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My missive to you today is the result of the severe depression regarding the situation surrounding the sitting Minister of Local Government and the implications it has. The Minister is accused of predatory behaviour, has committed sexual harassment during a contribution of his in the National Assembly and has publicly derided the professional work of female judges thereby committing an act of intimidation against the Judiciary by the Executive.
I would need to preface the rest of my letter by stating that I understand that persons have private lives and may have engagements with adult individuals, however, the expectation is much higher for a person of prominence in public life. When one agrees to serve our country, they agree to represent us as best as humanly possible in both their public and private lives, recognising that certain positions carry influence in both worlds. It is accepted that the distinction between the two spheres will become blurred, that there will be expectations in both, and that your private life will not always be your own.
While the Minister’s actions do not seem to bear legal or criminal consequences, they speak volumes as to who we are as a nation and not a good place to start if we are to realise His Excellency’s vision of “One Guyana”. The fact that the Minister has not resigned of his own volition and that the Government has not imposed any penalty on him, signals to the world that misogyny is rife in Guyana and sexual and wider misconduct is acceptable behaviour. It is made worse by virtue of the fact that Ministers are leaders – persons of political, economic, social and cultural influence. The lesson that is being set for our younger generation is appalling and will only serve to crumble the moral fabric of society.
Furthermore, the Minister’s behaviour is in direct contravention of the Order made under the Integrity Commissions Act, which requires the observance of a Code of Conduct for persons in public life. The Minister’s actions are against the Principle of Honour which states that Members of Parliament have “a moral obligation to preserve the reputation of their office” and Article 8 which requires that no person in public life “pursue a course of conduct which amounts to offensive sexual comments, gestures or physical contact…”.
The statement of the President reported by the media when he states that persons should “complain to the police” is of grave concern as whoever is advising His Excellency surely knows that it is not a purely legal matter but largely an issue of ethics, cultural deficiencies and gender rights. It is a matter that requires the Government to show where their values and principles lay. The allowance of the Minister to continue in his public role sends the message that the protection of the “boys’ club” is more important than our future as a country and our legacy. I know the President wishes only the best for our country and I urge him to act in a manner that shows us and the world where we stand.
The ABCE and other nations are watching. I am sure they understand the gravity of the current situation and that their relationships with Guyana may need to change depending on how the story unfolds. This Government championed themselves as defenders of democracy; if appropriate action is not taken, it would cause our partners to wonder if we are only defenders of democracy when it is convenient to us. If we are a democratic country then we are bound to listen to our constituents, especially regarding an issue such as this where a clear pattern of behaviour is discernible. It is my fervent hope that the Minister proves himself as deserving of the prefix “Honourable” and saves his Government, our President, and our country from further shame by voluntarily resigning.