Disappointed by Sir Shridath’s tribute

Dear Editor,

On reading the Guyana Chronicle’s news story (September 20) featuring Sir Shridath Surendranath ‘Sonny’ Ramphal’s tribute to President Bharrat Jagdeo at the President’s appreciation ceremony last Friday,  I couldn’t help asking myself how did I miss it in both Stabroek News and Kaieteur News. I then searched the internet to see if either newspaper carried a related story and came up empty.

That oddity aside, I really couldn’t help feeling deeply insulted and disappointed on reading Sir Shridath’s tribute that painted a one-sided bright picture of a President he felt did much to benefit Guyana and the regional community, but completely ignored the rather disturbingly dark side of the Jagdeo presidency.

This is so reminiscent of Sir Shridath’s deafening silence, as he sat in the opulent confines of his London-based office at the Common-wealth Secretariat, while the late Forbes Burnham e-mbarked on his authoritarian rule, characterized by the rigging of elections to keep himself in power, followed by shocking human rights violations and a spiralling decline in our socioeconomic fortunes.

Sir Shridath never once used his good offices as Commonwealth Secretary-General to highlight the wrongs of the Burnham regime and the plight of his Guyanese brothers and sisters, whom he left behind to struggle for their lives and their livelihoods.

Today, true to form, he showed absolutely no sign of remorse or sense of regret as he completely ignored the current President’s refusal to hold a commission of enquiry into the deaths of over 200 Guyanese at the hands of a drug kingpin or even his own government’s association with said drug kingpin after all the damaging testimonies from eyewitnesses and turncoat informants.

Does Sir Shridath know that the Jagdeo presidency also surpassed the Burnham presidency in the area of government corruption? Does Sir Shridath know why the World Bank is refusing to release Norway’s US$70M it is holding in its GRIF account? Does he know that Guyana has probaly achieved narco-state status despite boasts of a stable economy? And does he know that despite the President’s Champion of the Earth award, Georgetown went from Garden City to Garbage City, and all because the government refused to hold local government elections since 1994?

I did some brief research on Sir Shridath and discovered that he is being viewed internationally as an architect of regional integration in the Caribbean, and that he helped to increase the role of Guyana in world affairs. I actually remember Burnham’s impressively eloquent speeches at Commonwealth and Non-Aligned summits, among others, and this may well have been with great help from Sir Shridath’s position as Commonwealth Secretary-General. But while they did their thing up there, the Guyanese people at the bottom were not feeling it. There was such a huge disconnect.

Then I had mixed feelings when I learned that Sir Shridath, who attended private schools founded by his father in Georgetown, once wrote that his father had a profound influence on his life, and that his father’s “passionate belief in the basic goodness within all men” made a deep impression on him (Answers.com).

I have no doubt that despite their abundance of deliberate mistakes that hurt many Guyanese, both Burnham and Jagdeo possessed a basic goodness, but I also have no doubt that there comes a point in one’s life when one loses the right to claim possession of such basic goodness, and that point comes after repeated public rebukes and exposures and there is no concomitant public remorse or repentance (change of direction). It is called the point of no return, and it dooms the reputations of the persons in question in the history books.

Sir Shridath does not have to share my opinion, but I am convinced beyond doubt that Mr Jagdeo is Guyana’s worst president, followed closely by Burnham. And in case Sir Shridath has any question about my belief, I want to remind him that when he retired in 1990, after fifteen years as Commonwealth SG, he did not stay in London or return home to his beautiful native land, Guyana. He chose to take up residence in the tiny jewel in the Caribbean waters, Barbados. Why Barbados and not Guyana?

That’s the same country where another Jagdeo ‘praise and worship‘ leader, Dr Rickey Singh also calls home, refusing to return to beautiful Guyana after the ignoble PNC was voted out of office in 1992 and the beloved PPP finally got to run things in Guyana. In fact, that’s the same country where over 30,000 Guyanese chose to live after concluding life was unbearable under the PPP regime and President Jagdeo. What’s more shocking, many of those 30,000 are sugar workers or people from the traditional PPP support base.

But Editor, it is Sir Shridath’s continued aloofness and failure to become a voice for ordinary Guyanese that I find disgusting and disappointing. The same source of my research did note that “some analysts have criticized Ramphal’s focus on South Africa and, in the late 1970s, white minority rule in Rhodesia, at the time when the majority of Commonwealth nations were either under one-party states or military dictatorships. For example, Ramphal declined to make public comment in 1983 when Robert Mugabe began a programme of genocide in south-west Zimbabwe.”

Sir Shridath may have come from among us, but he is definitely not one of us. He belongs to a class of international intellectuals who are disconnected from the little people that the same intellectual class which loves to preach and pretend they care. No wonder he praises President Jagdeo. Is there room in Barbados for the President? After his government’s disastrous handling of GuySuCo, I am not sure the Barbados sugar industry will be a welcome fit for him, so he and Sir Shridath and Dr Singh can sit on a beach and exchange notes.

Yours faithfully,
Emile Mervin

Editor’s note
Sir Shridath’s tribute was not delivered at the President’s Appreciation ceremony on Friday, it was published in the ‘Apreciation Magazine’, which appeared in the Guyana Times on Friday September 16, 2011 and subsequently reprinted in the Guyana Chronicle on Tuesday September 20, 2011

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