Education Minister under fire for “chhatri” response to Diwali, Phagwah dates mix-up


-IAC calls for apology says it is “shocked and outraged”

Thursday’s session of day four of the 2018 Budget debate got underway with the Opposition Members of Parliament roasting the Government’s education policy – especially towards the hinterland.

While breaking down in tears, Education Minister Nicolette Henry launched a robust defence of not only the Government’s budget and her sector, but also instances in the past when she confused the dates of two of Guyana’s national holidays.

Education Minister Nicolette Henry

In her rebuttal, Minister Henry noted the magnitude of the budgetary allocation for the education sector while questioning the merits of the $10,000 ‘we care’ cash grant the coalition Government discontinued.

Henry was faced with constant heckles; however, regarding her previous faux pas in which she fumbled the dates of Diwali and Phagwah during public speeches. In response, Henry said: “I am not a chhatri, so I may not know when is Phagwah and Diwali. But I know what it takes to run an education sector.”

A dogged Henry forged on against the consternation of the Opposition side, even noting some of the projects being rolled out, including a condition survey to be used to ascertain the state of educational facilities, to determine the scope of maintenance works needed on a national basis.

“I have to say, Mr Speaker, that while we have not gotten everything right, we have always put the people first. Transforming the education system is not easy and we will encounter challenges along the way. But it is a necessary journey that we will have to take.”

However, the rosy picture painted of education in Guyana was contradicted by People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) Member of Parliament, Allister Charlie, who lambasted the Government for what he referred to as the under-funding of school projects in the hinterland.

According to Charlie, the so-called “good life” being promoted by the Government was not being experienced in the hinterland and, in fact, less was being done for Indigenous people now, than ever before.

PPP MP Allister Charlie

The MP took the Government to task for a number of stalled infrastructure projects, including those related to the education sector. He pointed to a number of projects that have rolled over into 2017 and have not started.

“These projects are the construction of the Tabatinga Nursery School in the municipality of Lethem; Aishalton Nursery School in the Deep South of Rupununi; Quiquan Nursery School in South Pakaraimas and teachers’ quarters in Sand Creek, South Central Rupununi. It is public knowledge that the contractor has received final payments for the projects pending 10 per cent retention.

“Yet, all capital projects remain at standstill and incomplete. The opening of the new nursery school and teachers’ quarters was highly anticipated by parents, teachers, and the disappointment is indescribable. Where is the Minister of Education? You and your government have promised transparency. What is happening here?” he questioned.

calls for apology

Meanwhile, The Indian Action Committee (IAC) has said it is “shocked and outraged” by the insensitive ethnic remarks made by the Education Minister during her Budget Debate presentation.

The IAC, in a statement, said it recognises that this Government minister has been in a controversial situation before, when she referred to ‘Phagwah’ as ‘Diwali’, but the organisation had at the time excused the minister’s lapse, given that she was new on the job, even though, as a Guyanese, she should have known the difference for many years.

The IAC has said that in this instance, having watched and listened to the video of the minister’s comment, in which she said the following words: “I am not a ‘chhatri’ so I may not know when there is Diwali or Phagwah…”, this performance by Minister Henry is being viewed as one which demonstrates an arrogant disdain for things Indian, thus illustrating unbecoming behaviour on the part of a Government minister.

The IAC says it strongly feels that Minister Henry is out of order, and has insulted more than half of the population of Guyana, who are persons of Indo-Guyanese origin.

The IAC has said it cannot make any sensible connection in the minister’s usage of the term ‘chhatri’, on the one hand, and Phagwah and Diwali on the other hand, given that the term ‘chhatri’ refers to one of the main Hindu castes of India, and Phagwah and Diwali are distinct festivals of India, and are national holidays of Guyana.

The IAC said it is “extremely bewildered by this statement of the Minister, given the fact that she was already embroiled in a controversy regarding the festivals of Phagwah and Diwali earlier in March this year, and the organisation, this time, will not excuse this Minister for her gross insult to Indo-Guyanese”.

The IAC, “in light of this uneducated outburst, has lost all confidence in Education Minister Henry, and is calling upon President Granger to ensure that she makes a public apology to all persons of Indo-Guyanese origin who have been insulted by her insensitive ethnic comment.”


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