Tony Vieira's Comments
18 October 2017

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Corporal Punishment
(Aired 19 December 2006)

   I suppose that it had to happen sooner or later i.e. that public pressure would place me in a situation where I would be forced to do a new commentary, I have to tell you that the public pressure to start these commentaries again was fierce, one very close friend of mine, himself leader of a political Party, said to me that he has stopped watching TV since I stopped doing these commentaries, and then something else happened in Parliament on the 14th December 2006 which finally made up my mind, I will tell you about it next time, but for now I am officially informing you that I am going to continue to do these commentaries they will come immediately after the evening news, that will continue to be my view since I am first and foremost a broadcaster and then everything else after.

  But this time I want an undertaking from you, the members of the public, that these commentaries will not just be entertainment, they will be a guide to action that you need to take to level the playing field in this country so that every man, woman and child is entitled to share in the national pie and have access to justice.

  Now for the commentary.

   The controversy concerning corporal punishment in our schools has surfaced and this time it apparently will not go away. When the Guyanese people say, enough! Its time to sit up and take notice. And they are saying no to, CP; and they are saying no to Casino Gambling, CG. 

   My personal position on corporal punishment is this, my son Joseph probably the most botheration child of 10 in his school, since he takes after his father, does not get licks, and the reason that he does not is because I have the economic capability to send him to a private school. So the question becomes; is it fair that the teachers in my son's school have to discipline him without beating him, whilst some poor child whose parents cannot afford to pay for him to go to a private school has to be whipped to maintain discipline.

  What ever happened to detention or writing lines which was the kind of punishment I got when I was young? Is the government's inability to pay the teachers a proper salary contributing to us having to beat the children of the poor people in this country to keep them in line?  

   Now I want it to be clearly understood that I am not plugging anything for me personally here, but I have found that people like me who come from financially well off families have more compassion for poor people, than poor people who suddenly find themselves in affluence. We give more of our time and resources to non governmental organizations and our churches, some even give more than they can afford to keep up appearances and to maintain custom but that is the way we are.

   In my journey through life I have found that poor people who have had to climb out of the pit of poverty do not have time for those who are left behind in that pit after they have climbed out, I guess that since they got out of it, they think that anyone who is in it can also get out as well, but its not so, a lot has to do with luck, doing the right thing at the right time sometimes without even being aware of it can lead to success and affluence. Even those who achieve political prominence invoking their humble beginnings are part of a system that ultimately subjugates the poor and does not empower them; Guyana today, is a good example.

   I would like to remind you of the numerous occasions when I have said that heavy construction by governments facilitates the corruption perpetrated on nations by their public officials, there is no kick back in giving the teachers a better salary, but if you renovate a school building a lot of the money for the project goes into corrupt hands, it may be as much as 30% according to most accountants and economists who have looked at this problem worldwide.

    Renovating school buildings does not create better and committed teachers or improve the education system, paying them a better wage does!

  Now let's look at the facts, to get the facts we must turn to our National Budgets over the past few years, and in them we find that the total salaries of the Ministry of Education, now this is all salaries from the PS to the cleaning people, in 2003 was 1.31 billion and in 2006 it was estimated to be 1.4 billion so the employment cost of the teachers and all of the other people in the Ministry of Education only rose by 90 million in the 4 year period 2003, 04, 05 & 06 i.e. 1.6% per annum, but the cost of running the whole Ministry, including construction, was 6.3 billion in 2003 and 6.8 billion in 2006 a total rise of 500 million, so the construction, corruption and renovation of the school buildings continues apace but the teachers are getting practically the same salary since 2003 certainly much lower than the rate of inflation since we have given a 6.4% increase in pay to our teachers since 2003 whilst inflation rose by nearly 30% during the same time.

   So the first question has to be when exactly will all of these dilapidated buildings that the PPP allegedly inherited be fixed? Nowhere else in the Caribbean did I find this ridiculously low amount of only 1/3 of the total education Budget being the actual teachers salaries, most other places the salaries constitute a considerable part of the Ministry of Education's budgets.        

   So there should be more accountability and less corruption in how these schools are being renovated, they should be done to a higher standard so that they would last longer and the teachers should get a better salary and we should stop beating the children of poor people! Isn't it enough that they are the poorest children in the Caribbean with all of the deprivations that goes along with that fact, do we have to add injury to insult and beat them too?

    Now we come to the real crux of the matter and for this I have to broaden the issue to encompass all of the areas where human rights are being violated in this country, at the 68th session of  International Service for Human Rights held in New York on the 13 to 31 March 2000, The Committee expressed dissatisfaction with the State party of this country, the PPP, since it was not properly addressing the list of issues it had promised to do previously. The International Human rights people welcomed the enactment of the Domestic Violence Act in 1996 and its subsequent extension to children. The Committee noted, however, that these laws are seldom applied in Guyana!

   The Committee also expressed concern that the current national Constitution does not integrate all the rights incorporated in the international Human Rights Covenant Guyana signed and therefore those rights cannot be enforced. Experts questioned in particular the mechanisms for enforcement and remedies in the case of human rights violations, allegations of extrajudicial killings by police and wide scale brutality which persist here. The Committee also questioned the independence of the Police Complaints Authority, the prevalence of part-time and temporary judges and it expressed concern about our abominable prison conditions. The Committee also questioned whether the arrest of suspects was in accordance with Article 9 of the Covenant.

   Women's rights were another major area of concern, notably in relation to marriage, divorce and inheritance. The Committee expressed concern about the death penalty, freedom of expression and the lack of equality before the law for minorities, particularly Amerindians.

   So we as a nation have signed covenants since 1996 to prevent many things which are still going on today, when we look at the situation in this light it becomes a concerted plan of systematic deprivation of rights such as freedom of speech, freedom of association, the right to be protected by a proper police force, the right to justice, the right to be incarnated with dignity and compassion, in other words all of the benefits that the international human rights bodies incorporate in the covenants we signed which would protect our rights and allow us to be treated like human beings, so this CP is part of a much bigger problem and not just an issue of just how much licks we will give the children of our poorer people in our schools.

   In the same year 2000 Amnesty International informed the world that quote "As Guyana begins the process of rewriting its constitution, it has an immediate opportunity to put its commitment into practice and to ensure that the fundamental human rights enshrined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights [ICCPR] are incorporated into the new constitution, as recommended by the Human Rights Committee,'' the organization said.
    Amnesty International also urged the government to pay particular attention to recommendations concerning the use of excessive force by law enforcement officers; the imposition of the death penalty; the obligation to treat people deprived of their liberty with humanity; the detention of children with adults; and the detention of young children generally. Even today I am not sure that anything has changed.
  Amnesty International has repeatedly expressed concern that the use of force by law enforcement officials in Guyana appears to be excessive in many cases. The organization welcomes the Committee's recommendation that, ''all allegations of extra-judicial killings and excessive use of force should be promptly investigated by an impartial body, and measures taken to ensure the prosecution of offenders, and to provide effective remedies to victims. All law enforcement officials should be thoroughly trained in international human rights standards".
   The organization also renewed its call for the Government of Guyana to withdraw its reservation to the Optional Protocol of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights [ICCPR]. The Optional Protocol allows persons to bring individual complaints of violations under the ICCPR to the attention of the Committee. ''It is now time for the government of Guyana to show its commitment to human rights in deeds and not just words,''

    So this is the situation, it's not just this question of whether we should be beating our children in the schools or not, we already signed protocols that we will not ill treat them in the schools or indeed even at home since 1996, it is part of a systematic deprivation of numerous rights insidiously and deliberately, Mark Benchop is a good example, because our government has not signed the optional protocol of the ICCPR he cannot approach the international courts on human rights for recourse or an expeditious trial.