Campaigning on continuity

Guyana Review Editor Arnon Adams talks with PPP/Civic presidential candidate Donald Ramotar

On a Donald Ramotar
presidential agenda

Donald Ramotar cannot be separated from the PPP and the PPP/C Government. Donald Ramotar has been at the core of the Party and the formation of its manifesto which informs what the government does, even moreso, because I am General Secretary of the Party. A lot of the things that we have done over the years have had my participation as a leader of the Party. I think that we have reached a stage in our country where the PPP/CIVIC Government can take it to another level of development. We have repaired the infrastructure;  we have improved the economy; we have gone a far way as far as political reforms and democracy are concerned. What we now need to do is to raise the bar and take our country to an even higher level because the foundation has now been laid.  We strongly believe that the most important factor in our country is people…education, health, these are things that we will continue to do and to try to make our university and our school system stronger. There are also other important infrastructural elements like power, cheap power. This is where our hydroelectricity becomes really important. We are surrounded by countries that have cheap energy and that is one of the things that we have to compete with. We have to look at all aspects of cheap energy…hydro power, solar power, cogeneration even ethanol.

Secondly, we have to look at food security. We have to look at how we can take advantage of the international food crisis to make that a positive for us so that we can export more and look at more large scale agriculture, cultivating different types of crops. Once we have electricity we can also look at processing.

PPP/Civic Presidential candidate Donald Ramotar

Thirdly, we have to look at how we make our imports and exports cheaper. And that means importing and exporting in greater bulk. We have to focus on our deep water harbour. I think that each of these projects has the capacity to transform our country. If we can bring them all together I think that they will take us to the higher level that I am speaking about.

On the thrust of the
Ramotar campaign

I am campaigning on continuity. The PPP/C Government has a very proud record; so that there will be continuity, and change. We will be looking for other types of investments in the new modern technology on which we can build. The government at the moment is seeking to ensure that every Guyanese family and particularly every Guyanese youth becomes familiar with the more modern types of tools, technology. We must build on that. We must use that to create more jobs on the cutting edge.

On crime and corruption

I am not denying that there is corruption but I think that a lot of it is exaggerated. Crime is a more complicated issue. Crime has a local and an international side to it and the two  are not disconnected. The international drug trade that exists is partially responsible for a lot of the crimes nationally. We have to seek international cooperation and hopefully our international partners will be more ready to work with us to fight it at that level.  At the local level we have to fight it at various levels. We have been doing a lot to equip the police. We have to fight crime using more technology, more updated laboratories, using DNA. But that too is not enough. We have to look at the reform of the judiciary. If you talk to policemen a lot of them talk about how very quickly criminals are arrested and put back on the streets. We must find ways to help them to make strong cases and also for the judiciary to work and to be more productive in dispatching many of the cases that they have. If people are in jail for long periods of time without a trial this is not a good thing for first offenders who would be going into prison with hardened criminals; we have to look at both the judiciary and the prison system itself. Too often you have people escaping from prison and there is also overcrowding in the prisons. So we have to find alternative types of sentencing so that first offenders can be doing community work thereby easing the pressure on the system. A lot of people who become criminals do not have an appreciation for labour. Maybe  there are ways in which we can make them appreciate work. So you have to look at the prison system with an eye towards reforming people and not necessarily as a system for punishment. Of course you have to be punished for any crime you do but you have to think about reform so that when they come out they can be useful citizens in the society.

Warming to the task?

The police alone cannot fight crime. One of the reasons why we have been pushing community involvement – and I think it has been useful – is to try to see how to make all of us become our brother’s keeper. We must be concerned about everyone’s security. We have to raise that consciousness within our society. We have to fight it in several ways. It is a difficult issue and I am not trying to underplay it. All of the things that I am talking about calls for resources but it is not impossible and I do not think that our situation is worse than it is in many other countries, even in our own region. If you look at Mexico and Guatemala and many other countries, I do not want us to reach that stage.

On executive
power sharing

There is quite a bit of power-sharing that is taking place already. In the first instance the PPP/CIVIC government is an alliance government with PPP and other members who are not members of the PPP. Secondly we have reformed our parliament in such a way that we have a bigger role for the opposition in oversight and in influencing policies by the Committee System that we have established.  Many people don’t know how many ministers and civil servants including the Head of the Presidential Secretariat have appeared in front of  these committees and given evidence. The system of using Select Committees is another way in which the opposition has been totally involved in influencing policy and legislation. I would say that we have a lot of involvement. What you asking about, I think, is executive power-sharing. It is an idea that is attractive because some people feel that it would solve all of our problems. But I think that experience has shown that you have to be careful. We haven’t closed the door to that. In 2003 we put out a document saying that we have not closed the door to power-sharing but it has to be built on trust otherwise it will stymie our country going forward and can make matters even worse. A good example of that is what happened in Zimbabwe. It was a country that was going forward and it has a lot of parallels with our’s. When ZAPU and ZANU merged and opposition was created from within them. (Morgan) Tsvangirai came out of the bowels of that same movement and you had a loss of accountability because there was no opposition to have the checks and balances in place; and it has destroyed that country. Sometimes it is said that the road to hell is paved with gold. So that I think that while not ruling it out we have to be careful. I think that the PPP’s position about building trust is the most important thing. I have given examples where, in the past, we have made agreements with the PNC and they have reneged on it. I spoke about our experience with the City Council; I spoke after the last elections about some of the agreements that we had with the PNC which fell through largely because the PNC reneged on those agreements. If you bring that distrust into an executive you can make the government do nothing, you can handcuff them, hand and foot. I would say that it is something that we have to pursue but very cautiously.

On the APNU Coalition

I think it’s a major risk that the PNC is taking. I do not know what analysis they made to come to that conclusion; but its really the PNC because the other forces have no constituency. The WPA has a name that Rodney had given them in the past. I do not even think that they understand the Rodney phenomenon. The WPA was able to make the impact that it made because the work of the PPP in the society had created the conditions that assisted Rodney. Up until now I don’t think that they understand that. Whatever analysis they have made to come to that conclusion they will have to live with it. My own view it that it is a major risk that they are taking.

On ethnic voting

We had a history of ethnic problems that was worse in the 60s. Many people who make current analyses are still stuck in that era. if you make an analysis of our elections from 1992 to now when you can really appreciate it because those elections have been verified to be free and fair you will see if you look at the regional elections that, for instance in Region One, you hardly had any Indo-Guyanese living there. The PPP never won Region One even when Burnham and Jagan were together. The PPP won Region One for the first time in 1997 and we have kept it since then and we have kept it not only with the Amerindian votes but even in the Black enclaves in that Region. Let’s take Region Seven as another area. We still don’t have a majority but at the last election we secured a plurality of votes in Region Seven. The East Indian population in that area is in a minority. Bartica is a very mixed population and the rest of the region is fundamentally Amerindian. In Region Eight we had a plurality there for the first time in the last elections as well. Mahdia is fundamentally Afro-Guyanese and we have a plurality there too. In Region Nine we have a plurality as well. In Region Ten in 1992 we had four per cent of the votes. Today we have twenty-three per cent of the votes. I think that’s one of the problems of the opposition. They are not making objective analyses. Guyana is one of the few countries that has signed the United Nations Protocol that allows for investigation if anyone makes a charge of racial discrimination. The UN can come here and investigate it. The government is obliged to do that. We never hear them making requests for the UN to come in here and make investigations. There are reports on this issue and the reports do not show justification for opposition charges of racial discrimination. I believe that many people are stuck in the past and not seeing the dynamics of what is taking place in the society. Our party deserves the support of all the people of the country because we have never had a policy for one set of the population. Our policy has always been a national policy even though I admit that we get most of our votes from the Indo-Guyanese population. Our policies are all geared for national development and not for any one section of the population.

On equal opportunity

I am convinced that there is equal opportunity. I am not saying that there are not those isolated cases but generally the government’s approach is a national approach for all the people. There are schools in every community of this country regardness of the demographics of the community; hospitals, health services, all of the services that we provide. We are making investments in ensuring the people living in the remote interior areas are not disadvantaged. We are seeking to give meaning to our constitution as far as equal rights are concerned. I would say that we have to depoliticize this issue. That was the thinking when we established the Ethnic Relations Commission; so that if anybody feels that that are discriminated against, they will have a place where they can go and make complaints and have these matters redressed.

On the PPP/Civic’s Prime Ministerial candidate

We have not discussed that as yet. That issue will be resolved in time. Right now there are a number of other things that we are doing. As we come to looking at our list and finalizing our list that issue will become clearer.

On a role for President Jagdeo in a
Ramotar administration

President Jagdeo has accumulated an enormous amount of experience. He has acquired great prestige internationally. He has done a good job. Although it is a PPP programme that he has followed, he has followed it with a lot of his own drive and energy. He is an important national resource and I think that we should use him for the development of the country wherever it is possible; and I am sure that he will be ready to be used in that regard.

On being up the task of being President of Guyana

If I didn’t feel up to it I would not have accepted the nomination. I sometimes think about it and I know that its going to be challenging. I am a human being and I think that anyone in my position will be thinking about it. What I will say is that I will do my very, very best. There will be nothing else on my agenda apart from trying to improve the quality of life of the people of this country and to make our country realize the potential that we all know it has.

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