(Originally published in Guyana’s Kaieteur News on 19 January 2011)
A January 15 Kaieteur News article entitled, “La Penitence Market vendors face dislocation”, said this concerning Minister of Transport and Hydraulics, Robeson Benn, “When asked about the availability of space between Broad Street and Sussex Street to facilitate the construction of a four-lane road Benn said, ‘Everything that is necessary ultimately to get four lanes going through here to accommodate the growth in our country will be done.’”
When I read these words, it was quite clear to me that regardless of the amount of people who will suffer, the government will do what it takes to accomplish its desired goals. Regardless of the amount of people put out of business or the number of lives crushed in the process – the government intends to bulldoze the country in the name of progress.
Let me be clear, I believe most people want to see progress in Guyana. There are very few people who would argue with the need and desire to see a more progressive Guyana. Everyone wants to see four lane roads and a nice Stabroek Square. On this point, you will get no argument from me either.
However, it is how this progress is being implemented – by sacrificing the well-being and livelihood of the people – that I take issue.
When the lives of the people are put at risk for the sake of progress, this is not truly progress. Instead this is regression. It is regression into a condition that forsakes the superior notion of governance of the people, by the people, and for the people.
To bulldoze the people for the sake of progress is the manifestation of logic without emotion, capitalism without compassion and governance without empathy for the people.
In the past few weeks, countless vendors have had their businesses closed, minibus drivers have been displaced, sugar workers were told they would likely be replaced by machines and GAWU was threatened with being derecognised.
Moreover, there have been numerous people arrested and held without proper cause – including some visiting Venezuelan singers just last week – and there has not been a peep from the government about the injustice of these acts.
It seems there was a general announcement to unleash the bulldozers and the more people who are destroyed in the process, the better. Yes, it is unmistakable that “Everything that is necessary ultimately…to accommodate the growth in our country will be done.” The message has been received.
Meanwhile, the people have begged and pleaded to be treated with the respect they deserve, and those pleas have fallen on deaf ears. Bulldozers have no ears and no hearts. The obvious indifference for the people is becoming more and more apparent as time goes on. With each tick of the minute hand, another person is losing her or his business or employment. Tick tock.
Sometimes I truly do not understand the reasoning of the current government. This is yet another situation where it could have been heralded as a hero if only it had found a way to implement these plans for progress without inflicting so much harm on the people in the process. Instead, it tramples on the people and declares itself a hero when it is instead a villain.
Now that the message has been received – loud and clear – what should be the response to the cold-hearted way in which the people are being treated? Keeping in mind that any government is only in place to enact the will of the people and when it instead turns on the people and inflicts harm – that government becomes a detriment to the nation.
I would like to call upon Minister of Human Services and Social Security, Priya Manickchand, and Minister of Labour, Manzoor Nadir, to stand up for the people during this very difficult time. Minister Benn and others are hell-bent on progress without due consideration of how many people are being impacted. This is where the Ministers of Human Services and Labour should step up for the people.
The government – with checks and balances – should function in a way that one sector consults other sectors as to the overall well-being of people of the nation. There is little balance in the way the Stabroek Market and La Penitence Market vendors are being shuffled and discarded.
If Ministers Manickchand and Nadir do not act now to help these people, their Ministries will be inundated with these people very soon, when there are countless vendors and their families without jobs, food or housing. Why not intervene now when their lives and businesses can still be salvaged instead of waiting until everything is completely lost and they have no place to turn but to these Ministers?
I implore Minister Manickchand and Minister Nadir to consider these vendors and work to find a way they can keep their businesses. There must be viable solutions to this situation that do not require putting so many people out of business. There are so many lives at stake and so many futures that could crumble. What is taking place with the vendors is the exact opposite of progress. This is not advancement. This is the worst of the human capacity, not the best.
Progress for tomorrow’s Guyanese cannot be made by sacrificing the welfare of today’s Guyanese. Again, this is counterproductive and illogical – not to mention cold-hearted. There MUST be a way to bring progress without hurting so many people.