Drawing the line
An appeal to the political leadership and civil society

by (Major General (retd) Joseph G. Singh, MMS), former Chief of Staff of the Guyana Defence Force

SPEAK OUT: former Army Chief Major General Joe Singh

ON WEDNESDAY evening at the formal opening of the 23rd Meeting of the Conference of Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community held at the National Cultural Centre, I was privileged to be in the audience listening to the very profound speeches given by the distinguished leaders of the Caribbean Community.

A common thread in all of the speeches was the recognition and acceptance by all of the speakers that they are expected to engage their population in a participatory and highly transparent and sustained dialogue in order to be guided by the perceptions, expectations and contributions of their citizens in discharging their leadership responsibilities for good governance.

This common thread can be acknowledged as a restatement of a commitment by elected leaders whose constituency must, of necessity, embrace their respective country's entire population and not be perceived as favouring the constituency which voted them into office.

Guyana's case, it has been acknowledged that even if the political leadership over the 36 years since independence pontificated about their good intentions, the perception and indeed the stark reality is that significant enough numbers of Guyanese have always felt that they will never ever benefit from the largesse that should flow from such stated good intentions. One political leader was fond of saying that 'the road to hell was paved with good intentions'.

Those who have eyes to see and ears to listen, especially after the incidents of violence, arson and public demonstrations for one reason or another, and especially after the debacle of the confrontation at the Office of the President on Wednesday, should by now be aware of the fact that we have been getting glimpses through the fogginess of the rhetoric and grandstanding, of what hell can be like.

Those of us, who as students lived through the hell of the early 1960s would not now as adults and perceived mentors, counsellors and role models for the current younger generations, wish such trauma to be visited on the latter or indeed wish for ourselves to relive those experiences.

Without attempting to apportion blameworthiness on the actors on the political or public stage, let us accept that we will all have to paddle our national canoe in the same direction through some very choppy waves stirred up by all the external and internal factors. We are tired of hearing about these factors because we have been bombarded with them as the reasons or excuses for why national cohesiveness and a decent, less stressful life for all citizens, seemed to have eluded us since the euphoria of independence.

The time has come for us to draw the line as a national electorate and youth population and sincerely, objectively and conscientiously impress upon our leaders that they must now bring to an end their intransigence, grandstanding and egoistic attitudes.

We must appeal to them, as I now do, for a display of reason, for a manifestation of a profound sense of their national responsibilities at what should be a turning point in our history, for tolerance, basic human decency and respect for each other, and urge them, as I now do, to display that spirit of pragmatism, patriotism and unselfishness, and work immediately and for as long as it takes, to end this dammed foolishness!

The worst sin that leaders can commit is to manipulate innocents and the marginalised in our society to be cut down by bullets while they fiddle the same old tunes in the safe havens of their political lairs, while their puppeteers, across the entire spectrum of our political landscape, use their access to the media houses and their mobile loud speakers to manipulate others, but then beat a cowardly and hasty retreat when the going gets tough.

As an old soldier whose life, along with those of my many comrades in arms, had been placed on the line for over three decades, in what we proudly and patriotically considered to be SERVICE to our country, and who as Chairman of the Elections Commission for the 2001 General and Regional Elections, saw at first hand the 'hodge podge' approach by the highest forum of this land to the planning and streamlining of the democratic process called national and regional elections, I also appeal to leaders in civil society who have a voice to speak up, speak out and ensure that our elected representatives at every level, listen attentively, act decisively, and implement impartially, those measures designed to turn us away from the brink and to navigate a course that is truly in the interest of Guyana and all Guyanese.

Do not confine your thoughts and expressions within the walls of your places of worship, or the boardrooms and the cocktail circuit. Take your studied arguments, distilled wisdom and practical recommendations and discuss with the wider Guyanese society so that in a transparent and participatory manner they can be informed, educated, enlightened and empowered in order to add their collective voices towards impressing upon leadership at all levels that, to quote several of the Caribbean leaders, "it cannot be politics as usual or business as usual". Enough of the platitudes and pontificating!

We must not cross the line leading to that paved road to hell!

To the young people, of all ethnic hues and backgrounds, who participated in the wonderful cultural performance that brought to a closure the opening ceremony of the 23rd Meeting of the Conference of Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community, you certainly gave me reason for optimism and a vision of things hoped for...Bravo!"

Jul 5, 2002[Reprinted from
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