TODAY, as Guyana observes her 53rd year since independence, my mind races back to photo-flashes of our country’s history and our long walk to freedom. That walk started centuries ago with the conquest of our land by foreign Spanish, French, Dutch and British invaders, and was exemplified in rebellions in 1763, 1823 and 1948.
We have to trace the struggles for independence in the non-cooperation with those colonisers from our indigenous peoples, from the rebellions of African slaves and in the labour revolts of East Indian and other immigrant workers. Guyana has recorded her own history of martyrdom, and our soil is nurtured with the precious blood of those who paid the ultimate price for freedom.
RESISTANCE AND STRUGGLES
Out of the diverse forms of resistance and struggles against oppression and foreign domination, and over time, our country’s several ethnic groupings aspired to be one people, one nation, with one destiny – which has become our national motto.
Since independence, the “One-Nation” goal was invariably associated with movement towards inclusive governance; ethnic and social cohesion; economic transformation with equality of opportunities; hinterland development to accelerate coastal-interior integration and promote the welfare of our indigenous communities; and protection of human rights for all Guyanese.
In more recent years, the goals of independence for a good life for all have been captured in strategic policies as those in the National Development Plan, Low Carbon Development Strategy, Green State Development Strategy and the Natural Resources Development Fund, our equivalent of a Sovereign Wealth Fund for the use of oil revenues.
The latter aims at both exponential infrastructural and social development; and the accumulation of wealth for use to benefit future generations. This long-term goal is to allow young people to enjoy those rights to which Guyana has subscribed when we signed on to certain international conventions. These conventions (treaties) have been given legal strength in our Constitution.
Article 154A of our Constitution provides:
“…every person, as contemplated by the respective international treaties…to which Guyana has acceded, is entitled to the human rights enshrined in the said international treaties and as such, shall be respected and upheld by the executive, legislature and judiciary…”
CHILDREN HOISTING FLAG
Today, children will hoist the Guyana Flag at the main ceremony in Georgetown, our nation’s capital city. The independence observances coincide with Youth Week and Rights of the Child functions. It is of utmost importance that our young people know that their rights, their well-being and their future stand at the foundation of the independence of Guyana.
At the heart of our Constitution are Child Rights, enjoyed by all below the age of 18. These rights apply to every child, irrespective of parentage, race, colour, gender, creed, etc. These include the right to life, to be registered at birth, to nationality status, the right to development, the right for young people to form their own views, the right to free expression of those views, freedom of thought, conscience and religion, the right to education and so on. These rights seek to ensure that every child becomes the best version of himself or herself, and the best citizen to take the country forward.
Since independence, public education has been a major platform of realisation of the rights of our children, and in social development. It might have been over-ambitious at the time of its launch, but the policy and promise of free education from nursery to university remains a valid goal of our nation. Its inclusion as a constitutional guarantee requires full implementation in the near future.
In addition to our University of Guyana, the Guyana School of Agriculture, teacher-training, technical and vocational colleges, the public education system comprises some 414 nursery schools, 445 primary schools and 116 secondary schools across the length and breadth of Guyana. Education, along with public health, public housing and potable water supplies, accounts for a significant portion of our national budget. Included in formal education is information and communication technology (ICT) for which access to hubs has been provided countrywide.
Under the coalition government, access to and affordability of education have also been facilitated by the President’s Five Bs initiatives – buses, bicycles, boats, books and breakfast – for the school population.
For independence to have meaning for our young people, they must be unhindered in their pursuit of learning. An important part of this learning is for children to know their rights — to know what the Constitution of the Republic provides for them, and other citizens.
Very shortly, the Office of the Prime Minister will launch several projects to promote general understanding of our Constitution. Imagine, our nation’s law-makers had to refer to the courts certain provisions of the Constitution that are apparently ambivalent and contradictory, and might have occasioned absurd interpretations and could have rendered themselves as a fig-leaf to cover acts that were otherwise unconstitutional.
It is no laughing matter that the Executive, the Legislature and the Judiciary are still locked in protracted litigation to interpret what is a confidence as distinct from a no-confidence motion; what constitutes a simple as distinct from an absolute majority; whether a clear majority is one above all others, as would be the case of a plurality, or one-half plus one in whole numbers and one-half rounded up to the nearest higher number, plus one in odd numbers.
This is reason enough for government to take the Constitution to the people, starting with the school population. There will be a nationwide high school debate and town hall meetings in all 10 administrative regions, for children to learn about the range of provisions for the protection of the fundamental rights and freedoms of the child. The right to education and freedom from discrimination of any type, are key protections offered by the Guyana Constitution. This is the essence of our political independence and our democratic system.
Our independence anniversary therefore is an opportune time to remember this, and to reaffirm our pledge to develop our country through knowledge-sharing, within the framework of rights-based governance and an inclusive democracy. Our Guyana democracy must ensure that every Guyanese has a voice, including and in particular, Guyana’s children.