Ruel Johnson lashes back at Culture Minister; bemoans ‘poor execution of cultural policies’

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Ruel Johnson.
Ruel Johnson.

[www.inewsguyana.com] – Winner of the Guyana Prize for Literature Ruel Johnson has taken Culture Minister Dr. Frank Anthony to task following a letter to the editor by the Minister of which Johnson was the subject. The Minister who endured months of criticism from the Writer lashed out in a statement on Friday (January 10) calling him delusional.

“It therefore behooves me to respond, with great sadness of heart, to the irrational, malicious, divisive, distrustful, ill-will and nonsensical ranting of Mr Ruel Johnson, who insists on writing delusional letters to the media against my person. The man has become my lone critic, his voice ringing loud with malicious discontent against my work. I cannot recall any incident where I would have occasioned such hatred in this man’s heart, but I must engage to let the public know of his delusional diatribe” Dr. Anthony had said.

However, the writer wasted no time in penning his response which ultimately calls for Dr. Anthony’s resignation as Minister with responsibility for the literary arts in Guyana.

“I have repeatedly accused him of being incompetent and obfuscatory and his letter only gives further confirmation of that, as well as reveals the streak of vindictiveness that he seeks to conceal from the public; if it is that he cannot withstand scrutiny, I repeat that he should resign and rest assured that my attention is going to be focused on whomever it is that he is replaced with since my concern remains the poor execution of cultural policy under this government” Johnson says.

The war of words continues. See Johnson’s full response below

 

Culture Minister: Dr. Frank Anthony
Culture Minister: Dr. Frank Anthony

Dear Editor,

he Minister of Culture, Dr. Frank Anthony is clearly highly discomfited by public inquiries into the operations of his Ministry, judging from the circuitous rhetoric, high vitriol and complete lack of substance in his ‘response’ (“Most of Johnson’s tirade seems self-absorbed” – SN, January 11) to my most recent interrogation of his failures on accountability and management with regard to the Caribbean Press.

 

Anthony:   His rants are self-evidently those of a determined hater, as The Caribbean Press has published more than 60 works since its launch in 2009.

 

The Minister is self-admittedly not a well-read man so I will ignore his use of teenage-girl lexicon to conveniently sum up my criticism of his management of the Press. I am going to repeat that I didn’t ask for the number of books being published by the Caribbean Press, I asked for the collections of contemporary fiction and poetry that Dr. David Dabydeen assured us that were “at the printers” a full year ago and which the Minister studiously avoids mentioning again.   When the Press was first launched, it was lauded as an avenue for emerging writers living in Guyana, yet the only two first time authors to have been published so far are the Minister’s daughter and David Dabydeen’s friend, none of whom have any record of achievement in writing outside of Dabydeen’s say-so, even as Dabydeen has accused every other local writer of being lazy and incompetent.  I also pointed out that the Minister has failed to account for the precise number of copies of books that have been landed in Guyana, when they arrived and where they are distributed, something else he completely avoids.

 

Anthony: Johnson’s reference to Parliament scrutinizing the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sport is nothing short of wicked and vile. Every Ministry in Government is accountable to Parliament.

 

I’m unclear how the Minister finds as “wicked and vile” my reference to the special attention both opposition Parliamentary parties promised to pay to the Caribbean Press’ operations, as outlined in the Kaieteur News article “Culture Minister will have to comply with audit of Caribbean Press funds” (January 6, 2014).  In the article, AFC MP Trevor Williams, the parliamentarian that Anthony referred to as being “satisfied” with his responses on the Caribbean Press last year, has, inter alia, the following to say, “We have been very skeptical of Dr. Anthony and anything that he comes with because he has not been forthcoming with pertinent information just like the rest of the government. He has not been transparent.”  And APNU’s Joe Harmon, “The Minister of Culture cannot expect that any allocation of funds in the budget will not be subject to the most intense scrutiny. We encourage the expansion of the Arts and we support the position of Williams as it regards the compliance with an audit. The Minister must understand that when it involves funding we want transparency and this proposal he is coming with will undergo careful and intense inspection.”

 

I would think this, as well as a previous AFC column (“A tenure characterized by inaction, Part 1” – KN, 1 Dec 2013), written by Mr. Williams detailing his failures in the area of sport, and a Transparency International article “The Caribbean Press and the Fiction of Accountability” (SN, 4 June 2013) should have been enough to burst whatever delusional bubble that the Minister exists in to declare me his “sole critic”.  Journalist Gordon Moseley has several times criticized his handling of Mashramani, and his own Drama Festival Director, Godfrey Naughton has this past week accused him of duplicity in the handling of the late payment for participants in last year’s National Drama Festival – the Minister narrowly avoided the picketing of his Ministry by those affected after they threatened to publicise the issue further by finally arranging payment.

 

 

Anthony: No Minister is answerable to Johnson. Instead we are answerable to Parliament…

 

This shows that Anthony has an abominable understanding of precisely how democracy works.  While the legislature plays a crucial role in executing the will of the people, that power is representative and derived from Johnson, Singh, Teixeira, Ram, Kissoon and every other citizen of this country.   The Minister keeps forgetting his place as a public servant and thus somehow feels he is not answerable to a member of the public, or civil society, or the media, none of which occupy directly any seat in Parliament.

 

Anthony: Carifesta XI: Guyana sent 171 persons…

 

I suppose this is in response to my accusation that the Ministry sent no writers with the national contingents to either the Inter-Guianas Cultural Festival (IGCF) or to CARIFESTA.  While he ignores the IGCF issue altogether, he boldly lists my name as one of the people “sent” to Suriname last August – I went to CARIFESTA on my own after the inability of the organisers to follow up on an approach they made earlier in the year for me to represent Guyana.  While I am grateful for the display space made available, had I not paid my own travel, accommodation and food, and had I not independently signed up as a presenter, not a single writer would have been there to represent Guyana at CARIFESTA.  The Minister lists the four people – two librarians, a storyteller, and a children’s puppeteer (all of whom performed more than ably in their respective roles) – who officially represented the Guyanese “literacy [sic] and arts community” (clearly and tellingly confusing the words “literary” and “literacy” twice in his bit of diatribe) and sees that as adequate literary arts representation in a country that has the only national literary award in the Anglophone Caribbean.

 

Anthony: I refuse to engage Johnson in his other various accusations and rants, and would suggest that he rest assured that everything I set out to do regarding the Press will be done.

 

I’m unclear as to what it is that the Minister has to set out do regarding the Press, but if the current situation is an indication of it, then I cannot rest assured since what we’ve had from Anthony is consistently poor accountability, obfuscation, incompetence and the failure to stick to public promises concerning the Press.

 

For example, as Stabroek News of March 3, 2010 informs us “Minister of Culture, Youth and Sport Dr Frank Anthony, during his presentation on the 2010 Budget, said that a special essay competition would be held in schools during the academic year and the 30 best essayists would be chosen to attend a workshop in August with Professor Dabydeen.  Dr. Anthony explained that during the workshop, these young writers would develop creative pieces which they would perform in December at the Festival of Words in honour of National Poet, Martin Carter. These creative pieces would also be published the Minister said.”

 

Four years later, no special essay competition, no Dabydeen workshop, to Festival of Words, no publication.

 

In May of 2011, a small group of people were informed by e-mail that read (all claps included), “The Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sport is publishing an anthology of contemporary poetry and you are invited to submit by May 19, 2011 samples of your work (about 5 pieces)Timely submission will ensure Prof. David Dabydeen gets a chance to examine our work before we meet with him any time after May 24, 2011. Further, you must be prepared to meet with Dabydeen for additional discussion on the composition of the anthology. The anthology will be published by THE CARIBBEAN PRESS.”

 

Three years later, no editorial guidance from Dabydeen, no publication of contemporary poetry – and I could go on, listing everything that the Minister seems to have forgotten with regard to his public commitments on the Press, from making use of local printers; to the establishment of a local office; to a children’s poetry competition for which entries were invited to be published by the Press yet no results were announced and no publication made; to the establishment of an editorial board; to the basic publication of emerging local writers, the purpose the Press was established for in the first place, and which it has failed to do, five years and 60 titles after being launched.

 

The Minister desperately seeks to give the impression that I need him to “babysit” me when I have sought no personal favour from either him or the government; my travel, my publications and my awards were not dependent on anything from Anthony or the government.  What I need him to do is to display a modicum of competence and accountability in his portfolio, particularly with regard to development of local writing via regular workshops (another unfulfilled promise) and publication by the state funded mechanism established specifically to do just so, not for my benefit but for that of emerging writers in Guyana.

 

After his own lengthy and tedious tirade, the Minister has clarified nothing with regard to the most crucial questions concerning his mismanagement of the Press.  Instead of admitting error, for example and giving a revised date for the eventual publication of local writers, he pretends that no such question has been asked.  I have repeatedly accused him of being incompetent and obfuscatory and his letter only gives further confirmation of that, as well as reveals the streak of vindictiveness that he seeks to conceal from the public; if it is that he cannot withstand scrutiny, I repeat that he should resign and rest assured that my attention is going to be focused on whomever it is that he is replaced with since my concern remains the poor execution of cultural policy under this government.

 

Yours faithfully,

Ruel Johnson

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