Activist calls for teachers' code to prohibit LGBT discrimination

6th February, 2018 0 comments

The Ministry of Education’s Code of Conduct for teachers should be amended to prohibit discrimination against youth on the grounds of sexual orientation, Director of the Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD) Joel Simpson has recommended.

Simpson was at the time offering suggestions on how to decrease the high school dropout rate within the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community, during a presentation at the University of Guyana’s latest Turkeyen and Tain Talks, held last Wednesday at the Pegasus Hotel.

The theme for the event was “Education as Freedom: Education Reform and Socio-Economic Development in Guyana.”

Simpson, who represented the Guyana Equa-lity Forum, which is a civil society network of 21 local groups working to achieve equal rights and justice for Guyanese, focused on policies that could decrease the number of LGBT youth and teenaged mothers who are subjected to bullying and who are forced out of the education system annually.

In addressing the former, Simpson recommended a widening of the Ministry of Education’s Code of Conduct for Teachers, which already states that teachers cannot discriminate on the grounds of ability, race, colour or creed.

Simpson stated that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation exists not only among peers, but in teacher-student relationships, and said that the trend of behaviour has been documented by SASOD and the Guyana Teachers’ Union (GTU).

He mentioned that these behaviours are usually displayed in the plain view of witnesses.

“The Ministry of Education’s policy on their website, titled “Code of Conduct for Teachers,” under Part D, ‘Commitment to Students,’ states: “Teachers cannot discriminate on the grounds of ability, race, colour or creed.” It does not have any protective clause in it for LGBT students. While no laws or policies exist that specifically prevent LGBT persons from accessing education, many LGBT Guyanese reportedly leave the education system early due to homophobic and transphobic bullying and discrimination, thereby preventing them from practically realising their right to education,” he stated.

Reintegration of school-aged mothers

Additionally, Simpson directed the audience to the fact that Guyana holds the second highest rate of teenaged pregnancy in the Latin America and the Caribbean region. It is documented that 97 out of every 1,000 girls between 15 and 19 years old give birth.

“Despite this, the government of Guyana is yet to introduce a comprehensive reintegration policy for pregnant and parenting adolescent girls to be able to continue their secondary education in public schools,” he noted.

He added that adolescent mothers are often denied their right to education and fall out of the system as a result.

Simpson recommended that Guyana look to Jamaica for an example of how to tackle this issue, while pointing to the Women’s Centre of Jamaica Foundation Programme (WCJF) for Adolescent Mothers, which was established as a result of the country’s high teenage pregnancy rate at the time.

He related that the centre offers support services, which include counselling for school-aged mothers, the fathers of their

children, their parents and even guardians; family planning; time management; and budgeting.

“WCJF’s Programme for Adolescent Mothers encourages the continued education of pregnant or lactating girls under the age of 17 years. The goals are for teen mothers to return to school after the birth of their babies, to delay a second pregnancy until their professional goals are achieved, and to raise the employment potential of young mothers so that they have a viable alternative to depending on men for support,” Simpson related.

Inadequate sex education

Meanwhile, Simpson criticized the public sex education programme, stating that it lacks relevance, denies sexual and reproductive health information and services and is inadequate for meeting the needs of adolescents.

“GRPA [Guyana Responsible Parenthood Association] evaluations of the publicly-funded and implemented abstinence-only programme, commonly known as the Health and Family Life Education (HFLE) found that it ignores young people’s basic right to the highest attainable standard of health by denying them critical life-saving information and the fundamental public health principle of accurate, balanced sex education,” he related.

Simpson said that research done by the GRPA shows that comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) can actually delay the onset of sexual activity, reduce risky sexual behaviour and the number of sexual partners and increase responsible behavior, particularly when it came to protecting against sexually-transmitted infections and unwanted pregnancies.

“Importantly, the evidence shows youth who receive CSE are not more likely to become sexually active, increase sexual activity, or experience negative sexual health outcomes contrary to what others may believe. Also, research by the youth-led, international organisation Advocates for Youth shows that CSE programmes do not encourage teens to start having sexual intercourse, do not increase the frequency with which teens have intercourse, and do not increase the number of a teen’s sexual partners,” he stated.

He added that evaluations of HFLE on the other hand showed that the programme “ignores young people’s basic human right to the highest attainable standard of health by denying them critical life-saving information and the fundamental public health principle of accurate, balanced sex education.”

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Education as freedom

6th February, 2018 0 comments

The University of Guyana should be commended for creating the space to address topics relevant to the development of the country through its Turkeyen and Tain Talks series. A recently concluded forum addressed the theme ‘Education as Freedom, Education Reform and Socio-economic Development in Guyana’ from a number of diverse and highly relevant perspectives. On a more philosophical level, it raised questions regarding how we as a people define education and the role it should serve within our society.  It captured the essence of a long-standing debate between the more utilitarian approach to education, whereby education, nation building and human capital are intricately linked concepts, diametrically opposed to the ideas of progressivism, humanism and democratic education.

It highlighted the emancipative potential inherent in educational pursuits on both an individual and communal level. It also probed the questions of who should be the individuals in authority to make key education decisions such as defining the content of our education or how education services and resources should be distributed. On a more practical level, I believe that the forum sought to examine the extent of progress we have made in shaping and defining an education system that is relevant to the Guyana we know in 2018 and beyond. It raises the fundamental questions of, to what extent and in what ways has education served to liberate us as a people from the pre-existing oppressive system and who is the Guyanese the education system should be producing?

Solid arguments can be made that we have done little to free ourselves from the vestiges of the colonial education structures that we inherited over half a century ago.  An analysis of various structural and education delivery dimensions of the system would bear this out.  Structurally, for the most part, we have retained the highly elitist and delimiting education system we inherited. We have been successful in significantly increasing access to education at the primary and secondary levels. Quality education has been highly elusive, however, with the number of students mastering the expectations at the various levels progressively decreasing as each cohort moves to the higher levels of the system. A proper analysis would show that as they ascend to the critical secondary level only about thirty percent matriculate, and less than half of those actually access tertiary level education. Such a pyramid does not provide equal opportunities for all students to attain their full potential. It gives credence to the mindset that the school one attends is as much a determinant of one’s potential success as it was fifty years ago.

In addition, our system is rigid and narrow in many ways. It provides few opportunities for second chances or re-entry, all realities that run counter to the concept of education as freedom. Until a few years ago, there was such blind adherence to outdated rules that when pupils who would be above age eleven by grade six were discovered in the system they were skipped a grade or two to ensure they wrote the eleven-plus examination at the ‘right age’–damning them to sure failure. Students who attain the age of sixteen are still forced out of the secondary system regardless of their level of attainment and degree of competence as per similar archaic rules. There is no facility for students to re-enter the system to rewrite one or two subjects they might have failed.

There are few second-chance options for adults or dropouts who might not have had the best initial experience and wish to re-enter the system. Which institution in Guyana allows you the freedom to come as you are regardless of qualifications with the intent of building the capacity of the masses for a more productive citizenry? Education as freedom also relates to what it is we learn and how we learn it.  Theorists have argued that the content of our education system is the same outmoded irrelevant colonial product.  For the most part, we all learned the same things in our day the same way pupils do today, regardless of the prevailing concepts of relevance, critical and divergent thinking and problem solving.

In secondary schools spread across this country all of the students in any given class go through the identical curriculum at the same rate with little accommodation of exceptionality at either end of the continuum.  We have had students, in our system, who by grade nine had excelled beyond the CSEC expectations in particular subjects; but who was forced to progress at the same rate of their counterparts. One student was writing his own mathematics equations by sixth form to challenge himself since there was nothing new his teachers could teach him.  Both our gifted and students with learning disabilities suffer similar faiths of unfulfilled potential.

As it relates to relevance, we must investigate why the reforms aimed at through Community High and Multilateral schools failed.  There are key lessons to be learned since the evidence shows that we have reverted to preexisting practices and our children are overwhelmingly opting to specialise in highly Westernized, service oriented pursuits that have little relevance or viability within our local context. We must ask ourselves, how can we create more balance in the system by improving the quality of the available options? For the most part, the highly academic CSEC route is the only fully developed pathway within the education system in Guyana, despite the value and relevance of technical and vocational education.

The reality is that our freedoms are curtailed in many ways both by the limited available options and the rules that govern the system. The majority of our students are pressured into ‘streams’ at age fifteen that ultimately force them to specialize, limiting their study options and potential choices later in life. As an example, the need to declare a major upon entry to the University and the absence of the flexibility to devise special majors that might combine different areas of pursuit can be likened to academic tyranny. The interests and talents of the average sixteen or seventeen year old Guyanese are so varied and complex that we do them a disservice in the way we rigidly structure the menu of available options.  At the same time, those who are financially able or fortunate enough, opt to attend external liberal arts institutions that afford them the freedom to wade through those varied talents to find their “true calling’ and fulfill their innate potential.

Such is the desirable nature of Education as Freedom. The freedoms alluded to above must be afforded in equal measure to every citizen of our country and should in no way be determined by economics or other factors.  It is therefore incumbent on us, within our respective contexts, to examine and address these issues. This forum has opened the door to question the extent to which the system creates the enabling environment within which a broader cross-section of citizens have the opportunity to contribute to shaping and defining our education structures, thereby ensuring they reflect the full extent of our diverse social and other contemporary realities.

The University of Guyana is ideally positioned to lend its voice but must be supported by other stakeholders in answering the question: Who is the Guyanese the education system should produce? If the Ideal Caribbean Person, as defined by CARICOM, is one who among other things: “Demonstrates multiple literacies, independent and critical thinking, questions the beliefs and practices of the past and present and brings this to bear on the innovative application of science and technology and to problem solving; values and displays the creative imagination in its various manifestations and nurtures its development in the economic and entrepreneurial spheres and in all other areas of life”; we are duty bound to ensure that education affords all the freedom to self-actualise.

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Union input vital for education sector reform

5th February, 2018 0 comments

The active involvement of unions, particularly the teachers union, is critical for true and serious reform of the education sector, according to Coretta McDonald, General Secretary of the Guyana Teachers’ Union (GTU).

McDonald made the case on Wednesday, during her address at the University of Guyana’s 11th Turkeyen and Tain Talks, which explored the role of education reform for the nation’s development.

The forum, which was held at the Pegasus Hotel under the theme “Education as Freedom: Education Reform and Socio-Economic Development in Guyana,” featured presentations from speakers Professor Michael Scott, Deputy Vice Chancellor of Academic Engagement at UG; Ed Caesar, Chair of the Education Reform Commission; Petal Jetoo, National Science Coordinator; Christopher Fernandes, Chair of the St Stanislaus College school board; McDonald; David Singh, Vice President of Conservation Inter-national; and Joel Simpson, of the Guyana Equality Forum.

Chief Education Officer Marcel Hutson appeared on behalf of Minister of Education Nicolette Henry.

The presentations made cases for reforms in the management of education, education for sustainable development and reform in regards to the delivery of science and sex education within the education system.

“…It is easy to conclude that education is critical to the sustainable development of our people and this country. It is even more critical when unions…are allowed to be a part of educational reforms at all levels. We cannot talk education reform when we want to sideline the union. We cannot talk education reform when we only have the union at forums just to say that they are present,” McDonald stated.

McDonald’s impassioned speech was packed with examples of how the treatment of teachers and the union that represents them continues to stifle development within the education sector. She spoke of the unavailability of resources in the classroom, the workload often dumped on teachers who are forced to perform tasks in addition to their own, including secretarial duties, and the disrespect often meted out to members of a profession once considered noble.

McDonald argued for the continuous professional and academic development of teachers, programmes that have “merit”—financial or otherwise, as well as adequate remuneration for teachers. She called for more engagement and the “marrying” of local institutions with tertiary institutions overseas to adopt best practices, revamping of the teachers training programme at the Cyril Potter College of Education, and an update of the policies within the sector, including the code of conduct governing teachers.

“We cannot talk educational reform when there is no serious desire to deal with the professional or the academic aspect of upliftment of the practitioners. We cannot talk educational reform when we keep doing what we’ve been doing since 1923 and we want to do it in 2018. We have to keep moving and adjusting to the time as we go…,” she said.

“…If you’re seriously talking education reform, we have to go and relook at a number of the policies we have—many of them are outdated and they need to be divorced and separated…we have to go to the table, put our heads and minds and hearts there, of course with the union involved actively that is, to sit and look at some of those policies that we have with a vision of reviewing and making them relevant… If we’re seriously talking education reform, then the need for all the talking and the writing and everything else must stop now and we should start walking and have the actions happen,” McDonald stated.

Tax-free remuneration for teachers

Fernandes’ presentation, like McDonald’s, focused on the areas within the sector that need improvement, particularly in relation to the teaching profession.

Fernandes, a businessman, and Chairman of the St Stanislaus College board, posited that in order to create a well-trained workforce, the teaching profession needs to be made more attractive. His suggestions for achieving this goal included having the remuneration of trained teachers be free of income tax; providing duty-free perks to teachers at the end of a predetermined period of satisfactory service; and possibly having teachers be eligible for a house lot with concessionary low interest financing to construct a two bedroom house. He suggested that this can be limited to $5 million.

He also recommended revisiting the retirement age.

“We cannot longer afford to lose our good experienced teachers who are currently mandated to retire at age 55 since we are unable to replace them with persons of similar competence and experience,” he said

“Our intention therefore to improve the quality of education would be to encourage better quality individuals to the teaching profession by making the profession more attractive. Expose them to active career guidance, allowing for the teacher to regain the respect of the population and students which they once commanded,” Fernandes added.

He also recommended a revision of the management of the ministry, suggesting that there be a “total audit of the management system of the ministry in which the Minister should just be the executive Chairman” and where the “day to day administration needs to be handled by a highly qualified and well trained professional”. He said that this “professional,” the CEO, would be supported by at least two “equally well qualified deputies.”

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'Wait-and-see' attitude won't work

7th December, 2017 0 comments

Presidential Adviser on the Environment, Rear Admiral Gary Best, sharing his take on climate change with the audience at the Pegasus Hotel on Thursday

WHILE climate change may be regarded the world over as one of the biggest crises facing humanity, most Caribbean leaders seemingly beg to differ.
The was starkly brought to the fore Thursday evening by Dean of the Faculty of Earth and Environmental Sciences at the University of Guyana (UG), Dr. Paulette Bynoe.
“Within the Caribbean, we have a culture of wait-and-see when it comes to environmental management…

“We are reactive, and in most cases when we react, it is too late,” she said. “A risk-based approach is needed in order to mitigate or adapt to the effects of climate change,” she told participants gathered at the Pegasus Hotel to ponder upon the subject: ‘The Guyana imperative for prospering in a climate-altered world’. As defined by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), climate change is a change of climate that is attributed directly or indirectly to human activity, altering the composition of the global atmosphere.

Due to climate change, the world is faced with global warming, which is the increase in the overall temperature of the earth’s atmosphere generally attributed to the greenhouse effect caused by increased levels of carbon dioxide, chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), and other pollutants.

That and other adverse effects of climate change are being felt by almost every country, including those in the Caribbean, but according to Dr. Bynoe, in spite off all the evidence before them, some regional leaders are still taking a reactionary approach to dealing with the matter.


Countries such as Dominica and the British Virgin Islands, she said, are still reeling from the effects of Hurricanes Irma and Maria, which tore through parts of the Caribbean in August and September, leaving scores dead and infrastructure destroyed beyond repair.
And while some are still in doubt as to whether the intensity of Hurricanes Maria and Irma had to do with climate change, the experts know better.

The intensity of both hurricanes had seemingly taken the countries by surprise, since most Caribbean leaders were reportedly not expecting them to be so severe.
Most speakers present at the discussion shared their views on climate change, but maintained their focus on the subject at hand.

Turning her attention to the local economy, Dr Bynoe said there needs to be a stronger political commitment and will in order to address climate change.
“There must be political commitment for not just a specific time, but over a period of time so that the commitments can translate to policies that are geared towards dealing with the effects of climate change,” she said.

She made reference to several assessments and agreements which the government can use as a guideline when patterning policies.

One agreement in particular that was touted by most of the speakers was the Paris Agreement (Accord de Paris), Paris climate accord or Paris climate agreement, which Guyana is a part of.
It is an agreement within the UNFCCC dealing with greenhouse gas emissions mitigation, adaptation and finance, starting in the year 2020.


The language of the agreement was negotiated by representatives of 196 parties at the 21st Conference of the Parties of the UNFCCC in Paris and adopted by consensus on 12 December 2015. As of November 2017, 195 UNFCCC members have reportedly signed the agreement, and 170 have become party to it. Bynoe said the Agreement aims to respond to the global climate change threat by keeping the global temperature rise this century well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial (1840s) levels, and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Students of UG and persons who were present at the discussion questioned how Global Warming can be mitigated, if most of the economies are driven by fossil fuel and have increasing populations.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fifth Assessment Report had highlighted that because of the aforementioned factors there has been an increase in the surface temperature and it is expected to get far worse.

“Heat waves will occur more often, there will be extreme precipitation events and the ocean will warm and acidify, added to the rise in global sea levels,” said Bynoe. She believes that if Guyana is going to respond to those changes then there must be economic empowerment through financial flows since the developed countries have held back on their promise to financially support lesser developed countries in the area of climate adaptation.


Since Guyana is expected to be an exporter of petroleum after 2020, Presidential Adviser on the Environment, Rear Admiral Gary Best believes that the earnings from that new industry should fund Guyana’s transition to a green economy. Guyana’s contribution to reducing climate change impacts, according to his interpretation, would require public finance flows for the adaptation of climate change and private finance for mitigation.

He added that overall mainstreaming of adaptation and mitigation measures into the national budget seem to be a matter of course. The adverse effects of climate change have been evident in Guyana since 2005 when almost the entire country was flooded due to heavy rainfall. According to Vice-Chancellor, Dr Ivelaw Griffith, the damages incurred during that period cost the country some US$450M, which is almost 60 per cent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

Since then, the Government of Guyana was able to recognise the issue and implemented the Low-Carbon Development Strategy (LCDS) through which Guyana benefited from a US$200M agreement with Norway to preserve the rainforest, and by extension mitigate the effects of climate change.

On the other hand, access to funds for adaptation has been a challenge since the international adaptation fund was overridden by the Green Climate Fund which was established within the framework of the UNFCCC to assist developing countries in adaptation and mitigation practices to counter climate change, he said.

Although the UNFCCC had declared that Guyana bared no responsibility for climate change it is still an issue which affects the global population, so Best urged persons to help the Government work towards the realisation of a Green Economy.

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GPL operating below industry standard

7th December, 2017 0 comments

Guyana, in April 2016, signed the Paris Climate Change Agreement amidst public commitments to achieve 100 per cent renewable energy by 2025, but experts have been painting a dire reality about Guyana’s energy sector.

One such reality concerns the capacity of the Guyana Power and Light (GPL). Responsible for the distribution of electricity across the length and breadth of Guyana, experts say GPL has such out-dated infrastructure that integrating renewable energy into its grid would be an uphill task.

Head of the Caribbean Community (Caricom) Secretariat’s Energy Unit, Dr Devon Gardner, speaking during the recent University of Guyana Turkeyen and Tain Talks, identified GPL’s generation and distribution systems as below industry standard. He noted that while GPL is contending with reaching unserved areas, there is also pressure surrounding the utility company going green.

He painted a picture of a company that has bitten off more than it could chew. “To start with, the grid they currently operate is not in the best of shape, to say it mildly. There’s not a lot of investment that is going into the grid right now. And the fact is it’s always difficult to manage and maintain infrastructure in countries like Guyana, where the population density is very small compared to the distance over which the grid is run.”

Dr Gardner explained that the longer the transmission line, the more a utility company’s losses are likely to be from both a technical and criminal standpoint, from the increased possibility of theft. The specialist noted that this all amounts to lost revenue and investment diverted away from upgrading the grid. “Looking at the generation system, not even talking about the fact that it is fossil (fuel) based, the capacity at which power is being generated (by) GPL is 10 to 15 per cent less efficient than the (standard).

“The average rate for the generators is around 8200 BTU (British Thermal Unit) per kilowatt,” he said, adding that this is around 10 per cent higher than what is average in the industry. So GPL is 10 to 15 per cent less efficient. In addition, the transmission losses are currently 28 per cent. For perspective, Gardner explained that the industry standard of transmission losses is five to six per cent, compared to GPL’s 28 per cent. He noted that as a result of these statistics, GPL could stand to benefit from the introduction of renewables.

He noted the potential not only to reduce carbon emissions, but to also lighten the load on the pockets of consumers, if GPL were to switch to renewables. But he said the issue is a complicated one, and he cited GPL’s infrastructure as a major hindrance to renewable energy. “Even if GPL wanted to put wind and solar right now, it’s going to be difficult to put significant amounts. Because the critical issue is because the grid is so unstable, it’s not modern, it means you would run the risk of the system becoming destabilised by the fluctuations and variations of the solar and wind generation,” he explained.

“So the grid issue is a primary source of concern; because, without fixing that, it limits the ability to put certain types of renewables into your grid. (But) there are opportunities for GPL to look at the way it is currently expanding its gridding,” he declared. Notwithstanding the state of its infrastructure, Dr Gardner said, GPL is taking steps in going green.


Sharing the panel with him was Project Officer for the Project Management Department of GPL, Amir Dillawar. While the young engineer confirmed the stark reality of Gardner’s contributions, he identified what the company is doing about it. “What we have done is advertised recently for three utility scale solar sites,” Dillawar said. “One (is) in Demerara, one in Berbice, and one in Anna Regina. The intention is to shortlist from that public round (persons) to move to proposal stage, where we will enter a build/own/operate/and transfer (BOOT) arrangement,” Dillawar explained.

Essentially, the company would build, own and operate the solar sites, he said, adding, “We will buy power from them. So there (are) three three-megawatt (sites) and there are ongoing negotiations on finalising the Hope Beach Windfarm project. There are restrictions to what and how you can technically put (infrastructure), but we are making moves to have a greening of the sector, little by little,” he explained. In the Finance Ministry’s 2017 mid-year report, it was detailed that GPL’s expenditure increased from $9.3 billion in the first half of 2016 to $12.6 billion in the same period this year. Interestingly enough, this increase in expenditure was noted to be due to higher costs for heavy fuel oil (HFO), reinforcing the need for clean and renewable energy if the Government hopes to cut costs.

Recent issues with the transmission of power have caused the Private Sector Commission (PSC) to take the power company to task for the spate of blackouts.

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Guyana's oil sector should fund 'green economy' ; divert fossil fuel cash to climate change resilience - experts

2nd December, 2017 0 comments

Guyana’s oil revenues should be used to finance the development of renewable energy sources and cash normally spent on fossil fuels should be fund systems that can resist the impact of climate change, say top local and regional officials.

“Anticipated earnings from the oil and gas sector should fund Guyana’s transition to a ‘green economy’ and provide a mechanism for a greenhouse gas set-off to compensate for greenhouse gases emanating from this sector,” Presidential Adviser on the Environment, Retired Rear Admiral Gary Best told a University of Guyana (UG)-organised forum titled “Climate Change: The Guyana Imperative for Prospering in a Climate Altered World.”

He said Guyana would require significant “obligated” public and private financing to address climate change adaptation and mitigation. Best noted that Guyana was on track to ensuring that sufficient funds are made available in this regard, “given the endless debate on what constitutes new and additional financial resources.”

He argued that climate adaptation measures do not yield significant profits and climate financing institutions have not provided new and additional cash, as mandated by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, causing many countries count overseas development assistance as climate finance contributions.

Best also took issue with the recently introduced  insurance mechanism to cover most vulnerable persons against the the “most adverse” effects of climate change. “This is now an insurance mechanism driven and controlled by the developed countries. It is not new and additional climate finance. This is another control mechanism and deviation from public funding of adaptation efforts,” he said.

He noted that an Adaptation Fund, which should have been funded by public funds as a key adaptation bank, has been overtaken by a Green Climate Fund now being capitalised through significant private sources.

The Caribbean Community’s (Caricom) Programme Manager for Energy, Dr. Devon Gardner added that Guyana and other Caribbean countries should not depend need to generate a renewable energy plan that could allow them to divert a lot of their fossil fuel expenses to developing infrastructure and other systems that can resist the impact of climate change.

Gardner he said Guyana has the capacity to produce bio-energy at 12-13 US cents per kilowatt hour, solar energy and small hydro-power stations. “A system that is properly planned and a system that is suitably designed can in fact just not just mitigate greenhouse gas emissions but really derive a greater benefit, that of adaptation,” he said.

Gardner agreed with Best that the region could no longer depend on the international community to pay for climate adaptation. “We must find ways of means of being able to raise resources from within our internal structures that can support some of our adaptation plans and the place to find much of those resources is in the energy sector because the energy sector is where most of our economies bleed,” the Caricom Secretariat official told the 10th Turkeyen Tain Talks named after UG’s campuses in Georgetown and Berbice.

The Caricom Programme Manager on Energy noted that energy costs are up to 29 percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in some countries, and in the case of Guyana, energy imports last year accounted for 24 percent of GDP.

He also highlighted the vulnerability of the Caribbean to higher oil prices as a result of hurricanes that slam the Gulf of Mexico, further depleting the region of much needed foreign exchange that should be spent on social sector development, salaries and develop infrastructure that could withstand the effects of climate change.  “If the system is properly designed, those numbers can in fact go down to the extent where much of that money that is being spent on energy imports could be channeled elsewhere to design the kind of agricultural systems that are more adaptable to climate change to improve some of the coastal infrastructure to make them more resilient to climate change to the flooding that is likely to come and to the countries of the Caribbean where hurricanes are obviously an issue,” he said.

Finance Minister, Winston Jordan, in delivering his 2018 National Budget speech last week in the House, said already the installation of solar photovoltaic panels on 70 government buildings, including ministries, schools, and health centres, has resulted in a 1.86 gigawatt of power savings. Last year, government also installed 10,427 LED lamps and 3,766 motion-sensors across 46 buildings

Government intends to next year install more panels on 74 additional buildings and an additional 10,610 lamps and 1,486 motion sensors, all of which Jordan said could save taxpayers GY$45.5 million per year in energy costs.

In conclusion, Gardner said the region needs the 3Ps- Prioritization, Planning and Partnership- to build energy resilience.

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Constitutional reform still a government priority

27th September, 2017 0 comments

Minister of Natural Resources, Raphael Trotman, has insisted that the administration remains committed to constitutional reform. The Minister was at the time speaking on behalf of Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo at the University of Guyana’s ninth round of Tain and Turkeyen Talks. This round focused on constitutional reform and whether efforts to have the constitution changed should be continued, or whether it should remain as it is. According to Minister Trotman, “The government of Guyana has made efforts to keep this matter on the front burner, we did make a manifesto promise for constitutional reform.”

The constitutional reform Bill was presented to the National Assembly for the first time in July 2017. A constitutional reform consultative commission Bill was drafted to pave the way for the establishment of a Constitutional Reform Consultative Commission. “We have worked on the Constitutional Reform Consultative Commission bill which is a large measure taken from the 1998 bill which was crafted during the seventh parliament and is now with the review committee of Parliament,” Minister Trotman explained.

A successful constitutional reform process must emphasise meaningful dialogue, negotiation, and compromise on the part of the government, opposition and citizens. In this regard, Minister Trotman added, “I believe that it is all of our responsibility government opposition, civil society, academia, youth, women all of us, we all have that equal responsibility.” Meanwhile, reports submitted by the initial steering committee indicate that the Constitutional Reform Commission (CRC) must be independent, representative and inclusive of civil society. The public at large must be provided with opportunities to participate in consultations. Public education is also to be a major area of focus. Other support agencies can also contribute their bit to the process of consultation and reform. “I dare say that the government welcomes every initiative to move the process forward,” Minister Trotman remarked.

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RISE plugs constituency voting at constitution reform forum

25th September, 2017 0 comments

Newly-formed civil society group RISE Guyana and other speakers at a University of Guyana forum on Thursday called for a return to constituency voting at general elections and there were also appeals for broad consultations on the reform of the constitution.

Represented by businessman Terrence Campbell, Reform, Inspire, Sustain and Educate (RISE) argued that while the 1999 Constitution Reform Commission accomplished much, it “erred when it recommended that the electoral system should remain that of proportional representation.”  Some constituency voting was introduced for the local government system used for elections held last year.

Campbell told the gathering at the 9th Turkeyen and Tain Talks at the Pegasus Hotel that RISE has had discussions with the man-in-the-street, members of the government, the opposition and Guyanese in the Diaspora which “revealed an overwhelming preference for a return to a constituency-based system.”

According to Campbell, such a system would improve accountability and independence since Members of Parliament will need to focus first on representing their constituents rather than serving a political party and party leader.

Citing another recommendation from the 1999 Commission, Campbell asked why the involvement of individuals was proposed at the local but not at the national level.

“A repeal of the List System and post-election coalitions should all be connected with a return to a constituency system,” he stressed

He further argued for a restructuring of the Constitutional Court so that the hearings of constitutional matters can be expedited.

Reminding that an election petition filed in February 1997 was not determined until January, 2001 and that others filed by the AFC in 2006 and the PPP in 2015 slowly made their way through the system, Campbell contrasted this situation with Kenya’s Constitutional Court which took just about three weeks to hear and overturn the 2017 presidential election in that country.

He called for a Constitutional Court made up of at least five judges, including a minimum of two Appellate judges. The quorum for this Court would be three judges and appeals would go directly to the Caribbean Court of Justice.

According to Campbell, a Constitutional Court structured in this manner would minimise accusations of bias that persist since all constitutional matters are heard by the Chief Justice sitting alone.

Another area for reform identified was the appointment of senior public service and judicial personnel.

The argument is that candidates for the offices of Chancellor of the Judiciary, the Chief Justice, the Commissioner of Police, the Chief of Staff of the GDF, the Ombudsman, the Chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission, the Auditor General, Director of Public Prosecutions and all other senior constitutional office holders should have parliamentary confirmation hearings.

According to Campbell, such appointments should require parliamentary confirmation with a two-thirds majority and the President’s power to make acting appointments should be removed.

He argued that a similar broad-based appointment procedure is responsible for the respect enjoyed by the German Constitutional Court.


Additional suggested reforms included the public right to propose legislation directly to the National Assembly and a removal of the restriction on those holding dual citizenship running for seats in the National Assembly.

RISE recommended that legislation proposed by members of the public should be accompanied by a petition signed by at least 20,000 qualified electors, while citizens resident in Guyana for at least three years prior to the election should be eligible for seats even if they have dual citizenship.

A repeal of the article regulating Technocrat Ministers is another area of reform proposed since, according to RISE, it “restricts the President’s ability to involve competent persons from civil society in the process of governance.”

Currently, Article 103(3) gives effect to the 1999 Commission recommendations on the number of Technocrat Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries. No more than four Ministers and two Parliamentary Secretaries are provided for.

The group has also taken aim at presidential immunities, campaign financing and a Sovereign Wealth Fund.

It was argued that whilst the immunities of the President were reduced based on the recommendations of the 1999 Commission, they should be reduced further so that the President becomes clearly answerable for acts personal and official once he demits office.

Noting that the political system in Guyana favours the established parties, RISE argued that the ability of governing parties to hand out contracts and to co-opt the resources of the state generally gives them an overall advantage. RISE has asked that at the minimum all donations above a certain threshold must be disclosed, donations from foreign citizens and businesses should be illegal and independent audits of the records of all individuals, political parties and political action committees participating in national elections should be mandatory.

“Violations should result in the forfeiture of seats and imprisonment,” Campbell stated, before calling for details regarding the proportion of oil revenues that will be assigned to the Sovereign Wealth Fund, the type of investments that can be made both in terms of risk and ethics and the criteria for withdrawal to be entrenched in the Constitution.


Campbell was one of eight speakers. The others were Minister of Natural Resources Raphael Trotman, former Attorney General Anil Nandlall, Chair of the Women and Gender Equality Commission Indra Chandarpal, Rosemary Benjamin-Noble of the Rights of the Child Commission, Shameza David of the Guyana National Youth Council, Jean La Rose of the Amerindian People’s Association and elections commissioner Vincent Alexander.

The majority of the speakers expressed the view that any process of constitutional reform must reflect a clear mandate of the people of Guyana even as they noted that any reform process will not address the current failures to adhere to constitutional provisions. The talk sought to address the issue of Constitutional Reform and asked its panelists whether Guyana should “court brave change or leave well enough alone?”

Alexander noted that since Guyana’s constitution is its people’s contract, it should reflect the people’s will.

In his seven-minute presentation, he reminded that the process of reform itself must reflect the principles of good governance by being inclusive, open, equitable and transparent. Those involved in the process, he argued, must first seek national consensus on a renewed approach for constitutional reform and engage in a process that is research-based and consultative.

Speaking directly to areas of the constitution that might require revamping, Alexander noted that the ways in which decision-making bodies are established could allow the electorate greater latitude to decide their composition while measures to ensure constitutional provisions are honoured should also be included.

Chandarpal also stressed that any attempt to change the constitution must be done against the background that the process must be as broad-based like the 1998-2001 reform process and must involve countrywide consultations.

She also suggested that the Elections Law (Amendment) Act of 2001, which provides for one third of electoral candidates to be female, be included in the constitution as well as Sustainable Development Goal Number 5. This goal calls for states to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.

La Rose spoke to the failure of the constitution to acknowledge the importance of land to the country’s Indigenous peoples.

“It is our home, our pharmacy, our supermarket. It is really important and this is not articulated in the constitution,” she stressed before also calling for the meaningful involvement of Indigenous people in the reform process.

Also calling for inclusion was the youth representative Shameza David. David noted that the reality of young people in Guyana does not reflect the reality of the preamble of the constitution, which directs that their rights must be protected and their potential recognised.

She stressed that in this case it is not the constitution which has failed but its execution.

She further called for cancellation of the list system by which legislative representatives are identified, while arguing that a constituency-based first-past-the-post system would foster greater accountability on the part of parliamentarians.

“We don’t know who our representatives are,” she stressed.

The Turkeyen-Tain talks is a bi-monthly thought forum to facilitate informed and respectful discourse on matters of public interest.

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Political maturity, constitutional compliance more vital than their reforms

25th September, 2017 0 comments

While many feel that much of Guyana’s political issues will be solved with proper constitutional reform, former Attorney General, Anil Nandlall is saying no. While he admitted that Constitutional Reform is important, Nandlall thinks that the solution to the issue is more fundamental. Nandlall said that Guyana needs more matured politicians who are prepared to stay true to the existing Constitution. The politician made his views known as he delivered remarks at the Turkeyen and Tain Talks 9, sponsored by the University of Guyana. The event was hosted at the Pegasus Hotel on Thursday evening under the theme “Constitutional Reform- To Court Brave Change or To Leave Well Enough Alone?”

At that forum, Nandlall was keen to note that his position as reflected in his opinions is not synonymous to the position held by the People’s Progressive Party of which he is an Executive Member.
Nandlall told those who gathered that the international community seems hell bent on Constitutional Reform. He noted, “The Carter Centre desires to see constitutional reform. The British High Commissioner has expressed his government’s disappointment at the slow movement towards constitutional reform. A team visiting recently from the United Nations, advocated for constitutional reform. Constitutional reform was a major plank of the APNU+AFC’s manifesto, at the 2015 General and Regional Elections.”

Nandlall said that academics and jurists alike have often described constitutions like ours, as organic and alive. He said that he subscribes to this view. “Therefore, like any other law, nay, more than any other law, our constitution must necessarily remain dynamic and under constant review with a view of reform, so that it can adapt to meet the exigencies of a changing and evolving society.” Therefore, said Nandlall, the nature and magnitude of constitutional reform must be driven and determined by the society itself, in which the constitution operates. That view is also held by the British as expressed recently by its High Commissioner, Greg Quinn.

However, Nandlall said that while Constitutional reform is important, it is not the prognosis to the many political and social ills diagnosed in Guyana. Nandlall said that the last major set of constitutional reforms occurred in Guyana in 2001, where about 200 fundamental changes were made to the then constitution. Nandlall asked, “Has our society evolved so drastically, over the ensuing 17 years, to precipitate the monumental constitutional reforms which are now being contemplated? I do not see cogent and compelling reasons being advanced for constitutional reform. Neither do I see, efficacious proposals of the reform themselves. In my view, only when these two sets of information become available for scrutiny, that one can make an informed decision on the matter. Therefore, I have questions.”
He continued, “Are we being pushed to constitutional reform because of foreign influence? Have we convinced ourselves that our constitution and the breadth of its provisions do not meet the needs of the people of Guyana and are therefore, ineffective and unworkable?”

Nandlall said that when public officials comply with constitutional measures and prescriptions, there is no room for a challenge to their actions on the ground of a want of constitutionality. Problems however arise, he said, when public officials either deliberately, or out of ignorance, violate the provisions of the constitution. “It is in these circumstances that some are wont to say that provisions of our constitution are ineffective and unworkable. I, however, respectfully submit that deliberate violation of, or non-compliance with, the provisions of the constitution in governmental affairs by public functionaries do not equate to ineffectiveness or unworkability of the scheme of our constitution, justifying an ill- considered rush to constitutional reform,” said Nandlall.

As a case in point, Nandlall noted the fact that the constitution insulates the Service Commissions from any direction or influence from any other body or authority. He said however, it is now public knowledge that in two successive years, two different Ministers of Government, wrote to two different service commissions, purporting to issue directions to them from the President, not to proceed with the discharge of their constitutional duties- a clear violation of the Constitution. “Does this render the constitution ineffective and unworkable, to justify its reform? I think not. And on this particular issue, what are we reforming the constitution to achieve? Would it be to remove the protective insulation with which these Commissions are clothe, so that they can actually be directed and influenced by extraneous bodies and authorities? I hope not.”

Further, Nandlall said that he is not oblivious to the fact that one major component of the reforms which is being canvassed, seeks to constitutionalize an arrangement for executive power sharing between and among the major political parties of the country. He called this a “noble ideal” but questioned, “Do the level of maturity, trust and magnanimity, which are the prerequisites for such an arrangement to work, exist in our political environment?”

To highlight Guyana’s “reality” in this regard, Nandlall again turned to more examples. He said that there is no greater constitutional expression of political power sharing in the current constitutional matrix, than the appointment of the Chief Justice and Chancellor of the Judiciary and, the appointment of a Chairman of GECOM. He said that in respect of all these appointments, the Constitution mandates processes which require the input of both, the Leader of the Opposition and the President. The appointments require the agreement of the Leader of the Opposition, before the President can make a final decision.

Nandlall noted that since this provision was introduced into the Constitution in 2001, no appointment has ever been made. Successive Leaders of the Opposition withheld their agreement from the appointment of the incumbent holders of those Offices. Not a reason was ever given. Nandlall said that in relation of the appointment of a Chairman of GECOM, a list of six names must originate from the Opposition Leader to the President, for him to select one for appointment. “18 names have been submitted by the Leader of the Opposition over the last nine months. An appointment is still to be made. A hitherto seamless and straight-forward constitutional process has suddenly become complex, complicated and controversial. Simple and clear language of the Constitution has suddenly become obscure, ambiguous and unequivocal.” Nandlall said that with those considerations, it is clear to him that “the need for constitutional compliance trumps the need for fundamental constitutional reforms.”

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Turkeyen and Tain talks 8 - 'Youth, Crime and Violence'

16th July, 2017 0 comments

The Juvenile Justice Bill will be presented to Parliament by month end, Minister of Public Security Khemraj Ramjattan said on Wednesday, while speaking on issues related to ‘Youth, Crime and Violence’ at the University of Guyana’s eighth Turkeyen and Tain talks.

Ramjattan was on a panel that included Pastor Eworth Williams, activist Derwayne Wills, and Child Protection specialist Patricia Gittens. Assistant Commissioner of Police Clifton Hicken, though slated to speak, was not present at the event.

The discussions, which invited comments and questions from the audience, touched on youth policy, constitutional reform, and the justice system, including how culture can influence youth to become involved in crime, and affect them once they become part of the system.

“In a study I did just recently, I looked at the relationship between parenting styles and juvenile delinquency. And what it showed is that our parenting styles in Guyana [are] literally… creating some of the issues we have with our youth,” Debbie Hopkinson, a member of the university’s sociology department commented. “Our youths are becoming violent because sometimes they’re abused, and sometimes they become a victim twice—first, by being abused, then when they wander away, the system also makes them a victim again. And that is something we need to look at…,” she added.

In response to a query from Hopkinson on the status of the Juvenile Justice Bill, Ramjattan stated that the bill is complete and will be taken to Parliament by the end of this month, when costing has been completed. The bill will then be debated in October.

Once passed, he said, it will do away with several archaic laws that are responsible for the incarceration of many of the country’s youth.

“In that bill, all the difficulties we have, I have made sure that the consultation process went through successfully — truancy, wandering, all those economic crimes are going to be abolished. All of them, and they are not going to be made crimes anymore because the days for that are long gone…,” Ramjattan said.

He further stated that policing authorities would have “far more stringent methods” to follow when it comes to the incarceration of youth and that provisions would be made at police stations to have rooms for juveniles.

After being called out by Dr Nigel Gravesande on what he said was a 0.7% budget allocation to youth, Ramjattan assured those gathered that this figured would be upped once monies became available.

“If we have to take our monies and do what is regarded as priority by all Cabinet, we have to do that. It does not necessarily mean that importance is not attached to others. And youth, especially, we feel we have to spend more money on and that is why of recent times—and this might sound again clichéd—we are making sure now that the bailouts that we will have for sugar will have to come to a halt,” Ramjattan said.

“… At the present moment, because of the fact that we do not have resources… sugar is not doing well, bauxite is not doing well, only gold it would appear is doing that well and until such time as we have a better day with an oil revenue stream, we have to start making some serious decisions, and we have started making those already,” he added.

Ramjattan noted that the government in its mandate of youth development has been guided by a number of published reports, including the United Nations Report on Violence against Children; Crime, Violence and Development; the Citizens Security Survey; and the Paramaribo Declaration on the Future of Youth in the Caribbean Community.

Acknowledging that a lot of reports are usually churned out but shelved, the minister stated that there is a need to begin utilising the recommendations in order to “immediately walk the talk”.

He stated that among those recommendations is the need to provide skills training in at-risk areas, while referencing the Guyana Police Force’s programme that sees divisional commanders setting up youth groups within such communities.

He also made reference to the IDB’s Citizen Security Strengthening Programme, one of the components of which is to train 25 students from across 20 communities in areas such as carpentry, masonry and electrical engineering, and providing them with a US$70 allowance so they are able to attend the nearest skills centre.

“I know that it is going to be a difficult task solving this thing because it is somehow …young people feel that they could do the wrong things because the wrong things are being done by everybody, high and low. And when a culture starts that bad habit of young people thinking that that can be done it is going to be very, very dangerous,” the minister said.

Wills had shared similar sentiments in his presentation.

“We must be mindful of the images our youth are fed – particularly our men. Everywhere I look, I see the lucrative spoils of celebrated local kingpins who walk amongst us. We must also be mindful of how these images shape the value systems of our youth, particularly men, in their pursuit for success,” Wills had stated. Ramjattan had also made reference to how parenting and the socialisation process affect how youth relate to crime.

Shedding light on the inefficiencies in the justice system, Wills spoke of what he called “indifference” on the part of magistrates as it pertains to the sums assigned for the granting of bail to persons who hail from impoverished communities, and criticised the outdated legislation that results in scores of persons being incarcerated for offences such as narcotics possession. It was on this note that he referred to the recent events as a correction of the system.

“I was prepared to stand here and champion many causes for reforms – in the prison system, in the modus operandi of the police, in the judiciary… but the prisoners of Camp Street have accomplished in a matter of days what activists have championed for years,” Wills stated.

“…These are continued acts of defiance against the system and its agents for unnecessarily long trials, inefficiencies in the police prosecution system, exorbitant bail amounts… just naming a few… Justice delayed is justice denied. And the Camp Street prison fire remains a radical act of defiance which has forced the system to correct itself,” the youth activist further said.

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