Establishment of a national veterans commission3884 21 Nov, 2013
Establishment of a national veterans commission
Leader of the Opposition [Brigadier (Ret’d) Granger]: I rise to move the motion standing in my name calling for the National Veterans Commission to examine the conditions and circumstances facing the veterans of the Defence Force and the Disciplined Services to make recommendations to ensure their health and welfare and for the general administration of veterans’ affairs in Guyana.
Throughout the world, honour is paid to veterans of the defence forces and security services. In every state, men and women who protect the country and who protect life, who deter aggression receive special consideration. A little over two weeks ago in Guyana we held our own remembrance day paying honour to our veterans and those who died in the wars. The next day, another jurisdiction, the United States of America, held what is called Veterans Day, which had the same function, that of paying homage to the veterans who fought in the wars.
In Guyana, also, we have a special regime of national awards for the military services and disciplined services, that is, of course, when the Government cares to make those awards, now and then. Even our Head of State, the President, goes by the title of Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces perhaps as a sort of tribute to the role of the armed forces in defence of the state.
It is clear to see that the defence and security forces enjoy a special position in societies, all around the world. In addition to that, they go after the young, the fit people in society. Many young people, of course, are attracted to service in the military and disciplined services. Equally, the people who go after them, that is, the state, because there are mainly servants of the state, must accept responsibility when they are no longer young and fit, that is, when they are aged and sometimes disabled. It is with this, in view, that the motion has been brought to ensure that persons who have given their youth to the service of the state are not forgotten when they grow old.
This is nothing new. The call for a veteran’s commission is really a work in progress. There are already several non-governmental organisations which provide relief to veterans. The Guyana Legion itself... and - who else but the President is the patron of the Legion. The Hon. Prime Minister on Remembrance Day was there with a million dollar cheque supporting the veterans.
The Legion was established since 1926 and continues to work to bring relief to veterans. The Guyana Veterans Foundation was also established in more recent times because the Guyana Legion, at one stage, excluded persons who did not serve in the First and Second World War, but that role was amended. Another organisation called the Ex-GDF Association has been formed. Several organisations are already working and it is because these organisations have been working and sometimes not always working together that we sought several years ago to establish a National Veterans Commission in order to combine their efforts and bring the greatest benefit to the veterans.
With that in mind, veterans met former Prime Minister, now no longer with us, the late Ms. Janet Jagan since September, 1997 during the presidency of our Hon. Samuel Hinds. We also met a former Minister of Culture, Youth and Sport in an earlier incarnation in June 1998. We also met with former President Bharrat Jagdeo himself in February, 2000. We also met, as most roads lead, with Dr. Roger Luncheon, the Head of the Presidential Secretariat.
His task, it was, to set up a commission to examine the conditions under which veterans are administered. We agreed and he called upon the services of Mr. Neil Isaacs. An attempt was made under Mr. Neil Isaacs to collect information on veterans in all of the services and make proposals. There was something called a Veterans Commission that he had recommended some 13 years ago. This is nothing new and we are proposing, therefore, that we examine the conditions under several headings of which veterans are forced to live and work after they would have left their service.
We know, for example, that military organisations have existed in this country for over 250 years, from the time of the Dutch there was something called the “Burgher Militia” and these militias have continued up to the present day as reserves or volunteer organisations. The Guyana Police Force itself was set up in 1839, perhaps deliberately, just a few months after the Africans, who were enslaved, who would have been given their freedom. The police force seems to be set up to deal with the freedom.
Over the years, thousands upon thousands people have passed through the forces and we still need persons to continue to enter those forces. It is in our view that young people, who wish to enter the disciplined forces and defence forces, would be more attracted to them if they felt that at the end of their service they will be treated with respect and dignity.
It is for these reasons, therefore, that we proposed a menu of measures.
• First, that we decide through this commission what our national policy would be for the administration of veterans, those thousands of people who passed through the services each year.
• We called also for the establishment of a commission that will investigate those circumstances under which veterans live and work.
• We called, eventually, for the promulgation, through this House, of course, of a Veterans Act, so that young people would know what to expect at the end of their service.
• We recalled that a former Minister of Defence, whose portrait is before us, Mr. Forbes Burnham, our first Executive President, actually promised 10 hectares of land to every veteran, provided, of course, that he or she served honourably.
As veteran I look forward for my 10 hectares.
It would be, of course, noticed that when people enter the services, having just left school, their education level generally tends to remain at the entrance level. This is a pity. It means that when people are called upon to retire, and in the case of some of the people in the defence force they have to retire at age 40 - many people may not know that - their education level forces them to compete in the job market with people who are half their age. We need to examine the type of education to be given to persons in the military forces in order to enable them to get employment after they leave those services.
Mr. Speaker, you will know that during the troubles in this country, between 2000 and 2010, a motion still is to be debated in this honourable House, it is on the Order Paper and it will remain there, that several policemen were killed. In fact, more policemen were killed during the troubles than at any other time in the 174 year history of the police force. We must consider what happens to their widows and their children who were dependent on them. These are some of the factors which we need to consider when we think about the veterans administration and the affairs of veterans in Guyana. For these reasons, I invite our colleagues, I invite the Members of this honourable House, to approach this debate with seriousness. I must say that the Government has shown some inclination to do so. As you may know, just 96 hours before the last general and regional elections, on the 24th of November, 2011, almost, as it was a farewell gift, the former President did declare and opened the National Veterans Home in Lamaha Springs.
Veterans will always be with us and, as I said, if we want to make sure that our country remains safe we must be able to attract young people to come in and serve and the best attraction is to show them that once they serve they will be respected at the end of that service.
With these words, Mr. Speaker, I commend this motion to the House.
Thank you. [Applause]
Brigadier (Ret’d) Granger [replying]: Thank you Mr. Speaker. I think we have had a very frank and full debate on this matter. I am very grateful to our colleague Mrs. Catherine Hughes for the dimension she brought to this debate. There has been a growing percentage of women in all of our forces and, certainly, there are matters she brought to our attention which need to be considered as we discuss the situation of veterans as well, especially those in the Guyana Defence Force (GDF) who, as the Prime Minister acknowledges, are required to retire at the age of 40 or thereabout.
I would like also to thank my colleague Mr. Winston Felix who again was detailed in his presentation, given his years of experience and familiarity with the police and other disciplined forces, and the difficulties and challenges which some of them continue to face as they leave the force.
I am still trying to figure out what the Hon. Odinga Lumumba meant when he referred to an insurrection. For the one insurrection with which I am familiar, I happened to be on the ground the day after the insurrection broke out and there were five dead policemen on the ground. I saw the bodies myself. That is one of the justifications for calling for this commission. The presentation by the Hon. Robeson Benn I think would require further study before I respond to that.
What struck me is the final presentation by the Hon. Prime Minister. When I first saw him he was wearing khaki, government khaki from a long time ago when we were both in the Cadet Force, something like 45 years ago. [Mr. Hinds: 1960.] There you go, 53 years ago. I heard what the Hon. Prime Minister had to say but it is with deep regret I saw him turn his back on the thousands of veterans who can only depend on this House to improve the conditions under which they live. They cannot go to the law; they cannot go to the National Insurance Scheme (NIS). They have to look for a caring government, a caring administration.
As I pointed out, the non-governmental organisations have already started their work. We were in negotiations from the time of Mrs. Jagan, to Ms. Teixeira, to Mr. Jagdeo, to Dr. Luncheon, and there was an understanding and an acceptance of the fact that the veterans were living difficult and challenged lives and that is why a veterans commission was established to bring the veterans organisation together and study the conditions under which they live.
This is just a continuation of what was being done 13 years ago. I deeply regret the line which the administration has taken. In any event as all things come down to democracy we will have to see what the majority says.
I would like to thank all the persons who contributed to this debate and call upon this House to support our call for the establishment of the National Veterans Commission.
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