Guyanese would probably think of better things to do than read the newspapers today. For those who choose to read this article, please accept my best wishes for a Happy Christmas. For other readers of Stabroek News, and all Guyanese, I wish you also Happy Christmas. Stabroek News has generously published the articles that I began to write for my blog, Conversation Tree (conversationtree.gy), and still do. I had begun writing for the Mirror several years before, taking over Mrs. Janet Jagan’s page 3 after she passed. But I was later relegated to the second to last page, amidst the sports news, after Mr. Donald Ramotar, campaigning for the PPP’s nomination, like me, took over page 3. Of course, I was not notified and thought that the Mirror had stopped publishing me. It was only upon inquiry I was notified of my ‘demotion.’ Unusually, Stabroek News occasionally ran a news story on my Mirror articles. After the PPP and I fell out in 2012, I began the blog and SN began to publish the articles I wrote for the blog. At this time of giving thanks, which marks approximately ten years of publication, which I thankfully acknowledge and wish its Editor in Chief, its editors, its staff in general and its Sunday Editor and staff in particular a Happy Christmas.
Writing a weekly article is no easy task. I am not a professional journalist or opinion writer and I have a day job. The late Rashleigh Jackson, a colleague on the ministerial advisory committee on the Guyana-Venezuela Border Controversy since about 1994, except for periods when I was inexplicably excluded from meetings, even though I was the Good officer to the UN Process, recently asked me the process by which I select topics. The process had suddenly dawned on me and I have followed it since. After I left the PPP, I intended to write about six articles on issues of interest about the Party. As I wrote,national events distracted me and I would pause from time to time to write about them. After about a year I concluded what I wanted to say about the PPP and indicated to Mr. Anand Persaud, the Editor in Chief of Stabroek News, that I would no longer be writing. He was disappointed and persuaded me that I should make an effort to continue. I then had to figure out how to find matters to write about every week and how to sustain the interest of the reader. As I explained to Rashleigh, I decided to select a matter of newsworthy interest that emerged during the week in Guyana or, occasionally, about countries or issues outside of Guyana, and write about them if I can summon up 875 words.
Why 875 words? I spent 10+ years listening to speeches while presiding over the National Assembly as Speaker. A Member has a half an hour during a debate to present his/her arguments. Thereafter he/she has to obtain the permission of the House for every additional 15 minutes. After 20 minutes of listening to a speech, I could sense that the interest of Members would begin to wane. After 30 minutes, more than half the Members are not paying attention. I advised younger Members to limit their presentations to half an hour. Few listened. Using this experience, I decided that readers would prefer articles of limited length, however interesting. I therefore decided on an arbitrary limit of 875 words. I rarely ever go beyond my self-imposed 879 words. Stabroek News does not limit me. Relying on these basic principles I have been miraculously able to sustain a weekly output for 10 years. I would not have thought it possible.
What does all of this have to do with Christmas? Nothing! But these personal reflections came flowing as I contemplated my about ten-year anniversary of writing at this Christmas time.
Having no subject today, the occasion of Christmas also took my thoughts to Jesus Christ on poverty. I had written extensively about this before, as well as the existence of extreme poverty in Guyana and the absence of any direct and consistent efforts to eliminate it. While I do not have enough new material at hand to purposefully write again about these matters, I merely point out that there are vast pockets of extreme poverty in the city, towns, rural communities and in the hinterland. They are sometimes visible in the city but rarely so in rural communities and in the hinterland. We read of no direct, sustained, efforts to make an immediate impact on extreme poverty in Guyana. Spending on infrastructure, health education and social programmes do not directly alleviate extreme poverty.
A recent study by the World Bank concluded that the national poverty headcount, the share of the population living below US$5.5, is the highest among the Latin America and the Caribbean region at 48 percent in 2019. If true, and it is hardly believable, this is a damning conclusion. There is no indication of the percentage of extreme poverty within this group, but it must be substantial.
Let‘s hope that while we celebrate our joyous Guyanese Christmas, we remember the disadvantaged and commit ourselves as a nation to eliminate extreme poverty by the next Christmas.