Over the last three months I’ve listened with outrage to the condemnation by PPP/C spokespersons of Lindeners blocking the Wismar/MacKenzie bridge on July 18. In part, I feel outrage because their utterances are contemptuous of Guyanese who are not in a position to know that civil disobedience has been a key strategy of Guyanese political actors in the past, including the PPP and (yes, Manzoor Nadir), the United Force. You really ought not to fool young people in particular by using tones of shocked horror to condemn what you yourself did when you were not the government.
Civil disobedience in street protests has to be the subject of another letter. For now I want to make a quick response to the tones of shocked horror the same spokespersons are using to discuss the opposition strategy of drowning out the Minister of Home Affairs on the last two occasions that he rose to speak in Parliament.
I’m not sure what I think of this strategy. It’s not clear to me that in our unaccountable political culture, this is the right way to achieve the goal of holding ministers responsible for the failures and crimes over which they preside. Ministerial accountability is so foreign to us that some have argued indignantly that Mr Rohee can’t be held responsible for the shootings at Linden since he wasn’t “on the spot,” and Mr Rohee himself has suggested that in between elections, only the cabinet and the government can judge him.
I wish I had understood when we were fighting for “democracy” in the 1970s and 1980s that all democracy meant to the PPP was a once-every-five-years vote.
But on the question of the opposition’s recent conduct in Parliament vis-à-vis Minister Rohee, as on the question of the Linden protestors’ blocking the bridge on July 18, the sanctimoniousness of members of the PPP/C leadership who are old enough to remember and who themselves participated in the events of the 1970s and the 1980s, is ugly. So for the benefit of younger people looking at them on the TV screen as they shake their heads as if asking “What is the world coming to?” – here is an incident that was recently recounted to a group of us by a Guyanese in the diaspora and verified by another member of the group who was in Parliament during the incident:
“In the 1980s in Parliament, I happened to be in the Public Building, in the course of my job duties, to get the then Minister of Finance’s signature to complete a banking transaction. I witnessed the Speaker of the Assembly, Mr Sase Narine, ruling in Parliament on an intervention by the Leader of the Opposition …
Dr Jagan, with the words, ‘The Honourable Member is out of order.’ Drama unfolded as Jagan, in a fit of passionate conviction, retorted, verbally, that the Speaker was out of order and physically, by tossing a set of law books on the desk before him in a helter-skelter fashion on the Parliament floor. That led to the Speaker describing Jagan’s action as disrespectful, indecent, ill-disciplined and unbefitting of the conduct of a member of the Parliament. An apology was demanded. It was never given and a ban was imposed on Jagan by the Speaker, from any further participation in Parliament until an apology was made. Thereafter, then PPP leaders Ramotar, Rohee, Nagamotoo, Luncheon and Teixeira were very vocal, in a variety of formal and informal gatherings, protesting the Speaker’s action. Jagan, in a subsequent release to the media, justified his conduct by stating that it was a form of political protest which he had a democratic right and duty to perform against an act of injustice.”
The person writing this account then added, “In 2012, the ruling elite’s posture on this right is indeed ironic. Perhaps the current rulers should be reminded of that historic episode.”
Incidentally, I’m not sure that he approved of Dr Jagan’s actions. I did.