Caste has no relevance or application in Guyana

October 31, 2014 | By | Filed Under Features / Columnists, Peeping Tom 

On August 26, 2003, the Stabroek News carried a report about then President Jagdeo’s visit to his ancestral village, Thakurain Ka Purwa in India. The report was based on news reports which appeared in the Indian media and which indicated that the citizens of the village belonged to a low caste.
I do not know if the fact that Jagdeo’s ancestors came from a village populated by low caste Indians is the reason why some people believe that they are superior in breeding and pedigree to him. If this is what they feel, it is both unfortunate and delusional.
It is unfortunate, because caste is an outmoded social construct. Nobody should judge or rank others on the basis of caste. If one understands the origins of the caste system one would refrain from judging or ranking others on the basis of caste.

Caste has nothing to do with superiority and inferiority.  Caste was part of a system that allowed for an economic division of labour and for social order in the villages of India. That it was used as tool of exploitation and for the purposes of social status is a perversion of its original intent. The caste system is not different from the system proposed by Plato for the division of society.
The idea that the descendant of an indentured is superior to another on the basis of caste is also delusional. Jagdeo by his very success in becoming the President of Guyana, showed the irrelevance of caste to personal achievement and social elevation. Indeed, caste has no relevance in Guyana today.
Even in India caste is losing its traction. India has elected to power a man who is not considered as high caste. Now if India can do this, why would anyone in Guyana of all places want to use caste to demonstrate superior breeding?
Once you are the descendant of an indentured immigrant and live in Guyana you have no caste. There is no caste system in Guyana. Never was!

Any caste system that may have existed was invented. To get here to Guyana from India, the indentured labourers had to cross the dark waters of the Kala Pani. And once you crossed the waters of the Kala Pani you defiled your caste and you were deemed caste-less.
This is why so many indentured immigrants refused to go back to India. By crossing the Kala Pani, they effectively lost any claims to their caste and this meant that if they returned to India, they would have had great difficulty in reintegrating in village society.
I think it is time Guyanese debunk and dismiss this idea of caste. No one in Guyana who is the descendant of an indentured immigrant belongs to any caste. They cannot, because their ancestors lost their caste when they joined the ships that brought them to work on the sugar plantations.
I once saw a lecture on television. I think it may have been by Clem Seecharan in which he made the point that indentured immigrants suppressed the realities of India from which they escaped. He also said they created new narratives to help them adjust to their new world.
Amongst those new narratives is this idea of a Great India. Caste identification belongs to these created narratives.


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Nandlall should resign or be removed – Bar Association, women lawyers

Posted By Stabroek editor On October 31, 2014 @ 9:18 am In Local News |


Attorney General Anil Nandlall should resign or be removed over the statements he made in a conversation with a Kaieteur News (KN) reporter, the Guyana Bar Association (GBA) and the Guyana Association of Women Lawyers (GAWL) said in a joint statement this morning.


The joint statement is the most damning of all the calls thus far for Nandlall to go over an explosive 19-minute call on Saturday to KN reporter Leonard Gildarie which was recorded. In their joint  statement the GBA and the GAWL said “As leader of the Bar, the Attorney General mindful of the honour, dignity and integrity of his office should resign immediately. If he does not resign he should be removed. Any other result would be an endorsement of the Attorney-General’s conduct and an admission by the Executive that the highest moral and legal standards are not applicable to the State.”


A series of disturbing revelations in the conversation were adverted to by the joint statement, including Nandlall’s apparent acknowledging that the use of deadly violence against the media was acceptable. Equally troubling the statement said was the suggestion that President Donald Ramotar was said to have participated in conversations with a defendant (Bhena Lall)  in an ongoing criminal matter in return for less critical reporting by her co-defendant (KN proprietor Glenn Lall).


Also equally disturbing the joint statement said was the objectification in the conversation of an unidentified female reporter by Nandlall.

Nandlall has been silent in recent days except for saying that the conversation was a private one with a friend that was illegally recorded and that the conversation was manipulated and twisted to sound like a completely different dialogue.


The full GBA/GAWL statement follows:

Statement by the Guyana Bar Association and the Guyana Association of Women Lawyers on the Attorney-General’s recorded conversation

The Guyana Bar Association and the Guyana Association of Women Lawyers wish to express their concern their consternation at the recorded conversation between the Attorney-General and a member of the media. Everything done and said by the Attorney-General since the disclosure of the conversation invites us to draw every and all reasonable inferences therefrom. The statements made by the Attorney-General point to serious legal and moral infractions on his part having regard to his standing as one of the highest legal officers in our country. In the recording the Honorable Attorney-General offered in vulgar and obscene language, knowledge of actual and planned illegal activities. Even in private conversation the comments are deeply troubling and inappropriate and their candid nature, unbridled by the conventions of public discourse, calls his character and professionalism into question.


We are most concerned that the Attorney-General appeared to be acknowledging that the use of deadly violence against the media was an acceptable reaction to frustration where public officials and other citizens are offended by what is reported about them. He also referred to making restitution of funds used by him for some purpose which he did not want the press to report about. The President of Guyana is said to have participated in conversations with a defendant in extant criminal prosecution to have same discontinued in return for less critical reporting by her co-defendant. Equally disturbing is his persistent objectification of the unidentified woman, which conduct flies in the face of the Government’s obligations and commitments regarding respect for women.


Freedom of the press and freedom of speech are essential to the rule of law and political democracy. These freedoms result frequently in the publication of true information which may be offensive or embarrassing to some persons. But the Attorney-General needs no lecture on such matters. His Government is well acquainted with the perils of a society where the media must be “well-behaved” or otherwise risk being killed or intimidated.


Public officials are given wide powers and great responsibility to make thousands of important decisions many of which never see the light of day. We expect in return for the privilege of office, that they demonstrate good character and judgment. Where they demonstrably fail to do so either by public action or by private conduct which bears on their fitness for office, as the Attorney-General has done, such public officials should be removed from office.


As leader of the Bar, the Attorney General mindful of the honour, dignity and integrity of his office should resign immediately. If he does not resign he should be removed. Any other result would be an endorsement of the Attorney-General’s conduct and an admission by the Executive that the highest moral and legal standards are not applicable to the State.


31st October 2014

For further information please contact Ronald Burch-Smith, Christopher Ram or Simone Morris-Ramlall


Ramotar’s support for Nandlall promotes Gov’t secrecy and lack of transparency – GHRA

October 31, 2014 | By  | Filed Under News 

The following is the full text of a statement from the Executive Committee of the Guyana Human Rights Association.
“The tirade of threats, coarse language, suggestions of misuse of public funds and anti-women comments by Attorney-General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Anil Nandlall, during a recent telephone call to a Kaieteur News reporter, has generated public astonishment and calls for his resignation.
Almost as shocking as the incident itself, however, is the hapless defense of Nandlall by President Ramotar on the flimsy grounds that the taping of the conversation was illegal.
The failure of the President to distance the Cabinet and himself from the content of the call has effectively elevated Nandlall’s action from a personal rant to being the latest step in the increasingly desperate official response to the campaign by Kaieteur News for greater official transparency on public funds involved in a range of controversial projects.
These include the secretive government agency NICIL, ownership of the Marriott Hotel, the privileges enjoyed by the companies which benefitted from the Sanata Complex give-away; telecommunications deals and the Bai Shan Lin contract.
Efforts by Government to resist providing Parliament and the public with this information have spiralled downwards over the years. Along the way, secrecy and lack of transparency has taken its toll on a number of Government mechanisms.
These include the politically-poisoned implementation of broadcast license distribution; years of foot-dragging over establishing the Procurement Commission; appointing a Commissioner of Information who views his role more as guard-dog than gatekeeper, together with comprehensive and continuous abuse of the State-owned media.
This obsessive control of information has provoked more confrontational demands from a frustrated media, which in turn generated Government responses targetting media workers in the form of libel suits and the intervention of the Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA).
It was Kaieteur News’s retaliation to the GRA action, in questioning whether one of the relatives of the Attorney-General should not also be the focus of a similar investigation that appears to have prompted the ill-tempered telephone call.
Whether Mr. Nandlall is forced to resign or not – and the Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA) believes that resignation is in order – this alone will not resolve the underlying issue. At bottom this latest incident, with all its demeaning characteristics, is rooted in systematic abuse of a core element of democratic practice, namely, not accounting for the use of public funds in a transparent manner. The more fundamental question, therefore, is whether, regardless of the cost to governance and to the quality of public life, the Government intends continued resistance to provision of timely and accurate information on its stewardship of public funds.


The Clerk cannot dictate to the Speaker on matters involving interpretation of the Standing Orders

Posted By Staff Writer On October 31, 2014 @ 5:06 am In Letters | No Comments

Dear Editor,

Clerk of the National Assembly, Mr. Isaacs, continues to operate in excess of his powers in blocking the convening of the National Assembly. The Constitution nor the Standing Orders do not allow the Clerk to interpret Standing Orders. Standing Order 6 outlines the duties of the Clerk. There is no mention of a right to provide an opinion on whether the Assembly can convene or not. For any Clerk to block the direction of the Speaker to convene the Assembly, and to do so on the basis that the power to convene lies with the government in a situation where the government is a minority in that very Assembly, is not only unconstitutional, illegal, in breach of the Standing Orders, it is also a usurpation of powers and authority not provided by the Constitution, Standing Orders, acceptable rules of conduct and behaviour in the public interest. Even if Standing Order 8(2) is unclear, it naturally and automatically becomes a matter not provided for in the Standing Orders. Therefore, by virtue of Standing Order 4(6) “(6) The Speaker in the Assembly and the Chairperson in Committee shall have power to regulate the conduct of business in all matters not provided for in these Standing Orders.” That power is not vested in the Clerk, it is vested in the Speaker.

Once again, there is absolutely nothing in the Standing Orders that grant the Clerk the power to hold hostage and suspend indefinitely the assemblage of the National Assembly. Standing Order 8(2) itself states that “The Clerk shall as soon as possible inform each Member in writing, or telegram or by appropriate electronic means of any such earlier meeting.” Standing Order 8(2) itself provides no aperture for the Clerk to interpret Standing Order 8(2) or to provide an opinion on whether the Speaker is within his authority to call the meeting of the Assembly under 8(2) or to stop, impede or challenge the Speaker’s call. In fact, Standing Order 8(4) states in quite explicit fashion as follows “Forthwith upon receipt of any direction under paragraph three (3) of this Standing Order, the Clerk shall inform every Member of the Assembly, personally, if practicable, of the day and hour appointed by the Speaker for the holding of the Extraordinary Sitting of the Assembly and of the business to be transacted at such meeting.”

This notion that the power to convene the Assembly rests with the government in a minority government is not only in flagrante delicto with basic tenets of democratic norms, it is an opening to the creation and consolidation of dictatorship. In any event, it is mind-boggling how the Clerk arrives at his conclusion when, for example, Standing Order 28(2) states “With the consent of the Speaker, a Government motion may be placed upon the Order Paper for the Sitting of the day following that on which notice was given to the Clerk.” How does a government with the power to unilaterally convene, or not convene, the Assembly require the consent of the Speaker to have a government motion heard earlier than entitled? Undoubtedly, this provision confirms the special powers of the Speaker. Nowhere in the Standing Orders does it state that the government holds the power to convene the Assembly. While that may occur in practice in cases where government holds the majority in the Assembly, it is dangerous to the constitutional separation of powers and democracy itself for a minority government to dictate when the opposition-controlled Assembly can convene, if at all.

The Clerk cannot dictate to the Speaker on matters involving interpretation of the Standing Orders. Matters of perceived ambiguity in the Standing Orders are left to the discretion of the Speaker to resolve those ambiguities pursuant to that very specific power granted to the Speaker by Standing Order 4(6). The Speaker’s power over the Clerk is most pellucidly outlined in Article 57 and 158 of the Constitution. Article 57(1) states “There shall be a Clerk and a Deputy Clerk of the National Assembly, and appointments to those offices shall be made by the President acting in accordance with the advice of the Speaker.” The President must act in accordance with the advice of the Speaker to appoint the Clerk. Article 158(2) allows the National Assembly to remove the Clerk by majority vote for any cause or for misbehaviour. Article 158 (2) states “The Clerk shall be removed from office by the President if, but shall not be so removed unless, the National Assembly, by a resolution which has received the affirmative votes of a majority of all the elected members thereof, has resolved that he ought to be so removed for inability to discharge the functions of his office (whether arising from infirmity of body or mind or any other cause) or for misbehaviour.”

The Clerk’s refusal to act on the instructions of the Speaker exercising his authority under SO 8(2) and 4(6) and his continued deliberate blocking of the convening of the Assembly when ordered to convene by the Speaker, in contravention of his (the Clerk’s) duty to convene when ordered as per Standing Order 8(4), may very well constitute misbehaviour under Article 158 of the Constitution. Finally, if the Clerk refuses to convene the Assembly despite the Speaker’s instructions and the Assembly does not meet, we cannot continue this tango to eternal suspension of the legislative arm of a state already operating in executive lawlessness and debauchery. That very act of frustration of the Speaker’s instructions is one that cements executive authoritarianism over the legislature. At that point, the Speaker would certainly be within the public’s interest to convene the Assembly himself by bypassing the Clerk and at the first sitting, a motion and vote to remove the Clerk, with examination of implications for his benefits and pension given the gravity of his actions, should be within order.


Yours faithfully,