give their all for the cause, Guyana would still be enormously deficient in brain power.

What is a third world country to do these days when most of its intellectuals decide to expend their brain power in countries that can justly reward their education and drive with money and high living standards?

According to this Economist article, we should turn “brain drain” into “brain gain.”

The article maintained that as more people in the poorer countries seek to follow in the steps of the Diaspora, they acquire an education with the hopes of also acquiring a ticket out of a poverty-stricken country.

Some of these now educated hopefuls are disallowed entry into the country of their choice and left with no other choice than to remain in their home country.

After working so hard with the hope of migrating to another country, the graduates are often disappointed at this bad news.

However, this is very good news for the poor countries because they then have the pleasure of retaining a portion of their educated population, even if it is just a small amount.

“The prospect of securing a visa to America or Australia should tempt more people in poor countries to invest in education,” the article said and called this process “brain gain.”

These economists believe “if the temptation is strong enough, and the chances of landing a visa are low enough, the poor county could even come out ahead: it might gain more qualified (if disappointed) doctors and engineers than it loses.”

The article attempted to prove that little by little the number of leftover educated citizens grows and thus results in a brain gain.

This might be true for a country like India that only lost 4.3 percent of its citizens with an education past secondary school.

But how does this formula work for Guyana ?

Regarding Guyana 's astounding 89 percent figure of educated émigrés, the article stated, “This is not a stimulative leeching of talent; it is a haemorrhage.”

Which begs the question of whether the leftover effect from those rejected entry into other countries can produce enough extra intellectual capital to create a booming brain gain? Not likely.

A slow trickle of intellectual capacity, similar to that of India , could have the “brain gain” effect, but educated Guyanese pour out of the country in throngs, leaving the nation with barely a shell of brain power with which to function.

Further, this study assumes that a solid portion of the population can afford to pay the tuition costs that accompany a higher education. Again we are forced to ask how practical this line of thinking is for Guyana . How much of this nation's population can afford to seek a degree from a University?

At first glance, it would seem that the reality of Guyana frustrates the theories of even the most brilliant economists because its intellectual drain far exceeds the tepid 4.3 percent of India - and of those who are left here to fend off poverty, very few can actually afford the costs associated with acquiring an education.

However, this article aside, there is another way to create a substantial brain gain for Guyana – simply put, it needs to bring the Diaspora back home.

A simple invitation will not suffice.

These smart Guyanese are looking for policy and procedural changes to guarantee the cooperation of the government.

According to the OECD's Website, this organisation, “Brings together countries sharing the principles of the market economy, pluralist democracy and respect for human rights.”

Maybe this is where Guyana is missing the boat. If all of the intellects are heading for these OECD countries, perhaps Guyana should consider creating a similar environment with these traits.

Guyana can plead for the return of their Diaspora, but first it needs to be able to offer them a solid assurance of a friendly investment climate that will at least provide a real opportunity for success.

This needs to happen soon too, the baby-boom generation is poised to retire very soon and the experts are already predicting a vacuum effect that will leave the US with millions of unfilled job positions.

American companies will no doubt seek to fill this considerable void as quickly as possible and the government will want to halt the vacuum effect that will naturally suck the income tax dollars as well.

Therefore, we can expect this host country to craft even more lenient rules than already exist to maintain an educated workforce.

As such, there is no time to lose if Guyana wants to woo its Diaspora back home.

If it can be done, this nation could be the one reaping the benefits of their brainpower and income tax dollars.

Perhaps there is a way to finagle this brain gain theory into something workable for Guyana by reversing the causes that make the intellectuals run for the border as soon as they graduate and by creating policies that will entice its countrymen and women to spend their intellectual capital in their own homeland.

Email: stellasays[at]gmail.com

Other women should emulate Stella - Freddie Kissoon

Other women should emulate Stella Ramsaroop. She embodies a new political culture that reminds me of the WPA in the 70s. She is not conceited and arrogant when her faults are highlighted.

That to me is the hallmark of a new Guyanese person. This country for a small, poor society is overburdened with chauvinism, narcissism and egotism.

The really crucial question is whether we can put aside these psychological deformities and character defects and invent a coalition that will eventually take us out of 50 years of darkness and into the brilliance of a modern society.

I warmly embrace the modesty and mental independence of Stella Ramsaroop. I hope desperately that Guyanese women follow the example of Stella and see Mr. Jagdeo for what he is – a leader obsessed with power to the detriment of a country whose government is already in a semi-fascist mood inevitably drifting into a chasm of impending disaster.

From the time the great floods of 2005 receded, Mr. Jagdeo has been on an inexorable PR campaign. He shares out flood relief; he visits distressed villagers; he inspects infrastructural works; he enjoys the numerous trade exhibitions; he hugs little babies and promises them toys; he tours the countryside; he make promises to people with vacant eyes.

But do not judge this man on those superficial inconsequentialities. President Jagdeo does not have a modicum of the qualities of Cheddi Jagan.

At least Jagan would listen to his dissenters. If their points are strong, there will be some consideration. Jagan would put his own people in places, but he had the tendency to say, “Let me see how I can fit in your plans with those of mine.”

For Jagdeo, he has an obsession with micromanaging every conceivable detail of power outlet. He does not bargain. He does not compromise. Nothing wrong with that if the higher goal is Guyana's future.

But the preservation of power is the ultimate end even if Guyana suffers. And Guyana is suffering

The people of this country must judge the President on his attitude to power not his PR bandwagon. Stella Ramsaroop got it wrongly when she said the PPP is holding him back. That was how it started when he was given the Presidency by Mrs. Jagan.

The party issued him with daily edicts. Now there is a divergence between him and the party with many PPP leaders wondering if Jagdeo's authoritarian style may not cause the party to lose the 2006 poll.

I know many top leaders (including, much to my surprise but to my relief, Mrs Jagan) were incensed at his decision at a cabinet meeting of August 26, 2005 when the President single-handedly defied basic democratic norms and the politics of consensus building by destroying the autonomy of the University of Guyana, an autonomy that survived even under Forbes Burnham.

What the President did to UG on August 26 has definitely made up my mind for me that, if the PPP gets back in power, semi-fascism is going to become fascism.

This country should not forgive the President for the position he took at that Cabinet meeting of August 26, 2005. His imposition of his choice at UG is going to destroy the University, if it isn't destroyed already.

But then again, which public institution isn't moribund in this country. When Jagdeo goes on his next PR trip, let those women who garland him take a leaf out of the book of the decent, brave woman named Stella Ramsaroop

Frederick Kissoon

Saturday, November 19, 2005

I was wrong about Jagdeo - Stella Ramsaroop

I never want it to be said that I am unteachable or incapable of shifting my position on a stance - if and when I find it to be wanting. As such, I have been effectively converted into a Jagdeo-disparager and will forevermore denounce even the ground on which he walks.

I honestly do not know what on earth came over me. It sure is a good thing Sweet and Sensitive Freddie was there to shake me out of that horrifying trance before I fell even deeper into the PPP trap. Thanks a bunch, Freddie! I sure am lucky to have a friend like you.

It really does pain me to admit that my view of Jagdeo is perception-based, much like Freddie's view of Clinton. I admit that I cannot intelligently defend my statements about Jagdeo. To quote Freddie's take on Clinton, “I think he has leadership qualities but this is more an emotional statement than an intellectual analysis.”

Even now I feel like I should be tarred and feathered as punishment for allowing my emotions to dictate my ability to offer a judicious evaluation of the President of Guyana. Deep down, I guess I just wanted to believe Jagdeo could be a good leader if Freedom House wasn't controlling him. It must have been his kind eyes and honest-looking face that sucked me in.

How could I have ever been so shallow? I know better than to judge a politician's ability to employ effective leadership by such a superficial quality as appearance. How many times have I preached to others that you cannot judge a book by its cover? And then I turn around and do the same thing.

I do have to point out that there were other small factors that allowed me to frivolously declare that I liked Jagdeo. The airport looks spiffy and the new road is just swell – I suppose it's the small things that impress me. Then when he went and doled out the money to clean up the sewers, I said to myself, “That Jagdeo, he's a good guy.”

That is it! That is when it all started. Those blasted sewers blinded my sensitivity to reality and caused a temporary lapse of good judgment concerning His Excellency. I speciously believed he actually cared about the people of Guyana.

It's a good thing Freddie challenged me on this or I might have been completely sucked into the PPP machine and lost to the world forever.

What on earth was I thinking? All I have to do is look at George Bush to remind myself that a leader can look like a “good ol' boy” and still wage an unnecessary war that kills thousands. I am starting to feel a little more like myself now, but everything still seems so foggy.

I now remember that I must judge a leader by his overall achievements – and the lack thereof. Surface judgments are dangerous and can lead to destructive behaviour – like thinking a guy is a good leader because he smiles while taking pictures with the “common folk.”

I also recognise that most of the remodelling done in Guyana in the last year or so is nothing more than a PPP ploy to win the hearts of the people. This was all crystal clear to me at one time, before I lost my way. In the end though, the road, the airport and the sewers are not combating poverty or raising the overall quality of life for the people of Guyana.

And to think I actually fell for this ruse for a brief moment in time. Those calculating PPP propagandists sure are sly. Be careful Guyana, lest they ensnare you as well. It's like the old saying goes, “You can put lipstick on a pig, but it is still very much a pig.”

The turning point that shocked me back to reality was the statement Freddie made about Sharma being so popular in the recent NACTA poll. It is this type of information that makes me wonder if even the Guyanese know what is good for them and what is very bad for them. Maybe we all need to be a little smarter and a lot more discerning about the leaders we choose to support. I know I will be from here on out.

Therefore, I humbly apologise for being shallow, blind and naïve. I promise to immediately turn my brain back on and ensure that it is functioning properly. Perhaps a good dose of Machiavelli will remind me of the torrent of evil that can lurk behind kind eyes.

One more thing, I don't want the Gang of Three to get the wrong idea; my temporary insanity about Jagdeo does not get you off the hook in the least. You are still wrong and I am challenging you on that matter. Hey, we all need a friend to help us see the light sometimes.

Freddie was there for me when I needed a good kick in the rear, but he is blinded too with regards to the AFC. So I will be the one to state the obvious on that matter. Take it from me, it is not easy to admit when you are wrong, but it sure is a lot easier than trying to justify a position that cannot plausibly be defended.

Thanks again, Freddie. You are such a sweetheart, even if you are wrong about the AFC's position on the parliamentary seats. After a while, Crocodile!

Stella Ramsaroop

Friday, November 18, 2005

The mind is infinite - Freddie Kissoon

Here's Freddie's column from today's Kaieteur News addressing the "Gang of Three" and their Parliamentary seats. Start here for my columns on this issue.
The Kaieteur News and the Stabroek News have taken an editorial position on the Gang of Three – Khemraj Ramjattan, Raphael Trotman and Sheila Holder.

Both papers feel that these three parliamentarians should resign from the House. Kaieteur News columnist, Stella Ramsaroop, is on the same wavelength.

There have been three letters in the newspapers calling for the resignations, but we don't know if these are ghost letters written by people with an agenda.

Let's manoeuvre our way through this jungle to see if in fact we are in a jungle. To date, there has been no outpouring from real people and established organisations about the parliamentary status of the Gang of Three.

The Kaieteur News and the Stabroek News have not cited the attitude of the Guyanese people on this issue - quite rightfully so, because no survey has been done to ascertain how the Guyanese people stand on these parliamentarians.

Let's start with Stella Ramsaroop. I have patience with Stella because Stella means well.

But Stella isn't doing well when it comes to arguing her cases in the university of the street. She seeks comfort in a very fragile kingdom.

Two weeks ago she put me in the docks and demanded that I answer her question in legal monosyllables – should they resign, Freddie, yes or no? I wasn't in the docks because I refused for anyone to put me there.

I wrote back to tell Stella that life is not as simple as she makes it out to be. Fundamental principles of morality cannot be answered in monosyllables.

I quoted from some of the greatest minds in human knowledge to adumbrate a philosophical complication that prevents a ‘yes' or ‘no' answer. But she would have none of it. She fell back on a level of hackneyed argumentation of which I know she is capable of rising far above.

She simply said to me that my philosophical explanation said nothing. But that is an old, worn-out stratagem.

Anyone could read your dissertation then, in order to mask their self-opinionated stance, exclaim: “Your defence was long and learned, but it said nothing.”

I have heard that banal expression countless times in my long university career.

Stella Ramsaroop has a second flaw in her presentation. She speaks for the Guyanese people. She quotes the feeling, disappointment and frustration of the Guyanese people, about what the Gang of Three is doing.

Well, I live in Guyana in a working class district. I work at an important institution. I travel around Georgetown. I am not seeing this feeling among the Guyanese people that Stella has discerned.

On the contrary, the people I have spoken to are so fed up with the PPP and PNC that they want Ramjattan and Trotman to remain in Parliament.

I don't know if Stella did one of those surveys that NACTA comes to Guyana to do. If so, then I think she should let us know the results.

The third weakness in Stella's discourse is that she presents no argument for the reason she gave why they should resign. She said it is not morally right. That is fine. Well, tell us why?

This is where I have answered the question with an argument.

Stella then said your argument said nothing. Well, let's hear your moral reasoning, Stella. Do not keep lamenting that it is morally wrong to retain the seats. Tell us why that is so.

We come to the position of the Kaieteur News. The paper accepts that there are no strong legal grounds that should compel the Gang of Three to leave Parliament.

This is the way the KN editorial put it yesterday.

“Although their refusal …might not breach the laws of the land, that does not mean their stand is principled.” So law is out of the question. Morality becomes the issue here.

Let's quote that KN editorial again. “If any of these representatives leaves the party, that person no longer represents the interests of the elected party and automatically ceases to represent the electors who voted for that party.”

There are serious moral complications in this argument. On the surface, it looks good. A guy is elected on the list of party AA.

He leaves party AA and joins party BB. It sounds morally good if you ask him to vacate his seat and let party BB give him one of theirs, and let party AA choose whom they want to have to replace him.

But there are deeper meanings to ethical choices. I tried to show Stella this by using the arguments of Immanuel Kant on morals. I will not return to that route, but let's explore the moral foundations of the issues.

Why can't Ramjattan and Khemraj postulate that the two major parties no longer represent the interests of the electors?

Within the framework of the contract theory of Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau, the ruling party has violated the social contract therefore Ramjattan has a right to rebel.

Ramjattan should not give up his seat because he embodies the covenant of the social contract and not his original party.

Take security; all three social contract theorists (yes, surprisingly, including Hobbes) have agreed that the subject can break the social contract if their security is not provided for.

The state in Guyana cannot provide security. Why then should Ramjattan's argument for retaining his seat not be considered in the light of this revelation?

There are more arguments and again Kant would be useful here, but let's leave him out this time. Let's visit the position of the World Council of Churches (WCC) when that body decided to give money to the ANC of South Africa and freedom fighters in Rhodesia before it became independent Zimbabwe.

The criticism that greeted this decision was that these groups used violence to attain their goals. The WCC retorted that the violence was used to achieve a higher goal – freedom.

Could this moral justification be linked to the abortion issue? A woman aborts the unborn child because she fears for her health. Isn't a higher goal involved here?

Why can't it be argued that the PPP and PNC have lost moral legitimacy, therefore both Ramjattan and Trotman are serving the moral good of the electors by staying in Parliament and fighting for a higher goal?

The arguments are not simple. The mind is infinite. It can come up with moral defenses for the Gang of Three that are as strong as the opposing ones.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Stella Says…All Things Being Equal, Sheila Must Now Face The Music

(Originally published in the Kaieteur News on 17 Nov 2005)

It seems there are some who feel I am being soft on the female portion of the AFC “Gang of Three,” who have quit their former parties while defiantly retaining their seats in parliament against the grain of public opinion. Therefore, all things being equal, I am now forced to address Sheila Holder’s part in this position so it does not seem like I am letting her off the hook because she is a woman.

However, before I do this, I want to say that I have the utmost respect for any woman who dares to take on politics in Guyana. Further, I believe that as more women balance out the judicial and legislative branches of government to better reflect a more realistic representation of our gender, the better the country will be. One thing is for sure; things cannot get much worse than they are already.

Having noted my respect for you Sheila, I must say that your decision to remain in the WPA seat in Parliament as an AFC member is even more disgraceful than your two cohorts since the WPA only has one seat, which you now hold – as an AFC member. Although Raphael and Khemraj are both wrong in this issue too, their former parties have the capacity to continue their work in Parliament because they still have representation.

It is important to realise that not one person voted for the AFC in the last election and therefore your new party, Sheila, should have no representation whatsoever in Parliament – yet it now has three seats. However, the WPA should have one seat, but you have wrongfully refused to return to the WPA what rightfully belongs to them, which leaves them with no representation at all.

If I voted for the WPA last election, I would have serious trepidations about voting for the AFC now simply because you stole my legal and due representation without my consent and under the guise of representing my best interest. Those who voted for the WPA did not give you the permission to represent them as an AFC member, so the pretext of representing their interest holds no merit whatsoever.

Sheila, since none of the gentlemen I have written to or about on this issue (see links at the end of this column) seem to have the capacity to satisfactorily address my inquiries, I am hoping as a woman you show better leadership skills. It is true that Freddie, whom I also respect greatly, made a couple attempts, but the result was a philosophical dance that said absolutely nothing in the end.

The only response from your comrade, Khemraj, was a sweeping dismissal at then end of a letter that was primarily addressed to two others concerned about this issue. How can he expect me, or anyone else for that matter, to take him seriously as a leader when he acts like that?

A good leader would go to great lengths to address the concerns posed and do so with respect. At the same time Khemraj insinuated that I made no sense. Since the rest of the country who reads the same “Stella Says” columns that Khemraj has read seems to comprehend the scope of my thoughts without great effort, I am hoping he has not embarrassed himself by admitting that he, as one of Guyana’s finest lawyers, can not understand my simple columns.

I know he probably did understand me, but chose not to respond to my pointed questions. That is his choice. However, I’m going to be very frank with the “Gang of Three;” you cannot continue to evade the questions and concerns over this matter and expect the people to trust you. These are real concerns that should be addressed – not dismissed as inconsequential.

I am hoping the AFC has more respect for the people than to think they will simply let this issue die without full accountability. The PPP shows their disdain of the people in such a way and it is sickening to watch them throw whimsical propaganda about without so much as a shifting foundation on which to stand.

Which makes me wonder if this is a trait that Khemraj has brought with him into the AFC. It is not a good thing to bring the bad habits of those old parties into the new AFC. I hope that statement was not too difficult for Khemraj to understand. Here, let me make it as simple as possible – PPP traits can be bad; do not act like the PPP.

Speaking of bad traits, I must say that this dogmatic stance taken by the AFC on this issue is very suspect since no one thinks it is a good idea, many feel it is immoral and it has brought the party nothing but trouble. Another aspect of good leadership is being humble enough to learn from those around you, yet it would seem the AFC feels it above the requisite to learn from others and subsequently adjust its precarious ideology appropriately.

In fact, this whole escapade leaves one with the distinct taste of party paramountcy since it seems quite obvious that the AFC does not wish to take into consideration the desires of the people. Isn’t this the very philosophy your party purports to be rejecting?

It seems there must be another reason for this dogmatic stance that has not yet been made public so we can all understand why the AFC would sacrifice its integrity, and possibly its chance at a real shot in the upcoming elections, instead of catering to the people’s will.

I know the “Gang of Three” might think they appear strong against the giant shadows of the former parties, but in all honesty it does not come off that way at all. Instead it appears the AFC does not have the capacity to grasp the will of the people and make the necessary adjustments – and all of this before you ever get into office.

Sheila, I wonder if you and the other two realise that many who are calling for your resignation from these seats are actually supporters of your movement and in the process the AFC is truly losing ground. We want to see integrity and transparency, and since the rationale being used to justify this stance does not seem to add up, we have to wonder what the real reason could be and why the AFC is not being upfront about it.

It really is time to get this thing taken care of once and for all and get on with building a solid party. The AFC needs to either give us some solid explanations that we can swallow or return to the other parties their rightful seats.

Sheila, as women we know how to communicate quite well. So tell me girlfriend, why is your new party refusing to vacate the seats that belong to these other parties? I hope you fare better than the guys did in providing a response that is believable and substantive. Let’s talk this thing through in a manner worthy of our strong matriarchal heritage so the people can know for sure if they can indeed trust the AFC.

Other Columns on this subject:
Stella Says…It Is Trotman’s Turn This Time
Stella Says…Khemraj, Let's Go Shopping!
Stella Says…Freddie, Tell Me What You Think About the AFC Now
Stella says…It Is Never Easy To Do The Right Thing

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Hi there Stella! Frederick calling! - Freddie Kissoon

Here's Freddie's brilliant column in today's Kaieteur News:
I wanted to write you on Monday, Stella, but I had a lot of UG work to do on Sunday. I couldn't write you for Tuesday because Monday is a heavy day for me at UG. Yesterday, we had a union meeting at UG but it was called off, so I have some time to correspond with you.

The following words were the way I wanted to begin this column. “I fell off my breakfast chair early Sunday morning after reading what Stella had said about Bharrat Jagdeo; about how Jagdeo embodies ‘many characteristics of a good leader'.

I found this discovery so shocking that the chair collapsed under the shock of my brain and the coffee spilled, piercing my pajama top, burning my stomach and off to the emergency theatre I went at the Georgetown Public Hospital .”

Now as you can see, Stella, my column for today didn't begin with those words. I've been that way before and I got bitten. It happened when I read that the President went to one of the statutory meetings of the Georgetown City Council and admonished that body not to put a political choice in everything the members do.

I wrote in one of my columns that I jumped on reading that comment while I had a cup of hot coffee in my hand: it spilt on my leg and burned me to the bone so I had to be rushed to the hospital. It was just satire but two of my colleagues at Kaieteur News and several other persons seriously thought I was injured.

One person even came around to see if I was alright. Satire is a dying art form in newspapers around the world.

But figuratively and satirically, I dropped off my chair and bumped my head so hard that it sent shock waves through my brain that necessitated an MRI scan when I read you have perceived Bharrat Jagdeo as having positive characteristics of a good leader.

If I was dying Sunday morning, like Robin Gibb, in the famous Bee Gees hit, “I started a joke,” I finally died on Monday morning when I read in your column that you like Jagdeo but his party has too much corruption.

I hope you saw the superb movie, “All the President's men.”

If you haven't, Stella, then go quickly my love to your nearest video club and borrow it. It tells the story of a President and his men.

Yes Stella, Trick Dick (Richard Nixon) was a nice man. You know something, Stella? I liked Nixon but he had his men doing dirty work for him. Yes my dear Stella, they did dirty work for him.

And guess what Stella? They protected him, he protected them.

But why am I telling you all of this? You are going to the club any way and borrow the movie. Call me after you would have seen it.

Collect my unlisted number from Glenn Lall, the publisher of Kaieteur News.

Now, Stella, a few persons in Guyana told me that you have lost your credibility by saying in two consecutive columns that you think Jagdeo is a fine President.

My reply is that even if you lost your credibility you are going to recapture it with your Steven Spielberg-like finesse that you naturally possess.

Now, dear Stella, tell us why you think Jagdeo embodies good characteristics of a leader.

Of course since you seem to understand what moral obligations are given the perspective you have taken on the Gang of Three not surrendering their parliamentary seats, then I believe you are under a moral requirement to answer my questions.

This is because I have answered all of yours over the past two months while you have not attempted any of mine. So far you have avoided the one on Christopher Ram.

Well alright Stella, forget about your moral obligation to me. Forget you owe me anything at all; just argue this one out in order to disprove those who have told me three days ago that you have lost your credibility as a columnist.

For a moment, I wanted to approach this dialogue with you by resorting to the Socratic Method.

But forget about ancient Greek philosophical methods in arguing. What I will do is not to inject my evaluation of Jagdeo in this conversation.

Briefly, I don't think he is a good leader. Not a good leader at all. I will go just a tiny bit further (because I know you must be aware of this information) and say the NACTA poll done in August puts C. N. Sharma as being more popular among those surveyed, than Jagdeo.

Oops Stella, that hurts! Sharma being more popular than a President who has been in power seven years? Of all people Stella, Sharma?

Now having stated your perception of President Jagdeo as possessing some good leadership values, expand analytically, Stella. Now please forgive me if I sound arrogant (I am not at all arrogant) but in your presentation you cannot confine yourself to perceptions.

This cannot be your framework even if you wanted to use it.

When a person is going to categorise a Prime Minister or President as having some qualities of leadership, then the analyst has to link that with performance and policy success.

It cannot be otherwise, unless the analyst finds refuge in emotionalism and says that he/she simply likes the leader.

This is my attitude to Bill Clinton. I think he has leadership qualities but this is more an emotional statement than an intellectual analysis.

I wouldn't want to attempt a defence of Clinton 's leadership values.

Is this the position you have taken, Stella? If it is then ignore my request for your assessment of Jagdeo's leadership. It means that you feel the way about Jagdeo as I feel about Clinton .

But I am willing to confess that I don't think Clinton had many good qualities of leadership. I don't think for eight years in office Clinton achieved anything much except the erasure of the deficit.

Now if your liking for the Guyanese President is not an emotional thing but is based on what he has done the past seven years, then Stella, you should fight to defend your credibility.

Remember credibility is important. According to you, the Gang of Three may be losing theirs. I don't want you to lose yours, Stella.

Why? Because you remind me of my favourite female singer, Sarah Brightman. And because I like you. See you later, alligator!

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Stella Says…Give Me Something To Sink My Teeth Into

(Originally published in the Kaieteur News on 15 Nov 2005 and Caribbean Feedback, December 2005)

This morning I took some time to project myself into the shoes of a Guyanese woman next year right before election time. The reason for this exercise was to help me determine if I felt any of the current parties deserved my vote.

At the present time, the pickings are slim. I like Jagdeo, but his party has far too much corruption (and that is my own perception – not a report), so they do not deserve the trust of the people to return to office again. There are many other reasons for not choosing the PPP, but the corruption is my primary reason.

The PNCR, as an opposition party, has done very little substantially for the people and has a multiple personality disorder. It is almost like they are double-minded about the race issue – one day they speak out against the atrocities that are spawned by racial hate and the next day they are supporting the same atrocities and racial hate.

The PPP does this too, which is why neither party would get my vote. I truly believe the only way Guyana will be able to reach its full potential as a country is to rid itself of race-based politics. In fact, I see race-based politics and corruption as the two factors that prevent Guyana from being a serious economic contender in the world.

I am a forward thinker who refuses to live in the past. As such, I cannot see this nation moving beyond its sorted history of racial violence until it is willing to cut out the instigating forces of racial dissonance. More than any other aspect of Guyanese society, the politicians have been the forces that promote racial hate.

Likewise, it is more than obvious that the racial fear caused by these same politicians is the rope by which they keep the people of Guyana tied to their racially segregated parties. This rope has become Guyana’s noose and for as long as we believe their lies, the noose will remain around our necks.

Therefore, after rejecting the two primary parties from consideration for next year’s election, I must now find a viable option that will have the integrity and intelligence to jolt Guyana out of this sad state of poverty and move it forward economically.

Here is a list of the more vital expectations I want from the next administration:

  1. A comprehensive economic plan to seriously reduce poverty. I believe the economic state of the nation to be paramount since it influences other aspects of society, such as crime and corruption. I do not want a bunch of hype, I expect a strategy that has merit – including which areas of the economy would be the focus of job creation and which areas would receive less attention due to the changes in market value.
  2. A scheme to systematically overhaul the law enforcement and judicial systems, which would include introducing a plan for consistent transparency and accountability. A functioning checks and balance system needs to be instituted to combat the rampant crime should include jail time for conspirators against the interests of the justice – such as informants and those who accept bribes. There needs to be tougher laws, an untainted and competent police force and judges who are willing to impose strict sentences in a judicious and consistent manner.
  3. A foreign policy that encourages imports and exports with our neighbouring countries in South America and the Caribbean. I would like to see Guyana’s borders open, but only when they can also be protected. In the current state, one cannot expect to open our borders without also allowing the drug business to take a greater hold. A serious border patrol is a necessary aspect of an open and free market. Guyana needs an infusion of outside money to spark its economy to life. There is not enough money in the nation to spread around, and what money is here is invested in the grand homes of the politicians. This is why we need to inject the flow of some fresh foreign money into our stale economy.
  4. It is time the women of Guyana had a party that champions the rights of their half of the nation’s population. Hardly a day goes by without the media reporting another woman being victimised somehow in this nation. Then once she has already suffered from rape, abuse or even death – the current system provides little or no means of restitution or help to escape. How on earth does a little girl of 14 end up in jail because she is afraid to go home and there is nowhere else in the country that is safe for her? Where are the legislators and politicians to stand up for the women of Guyana?

Of course, there is more that I would like to see from the next party – like integrity and a drive to put the best interests of the people before selfish ambition. With this in mind, I am not too sure the AFC is the right party either. They have clearly shown their predisposition to dogmatically and defiantly act exactly the opposite of what the people want.

If I were a Guyanese woman walking to the voting booth today, I would find it heart wrenching to choose from these listed parties. I know there are other parties to choose from as well, and I suppose that is what I would do, but I want to know that my vote is going to make a difference – after all, I do have to somehow counteract all of those phantom votes thrown in by the PPP.

Is there nobody in Guyana who can provide the voters with a viable choice for the next elections? Come on now! Surely there is someone out there who can do better than these miserable choices. Give me something to sink my teeth into. Give me something to believe in. Somebody, please give this nation a party that is worthy of serving the people of Guyana. Please.

Email: stellasays[at]gmail.com

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Stella Says…It Is Trotman’s Turn This Time

(Originally published in the Kaieteur News on 13 Nov 2005)

I know I said I would let go of this issue concerning the parliamentary seats from other parties now being held by AFC members, but there is something that keeps pushing me to go on.

I have attempted different approaches to make my point to no avail, so this time I thought I would try to reason with Raphael Trotman. I will openly admit that I have a lot of respect for Mr. Trotman – even after he has decided to stick with his party’s decision to retain seats they are no longer entitled to hold.

On October 23, I wrote a column entitled, “It Is Never Easy to do the Right Thing,” in which I encouraged the three leaders of the AFC to do the "right thing" and resign their seats. Many times a columnist hopes his/her column will be the catalyst for change. I honestly thought the "Gang of Three,” as Freddie calls them, would see reason and make the big announcement soon thereafter.

Alas, here we are almost three weeks later - and numerous columns, letters to the Editor and newspaper editorials later - and they still have not chosen to do what so many feel is the "right thing."

Therefore, in this column, I have decided to appeal to an individual I believe may one day be the President of Guyana. Who knows, it could even be in the next elections. Guyana needs someone who will unite this beautiful country as one. Guyana needs an individual who will transcend the race issue, the class issue and the polarised political party issue. Mr. Trotman could very well be that individual.

With the issue at hand, Mr. Trotman has an early opportunity to do what is right even if it goes against the grain of his party’s stance. The leader of the AFC, Mr. Ramjattan, has made it clear that he plans on keeping his seat. Mr. Trotman, on the other hand, has made several statements to the contrary and I am hoping that he has the wherewithal to be a man of his word.

In a Stabroek News article published on June 2nd entitled, "Trotman resigns from parliamentary bodies,” Mr. Trotman is quoted as saying if the PNCR asked for his resignation, he would, in fairness to them, tender it. Well, Mr. Corbin has asked for his resignation and we now await Mr. Trotman’s response with the hope that his word can be trusted.

When asked to comment on Corbin's request for a Stabroek News article on October 21, Trotman said his resignation would be addressed at the launching of the Alliance For Change (AFC) on October 29. Many people, including this columnist, interpreted this to signify that the AFC would make a big splash at their launch by resigning. However the launch came and went with only further resistance to this issue.

I have now stated the facts on this point, as well as the statements made by Trotman, and I now want to talk from my heart for the rest of this column. Guyana needs leaders who are a head above the rest in regards to trustworthiness, decisiveness and responsiveness. I believe there are very few of these types of leaders in Guyana – however, I also believe Raphael Trotman is one of them.

I believe that Trotman has a good heart. That is to say, he doesn’t seek his own agenda above the best interests of the people. I also think he has an easy-going type of personality, which is an important feature for anyone who seeks to govern since such a position can be very stressful.

However, I also think this easy-going personality can be influenced without great difficulty. I believe this is why Trotman did a complete turn about. This is where I start getting concerned over Trotman’s ability to lead, since I also think this is what happened to Jagdeo.

Truth be known, I like Jagdeo as a leader. I think his disposition is much like Trotman’s in that he shares the same good qualities that appeal to the people. However, he seems too willing to cater to party politics. I think this is more out of obligation or to keep the peace than because he considers it is the best course of action.

The result is that a good man – and a good leader – has become a puppet of backroom politicians. This is a scary situation for Guyana because we can never really know who is making the decisions that affect the country on a daily basis.

Although he embodies many very positive characteristics of a good leader, Jagdeo simply doesn’t strike me as the type of person who will fight tooth and nail for the people against the agenda of the PPP, but this is what Guyana needs.

The question of the hour is whether Trotman is just another Jagdeo that can be easily swayed away from the people for the sake of the party. It certainly does appear to be that way at this point since he no longer cares about being fair to the PNC or doing what the people want over what his party expects.

My hope is that Trotman finds the courage to be his own man and to listen to his own heart. We do not need one more leader who loses his/her good qualities and intentions to party politics. What we need are good men and women who can do the right thing despite party pressure to do the opposite.

It is in these moments when the future of Guyana is decided, because if a leader’s conscience can be swayed on the smaller issues – then over time that same leader will be swayed to do the party’s beckoning on bigger issues – and before long the people are once again forgotten so that more politicians can buy big houses and fancy cars.

Raphael, for the sake of Guyana, I hope you find the strength to be the leader this country deserves.

Email: stellasays[at]gmail.com

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Stella Says…Women Should Take Control Of Their Lives

(Originally published in the Kaieteur News on 10 Nov 2005)

It was not too long ago that I realised that as a woman it would be foolish for me not to take matters into my own hands when it comes to my overall well being.

Why did it take me so long for a smart woman to come to this very logical conclusion? It took so long because from a girl’s birth parents, family members, community, etc. protect her from almost everything, which makes it very difficult for her to learn to protect herself.

Frilly dresses mean mothers will protect little girls from playing in the mud – whether they want to be protected or not. Girls are protected from the heavy lifting in a house – that is left for the men. And girls are protected from would-be child molesters and from the more “seedy” side of the world.

Some of these protective measures are indeed a much-needed aspect of society. As Peeping Tom pointed out in his column yesterday, we have a responsibility to protect our young women from those who would steal their innocence. If I found one of those repulsive stalkers approaching any girl, relative or not, he’d leave that schoolyard with a lot less “manhood” than he had when he entered.

The problem with all of this protection, whether necessary or not, is that girls never really learn how to protect themselves. It is not until life has dealt them some very hard lessons that girls finally accept that as women, we have to take care of ourselves. For some women, if they don’t take care of themselves, there is no one else to do it for them.

There are so many single mothers who wait for a man to come along to take care of her and her kid(s), not realising that she has the power to do it all on her own. Society has taught her that she needs to have a man to be happy and successful, so when there is no man around she is miserable and feels like a failure.

Please don’t misunderstand what I am saying. I think it is wonderful to find a person to share your life with and who invokes feelings of security when embracing each other. However, I don’t think women should be so dependent on their partners to the point that she is unable to function on her own if for some unforeseen reason that partner is no longer around.

To a large extent, the protective measures we take to shelter our girls from the big bad world produce women who are unsure of their capacity to handle life’s tougher issues. After several attempts at dealing with the real world and failing, the resulting low self-esteem makes these women prime targets for cruel and abusive men – when in reality these ladies deserve to share their lives with men who are loving and caring.

So many times women sit idly by and hope someone will rescue them from the real world. I have to ask these women, “Why not save yourself?” Why not find a way to take the children and leave the abuser? There are places to go now for help and the police are trying to get their act together on this issue too.

Abuse is one of the most extreme cases of how a woman can take back control of her life. There are other ways too. For example, while we still need to protect our girls in the schoolyard, why not also teach them how to chase off those vile stalkers themselves?

Why not teach the girls how to shame these men into leaving the schoolyard and thereby leaving no victims to entice the menaces in the first place. This would be the best strategy at ridding the schoolyard of child molesters and at the same time teaching young women how to stand up for themselves.

Another example of how women can reclaim their lives is by demanding that society take their issues seriously. A recent report from the Chronicle cited a significant decreased availability and increased price of the female condom. As women we must have the power to protect ourselves from sexually transmitted diseases.

Do we just sit by and wait for someone else to protect us? Should we be gullible and accept the passive response that the man should wear the condom instead? This is one area where we cannot afford to be naïve because the result could mean an STD or HIV/AIDS.

So what is there to do? This is when women need to stand up and take control of their lives. Every woman who is turned away from their pharmacy empty handed should go to the manager and demand that the store start carrying more female condoms and at a lower price. Go to the highest management level necessary to demand an increased stock and lower prices.

Ladies, I know we supposedly live in a “man’s world.” But the longer it takes us to take control of our own lives, the longer women will be abused, molested, marginalised in healthcare and forgotten in the work place. We can’t just sit around and wait for someone to rescue us, we have to grow up and learn how to rescue ourselves.

Email: StellaSays[at]gmail.com

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Stella misses the boat about Ramjattan - "C. Mattai"

Here's a section of a letter by "C. Mattai" in today's Kaieteur News:
Dear Editor,

Stella Ramsaroop, in her article in Sunday Kaieteur News of the 6th November, 2005 obviously missed the boat in attributing to Mr. Khemraj Ramjattan the assertion, firstly, that members of the National Assembly of the ilk of Chandisingh, Teekah and Nadir are politically immoral when they cross the floor and, secondly, that parties like the PNC and the PPP, which accept such cross-over, are acting immorally.

Mr. Ramjattan was at pains arguing that, since our Constitution allows such conduct, it cannot be immoral. “Constitutionality is generally synonymous with morality” is what I recall him positing.

It is clear that Mr. Ramjattan supports the constitutional rights of every member of the National Assembly to freedom of expression (which includes dissent), and freedom of association (which includes dissociation).

Does Stella so respect these rights of MP's? If she does, then, when an MP exercises it one way or the other, such an exercise can never be regarded as immoral!

Mr. Ramjattan is an ardent proponent of the free conscience school which Kaieteur's editorial “Jumping Ship II” so lucidly articulated and supported.

This is why he does not allow himself to be cribbed and confined by partisan party politics and paramount party leaders.

This is the higher morality he lives by and what got him into trouble with the PPP in the first place. He never crawled on his belly at the beck and call of Janet, Jagdeo, or Ramoutar, nor should he do so at the call of Stella.

Worshipping at the altar of this higher political morality, where national interests is given primacy over and above party dictates, is what all Parliamentarians must do religiously.

And the public is aware of Ramjattan doing just this. This is why he was lustily applauded at the launch by over 500 persons when he was so emphatic that he will not vacate his seat in Parliament until such time as he decides to do so.

The public is not only made up of letter writers of Stella's ilk, who by the way will not even vote in an election in Guyana.

Ramjattan's allusion to the three gentlemen – Nadir, Teekah and Chandisingh – was only made to demonstrate hypocrisy on the part of the PPP and PNC, who now cry immorality in an attempt to get himself and Trotman to vacate their seats.

As he forcefully argued, such a so-called immorality never dawned on these parties when these three gentlemen's dissociation inured to these parties' benefit.

There is no reason to attribute either acute intellectuality or dishonesty to Stella. Therefore, she can be accused only of having made an honest mistake in her reading of Mr. Ramjattan's article in the SN dated 5th November, 2005.

Perhaps she went on a shopping spree, drank too much rum and concerned herself too much with new shoes (cosmetic changes in image), and consequently dismally failed to appreciate Mr. Ramjattan's substance, namely, his emphasis and focus on constitutionality. Ramjattan's image needs no cosmetic changes. His old image will do. He needs no new shoes or even a shave.

If perchance it is Stella's view that Chandisingh, Teekah and Manzoor Nadir have been guilty of political immorality when they crossed the floor, and so too were the PPP and PNC when they happily took them, she should boldly express that view as her own.

She should not seek to ascribe same to Mr. Ramjattan, and then proceed to imply hypocrisy on a fundamentally false premise. This would be indeed intellectual dishonesty – thinly disguised...

C. Mattai

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Stella Says…The Flutter of A Butterfly’s Wings Can Be Powerful

(Originally published in the Kaieteur News on 08 Nov 2005)

Sometimes we don’t understand that even the smallest action can cause a powerful reaction that can never be retracted. There is a statement that once caught my attention that maintains, “When a butterfly flutters its wings in one part of the world, it can eventually cause a hurricane in another.”

I’m not so sure this statement is indeed true, since logic would then say there would be a hurricane for every time a butterfly takes flight. However, it is the nuance of this statement that speaks to me by implying that even the smallest and most seemingly innocent act can produce very potent consequences. It is with this in mind that I examine some recent actions that may at first seem small and maybe even inconsequential, but in the end have great significance.

When I asked Sweet and Sensitive Freddie Kissoon to address the situation with the parliamentarian seats belonging to the PPP and PNC that are now being filled by AFC members, I asked for an academic and intellectual dissertation and for him to be honest about how he felt on the issue.

On the first point, Freddie certainly did not disappoint me in his column on Sunday. His exposition was absolutely brilliant, though it was exactly what I expected. I had already told a friend what Freddie’s response would be – that he would take the philosophical route instead of the religious route to determine a moral foundation.

I was a bit taken aback at his use of Bentham as opposed to John Stuart Mill when arguing the Greatest Happiness Principle, but that just shows that Freddie is definitely “old school” – and I can respect that. Either way, the point was well taken since Bentham is to Mill what Socrates is to Plato. Bravo, Freddie!

Though if we were going to argue the Greatest Happiness Principle, I would think the best choice would be for the AFC members to resign since that would restore the faith of the people in their ability to make the right decisions and to completely cut ties with their former parties. This is what will help the AFC win the elections next year and thus bring peace and joy to the land.

It is on the second point of my request that Freddie has disappointed me greatly. Not only did he completely skirt the issue of how he personally felt about this situation, but he danced around the subject altogether – as was evident to even a close friend who called him before breakfast on Sunday to say as much. And boy what a dance it was!

Therefore, Sweet and Sensitive Freddie made another attempt to clarify himself on this issue in his Monday column. Sadly though, instead of telling us what he personally thinks about this situation, he turns the table and tells us we are all sinners and should be worried about all the other ills of Guyanese society instead of this one. In other words, we should allow this one should slide with the rest of the corruption.

And I thought we were talking about a change in the political landscape.

It is a typical move in debate to offer long-winded responses or to throw inciting accusations around to distract the other person from the subject at hand. But I am not so easily distracted. Offended? Yes. Distracted? No. I specifically asked Freddie not to insult my intelligence by playing such games in his response, yet instead he tossed in a lengthy philosophical treatise (which I did appreciate) and then threw a fit in which he pronounced the rest of Guyana void of conscience.

Since the decision on this matter by the three AFC members will no doubt impact the credibility of their party, this issue is not one that should treated as trivial. Though that is exactly what Freddie has asked for us to do. We are expected to look the other way because that is what Guyanese have to do everyday.

After two columns on the subject, Freddie never did say what he thought the three AFC members should do or if they have taken the right road. He avoided the question I asked about his feelings on this matter in a spectacular philosophical treatise, which was an essay any astute philosophy student could have pounded that out in an hour or so, and then offered a torrent of accusations.

In the end, Freddie had written so many words and said absolutely nothing. I believe this to be a purposeful act since my friend has never had a problem expressing his views before this particular issue.

Now he knows I have to call him on this, but I won’t go much farther than that. I find it incredulous that he would think anyone in Guyana believes for one second that he does not hold an opinion on this matter since he seems to have an impassioned view to share on almost any subject that can be discussed amongst humans.

I have a sneaky suspicion that he does indeed have an opinion on this matter. How could Frederick Kissoon not have an opinion on any political issue? However, I also believe that rather than be dishonest to himself by giving an answer other than how he truly felt, he chose the easy road – evasion. (I think I heard the fluttering of a butterfly’s wing)

I may be wrong, but I think he may have chosen to avoid the question so that it doesn’t seem like he is unsupportive of his new party. This is his choice and I do understand his reasons for skirting the question. I do not have to take a stance on any political party and therefore choose to call this situation as I see it.

However, he must now be the understanding one whilst the rest of the nation mourns the departure of his trademark candid and honest assessments on the political climate in Guyana. (I hear another flutter of wings and forecast a devastating hurricane)

Perhaps we should take another approach on this matter. Let’s forget the moral definitions of Bentham, Mill and Kant for a minute and look at this situation from another perspective. From a purely public relations standpoint, this issue is a slow suicide for the AFC. Letters keep pouring in calling for their resignation, yet these three seem unmoved in their decision. (Flutter, flutter)

This is where I will let this matter drop since I too have hope that one day another party will rescue Guyana from its depressing political situation. But dear friend, please remind your “gang of three” that it is the will of the people that is paramount. Not their wills or the will of any party. This holds true now for this situation and for when they get into office.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Sinful society without shame - Freddie Kissoon

Here's Freddie's second response (click here for his first response) to my column Freddie, Tell Me What You Think About the AFC Now
The call came before I had breakfast yesterday morning. Someone I respect immensely advised me that though he understood my premise for not pronouncing on whether Khemraj Ramjattan, Raphael Trotman and Sheila Holder (the gang of three) should resign from Parliament, he felt that a majority of readers would conclude that I avoided a pronouncement. I said that my article was a thesis on the impossibility of judging moral decisions.

I specifically concentrated on the moral dimension of my argument because it was the use of moral judgement with which Stella Ramsaroop argued to arrive at her conclusion. Stella Ramsaroop did not ask me if for political reasons, the gang of three should resign. She didn't request my opinion on the legality of the retention. She cited the moral imperative. To answer that, I had to explain how the moral imperative functions. My attitude to her question then had to be in the form it appeared yesterday.

That respected telephone-caller has further advised that I touch the subject again because my readers will insist that they would like to know my perception of the stubbornness of the Gang of Three.

Here is what I think about Guyanese society and within this framework, I will advance a postulation on the retention argument. First, let's get the political effectiveness argument out of the way. Then look at the legality issue before we return to the moral nuance of this ongoing phenomenon.

Politically, I do not think the Gang of Three will be effective in Parliament. The PPP is instinctively authoritarian. The PPP-controlled Parliament is not going to allow Raphael Trotman's Freedom of Information Act. If the PPP wanted one, that party would have had it already.

The PNCR has no moral scruples; that party never once had any. It is going to team up with the PPP to stifle Trotman's performance in Parliament. Already, PPP dirty tricks groups are at work tampering with the web-site of the Alliance for Change. With months before the election, it may be politically wise to leave Parliament with a powerful emotional message of explanation.

Is the Gang of Three illegal in Parliament? If the law is pellucid and unambiguous, then the famous trio should vacate their seats. But who is the right interpreter of law in this country? Anyone knows the law in Guyana ? What is the legal position with regards to the retention of the seats?

We now come to the moral imperative. We begin with an old acceptance, as old as the universe – a wrong cannot be responded to with a wrong. If nobody cares about stopping the coffee lady from milking the cupboard, her colleague should not use that as an excuse to steal from her employer.

The hopeful trio cannot pontificate on the moral turpitude of other political actors to claim possession of their seats. Having said that, it becomes morally incumbent on those citizens in society to articulate the same moral criteria that they have asked the Gang of Three to adhere; moral standards are infinite.

Let's start with the very person who is responsible for me penning this article, Stella Ramsaroop. It is morally right for her to pen a column condemning the AFC parliamentarians yet eschew other manifestations of greater moral faults? If the answer is yes, then as a moral obligation she has to focus on the roles of the other flawed citizens of this country and call for their resignation.

She began her entry into the Guyanese media by supporting Christopher Ram's column in the Stabroek News. Should he resign from the paper because he cannot comment on the indiscretions of the company he audits?

Stella caught the public eyes when she defended the Stabroek News when the President sued that paper for libel. Then doesn't she have a moral obligation to expose the sacred cow journalism of this paper whereby its hidden agenda prevents it from exposing wrong-doing in places where it has friends?

The Stabroek News has a columnist who is a big administrator at UG. That paper shamelessly refuses to carry letters that criticizes its friends at UG who are literally destroying that institution. What is the moral obligation of the readers of that paper? I hope Stella Ramsaroop tells me.

What is the moral obligation of the citizens of this country when the President has a “bad-egg” as a close aide who is involved in corruption and publicly abuses people and fights with them but with each passing day he is elevated in the corridors of powers? As an act of obligation to this country, shouldn't such a President resign? Shouldn't such a President resign when he can publicly re-employ a senior functionary who put his signature to more than 50 bogus duty-free letters that cost this poor country almost $100M?

Where is the moral obligation to this country of the citizens, the important organisations and influential personalities when there is a lawyer who earns dozens of millions of dollars each month and pays less income tax than public sector workers who are the poorest in the CARICOM family?

Yet he is greeted wherever he goes and is always an invitee to the cocktail circuit. Is he morally righteous?

What does this country say about a mentally deranged medical doctor who tells the head of the revenue collection agency that he will tell the Guyanese people about the man's wife medical records? The Guyana Medical Council does nothing despite a complaint. Then this lunatic gets into trouble by physically assaulting a poor female employee and gets hauled before the police.

This crazy doctor writes the most obnoxiously narcissistic and nauseating letters in the press and they are published. Then to crown it all, he is invited to one of the most prestigious ceremonies in the education system to make a speech. What can he tell those students?

I could use thousands of other examples. I will offer more in forthcoming columns.

So there are people in this country who think that the three AFC leaders should resign from Parliament because it is a morally right thing to do. What about the thousands of other resignations that should follow from elsewhere in the country? Gimme a break fellow Guyanese! Show me someone in Guyana who has morality. Guyana is one of the most sinful and shameless societies in the world.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Stella Says…Khemraj, Let's Go Shopping!

(Originally published in the Kaieteur News on 06 Nov 2005)

I get to make a new friend today and I am so excited about it. I just love new friends! I love to chat it up about books, life and politics. And I love going shopping with new friends too although I'm just not too sure how much my new friend likes to go shopping.

Do tell me Khemraj Ramjattan, Prime Ministerial candidate for the infant AFC, do you like to shop? I'm in a shoe-shopping mood today. Are you in the need for some new shoes? Sure you are! Now just grab your purse (er, your wallet) and let's have some fun, shall we?

Now I'm not too sure if you know the shopping rules, so I will explain. While shopping it is customary to have a running conversation about pretty much anything that comes to mind. This is why shopping is so much fun. It's a bonding experience really.

So what shall we talk about? How about that beard? I was just wondering if you were going to lose the beard now that you are running for such a high position in government. I know you are probably attached to it (literally), but traditionally a person running for the highest/second highest (interchangeably) position in a country usually maintains a clean face – it helps portray the image of a clean lifestyle.

Oh this is great Khemraj! You will have a clean face and new shoes. I am so excited for you. This will most certainly get you well on your way to winning the elections next year. However, there are some other issues that we should talk about too. Good friends like us should be able to talk about anything, right?

For example, let's talk about your column yesterday in Stabroek News where you tried to explain to me (and other protesters) about your stance on this whole situation with keeping your seat in Parliament. I have to give it to you pal; you put up a convincing argument. I can see why you have such a fine reputation as a lawyer.

However, please allow me to counter your argument. Come on, have a seat and I'll buy you some rum and coconut water to drink while we chat for a bit. I'll wait till you have had a couple of those before I start. Dear friend, I know how hard it can be to hear the truth sometimes and I think it would be best to soften the blow as much as possible. Cheers!

I'll start with the weakest point of your argument and go from there. In your column, you cited instances when members of the PNC and the PPP did exactly what you and your fellow AFC leaders are doing (Hi Raphael and Sheila!). To this point I must ask, “If the PPP jumped off a bridge, would you do the same thing”?

If you plan to use this logic, then every time a man slaps a woman he can justify his cruelty by saying his neighbour did the same thing yesterday. Remember that two wrongs do not make a right, Khemraj. Just because the PPP and the PNC were corrupt, does that mean we can expect the same from the AFC when you get into office?

It is a weak argument to place the rightness of your current stance on the precedent set by these other two political parties. In fact, I would think the AFC would be attempting to distance itself from the PPP and PNC as much as possible. Which is the crux of my argument on this issue – that if the AFC wants to make a difference; then it needs to be different.

By justifying your position on this issue with the excuse that others have done it, you have already positioned yourself right along side these other parties that so many despise. Remember dear friend, you are supposed to be an Alliance for Change, not an Alliance for Continuance. If the people want the same old politics as usual, they can vote for the same old parties as usual.

Hey, I'm hungry and I think maybe we should get something solid in our stomachs after all this rum. I'm going to get some food for us to munch on whilst we continue our little chat. I wonder how the roti is here?

Okay, let's move on with our discussion. You said in your column that those who are calling for you and the others to resign their positions in Parliament, “…do not realise that they are unconscious subscribers to the doctrines of party paramountcy and democratic centralism.”

Come on now Khemraj, you know full well that is not the case. My whole stance is that the AFC needs to keep its hands clean. This is all about appearances, dear friend. Corruption is rampant in Guyana ; therefore, if the AFC gives even a minuscule reason for the people to think it is shady, then as a protective measure corruption is automatically assumed.

If I were doing PR work for you, I'd advise you to clean up this situation as quickly as possible. The AFC doesn't need this type of negative publicity right from the start and it is obvious that the people want you and the others (Hi Raphael and Sheila!) to resign from your seats. They want to know that you have completely cut ties with your former parties and that a new day has dawned in Guyana .

Therefore, this is not about party paramountcy, this is about presenting the AFC as a clean party of change. You asked the question, “Now if such a position as ours in the AFC is legal and no way constitutionally improper how can it be immoral?” I have just explained exactly how such a position can be perceived as immoral, Khemraj.

By associating your questionable actions with the questionable actions of those in the PPP and PNC, you have already done a great disservice to the AFC. The people want change. The people want a government they can trust to do the right thing – whether the right thing is written in the law books or on the hearts of the people.

I know our little talk has been very heavy and I apologise for that. But never fear, dear friend! I see some shoes in that store across the street that will look great on the new and improved, clean shaven Khemraj. I think I need to take a taxi home though, that rum packs quite a punch.

By the way, dear friend, the shoes and the shave will only go so far. Remember that it is what's on the inside that makes a good leader.

What is Moral Judgement - Freddie Kissoon

Here's Freddie's very academic response to my column, Freddie, Tell Me What You Think About the AFC Now
I sincerely ask readers to bear with me in this article. This brief dissertation on morality is my response to a request by a fellow Kaieteur News columnist, Stella. She has stated that Ramjattan, Trotman and Holder, the three leaders of the Alliance for Change (AFC), should resign their seats in Parliament. She believes it is the morally right thing to do. She wants me to accept that it is indeed a moral judgement these three parliamentarians ought to make.

Stella has introduced in the debate, one of the most complicated issues in human knowledge – a definition of morality. On the basis of this philosophical nuance, it becomes virtually impossible for me to answer her question. Neither Stella nor Frederick Kissoon can define morality and arrive at a mutually satisfying agreement.

The line between absolutism and relativism are so complicated that only the late Pope John Paul among international leaders that I know so far, has taken such a categorical stance on the contours of moral values. And I don't think that his purist position was acceptable.

John Paul himself practiced double standards because he conveniently traveled both paths. He admonished Latin American Catholics to eschew liberation theology. But in Eastern Europe during communist rule, John Paul was a consummate practitioner of liberation theology with a European twist to it.

If Stella thinks that the gang of 3 from the AFC should resign from their respective parliamentary seats for moral reasons, then my understanding of epistemology based on the arguments of two of the most brilliant minds human society has ever produced, philosophers David Hume (England) and Immanuel Kant (Germany), would make it difficult to accept her moral reasoning.

One of the great debates in philosophy is the triangular disagreement on what it morally right and morally wrong between Hume, on the one hand, Kant on the other, and a separate contribution from the utilitarian philosopher, Jeremy Bentham. It is definitely outside the scope of a newspaper column to discuss the philosophies of Hume, Kant and Bentham on morals. But very brief notes should suffice.

Most students who studied philosophy would know that all the past philosophers asked the same question – What is good? Hume broke with tradition by asking – What do we mean by good? The first traditional question in philosophy centers on the search for norms - that is, for standards or principles of right and wrong. Hume's question, in contrast is the pursuit for facts about what moral judgements are, what sorts of things are deemed to be good. Hume argued that moral principles are neither divine edicts nor discoverable by reason. He went on to state that even if we accept divine creation, we cannot affirm anything about the moral qualities of the Creator.

He rejected the role of human beings setting guidelines for their own action by speculating on the moral judgement of their Creator. Neither can moral values come through reason, he argued. This position of Hume on reason rests on his approach to epistemology which has four assumptions. (1) – Thought consists of having ideas. (2) – Ideas are derived from impressions of senses. (3) – Every thought that something exists is a factual claim. (4) - Factual claim can only be established through observation.

What Hume is saying here is that when we arrive at moral principles, we came through the route of sense impression. He wrote, “Morality is more properly felt than judged of.” We accept moral rights and reject moral wrongs from our emotions not through reason. Reason cannot settle moral question just as how it cannot determine whether a portrait is beautiful or not. Kant disagreed, accepted that reason can lead us to moral judgement, and came up with a brilliant rebuttal but to my mind he doesn't demolish Hume. Let's summarize Kant.

He takes two positions. (1) Scientific inquiry can never reveal to us its principles that we know hold without exception. For, example, science, based on experience, reveals to us physical laws that hold true but science cannot tell us about these concerns in the future. (2) – Moral principles, however, hold without exception. For example, if it is wrong to hurt babies, then it would be wrong for anyone, at any time to do so. The reader can see clearly here that Kant is saying that moral principles hold without exception; scientific investigations cannot reveal what hold without exception. Then Kant goes on to a brilliant proposition.

Moral principles are always expressed in the imperative – “do not steal” or “be kind to others.” Now since this moral imperative must hold without exception, it is different from a hypothetical imperative which is really about something we ought to do if such and such an end is desired. For example, “if you wish to be healthy, then live moderately.” This imperative is opposed to the moral imperative that holds unconditionally. What all of this means is that human beings should do what they do because it is right and not because of any other purpose, say because of happiness or because it pleases your friend. To do so is not to act morally.

Kant went on to argue that you should perform your moral obligation because it is your moral duty not because it is asked of us. The fine part of his theory is when he said that it is not the effects or consequences of your moral act that determines whether it is good or bad. These are not within your control.

What is in your control is the intent with which you act. According to Kant because a morally good intention is one that acts solely for the sake of doing what is right, it follows that there is no moral worth in say, helping others because you feel sorry for them. There is a moral worth in helping others because it is the right thing to do.

I think both Hume and Kant could be used to argue that it is not an easy question for the gang of 3 to decide that it is morally wrong to stay in Parliament. But one can even throw in the moral philosophy of the English thinker, Jeremy Bentham. He argues that the morally best decision is one that produces, compared with all other possible alternative acts, the greatest amount of happiness with everyone considered. What this means is that the moral judgement must bring the greatest happiness to the greatest numbers. One can argue that if the three parliamentarians stay in the National Assembly and fight for the Guyanese people then it would have achieved what Bentham meant. Sorry about all this philosophical jazz, Stella.