I refer to Michael Maxwell’s letter in SN of July 20 in which he raises the pertinent question of my whereabouts ‘in the face of egregious venality’ of the PPP/C Government. The list of ‘venalities’ is indeed long.
Before answering Mr. Maxwell I would like to ask him where was he when the following took place:
1. The reduction of debt payments from 94 percent of the country’s earnings to 4 percent.
2. The increase in per capita income from US$300+ in the 1990s to US$1,200+ today.
3. Increase of expenditure in social services prior to 1992 from eight percent of the budget to 26 percent today.
4. The classification of Guyana by the IFIs from a highly indebted poor country to a low middle income country.
5. The reduction of extreme poverty from 47 percent of the population in the 1990s to 20 percent today (World Bank).
6. The large and small infrastructure works (Stadium, Berbice Bridge and billions of dollars in roads, sea defences, drainage and irrigation etc.).
7. The vast improvement in education and medical services.
8. One of the most dynamic low cost housing programmes in the region, if not in the world.
9. Fundamental improvement in electoral procedures supported by the Government at a cost of billions.
10. Constitutional reform to the full extent that was possible at the time even if some consider it inadequate.
11. Substantial reform in parliamentary practice and procedures.
12. The end of criminal terrorism and the mass slaughter of innocents including women, children and policemen.
I now tell Mr. Maxwell where I was. I was in Guyana helping in specific areas of electoral reform (1992 to 2001), constitutional reform (1999 to 2000) and parliamentary reform (2001 to present) for which I had direct responsibilities as members of those bodies and for which I am answerable. I am still responsible for the parliament.
But I should let Mr. Maxwell know that I was here long before 1992. I walked with my mother to the Conversation Tree in 1954 as she went to catch a hire car to travel to Georgetown to visit my father who had been imprisoned for breaking the emergency regulations. Even now I still remember painfully my childhood bewilderment at the tears flowing down her cheeks from the taunts of ‘jailbird’ as we walked along the road. I started selling Mirror in 1957. I was a polling agent in 1964. I actively campaigned (picketing, demonstrations, mobilization) against the rigging of the 1968 elections. I was a member of the Elections Commission in 1973 when election rigging reached its apotheosis. I was a member of the Arnold Rampersaud Defence Committee and of the legal team in 1976, 1977 and 1978. I was actively engaged in the ‘Kill the Bill’ campaign in 1978 and against the Referendum in 1979. From 1973 up to 1991 I was engaged in the defence of scores of PPP members and supporters locked up or charged by the police all over the country. I was active in the Bar Association on its executive (Bar Council) for 13 consecutive years from 1978 to 1991, serving as its Secretary for a period, daily engaged in the struggle for democracy and free and fair elections. I lectured and spoke widely. And so on.
Let us assume for the sake of argument that the government is guilty of the ‘venalities’ Mr. Maxwell refers to. Though a defender of the government’s record, I am not a member of it. I am a member of the leadership of the PPP and we are deeply conscious of the nefarious doctrine of party paramountcy, which some appear eager for us to return to, and on that basis to publicly dictate to and/or castigate the government.
Despite the fact that as Speaker I am obliged to maintain a neutral posture; and despite the fact that as a member of the leadership of the PPP I am required by our rules to display reticence in public comments as all members of all organizations are required to do unless they are prepared to resign, I have written extensively and, I hope constructively, on many of the issues Mr. Maxwell complains about. It is not my fault that he has not read them. If he does he will find some answers there about my views.
A great deal has been accomplished during the PPP administrations since 1992, under great challenges, particularly under the Jagdeo administrations. A few of these I have outlined above. Much more has been done and remains to be done in reducing ethnic insecurity, crime, corruption, police excesses, journalistic excesses, constitutional reform, social reform, health, education and in other areas, all of which I have touched on in my writings. I am committed, in reflecting the PPP’s agenda, to deal with these problems in the manner in which I have already outlined subject to my colleagues agreeing with me.
David Milliband, the aspiring leader of the Labour Party of the UK, served as an adviser to Tony Blair and as Foreign Secretary to Gordon Brown. He has now become very critical of Brown’s leadership in his campaign for office. One may well ask, like Mr. Maxwell demands of me, where has Milliband been? But no one in the UK has. Why? Because commentators adhere to a higher quality of political debate. They understand that service dictates not only an intense level of internal discussion, as takes place in the PPP, but a collegial integrity of shared responsibility and mutual support once a decision has been taken whether one agrees with it or not. The alternative is to resign. Mutual support does not mean support for or tolerance of ‘corruption’ and the other ‘venalities’ about which Mr. Maxwell complains. It means working continuously to overcome obstacles to have additional measures put in place within the political parameters and constraints that exist. That is where I have been.
Closer to home, Desmond Hoyte was known to be one of the strongest supporters of Burnham’s economic, social and political policies. He was a member of the Elections Commission in 1968 and closed his eyes to the rigging of those elections. Upon his assumption of the presidency, he reversed Burnham’s economic policies, laid the foundation for the press freedom we have today by allowing the Stabroek News to be established and under his term of office free and fair elections took place. No one asked him where he was when the PNC was doing all the things we opposed while Burnham was alive.
Because Barack Obama said nothing of significance about health care and immigration policies before his election campaign, was he asked to answer questions about where he was? Come on Mr. Maxwell, let’s have some mature debate on the issues and desist from the hurling of epithets.
I would urge Mr. Maxwell to read my article on ‘On Speaking Out,’ which is already written (I shall add something on Mr. Maxwell’s question) and is to be published next week in another section of the press.
I long ago made a choice – to stay in the PPP and work for what I believe in, which accords with the noblest ideals of its founders. I am sure that these will be realized in time, whatever the shortcomings we face today. In this difficult task, I would love to have Mr. Maxwell’s support.