‘SN should not allow itself to be intimidated’

Dear Editor,

I refer to Mr Freddie Kissoon’s missive ‘SN should make a decision on Bisram’ (SN Aug 18). I have always championed freedom of the press but SN needs to make a decision on whether it will continue to facilitate unsubstantiated, incorrect writing to be used in a personal vendetta against my work and that of NACTA after the truth has been publicly revealed umpteen times. Any self-respecting media house would have decided long ago not to publish this man’s unsubstantiated allegations. The paper should not allow itself to be intimidated by him.

Contrary to what Mr Kissoon penned, I have been affiliated with polling in Guyana for over 20 years, not 12,  since the TRPI poll of 1991. I have accompanied my colleagues Dr Ramharack, Vassan and Rennie Ramracha, Ravi Dev, etc, on polling missions to Guyana. And a few of them accompanied me to polling missions to other countries. Messrs Mike Persaud and Vassan Ramracha in recent responses to Mr Kissoon confirmed that NACTA polls (field work) were done in Guyana and that I am indeed a teacher (I encouraged Mr Persaud to acquire a teacher’s licence and to work at my school and he taught with me for a few years.)  Mr Annan Boodram wrote umpteen times that I am a teacher.  Mr Kissoon also contacted my school where I am employed and confirmed that I am employed as a teacher through my response to him as directed by the school’s principal. Whether I am a teacher or not has no relevance or impact on the findings of a poll.

With respect to my teaching career, it was Rennie who encouraged me to take the teacher’s test while we were riding the subway train and a poster recruiting teachers was looking down at us. I took the Social Studies test in the summer of 1984 and passed but did not seek immediate employment as I was a full time doctoral student. I encouraged Dr Ramharack and subsequently Vassan to take the test and they both passed. I also encouraged Prakash Gossai and Dr Satish Prakash to go into teaching and they went on to become successful teachers.

I started teaching in high school in February 1985. I subsequently took the Maths and Chemistry/Science tests and acquired licences in both. I could have gone for a fourth licence (English) and fifth licence (Accounting & Bookkeeping) because I had met the requirements through one of my graduate degrees in Economics. Since 1985, I have taught American Government, Social Studies, Economics, English, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Earth Science, Physical Science, Hygiene, and Health Education. Prior to high school teaching, I did full-time studies for my undergraduate and graduate degrees and I have long list of qualifications.  I was also employed part-time as a research assistant, tutor, and librarian’s aide at CCNY, CUNY Graduate School, and NYU. I did not seek full-time employment in my early years because time was needed for the struggle to restore democracy in our homeland.  I thank Rennie for his encouragement and am indebted to him.

In relation to NACTA, I have written ad nauseam about the formation of the organization and its goals, missions, objectives, etc, in all the papers. Having contributed significantly (with money, time, organization and attendance at rallies and other input) to the restoration of democracy in Guyana, a group of educators felt it was necessary to further their contributions to Guyana and the region by forming NACTA to do research on policies, education, offer free tutoring, etc.  NACTA was the brainchild of Dr Latchman Narine and Vassan Ramracha, with neither one getting full credit for their contributions to the struggle for the freedom of Guyana, although both deserve the highest accolades. I also helped to build NACTA like others.  I offered donations to NACTA for its activities.  I was approved to conduct polls under its acronym. I started conducting polls in Guyana around 1990 with TRPI and I also conducted several polls under my own name, the results of which were published locally and in overseas papers in Canada, New York, England, etc. It was Mr Ramracha who convinced me to stop conducting polls under my own name and instead to conduct polls under NACTA to add to the organization’s credibility and to give it publicity. Whether the polls were conducted under NACTA or my own name or some other random name, the findings would have been the same.  The name of the polling organization has no impact on the poll results.  NACTA has acquired a reputation for conducting accurate and professional polls and has conducted unbiased polls in Guyana, Trinidad, Tobago, Grenada, Dominica, Antigua, Bahamas, Fiji, India, etc. None of its polls have been wrong in Guyana.  In fact, wherever verifiable by subsequent events/happenings, the results of NACTA’s polls have an almost 100% accuracy. Also NACTA’s polls have measured up against any and all polls that simultaneously measured the same behaviour/attitudes as those done by others. And whereas the findings of other pollsters (Dick Morris, CADRES, etc) were subsequently debunked, NACTA’s poll findings were proven accurate.

All are free to support the political party of their choice. Unfortunately only field results will reflect the views of the population in a poll. When the results do not reflect a perceived opinion it’s understandable that the pollster gets questioned. However those directed at me have become personal.

Those who don’t like the findings of NACTA or are supportive of parties that have not done well will naturally condemn the poll and the pollster.  If the poll had said the PNC or AFC would win, they would be singing a different tune.  In 2005, when the poll showed the combined opposition ahead of the PPP, there were criticisms from the PPP and praise from the opposition – that is the nature of polling.  Let Mr Kissoon et al commission their own polls and let’s put the findings to the test at the upcoming elections. Its time for them to put up or shut up.

I first studied polling under Prof Gary King (now at Harvard) at NYU (1985).  Kester Alves was in the same doctoral class with me. Dr Ramharack took the class the following year and we discussed the concepts of survey techniques. I also studied surveys under Profs Kellman, Waldman, Gujerati, Niftci, and Attewell, etc, at CUNY graduate school.

I am indebted to Vassan for encouraging me to study politics after my Bio-Chem degree and for urging me to conduct polls under NACTA. I am eternally grateful to him and to Latchman for conceiving the organization and engaging in charitable activities.

Mr Kissoon must be laughing at SN because it seems he has succeeded in guiding its editorial policy on Bisram’s writings and NACTA polls. Two years ago, Mr Kissoon badgered Ms Anna Benjamin, through the Guyana Press Association, to verify my academic qualifications and place of employment. She queried me about both and I revealed my extensive academic credentials as well as place of employment although none of this has any relationship to my polling.  I wait to see if SN will cave in again to Mr Kissoon’s unreasonable demands.

  Yours faithfully,
Vishnu Bisram

Editor’s note
Ms Anna Benjamin has never at any time been badgered directly or indirectly by either Mr Freddie Kissoon or the Guyana Press Association to verify Mr Bisram’s academic qualifications and place of employment. Out of concern that Mr Bisram’s evasiveness in answer to simple public queries in the media about his polling and other topics was undermining his credibility, and raising questions about his good faith, Ms Benjamin phoned him and told him he was his “own worst enemy.” She said that on principle he should be prepared at least to answer SN frankly at that stage, even though the issues did not bear directly on the quality of his polling.

 She enquired about NACTA, and was informed that its original purpose had been largely although not exclusively charitable, and that most of its activities since had been concerned with charity. When pressed about the current status of NACTA, Mr Bisram did admit it was at that point more-or-less dormant, and that he personally was the one responsible for the polls. The latter was in conformity with what this newspaper had always understood, namely, that Mr Bisram was the pollster, and NACTA – at least latterly – was to all intents and purposes just a name. The fact that Mr Bisram was operating solo in terms of hiring canvassers and undertaking the statistical work necessary, had never been seen by this newspaper as an impediment to an accurate poll.

Ms Benjamin asked why he was so secretive about his substantive place of work, since that had nothing to do with the integrity of the polls he conducted, and his undue reticence made people suspicious about his other undertakings. Mr Bisram told her he taught at the Transit Tech High School in Brooklyn, and when asked why the public couldn’t simply be told this now that the matter had come up, he responded that it was because of his pension, and did not want the information about where he taught made public. As said in an earlier editor’s note, Ms Benjamin did not seek to verify what he told her about his employment, since it was not relevant to his polling activities.

It is true that Ms Benjamin asked about his qualifications, which he gave her and which were voluminous, and although there was some discussion about his post-graduate status, she was mainly interested in his statistical background. He supplied this and as far as she can recollect, it sounded reasonable. Mr Bisram also mentioned his earnings, which he said were high because of the length of time he had been teaching in New York.

The Sunday editor informed Mr Bisram that his frequent correspondence in the press detracted from any reputation he sought to cultivate as an objective pollster. He put up a defence which Ms Benjamin no longer recalls, but conceded that the late Mr de Caires had raised the same issue with him.