I see that a great storm of dust has been raised regarding Minister of Education Priya Manickchand’s unfortunate behaviour in Parliament and her arrogant refusal to apologise to MP Jaipaul Sharma.
First of all, with regard to Ms Manickchand’s self-professed standing for all victims of rape and paedophilia, I can offer her actions in late 2009 in the midst of the allegations of solicitation of sex from a minor being levelled against her appointee to the Rights of the Child Commission, an employee of the Office of the President. Then parliamentarian Raphael Trotman in a press briefing upbraided the then Minister of Human Services for her failure to handle the allegations properly, even as she was piloting a comprehensive Sexual Offences Bill.
In a lengthy and obfuscatory response to Stabroek News (October 17, 2009), Ms Manickchand failed to touch upon the issue, prompting an editor’s note which read in part:
“Minister Manickchand focuses much of her contribution on the fact that comprehensive sexual offences legislation has been tabled in Parliament and that it is currently within the jurisdiction of a select committee. It has however taken her ministry three years to get to this stage and the decision to send the bill to a select committee is, of course, purely in the remit of the governing benches. When it suits this administration and speed is of the essence the mere formality of a select committee is dispensed with… Minister Manickchand should have been extremely concerned that such an allegation has been levelled against a well-known employee of the Office of the President. She, of all persons, should have been at the forefront of ensuring that this complaint is rigorously investigated so that her administration could not possibly be accused of double standards. Her public pronouncements so far and this letter in particular, evince no concern that a child could have potentially been the victim of an offence that may soon be specifically created by an act of Parliament.”
Her letter also prompted a terse rebuttal by the late Debbie Backer (SN, October 20, 2009), correcting her account of the actions of the select committee, and closing with:
“I trust that the Honourable Minister displays the level of maturity that is required by the holder of such an important office and apologises to all members of the Select Committee.”
Ms Manickchand’s rationale that her excuse to MP Sharma would be a betrayal of the victims of rape and paedophilia against this backdrop of her own government’s failure to proceed on implementing the provisions of the Sexual Offences Act, and her “See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” approach to allegations of sexual misconduct levelled against members of her own party, prove that the Minister is hypocritical at best, and at worst has no problem using the issues of rape and paedophilia for narrow partisan political interests.
Predictably, the PPP has circled the wagons in defence of this hypocrisy, even adding to it, and of course leading the chorus is Chief Whip Gail Teixeira whose theatrical false umbrage has officially reached the point of self-caricature. I would remind Ms Teixeira of the direction of said umbrage in a similar situation, last year, when APNU MP Vanessa Kissoon interrupted a presentation by Minister Robeson Benn by shouting, “Like father, like son.” Although no name was called, the reference was clearly to the fact that Minister Benn’s son had around that time had public allegations of serious sexual misconduct levelled against him. After PPP’s Bibi Shadick highlighted the heckle, Ms Teixeira stood on a point of order and said that the statement was totally inappropriate and should be withdrawn. Speaker Trotman, declaring that family should be left out, ordered that Ms Kissoon apologise, which she did with no objection from either herself or her colleagues in the opposition.
The irony is that during the present incident, the only PPP member who has had the decency to advise Ms Manickchand to apologise is, by her own account, Minister Robeson Benn himself.
Now we have the always comical Charles Ramson, with what he clearly believes to be linguistic acrobatics and rhetoric of the highest order, and not – as they are – “epileptic tantrums” on the page, in defence of the Minister (‘Speaker’s initial pronouncement against Manickchand was ultra vires,’ SN, April 8). Axioms and conflations and Mao’s third wife notwithstanding, if we are to cut through the contortions of logic offered by Mr Ramson, and agree with him that the initial ban on Ms Manickchand was “ultra vires”, it then stands to reason that Speaker Trotman’s insistence on ordering Kissoon to apologise was also ultra vires and misplaced, and hence should be officially rescinded. Unlike Ms Manickchand, Ms Kissoon after all called no names nor gave no political designation.
The beautiful thing with SC Ramson’s letter is that it offered no legal advice to the Minister, a lawyer herself, on the possible implications of recounting on Facebook an alleged victim’s account in a sub judice case, implications that his learned successor, AG Anil Nandlall also seemed completely oblivious to when he had his own ‘epileptic tantrum’ and shouted in Parliament, in defence of Manickchand, “But Sharma get charged.”
More than most, I honestly understand the usefulness and necessity of spin in politics. But it is not spin when your rhetoric and behaviour are directly contradicted by facts readily available in the public domain, particularly on such serious issues – it is simply garden-variety ignorance, arrogance and unbridled hypocrisy. If any struggle continues in Guyana, it is against these three qualities that have become typical of the PPP’s behaviour, as an executive government and a parliamentary minority.