being in berbice

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Lying idyllic, under warm sun or lush rain, like a sprawling picture of paradise, Berbice promises its people an experience of exotic, prosperous charm.Yet, “promises are comfort only to fools”, Berbice resident, Mahaise Ramjas, says.

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  • STABROEK NEWS, Thursday, August 15, 2013 Page 3A by Shaun Michael SamarooLying idyllic, under warm sun or lush rain, like a

    sprawling picture of paradise, Berbice promises its people an experience of exotic, prosperous charm.

    Yet, promises are comfort only to fools, Berbice resident, Mahaise Ramjas, says.

    Ramjas, 60, says he knows what that proverb feels like. Elected on the slate of the political party, the Peoples Pro-gressive Party/Civic (PPP/C), to the local village council in 1994, Ramjas today voices vociferous regrets for his Council role.

    Ramjas said that the 1994 democratic local government elections promised Berbice serious community development. Now, two decades lat-er, his indignant voice echoes across the land in stinging protest against lack of development in his community, poor local government adminis-tration and deep disappointment with the Party, the Minister of Local Government, Regional authorities and the local Interim Management Committee (IMC).

    Ramjas passion for his community comes across with loud seriousness. He wants to see his neighbours live the Berbice promise. He works hard to overcome the broken system that sti-fl es that promise. His loud, vociferous voice resonates across the Corentyne, his complaints falling off on seemingly unresponsive offi cials, while his passion, his belief in the Berbice

    promise, pushes him to protest with undying determination. Ramjas re-fuses to give up. He pushes on, fi ghting for Berbice to feel its potential rise from its fertile fi elds.

    Ramjas welcomed Sta-broek News to his home at Adventure Village on the Corentyne, with his family gathered under his sprawl-ing Victorian-style house, sitting in comfortable ham-

    mocks or on a wooden bench, the wide open yard housing a muddy red trac-tor and a sparkling new, sturdy iron pump, painted grey, that he built to pump water from his rice fi elds.

    He wants Stabroek News to publish his story, hoping that he could see action from offi cials about his concerns. In the media, he sees hope for his citizen

    voice to play its real role in the democratic body politic, a role that the political sys-tem failed to pro-duce.

    After Minister of Local Government, Ganga Per-saud, and Prime Minister Sam Hinds sat in unrespon-sive silence in Parliament when House Speaker Ra-

    phael Trotman asked each a direct question concerning local government elections, on July 22 last, Stabroek News chose to showcase the impact on local com-munities of a 19-year lapse in local government elec-tions.

    This newspaper found that the devastating impact, on the ground, across the country, of the lack of lo-cal government elections, leaves Guyanese citizens feeling fed-up that Central Government and Parlia-ment could not enable them to govern themselves, for so long.

    Ramjas voices that fed-up feeling with particular eloquence. He articulates the voice of the Guyanese people, and echoes the heart of the nation. Without local government elections, communities across the land suffer from an inertia that leads to a devastation of the inner core of the Guyanese nation.

    Ramjas feels it, and de-spite facing hopelessness for 19 years, fi ghts on with passion and purpose.

    His neighbours, the Bis-soondyal family of Adven-ture Village, Corentyne, know what hes talking about, and themselves face trying days, because local government fails their com-munity.

    Chandrawatie Dipnarine and her husband, Bisoon-dyal, married in 1958 with big dreams for their future, now mark their 30th year in the village.

    Their six grown kids all work the land in the Coren-

    BerbicePromise

    failsHe articulates the

    voice of the Guyanese people,

    and echoes the heart of the nation

    in

    Being Berbice

    stories and pix by Shaun Michael Samaroo

    PEEVED RICE FARM-ER: In pix, Mahaise Ramjas, with his tractor at Adventure Village, Corentyne, Berbice

    Turn to Page 4A

  • the minutes at a Council meeting. Thereafter, month after month, we would meet and the situation was never addressed or resolved. No action. You get fed-up and quit.

    Ramjas quit the Council and organized 150 farm-ers in a private consortium called the Central Coren-tyne Farmers Group, in 2007.

    These farmers, ignoring the local government sys-tem and the newly installed IMC, sourced funding from a foreign funder, the Cana-da Hunger Fund, and each of the 150 member farmers received $180,000 worth of seed, pesticide and fertiliz-er. Ramjas scorns the way Central Government deals with his community. The Minister of Local Govern-ment, Ganga Persaud, in-stalled the IMC in secret.

    I was once a Councilor on the NDC that the IMC was replacing, and I was not in-vited to the installation of the IMC, he said.

    Ramjas said he feels the Party treated him with dis-dain and disrespect. My father, one of the original family who bought the vil-lage of Adventure, worked on and helped build the home of Dr Cheddi Jagan. And this is what we get for that kind of loyalty. I told that to (former President Bharrat) Jagdeo once, and I asked him how we have to pay lease plus rates and tax-es for farmland. He prom-ised to look into the prob-lem, but so far no solution.

    He said he lost trust for the Party after his expe-rience serving at the lo-cal government council. Frankly, right now, I doubt I would see local govern-

    ment elections again. It has been so long. All promises, and nothing. I wont trust them anymore. I was at a meeting in Georgetown last year, and stood up and said that to the audience, which included President Ra-motar and former President Jagdeo, and the diplomats, including the US Ambassa-dor and the Canadian and British High Commission-ers. None of the local lead-

    ers responded. Only the Ca-nadian High Commissioner told me I hit the nail on the head, Ramjas said.

    He plants 45 acres, and laments his expenses, in-cluding having to drain ca-nals with his own capital. He built a steel pump, cost-ing $300,000, and it sits in his yard waiting for trans-port to the backlands.

    Government places no emphasis on agriculture

    now. They focus on gold because thats making money, and they leave us the farmers. We feel aban-doned, he said.

    Ramjas father, Bhoj Ramjas, bought land in the village in 1966, with the promise that prosperity would result. But the State fails to engage the farmers, with the Guyana Marketing Corporation, National Ag-ricultural Research Insti-

    tute and other State agen-cies mandated to develop agriculture, all absent from his community.

    Even the IMC, with its offi ce in the village of Kil-donan, seems distant and alien to Ramjas and his community.

    Once housed at the Pat-terson Hall, a community centre funded with funds from the Social Impact Amelioration Programme (SIMAP), the IMC now operates from a derelict, di-lapidated, dismal shack that is falling apart.

    It sits on a plot of land that a local resident donat-ed to the Council, and the building was knocked to-gether from used old wood that the Patterson Hall management gave to the Council. The old wood was dismantled garbage from renovations at the Patterson Hall.

    Patterson Hall lies across from the derelict IMC building, with a sign out-side the gates and hut hous-ing a security guard an-nouncing to the world that the Guyana Elections Com-mission (GECOM) offi ce is situated there.

    One resident, a re-mi-grant rice farmer who left New York to come home after the PPP/C won Gov-ernment in 1992, pointed out the irony. If they cared about local government, would they do this? This is mind boggling. Here you have the local government offi ce housed in a shack, which is shameful and shocking, and across the street is GECOM, housed at the place where local government was, and look where they put the offi ce serving the people here.

    The resident refused to be named, expressing concern against political victim-ization, which is terrible. I get favours from Party offi -cials, but its not enough. I plant rice, and they want to prevent farmers from dry-ing paddy on the roadway. They built a paddy fl oor for drying, but thats eight miles away at Bengal Vil-lage. Which farmer would drive their tractor and trail-er with paddy all the way there? But I cant criticize them openly, to the media. The backlash would be tre-mendous, he said.

    The man pointed out the roadway, which BK International re-built with a State contract, he said, noting that the re-built road is six feet narrower than the old roadway.

    Turn to Page 6A

    From Page 3Atyne, farming hundreds of acres of rice aback of their humble wooden house.

    Their son, Seeram, clad in black swimming trunks, and bareback, sitting with his Mom in the open-air bottom-house of their house, lamented that he could not clear the main trench draining their rice farms, as someone stole the battery off the hy-mac that the Region Six administra-tion had dispatched for the work.

    Instead of replacing the battery, the Regional of-fi cials trucked away the hy-mac, leaving residents feeling helpless. The morn-ing Stabroek News talked to the family, a village pos-se had petitioned the local IMC to get the Region to return a working hy-mac. Seeram said he listened to the promises of action, with skepticism.

    We suffer from drainage problems. My brother and me take care of the hy-mac, but since the battery got stolen, the Regional people moved it away. Now the ex-cess water affects our rice crop. The main farm access dam also needs repairs. We in a bad situation here, as harvesting will begin soon. The NDC does not work well, Seeram said.

    The family bought their land 30 years ago, becom-ing a part of the Adventure Village community.

    Adventure Village used to belong to a family who operated it during colonial t

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