Red flags point to Guyana’s democracy being under threat- FITUG

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FITUG’s President Carvil Duncan

The Federation of Independent Trades Unions of Guyana (FITUG) has registered its concerns with what it says are reg flags that democracy in Guyana is under threat.

Citing the sedition clause in the Cyber Crime Bill that, which it says, if enacted will stifle Freedom of Expression, the concerns raised over the tremendous amount of power conferred in the State Asset Recovery Agency (SARA) and the Special Organzised Crime Unit (SOCU) being used as a tool for bias persecution, FITUG says that they “should not be seen in isolation but instead regarded as representing a puzzle that is being assembled. At this time, we cannot forget that there are serious clouds of doubt hovering over the institutions charged with upholding democratic practices in our still fledgling democracy.”

According to FITUG “Just a few days ago several other civil society organisations, including FITUG, in an engagement with a visiting UNDP team, expressed several concerns with the ability of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) to deliver a creditable election. This view, shared by many of the organisations present, certainly must send chills down one’s spine and raises questions about whether we are going back to the time of electoral malpractices. We certainly hope that this is not the case, but the unilateral appointment of the GECOM Chairman has not been helpful in this regard. With National and Regional elections just two (2) years away, there is much work to be done for our people to repose confidence in our electoral machinery and bodies.”

See FITUG’s full statement below:

The Federation of Independent Trades Unions of Guyana (FITUG) taking a bird’s eye view of developments in our country has clearly determined that we are in a worrying state of affairs. In view of this, we find it necessary to express our serious concern as we see a rather dangerous situation appearing. Indeed, while the Federation sincerely hopes that this is not the case, we obviously at the same time, cannot disregard the red flags which have shown up.

Of recent, there has been, rightfully, a great deal of concern regarding the Cybercrime Bill. More specifically, several voices of condemnation have been raised against Section 18 of that Bill, which some have argued, will criminalize views that are not favourable to the Government. We find it hard to disagree with those individuals who and organisations which have expressed strong disagreement with that section of the Bill. In our view, as has been said several times over the last few days, that questionable section of the Bill will undermine our cherished and, more so, our constitutionally-enshrined Freedom of Expression. While we accept that our expression/views must not incite violence or hatred, we strongly contend that the sedition section has no place in our contemporary society. It is our view that this is a retrogressive step and represents a slap in the face of those who struggled in our country to ensure that the views of all Guyanese can be expressed without fear or favour. At this time, the FITUG joins in the call for the archaic provision to be removed from the Cybercrime Bill.

But the inclusion of the sedition clause, we believe, should not be seen in isolation but instead regarded as representing a puzzle that is being assembled. At this time, we cannot forget that there are serious clouds of doubt hovering over the institutions charged with upholding democratic practices in our still fledgling democracy.

Just a few days ago several other civil society organisations, including FITUG, in an engagement with a visiting UNDP team, expressed several concerns with the ability of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) to deliver a creditable election. This view, shared by many of the organisations present, certainly must send chills down one’s spine and raises questions about whether we are going back to the time of electoral malpractices.

We certainly hope that this is not the case, but the unilateral appointment of the GECOM Chairman has not been helpful in this regard. With National and Regional elections just two (2) years away, there is much work to be done for our people to repose confidence in our electoral machinery and bodies.

Then alongside those developments, we have seen the activation of SARA. We recognise, on this score too, serious concerns are harboured about this body and its work. Certainly, the extraordinary reaches of the SARA Act which gives immense power and authority to the body should not be forgotten and the reason/s for such reach should not, in our view, go without question. On SARA, the Federation has recognized, and at this time cannot discount, the view being expressed that the organization is pursuing certain ends. Then just mere days ago, we saw, in the press, an agreement being inked to formalize collaboration between SARA and the FIU. Whether this is legal or not is one matter, but given the nature of the FIU’s work, we wonder, among other concerns, whether it is indeed proper to have such an arrangement in the first place.

Along these lines, the FITUG, of course, cannot fail to mention the much-vaunted SOCU, which as we understand it, was meant to be the investigative arm of the FIU and to pursue matters relating to money laundering. It seems that this body’s mandate may have changed and, seemingly, its original intent has either fallen to the very bottom of its priorities or is not a priority at all. We say this recognizing, from reports in the press, that the body is only concerned with cases involving members of the former Government. FITUG condemns corruption in all its forms and we are consistent on this stance. However, we strongly believe, that charges of corruption must be clear and meritorious and the State machinery should not be used willy-nilly for any witch-hunting or hounding of persons of a political bias. There should not be resort to technicalities or to spurious grounds. Moving along that line, gives credence to the view that an arm of the State is being used to persecute citizens. Certainly, this cannot be condoned.

When the situation is looked at in its totality, we recognise a less than pleasing picture is coming together. It is somewhat of a textbook approach that has been employed in other countries where unpopular Governments seeking to maintain their grip on power have adopted measures which are seen as less than conforming to the rules and norms of democracy. It has had sad outcomes for those peoples in the countries where such tactics have been or are being pursued. It is not a situation that we as a people should face again. History has thought us the sordid lessons of the era when democracy was thrown by the wayside and the serious damage that was inflicted in our society. At this time, after nearly 52 years as an independent state, Guyana and Guyanese should not encourage or allow our country to descend into a failed state. Let us be ready to raise our voices at injustices and remember Pastor Martin Niemoller who famously said: “First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out – because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out – because I was not a Trade Unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out – because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me – and there was no one left to speak for me.”

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