A number of letters – Emile Mervin’s, ‘Will Mr Corbin step down as party leader?’; Joey Jagan’s, ‘Mr Corbin could not break up a coalition that he was never a part of in the first place’; and leader of the AFC, Raphael Trotman’s, ‘The AFC did not join the Third Force Platform and therefore could not be responsible for its collapse,’ which were published in Stabroek News on April 2, 8 and 10 respectively, and two others (one each by Jagan and Trotman) made very interesting reading on an important political development in Guyana at a critical juncture in its political history. Those letters alluded to the collapse of the Guyana Third Force (GTF) shortly after its birth and, in Mervin’s case attempted to link the Leader of the PNCR, Robert Corbin with the formation of the GTF and its eventual collapse.
By inserting itself in the discussions, albeit late, it is attempting to ensure that none of the details around this matter remain hidden. We strongly believe that it is only when issues of the kind under review are fully ventilated for public scrutiny and consumption, will readers understand and be in a position to pass judgment on the correctness of our behaviour. Further, WPA also holds the view that for too long, many of us who are participants in the political process, have pontificated on the need for working together in the interest of the people of Guyana, but have vacillated at the ‘nth’ hour to the detriment of the same people we claim to care about. The history of this country is replete with numerous such instances, the collapse of the GTF was just another in the chain and it has numerous lessons for those of us who believe that we are endowed with political leadership abilities. Until we are prepared to engage in a process with a commitment we claim to have but in reality fail to demonstrate; until we are prepared to abandon deceit and subordinate our personal egos and opportunistic tendencies; until we are prepared to demonstrate respect and trust for each other; until we not only resolve to work for but work actively to place the interests of the people of this country first, then and only then can we hope to move beyond where we are at this critical juncture in Guyana’s history. The failure of the GTF to go beyond where it had gotten to was as a result of a combination of all of these factors and as has been said before, has serious lessons for us.
Before going to the crux of the matter I would like to make a few preliminary points: Firstly, Joey Jagan must be congratulated for his fearless attempts to set the record straight on the GTF. I fully understand his angry response to Mervin and Raphael Trotman which are contained in the remarks in his letter. They are not unexpected and are consistent with the comments he made on that fateful day when GAP’s leader, Paul Hardy, pompously announced his party’s withdrawal from the GTF.
Second, Mervin could not have been more wrong on Corbin’s alleged role in the collapse of the GTF. As Joey said, Corbin was not anywhere near the GTF at its formation or demise. If truth be known most of the members of GTF wanted an arm’s length relationship with the PNCR and at least one member organization demonstrated what can best be referred to as a rabid hatred of that party and its leader.
Third, Joey was correct when he lamented in his letter, “I cannot understand why certain parties who were involved in the efforts in 2006 can sit by and ignore misrepresentations from a known supporter of the AFC. The ideology of ‘big tent’ politics within the third force was still being debated and no conclusion had been arrived at.” I regret my failure to add my voice earlier to Joey’s. However, my intervention, late as it is, serves to clarify one of his points and addresses another very important one, which he omitted. WPA holds the view that its inclusion is critical to a more developed understanding of the matter under review.
Fourth, the WPA on a matter of principle was not party to the discussions which other member organizations of the GTF were involved in with the AFC. While the WPA had warmly welcomed the AFC’s formation as a political party, we held the view that for as long as its leaders continued to hold on to seats that were not theirs legitimately, we were not prepared to dialogue with them. However, it would be remiss of me if I fail to point out that both the AFC represented by Raphael Trotman and the WPA represented by Dr Rupert Roopnaraine and yours truly were part of a large opposition party gathering that included the PNCR, GAP, ROAR, JFAP and NFA at the Georgetown Club, which looked at the implications of the 2006 General and Regional elections being held without GECOM meeting the much sought after demands of the then Joint Opposition Parliamentary Parties (JOPP). Verification of the 2001 electoral list was an important element in those demands. Incidentally, all of the participants at that meeting had agreed that unless those demands were met they would not have participated in the elections.
Fifth, at no time was the WPA involved in any discussion with, or was it part of any agreement with the PNCR on contesting the 2006 elections on a joint slate. That was never discussed by the WPA Executive Committee. Con-testing the 2006 elections without GECOM meeting the much sought after demands of the JOPP, was a no-go for the WPA. That position was made very clear to all the organizations which the WPA Executive was in contact with in the lead up to the elections. Whoever says otherwise is a barefaced liar. The arrangement we had with the PNCR and other parties in the JOPP was one which allowed for joint agitation to force GECOM to put in place arrangements which we felt were critical to the holding of free and fair elections whenever they were held. It is on the record that WPA stuck to its principled position of no verification no elections and did not participate in those elections because GECOM did not satisfy the conditions for free and fair elections in 2006.
Sixth, the question as to whether the WPA would or would not have participated in the 2006 elections and if it did so, how it was to be done, was one the party Executive would have had to engage WPA members and supporters locally and overseas, on.
My last preliminary point is about the conduct of the PNCR and its leader in the series of discussions which were held with them during the campaign for verification of the 2001 electoral list. Their conduct was always above board, and while Corbin may have harboured a desire for the development of a big tent arrangement, as far as I am aware he never sought to foist his desires on the other parties.
I recall the developments on the day of the collapse of the GTF as if they had occurred only yesterday. The day was another in the series of statutory meetings of the Guidance Council (GC) of the group, which rotated its chairmanship on a monthly basis. The incumbent at that time was Ravi Dev of ROAR. Each member party had representatives on the GC. WPA’s representatives were Dr Roopnaraine, Prof Clive Thomas and the undersigned. Dr Roopnaraine was not present at the ill-fated meeting. He had requested and was granted permission a couple of weeks before to travel abroad on personal business.
The intrigues began just mere hours before the scheduled 4 pm start of the meeting. Prof Thomas had called me at my office to indicate that he was contacted by Ravi Dev and was asked to attend an urgent meeting at GAP’s office at 3 pm that day, ie an hour prior to the commencement of the statutory meeting. The request for the 3 pm meeting which was being held in proximity to the one at 4 pm was an unusual one. In our opinion, whatever was to be discussed at 3 pm could have awaited the full meeting of the GC. Notwithstanding the foregoing I urged Prof Thomas to attend, which he did.
It should be noted (1) that the end of the 3 pm meeting coincided with the commencement of the 4 pm statutory meeting. There was no opportunity available for Prof Thomas to brief me on what had transpired at the meeting; and (2) at the GC meeting Thomas and I were seated on opposite sides of the room. Any chance to indulge in a whispered conversation was effectively ruled out. However, being who we are – members of the WPA – we did not find that to be a source of inconvenience and we therefore did not find it necessary to request time for Thomas to brief me.
Present at the commencement of the meeting were Hardy and Franklin from GAP, Dev of ROAR, Ramsaroop of Vision for Guyana, Clive Jagan of the Unity Party and Thomas and myself from the WPA. Joey Jagan, who at that time was still nursing a serious injury to one of his legs, had indicated he was going to be late. He arrived within ten to fifteen minutes of its commencement.
Immediately after the meeting was called to order Paul Hardy announced GAP’s departure from the GTF and gave as his reasons for doing so an agreement which he alleged was discussed and signed at the US State Department by Rupert Roopnaraine, Peter Ramsaroop, Joey Jagan and Robert Corbin, which bound the WPA, Vision for Guyana, the Unity Party and the PNCR to contest the 2006 General and Regional elections as a collective. Hardy went on to state that the person who provided GAP and ROAR with the information was Raphael Trotman of the AFC, who had indicated to them that he had obtained a copy of the agreement from a high official in the US State Department. Hardy also said that Raphael Trotman had promised to make a copy of the alleged agreement available to them and that he (Hardy) would ensure that “Everall Franklin dropped a copy to Thomas’ home before the afternoon was out.”
The allegation was also made that Dr Roopnaraine was known in the past to make agreements that were binding on the WPA behind the backs of members of its executive and this was another occasion on which he had done so. For the first time the details of what had transpired at the 3 pm meeting were made known to me and the representatives of Unity Party and Vision for Guyana.
Prof Thomas then intervened and asked that I explain to the meeting how decisions are made at the level of WPA’s Executive. He stressed that participants at the meeting were aware that because the commencement of the second meeting followed immediately on the conclusion of the first, he could not be accused of briefing me on the outcome of the meeting and therefore I would be speaking on the existing decision-making format in the WPA, as I knew it.
After I had spoken Thomas said that what I had outlined was consistent with what he had told them earlier and it was in keeping with an important principle in the party which allowed for decisions to be made by the Executive as a collective and not by any single individual. Prof Thomas went on to say that he was therefore reiterating his earlier position at the 3pm meeting that the WPA Executive had neither discussed nor had taken any decision to contest the election, either singly or as a collective, and regardless of what was being touted about Dr Roopnaraine, he, Thomas, knew that Dr Roopnaraine would not have signed such an agreement without it first being discussed and sanctioned by the party’s Executive. Further, he went on, as GAP had based its decision to withdraw from the GTF on uncorroborated evidence and in view of its clear distrust of the other parties named in the allegations, he believed that nothing should be done to dissuade the leaders of that party from the decision they had taken.
At the time of writing this letter and more than four years after the event the promised copy of the agreement had not been delivered to Prof Thomas’s home.
Joey Jagan had arrived during the course of the exchanges and after he was apprised about the developments he eloquently made his position known, in the course of which he was very explicit on who he felt was responsible for the breakup. Therefore, his response to Mervin and Raphael Trotman cannot be divorced from the reasons which Hardy gave in his attempt to justify GAP’s withdrawal from the platform and the source which Hardy claimed the “information” originated from.
If I am asked to say what my feelings were as we exited GAP’s building that afternoon I would say that I was under the distinct impression we were walking away from a group of con men who had set their sights on high stakes, which they believed could have been achieved only if they jettisoned the GTF platform. Peter Ramsaroop should be asked to explain his post-meeting theory of a ‘BS’ trying to ‘BS’ him Ramsaroop, the Chief ‘BS.’
It is interesting to note that none of the allegations against Dr Roopnaraine were ever made in his presence. Members of the public are asked to consider this situation and what it was intended to do – Dr Roopnaraine, an Indian Leader of the WPA is accused in his absence, of the commission of a number of grave offences, and Clive Thomas, a Black leader of the same WPA, is summoned to an urgent meeting to discuss the accusations against Roopnaraine, with the specific intention of getting him to sit in and pass judgment on a longstanding, long-serving colleague, in violation of the principles of natural justice, which the two of them had struggled so valiantly to uphold. If this was not an attempt to split the Black leader from the Indian one –divide and rule – I wonder what is?
WPA has never been in a position and has never sought to clarify the validity of Hardy’s claim that the accusations made against it and the three other organizations had originated from Raphael Trotman. However, the fact that the promised proof was not delivered indicated that it never existed in the first place.
It is clear that GTF was effectively dead on that day even though there was at least one other meeting before its burial finally took place. On February 24, 2006 in an email to member organizations Ravi Dev effectively read the GTF’s last rites when he again repeated the false accusations against the PNCR, WPA, UNITY Party and Vision for Guyana and announced his party’s electoral alliance with GAP.
Finally, in spite of its diminished resources and the underlying difficulties which are inherent in bringing and holding the various organizations together, WPA remains committed to initiate, as it has done in the past, and to participate if invited to do so, in any process, which is geared to advance the interests of the people of this country. Placing the interest of Guyanese first has always been a guiding principle of the WPA and that principle will never be relinquished.