Frankly Speaking… By A.A. Fenty

-and Air Force One at Timehri!?
Perhaps two Parliament-related incidents, quite disparate – and, to me, most unfortunate –prompted me to pen this piece.
The first was the almost rancorous consequence of an innocent and accurate observation: that the late People’s Progressive Party (PPP) Member of Parliament Boysie Ramkarran was a remarkable wit who enlivened the Assembly’s debates with sharp, quick-fire but clean repartee, filled with relevant humour within the House’s Standing Orders and decorum.

Then, my Lord, what followed that initial observation in the print media was reflective of the partisan political constituencies’ inability to agree on anything! Subsequent letters descended into “debating” the abilities of Boysie and Burnham. The light banter about witticisms and wit deteriorated into larger roles of persons in the destruction of Guyana. Ho-Hum…

The other unrelated/related happening was the drowning of a junior Parliament staffer off the Sixty-Three beach on Sunday. A thoughtful deserving gesture by their boss was transformed into sadness for the closely-knit staff-members of Parliament Office. So perhaps it is my very oblique tribute to the deceased young man that I share with you some snippets of Parliaments past which I, in turn, discovered a few months ago.
Frank Narain’s Parliaments
How many persons do you know who have worked at one job in one location for more than fifty years? Half-a-century plus?
I know one. Frank Alston Narain was associated with Guyana’s Parliament from 1851 to 2002; fifty-one years, thirty-six (36) of which he served as the (CEO), the Clerk of the National Assembly of the Parliaments of Guyana. What discipline, what dedication.

A few years after the end of that record-breaking service, Narain compiled a most interesting collection of historical notes and records, under the title “Parliament of Guyana – From 1718 to 2006”. The collection was actually for the newer Members of Parliament who now sit in this Parliament, properly and officially described as “The National Assembly of the Ninth Parliament of Guyana”.

Many of us, loyal, concerned but patriotic citizens of the Republic have our own views and perspectives of the National Assembly and what transpires within the walls of that highest law-making forum where elected persons should be deliberating for our greater good. We, no doubt, have strongly held personal views of the type and quality of those elected officials put there by the various political parties.

Still others – when they assess the state of the country after 43 years of “independence” and thirty-nine as a Republic – are extremely and cynically indifferent to the Assembly as a whole.

However, especially for our nation’s young citizens, such as the young man who succumbed to the waves, I share just a sampling of Mr Narain’s notes with you.
After the Dutch Court of Policy (1718-1803) and various periods as a British Crown Colony with “Legislative Assemblies” even with a Senate for three years, we established a (First) “Parliament” in 1966, the Independence Year.

Between 1935 and 1953 Cheddi Jagan led the charge on behalf of the colonial working-class in the Councils, backed sometimes by H.N. Critchlow and others who dared to oppose the powerful vested interests and representatives of the Crown, the merchants and the upper classes in British Guiana.

Narain traces the Constitutional and governmental (then Parliamentary) transitions (even) of titles from such descriptions as Colonial Treasurer, Inspector General, Director of Education, Conservator of Forests, the Comptroller of Customs and the District Commissioners to what they are today.

In the 1830’s to qualify to vote, persons had to be paying specific taxes and by 1849 only male British subjects with certain property qualifications were allowed to vote. That was also when women’s right to vote was withdrawn. We learn, from the notes, of the appointment of the upper middle-class Speakers by the British Governors of “BG” and the 1953 and post-1957 legislators:

J.P. Lachmansingh, Chase, Clinton Wong, Van Sertima, Jesse Burnham, Sydney King, P.A. Cummings, WOR Kendall, Farnum and the Financial Secretaries (after the Colonial Treasurers), all in those Councils.

I must shamefully, concede that I did not know that it was Forbes Burnham who gave the “People’s Progressive Party” its name in January 1950.
For a full, comprehensive record of all the Legislative periods in our Constitutional and Parliamentary history; the political/electoral constituencies, the nature of the franchises, the names of political parties and entities (some forty-plus!) throughout the years, the changes in Parliamentary proceedings and officials, etc., etc., get hold of this document. We must pay tribute to people in their lifetime!
Lovely parliamentary trivia …
Expectedly, humour, levity, even the strange and the ridiculous happened during Mr Narain’s half-century serving the Parliaments.
For example, Do you know that: the first women legislators were the PPP’s three J’s? The first Afro-Guyanese M.P. was Alex Benjamin Brown (1891) And the first Amerindian, Stephen Campbell (1957)? The wife of a former President herself became President? The brother of an Attorney-General (PPP) became a PNC legislator? Two cousins were legislators – one PPP, one PNC?

And that: a father and daughter were legislators? An Opposition M.P. sat in the Prime Minister’s parliamentary seat? An M.P. sprinkled flour in the House? Another gave a loaf of bread to the Speaker and that Dr Jagan was suspended from speaking? M.P.’s also crowed like fowl-cocks, pelted the Speakers with a drinking-glass and slapped a Reporter! Are these incidents in or near the Assembly true? Check on them!
Air Force One in Guyana?
Suppose President Barack Obama wanted to come here to visit President Jagdeo and the Guyanese people, could his Air Force One Presidential Jet land on Timehri’s runway? Will the lights and the Traffic Controllers work?

Where would the US President stay overnight? Oh well. The highly-qualified and experienced US Ambassador in Kingston with the deceptively simple John Jones name,  would have briefed his State Department. They would have briefed Barack. Then would he come across to Georgetown from Port-of-Spain next month? Impossible? Oh well, think about it …
*  1) Again I ask: who owns the Globe cinema compound in Georgetown? And St Phillips Green?
* 2) Just as I was wondering about Paul Slowe and who should be Deputy Police Commissioner, I read something!
* 3) Deputy Georgetown Mayor, R. E. Williams is to “clamp down” on street vending. Ha!

* 4) The late PPP Parliamentarian Boysie Ramkarran, on the Merriman Mall, once kept referring to Forbes Burnham as “F. Burnham”. Repeatedly!
’Til next week!

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