Establishment of a National Heritage Commission4084 25 Jan, 2013
Brigadier (Ret’d) Granger: I rise to address the motion, which stands in my name, calling for the establishment of a National Heritage Commission.
The sight of scores of Amerindians protesting in front of the National Assembly during the Seventh Parliament in April, 1997, was unforgettable. Three organisations – the Amerindian Peoples Association, the Guyana Organisation of Indigenous Peoples and the Amerindian Action Movement of Guyana – congregated right here in Brickdam to express their opposition to what they perceive to be an affront to their dignity. Their entreaties were ignored and our international airport, first named in homage to our first people, was renamed to honour a single person. The Timehri International Airport (Change of Name) Act of 1997 was subsequently assented to.
The Public Holidays Act was amended to designate a particular day as Arrival Day, and that took place during the Eight Parliament. The decision to make the change was greeted with silent disapprobation by those persons who knew that their forbearers had arrived on different dates. The request by some indigenous people for a separate holiday to be observed as heritage day in September, similarly, was denied, but two new holidays, bringing the number of public holidays observed in the month of May alone to three, were created.
The sight of scores of African Guyanese, more recently, protesting against the proposed erection of a monument near to the seawall was yet another indication of an administrative misstep. It suggests that decision makers, once again, might have failed to fathom fully the feelings of persons who feel offended by the action being taken. The lessons of earlier cultural blunders seem not to have been learnt. The controversies surrounding the remaining of the airport, the creation of new national holidays and the erection of the monument do not measure the merit or demerit of the argument or the rights of these respective ethnic groups. They arose out of the absence of a clearly defined and publicly known national cultural policy. The controversies could have been avoided by a more inclusionary approach to governance and by a fervent commitment to national unity which are what this motion is all about.
The advantage of an inclusionary approach is inestimable. That was the approach taken by the former National History and Arts Council which, within a year of independence in 1967, devised new national holidays to observe the Hindu festivals of Phagwah and Deepavali and the Islamic festivals of Eid-ul-Adha and Youman Nabi in addition to the existing Christian festivals of Easter and Christmas. These measures, arrived at consensually, have remained essentially undisturbed for over four decades. There is a lesson there. Attempts to resolve questions of culture and identity by majority decision or worse, by minority decree, could have costly and unanticipated consequences. There can be only one majority, but there are many minorities.
Discrimination diminishes our humanity and erodes national unity – bruises, small at first, festered to degenerate into gangrenous abscesses. A single spark of resentment can become a raging inferno of hatred which can take generations to extinguish. People may love in haste, but they hate at leisure.
Guyana is made up largely of the descendants of migrants from other continents. We, gathered here in the National Assembly, meet beneath the portraits of former Presidents whose forbearers were brought here from at least three continents to this fourth continent.
This Assembly is the custodian of the unwritten national contract made nearly five decades ago to build one nation of one people with one common destiny, the words which are carved on wood above your head, Mr. Speaker. We, the heirs of diverse cultural strains, have a continuing commitment to consummate that contract. We have an obligation to provide the leadership to unite our peoples. We have a duty to prevent the deliberate falsification of facts or the invention of a version of history that venerates one group whilst it vituperates another. We must forestall any folly that might prolong the nightmare of insecurity and disunity or that can lead us down the path of deeper distrust and disorder.
Our country comprises groups with different customs. All of our people, nevertheless, are united by being Guyanese. Our ways of life form part of the tapestry of our country’s identity and culture. Promoting pride in our Guyaneseness, in our culture and in our identity can help us to learn from each other’s cultural beliefs and practices and can help us to understand and respect each other. Our identity is the single most important factor in national integration. Our identity reinforces our sense of self-worth, self-esteem and self-confidence. Our identity determines whether we want Guyana to be merely a geographical expression or whether we want it to evolve into a community of people working together for our common good.
The Constitution of the Co-operative Republic of Guyana is our supreme law. It declares in article 35 that the State honours and respects the diverse cultural strains which enrich society and which seek constantly to promote national appreciation of them at all levels and to develop out of them a socialist national culture for Guyana. The Constitution, in its preamble, also declares that we, the Guyanese people, proclaim our commitment to safeguard and build on the rich heritage won through the tireless struggle bequeathed us by our forbearers. It proclaims further that we should celebrate our cultural and racial diversity and strengthen our unity by eliminating any and every form of discrimination. The Constitution is the instrument that determines and directs how we should be treated and how we should treat each other. It enjoins that all persons are born equal, have equal status and are entitled to equal rights. It prescribes, further, that no person should be treated in a discriminatory manner on grounds of race, place of origin, political opinion, colour, creed, age, disability, marital status, sex, gender, language, birth, social class, pregnancy, religion, conscience, belief or culture. The Constitution respects and protects our people’s cultural heritage and their way of life. The recognition of this fundamental principle and the appreciation of the need to encourage deeper understanding to foster greater respect and to promote national cohesion must guide a new cultural policy.
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) declares that cultural rights are an integral part of human rights which are universal, indivisible and interdependent. The flourishing of creative diversity requires the full implementation of cultural rights as defined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. UNESCO prescribes further that all persons have, therefore, the right to express themselves and to create and disseminate their work in the language of their choice and, particularly, in their mother tongue. All persons are entitled to quality education and training that fully respect their cultural identity, and all persons have the right to participate in the cultural life of their choice and conduct their own cultural practices, subject to respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.
Culture is made up of the ideas, customs and practices that are passed on from parents to their progeny. Culture is learned from the stories that elders and parents retell to their children in the home, in the Mandir, in the Masjid, in the church and in the school. Culture is also learnt through information and, sometimes, misinformation pervaded by the Government, especially one who most menacingly controls major television, radio and print media. The promotion, preservation and protection of a Guyanese culture therefore cannot be accidental. They must be deliberate acts of policy and the result of collective action.
Culture is described by UNESCO as a set of distinctive spiritual, material, intellectual and emotional features of society or a social group and that it encompasses, in addition to art and literature, lifestyles, ways of living together, value systems, traditions and beliefs. Culture, therefore, can be called the way of life of an entire society. It includes our codes of dress, language, manners, norms of behaviour such as law and morality, religion and rituals. It can be manifested in a set of symbols. Consider the visible symbols of our national identity, the messages depicted on some of our postal stamps or the impression made by the minting of two rather than three, four, five or six commemorative coins. What is the message being sent? The invention of these images should indicate an inclusionary policy rather than one that is likely to ignore the sensibilities and sensitivities of other groups.
Guyana needs a cultural policy in order to explain that our heritage is fundamental to our identity as a nation and to our success as a society. That policy must be based on an understanding that an integrative nation fosters an inclusive society and a confident citizenry. We need a national policy that recognises the important positive part that culture and heritage play in national integration. It is because culture does have a role to play that serious consideration should be given to promulgating a policy rather than pursuing the present higgledy-piggledy approach. No one benefits from the absence of a national youth policy; no one benefits from the absence of a national sports policy and no one will benefit from the absence of a national cultural policy.
Doling out dollops of cash to one or two ethnic groups, one or two times, a year is not a clear articulation of a coherent cultural policy. Public money must serve the public good. It should be expended to ensure equity, to educate everyone and to establish standards of excellence in the arts. It must enrich our national heritage by making it easy for everyone to be exposed to work that encourages integration, enhances our solidarity, energises the young and enriches the quality of human life. The National Assembly, for these reasons, is urged to establish a National Heritage Commission that is inclusionary in its composition and that is integrative in its ideology.
Such a Commission must be charged with the responsibility for the promulgation of a national cultural policy, in the words of our Constitution, one that “honours and respects the diverse cultural strains which enrich society and seek constantly to promote national appreciation of them at all levels...” The proposed Commission can be charged, also, at the more practical level, with the direction of commemorative events and the establishment of memorials which, as the Constitution prescribes, “Celebrate our cultural and racial diversity and strengthen our unity by eliminating any and every form of discrimination.”
Let us not sleepwalk into separateness. Let us take this opportunity to promote national unity. Let us look forward to enjoying a good life together in this land of our birth.
I must add that on Wednesday I did have a telephone conversation with the Hon. Minister of Culture, Youth and Sport and today I did receive from him a letter which was copied to you and the Leader of the Alliance For Change. Having listened to the Hon. Minister and having received his letter, I propose two minor amendments which I will formally introduce later. These were introduced at the request of the Minister of Culture, Youth and Sport who requested that we change the name that was proposed in this motion from the National Heritage Commission to the “National Commemoration Commission” and I have acceded to that request. The Hon. Minister also raised the issue that policy making should be the business of the executive and I have proposed also to amend the motion by inserting the words that “the Commission would be charged with making recommendations” in the resolve clause of my motion. It would make recommendations for the promulgation of policy. To my mind, I have agreed with the reasonable requests offered to me by the Minister of Culture, Youth and Sport, both in writing and in our conversation.
I, therefore, commend this motion to this House with the expectation that it will be unanimously supported as a motion that will promote national unity in this country.
Thank you Mr. Speaker. [Applause]
Brig. (Ret’d) Granger (replying): Thank you, Mdm. Deputy Speaker. I would like to thank my colleagues, Comrade Amna Ally, Mr. Sidney Allicock, and Ms. Catherine Hughes, from the Alliance For Change, for rising to speak in support of this motion. I think we all agree that it was an important Motion.
I would like to make sure that the record is clear that I did have contact with Dr. Anthony, both by voice and in writing, and that, in my mind, I agreed to the changes he requested in order to build consensus on this motion, the consensus the subsequent speaker spoke about. There is nothing that I was asked for or asked to do that I did not agree to in the interest of ensuring this motion goes through. All that I can see from the Government side is a desire to procrastinate. Even in the presentation of Ms. Teixeira, she made no specific demand for an amendment; she simply wanted a deferral. There is nothing that I did not agree to do. There is nothing before me that I have not considered.
I think we have come to a very sad realisation that the same Ministry which has failed to give us a youth policy, the same Ministry which fails to implement a serious sports policy, has now walked out on the opportunity of developing a culture policy. I think we have learnt a lot in this last 15 minutes. We intend to proceed because we are all Guyanese and we all know what is at stake. This motion had no other objective other than building national unity and ensuring that every single group in this country is given equal consideration as called for under the Constitution. It is a moment of some astonishment that the Government should walk out. Then again, I do not think many of us expected otherwise.
With those words, I said I would like to propose that this motion be adopted and I would like to call for the amendments to be included so that the motion should be adopted as amended. The amendments have been circulated and they have been seconded by Ms. Amna Ally.
Mdm. Deputy Speaker: Just bear with me a minute. I am trying to get a copy of the amendments.
Brig. (Ret’d) Granger: So, I have great honour in recommending that this motion be moved as amended.
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