T'ings young and youth

SN Dec. 24,2016 Letter: Young people must ‘seize the day’

Taken from Stabroek News: <http://www.stabroeknews.com/2016/opinion/letters/12/24/young-people-must-seize-day/&gt;

Dear Editor,

I grew up on the adage ‘Youths are the future’; I say youths are the now. It’s a great time to be young, and especially in Guyana as opportunities abound. And as my mother says, “The opportunity of a lifetime must be seized in the lifetime of the opportunity.”

President David Granger rightly said also, that, “Youth development must equip young people with the right education, the right attitudes and the right values if they are to go out into the world and become productive and useful citizens. Youth development must overcome the challenge of unemployment. Youth development, also, must give birth to a new generation of Guyanese entrepreneurs; of leaders; of pioneers, young people who are prepared to explore new avenues and opportunities in our economy.”

There is no excuse for someone who escaped the formal education system as there are enough opportunities to bring oneself on par with those who have been exposed to formal schooling. Locally, I have identified eleven significant investments government is making in our youth; literally millions of dollars are being invested or are ready to be channelled toward our youth.

The suite of programmes includes the Small Business Bureau (SBB); Sustainable Livelihood & Entrepre-neurial Development(SLED); Local Areas Economic Profile (LAEP); Local Economic Development Strategic Plans (LSPs); Community Infrastructure Improvement Pro-gramme (CIIP); Citizen Security Strengthening Programme (CSSP); Micro and Small Enterprise Deve-lopment (MSED) Project; Youth Entrepreneurial Skills Training (YEST) programme; Hinterland Employment and Youth Service (HEYS); Caribbean Vocational Qualification (CVQ) platform; Youth Innovation Fund (YIF).

Allow me to elaborate on just a few. The Small Business Bureau was established to Promote policies and programmes which foster small business development. The Minister of Business recently lamented that the SBB’s targets are not being met.

One publication noted, “Though it has been implementing the programme for three years the bureau is still to disburse more than 80% of a targeted 800 loans under the programme, it has only disbursed 233 of a targeted 300 grants and has created and sustained only 735 jobs under both programmes. It was expected to have created and sustained 2,200 jobs.” Why aren’t our youths taking full advantage of this opportunity?

I was privileged have launched in my constituency (14) the Ministry of Public Security’s Citizen Security Strengthening Programme (Component 1: Community Crime and Violence). The specific objective of this component is to improve behaviours for non-violent conflict resolution in target communities which will contribute to the overall aim of the programme: contributing to a reduction in crime and violence in Guyana, especially in the targeted communities and among youths through skills training.

300 youths will benefit from entrepreneurial training initially, training approximately 4,000 at-risk youths over the next four years. Students will be supported with small grants to facilitate small business start-ups. Each youth will be given approximately 70$US per month to cover transportation to and from school, meals and other expenses. Teenage mothers and fathers will be provided with additional resources to cover day care support. This is a US$5 million investment overall.

In 2017 government aims to focus, “on the empowerment of individuals and the facilitation of small and micro-enterprise, expanding existing programmes aimed at fostering youth entrepreneurship. The Micro and Small Enterprise Development (MSED) Project will continue with its financing, training and development activities, targeting prospective and established entrepreneurs and small businesses. To this end, a total of 660 clients are targeted for training and business support.

Additionally, a total of 600 micro-enterprises will be visited to review their business plans and the results of training facilitated by the Project”.  It is my sincere wish that our young people would grab hold of these opportunities.

In his 2017 Budget presentation Minister of Finance Winston Jordan introduced the Youth Innovation Fund (YIF). “This Fund will provide a financing platform to launch exceptionally innovative ideas, harnessing the energetic and creative minds of our young people. The criteria for accessing this programme are still being finalised, but will include level of originality, viability, applicability beyond demonstration, and maintaining zero net impact on the environment. This Fund, which will be overseen by a multi-stakeholder steering committee, will be endowed, initially, with a sum of $50 million with the intention of supporting successful start-up applicants.”

Editor, as 2017 beckons it is my fervent wish that our young people take to action what is embodied in the phrase, ‘carpe diem’, seize the day; remembering in their pursuit of all things what Dr Steven Covey suggests, “The single most powerful investment we can make in life is investment in ourselves.” Kudos to the government for providing the opportunities.

Yours faithfully,

Sherod Avery Duncan

Deputy Mayor

Municipality of Georgetown

T'ings young and youth

SN Dec. 19,2016 Letter: Guyana needs a national alcohol policy

Taken from Stabroek News: <http://www.stabroeknews.com/2016/opinion/letters/12/19/guyana-needs-national-alcohol-policy/&gt;

Dear Editor,

As of July 2016, according to a report from the Guyana Police Force, there have been 1,035 traffic offences caused by drivers being under the influence of alcohol. The lack of an explicit and articulated national policy on alcohol is an indicator of the disregard and lack of commitment by the leaders of the nation throughout the years to reduce the consumption of alcohol and its harmful effects. The laws that do exist are not enforced.

It is imperative that the government implement measures to reduce the accessibility and availability of alcohol.

The government must value public health and welfare over political investors. Businesses have an ethical and social responsibility to Guyana and they must value the welfare of the country over profits.

The government should implement laws to prohibit alcohol companies from the sponsorship of sports or cultural events. Open bar promotions which allow customers to drink as much as they want for a fixed price should be banned, because these promotions encourage excessive drinking.

I propose an increase in the age limit of alcohol consumption to 21, and an increase in the age limit for the purchase of alcohol to 21.

The government should consider reforming the Evidence and Motor Vehicle and Road Traffic (Amendment) Act 2008 and reduce the Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) limit to 0.05%; drivers under the age of 21 should have a zero BAC limit. It is my hope that the increases in the liquor penalties as stated in the budget are strongly enforced.

A National Committee for Alcohol Consumption Control should be formed. This committee will be responsible for the establishment of an enforcement surveillance centre for alcohol control regulations. The committee should be funded by the taxes collected from producers and importers of alcohol.

Guyana’s national drug is alcohol. We have a tendency to regard the use of other drugs with animosity and celebrate the use of alcohol.

Any altered state impairs your judgement but alcohol seems to do so with gusto and social acceptability. The culture surrounding drinking is particularly what makes it so dangerous.

Alcohol is a toxic, carcinogenic and addictive substance. Alcohol depresses the central nervous system which, in turn, impairs motor functions and motor performance.

Alcohol use can lead to the development of chronic diseases and other health problems including high blood pressure, heart disease stroke, liver disease, cancer, learning and memory problems, dementia and poor academic performance.

Women who binge drink are more likely to have unprotected sex and risky sexual escapades. Additionally, alcohol has a large social impact.

It can destroy relationships between friends and family members, lead to interpersonal violence, and increase the risk of road traffic accidents. Alcohol is also associated with child neglect and abuse as well as absenteeism in the workplace.


Yours faithfully,

Matthew Gaul

T'ings young and youth

Demwaves Dec. 8, 2016: Budget 2017 deflated expectations of Guyanese youth- PPP MP Sukhai

Taken from Demerara Waves Online news: <http://demerarawaves.com/2016/12/08/budget-2017-deflated-expectations-of-guyanese-youth-ppp-mp-sukhai/&gt;


Opposition PPP MP, Pauline Sukhai

Opposition MP Pauline Sukhai is calling for the David Granger administration to clearly show how much money has been budgeted for youth development in 2017.


“After deceiving youths into believing they were the focal point of the elections campaign,” Sukhai told the National Assembly during her budget presentation this morning. “They convinced them they would be the complementary force for change… [and that the] good life filled with opportunities await them with winning the election.”

Sukhai called the government to task pointing out there are no youth on the Cabinet of Ministers, and that a single seat in the National Assembly, held by MP Jermaine Figueira, was set aside for youth.

Sukhai went on to highlight the zero presence of youth in Guyana’s foreign service, state boards, [and] councils. It is unclear whether MP Sukhai, a former Amerindian Affairs minister under the previous government, referenced “councils” to speak about local government bodies.

It is important to note however that a number of youth have ascended to leadership across Guyana’s local democratic organs. Most notable are Georgetown Deputy Mayor Sherod Duncan, and Lethem Deputy Mayor, 19-year-old Maxine Welch.

Sukhai turned her attention to the proposed $50M Youth Innovation Fund announced by Finance Minister Winston Jordan during his budget presentation.

Sukhai called the fund “meagre” noting that a business today “would almost eat up $50M.” She questioned how the administration intends to invest in youth and promote youth entrepreneurship among youth with the $50M.

“So much conditions on Innovative Youth Fund, I’m sure young people will be shortchanged,” Sukhai told the house while acknowledging the $50M is a good start but “I am not satisfied this is good enough from this government.”

Turning her attention to the national youth policy recently approved in the National Assembly. Sukhai questioned whether there were any allocations within the budget to ensure the problems and challenges faced by youth are alleviated.

Speaking to indigenous youth, Sukhai mentioned Guyana’s upcoming oil and gas sector questioning whether there is a clearly-defined space for indigenous youth even with some $650M set aside for scholarships and other initiatives in the oil and gas sector.

Immediately following Sukhai’s presentation was Indigenous People’s Affairs Minister, Sydney Allicock. Allicock immediately responded to a comment made by Sukhai where she mentioned some 1900 indigenous youth who were supposedly fired from a programme facilitated by the Indigenous People’s Affairs Ministry.

Allicock clarified that the decision to let go the 1900 youth was made by the PPP administration. “It was a cabinet decision by the PPP to have the work of the CSOs come to an end in march [2015],” Allicock responded noting this was done without affording them any compensation.

The Minister went on to say the youth employed under the project were trained as mobilisers for the former PPP government rather than as community developers.

Responding to Sukhai’s question on the role of indigenous youth in the oil and gas sector, Allicock said Guyana is not yet ready to have our locals occupy jobs on the oil rig.

“But we are preparing for the indirect benefit. This is what we have to capitalise on.” He said the planned interventions in that regard will link the skills of Guyana’s youth with the demands of investors.

T'ings young and youth

SN Dec. 12, 2016 Letter: Mortgage restriction will not encourage young professionals to stay

Taken from Stabroek News letters section December 12 edition: <http://www.stabroeknews.com/2016/opinion/letters/12/12/mortgage-restriction-will-not-encourage-young-professionals-stay/&gt;

Dear Editor,

In his 2013 budget proposals, Dr Ashni Singh, former Minister of Finance, announced Mortgage Interest Relief for first-time home owners with mortgage loans of up to $30 million. Fast forward to 2016, and Minister Winston Jordan has announced a restriction to $15 million. At the same time, he has added VAT on construction items and imposed a withholding tax on payments to contractors, both of which will drive construction costs up.

Guyana as a whole is considered an upper-middle income country and consequently I find it difficult to believe that the new limit is representative of what a middle income earner would aspire to. Unfortunately, this move will not encourage our young professionals to remain in and build Guyana.

Yours faithfully,

(Name and address provided)

T'ings young and youth

‘Queen’s College Protest’- a Nov. 25, 2016 Stabroek News Editorial

Reacting to information that a section of the Queen’s College agricultural lands located within the school compound was to be utilized to facilitate the construction of a multi-complex canteen, students staged a protest on Tuesday through Thursday last to oppose the decision. It was noted at the time that no prior consultations were held with the student body, neither does it seem that any consideration was given to the impact the decision would have on the school’s Agriculture curriculum, and the ability of all students to complete their School Based Assessments (SBAs) in Agricultural Science.

Student protestors demonstrated in the school compound during their lunch break, demanding that the decision be reversed. Less than 24 hours after the protest action on Thursday last, stakeholders, excluding students, met with officials from the Ministry of Education and a compromise was reached on the farming plot which will avoid any disruptions to students writing CXC (both CSEC and CAPE) next year. It must be noted that the details of this compromise and several accommodations that have been promised as revealed to the media, point to what appears to be a gross indifference to the school’s Agriculture curriculum in the design of the project.

In summing up what went wrong, Chairman of the school’s Board of Governors Conrad Plummer downplayed the fracas as merely a result of “miscommunication and lack of communication,” and observed that after last Friday’s meeting “everyone” has agreed on the solution. Without questioning Mr Plummer’s conclusion that the matter has been favourably resolved, we note that in situations such as these, there can exist the opportunity for prescribed remedies to have unfavourable side effects of their own, and only carefully negotiated, tactfully implemented, flexible solutions are usually able to stand the test of time.

As a subject taught in our schools, Agriculture Science continues to attract students who display a strong level of commitment to the discipline. This year, the Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC), which administers the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) examinations reported “excellent performances” for Guyana in 15 subjects including Agriculture Science where the Grades One to Three passes exceeded 75%.

Agriculture Science (Double Award) was also singled out as one of the subjects where Guyanese students recorded performances of 90% or better. When compared with previous CSEC examinations results in this subject area, a pattern emerges of notably solid performances from local students.

It’s important to note that these students were also throwing their voices into the ongoing debate on the role of agriculture in our economy. One of the students carried a placard which read, ‘Less land, less food, less life,’ and other sign read, ‘No Agri, no food, no life!’

Even as stakeholders here in the sector point to a decline in agriculture as a major income earner, the 2013-20 National Agriculture Strategy dubbed ‘Vision 2020,’ promotes agriculture as an important source of livelihood, employment and wealth generation in Guyana, and notes it remains important to the country’s food security and as a competitive export bloc.

While the board and our education officials may reduce the incident to a communication problem, the affected student body and many other citizens looking on are not likely to agree. At the very least, the protest action is telling us that something is fundamentally wrong at a conceptual level in how we develop our agro-business sector and bring it in tune with the 21st century, and we must not lose the opportunity to fix this matter at its most rudimentary level.

Just last month our Parliament adopted the National Youth Policy which encourages youth participation, leadership and representation at all levels; now we have this incident where students at the nation’s premier secondary institution were neither consulted nor properly informed about a decision that stood to affect them positively on one level and negatively on another. It took militancy on their part to reverse the decision, no matter how small, and more important, draw attention to the inconsiderate action by school officials.

Some key questions arise as we seek to get to the core of this issue: Was this multi-complex canteen project originated by the school or by the Ministry of Education? If the latter, did the school’s administration adequately assess the impact of the proposed development on the school’s curriculum and the ability of the students to execute their important assignments prior to the decision being made by the Ministry of Education?

Was the first inkling of the proposed development given to the student body via the arrival of chainsaws felling trees, and excavators and sand trucks on the grounds? Does the school’s administration feel that the student body should have a say (at the level of their student representatives) in such developments? The answer to these and similar questions may prove instructive.

Indeed, this incident seems a microcosm of the highhandedness in government which is creeping across many countries in the world, including our own, and which has led to spontaneous eruptions of public protest movements resulting in unprecedented and unexpected outcomes within society and government – such as the Brexit vote in the UK and the stunning rise of United States President-elect Donald Trump.

There seems to be a weariness on the part of citizens about having decisions foisted upon them by their governments, without any consideration as to how such decisions impact on individuals, families and communities.

There is a growing authoritarianism creeping through societies and creating unease among citizens, individually and collectively. The developments at Queen’s College, though most likely originating in innocuous inefficiency and misplaced expediency, are nevertheless a warning to all and sundry that authoritarian behaviour is a creeping malady, a debilitating and dangerous virus, not often recognizable for what it is, eating away at the democratic checks and balances in our institutions.

T'ings young and youth

‘Youth and politics’ – a Dec. 2, 2016 Stabroek News Editorial

In October 2016, the Commonwealth Secretariat released its second Global Youth Development Index, mere days after the Guyana Government passed its National Youth Policy in Parliament, a policy which was said to, inter alia, “[encourage] leadership, participation and representation.” Considering that the youth development index (YDI) placed Guyana among the lowest ranked countries (125th out of 183 countries) in the “political participation” domain for youth aged 15 to 29 years, it becomes immediately apparent that the government has a lot of ground to cover in “encouraging leadership, participation and representation” among this country’s youth.

Countries were ranked in five domains: education, health and wellbeing, employment and opportunity, civic participation, and political participation.

Overall, Guyana was ranked 116 out of the 183 countries included in the YDI. Guyana also scored favourably in the civic participation domain, and to a lesser extent in the education and employment opportunity domains. Unfavourable scores were received in health and wellbeing and as mentioned above, in political participation.

In Guyana, the low level of youth participation in political affairs has been bemoaned over the years, not least by the youths themselves. This begs the question as to whether young people are being deliberately denied roles within the political stratosphere, or whether there is little practical appetite among them for the level of responsibility that comes with political office or its fickleness of tenure.

Despite the origin of the dearth of youth representation in national and regional politics, both major political parties have functioning youth affiliates actively working on advocacy campaigns and community mobilization, especially during the election seasons, so we can conclude that young people are not totally marginalized from the political sphere.

When Bharrat Jagdeo ascended to the highest office in the land at the tender age of 35 years, it had seemed that the time for youth to carry the torch of leadership had certainly arrived. Indeed, for a while, the PPP/C did have several young ministers with large portfolios over the years like Robert Persaud, Priya Manickchand and Irfaan Ali. Nevertheless, the level of youth representation at the higher levels of government has always been relatively low and this trend has continued with the current administration and is mirrored by the current opposition.

For example, youth representation in the National Assembly is about 12 per cent if youth is defined as individuals under age 45. If this classification is adjusted to under age 40, this percentage drops below eight per cent, and when the Commonwealth range of 15-29 years is applied, the representation of youth in the Guyana Parliament dips to zero.

It’s important to note, however, that youth representation in Parliament is not the same as full participation, since many of the speeches are given by the senior ministers and the responsibility to lay motions also rests with them. On the coalition benches in Parliament not a single senior minister is under age 40, and an assessment of the parliamentary record of their members of parliament (MPs) under age 45 would show very little activity, if any at all, in some cases. The PPP/Cs record in this area is similarly unimpressive as time has moved some of its formerly young ministers into the ranks of the mature.

While the political participation of youth remains low, the level of political mobilisation of youth via social media is very high in Guyana and around the world. Young people tend to be very vocal and even militant on social media, and political parties have sought to tap into this energy for their own benefit. The run up to the 2015 general elections was played out as much on social media as it was in the mainstream media, and young people were the most vocal and proved that there is no deficit in Guyana of young people capable of measured discourse, reasoned analysis, and of making valuable contributions to the national conversation.

A case in point is the single-handed disassembling of a former minister and the unrelenting criticism of the previous party in government by way of social media by writer Ruel Johnson.

Today, Johnson has joined the ranks of government and his advocacy seems to have been muted both within government and on social media. The lack of a few representative voices of youth within the government is contributing to the public perception that capable and competent young people are being deliberately sidelined for older more experienced persons. This in turn is causing young people to lose interest in political life, and therefore the opportunity to play an important part in the development of the country and the crafting of a future for themselves.

Young deputy mayor Sherod Duncan must also feel he is up against the proverbial “old boys club” as he has felt the power of ostracism as he steadfastly tries to break the “glass ceiling” that seems to be affecting young politicians 17 years after Bharrat Jagdeo’s record breaking ascent to the highest office of the land.

In the end, whether young politicians will survive in Guyana’s political arena and build up enough credentials and support among the people, youth particularly, to have a real voice and to have a real say in the development of this country, will depend on their character, political savvy, and persistence in the harsh environment that is politics.

Social media activism has tremendous visibility but lacks depth and progression. It is time young political participants challenge the mainstream media to listen to their voices, but first they must have something to say. Something of value.