Politics: First timer Valerie Garrido-Lowe, MP, talks with The Guyana Review about Parliament and her work as a parliamentarian

GR:  As a newcomer to the National Assembly what was your immediate impression of the way in which the business of the House is conducted?

V. G-L: Frankly, as a new Parliamen- tarian I was shocked. When you follow the proceedings on television it seems a bit high-spirited though you still harbour the feeling that there is a high level of discourse. What I encountered was really quite unexpected. Unfortunately, you begin to see everything as being reduced to shouting matches and party political tussles and you think that this is not the way the ‘the people’s business’ should be conducted. It would be so much better is we could confine our discourses to the issue at hand. In fact that is much of the reason why processes in the Parliament are so slow and why decisions take so long to be reached.

GR:      Are you saying that the environment in the House militates against expediting ‘the people’s business?

V. G-L:   Without a doubt!  It’s is not our job to  monkey around with the people’s business. You get a lot of that happening on one side or the other, particularly with certain Bills. Sometimes it really becomes excessive.

GR: Are you saying that our parliamentarians have come to see the National Assembly as a stage, their stage, on which to perform?

V. G-L: 

Valerie Garrido-Lowe
Valerie Garrido-Lowe

Perhaps I wouldn’t quite go that far even though I have to admit that it sometimes seems that way. I think that as Parliamentarians we have to remember that, it people’s interests that we serve. We have to take it seriously. The government’s  side of ther House  has to realise that it has to listen to a parliamentary opposition that has a majority in the National Assembly… and it does not matter if that is a one-seat majority or otherwise. As it happens those are the rules of a democracy and they have to be respected. One can understand that having controlled both the executive and the legislature since 1992 they may by now be driven by the influence of habit. It is different now and all of us must live with it. After all one seat is about many people. Personally,  I think it’s is a great thing. It reminds us that the people have the power to determine the political direction of the country.  By the same token I think that the political opposition has to ensure that it is not seen as using its majority to behave in a reckless and politically irresponsible manner. There is the danger that people will get to thinking that Parliament is about flexing muscles rather than attending to the people’s business.

GR:    After the outcome of the 2011 elections there was the great wave of anticipation that the loss of government’s control of the House would bring about a significant change in the manner in which the country was governed. Do you think that we have made any headway in that direction?

V. G-L:   I’d like to think that by the third year of this administration we would see some movement in that direction.  The PPP has been accustomed to getting their way for a long time, so it’s hard for for them  to consult and consider seriously the views of a parliamentary  opposition in terms of bills and parliamentary motions. They have to do it but they are not settling down gracefully to that task. I think that it would be a serious and costly political mistake if the ruling party comes to be seen as being openly resentful of the decision of the people of our country as far as the composition of the National Assembly is concerned.

GR: What about on the opposition side of the House. Have Opposition MP’s been mindful of the responsibilities that attend having the majority in the National Assembly?

V. G-L   I think that for the most part we have been mindful of our responsibilities. Sometimes there are personality issues but I do not think that these have been excessive.

 GR:  Some people may say that it was probably naïve to expect the PPP/C to conform to the reality of an Opposition majority in the National Assembly. How do you respond to that?

 V. G-L: It cannot be naïve to expect a mature political party that has been in office for so many years to do the correct thing, the democratic thing. One accepts that the loss of the parliamentary majority would have been a political setback but a commitment to democracy compels us to accept those setbacks and move on.

GR: What are your views on the constitutional provision that allows the President what is in effect the power to block bills approved by the National Assembly?

V. G-L:   It is a powerful weapon and it can frustrate the work of the National Assembly. Personally, I believe that it is for the parliamentarians in the National Assembly on the government’s side of the House to advise and to guide the President. One would expect that the President’s decisions would favour what is in the interest of the people.

GR: how to you see the country’s next general elections going… whenever those elections might be?

V. G-L:  Frankly, I don’t see the PPP wining the next general elections given the direction in which they are proceeding.   They have to have major changes in their camp  and in Parliament. They have to find an acceptable way of dealing with the parliamentary opposition in the context of its majority in the House. If they can’t make those changes I can’t see them winning next time around.

GR: Can you give us your assessment of the AFC’s performed during the life of the present parliament?

 V. G-L:  The AFC, as far as I know, was formed to accommodate those   Guyanese who were disenchanted with the two major parties. So the AFC is really a third party. I think they are doing well. They will have challenges but they have made an impact in the National Assembly. The AFC promotes itself as an independent party that makes decisions based on issues. We think this is good for the Guyanese people. Taking issues into account we may support the government or APNU as the case may be. Our position is that whatever we support has to be in the interest of the people of our country. I think that third parties can be great for real democracy.

GR: What do you most want to accopmplish do as a first-time Parliamentarian?

 V. G-L: I want to make a meaningful contribution on issues that matter to the Guyanese people. I had told myself some time ago that should I enter the National Assembly I would seek to address the concerns of the indigenous people. There are also issues of women and children as well as health and gender issues.

GR:  Do you think that there is a sufficiently strong parliamentary lobby for Amerindian interests?

V. G-L:  Definitely not! Of course it would be to little effect for Parliamentarians to lobby for Amerindians causes if Amerindians themselves are not united on their own concerns.

GR: How do you accomplish that?

V. G-L: I think that Amerindians must come to the realization of their rights and entitlements as citizens can fully address their problems. Amerindians must collectively make legitimate demands as citizens of this country. More of that has to happen. Leadership may be an issue. Wherever I go and whenever I can  I let Amerindians know that we are citizens of this country. Recently, I was taking some of the Government Technical  scholarship students shopping and somebody shouted from a bus “Buck Girl, Buck Girl.!” That kind of disrespect is something that indigenous people have endured from coastlanders for decades. It offends me personally that we still, after all these years, remain divided by those kinds of prejudices.  I say to  Amerindians that we need to look at the other South American countries that have indigenous Presidents. We need to begin to develop those kinds of ambitions. We have to begin to think of ourselves as being worthy of serving as Presidents and Prime Ministers. It all comes down to education. We have to send our children to school and they have to stay in school… so that when someone wants to push his or her bony neck through the bus window and shout “Buck Girl! Buck Girl!” They will have to think twice. More than that, when coastlanders visit the interior they must be aware that they are interfacing with enlightened, educated people.

GR: Is there a role for government in the fulfillment of this dream?

V.G-L:  Absolutely! They are putting up schools in the interior regions which is great;  but we need qualified teachers, enough teachers. We need laboratories; we need an enhanced learning environment so that Amerindians no longer have to rely on travelling to the coast in order to get a good education… to get the opportunity to become a Doctor, for example. We need Trade Schools, Institutes. Education in interior communities needs to be stepped up significantly. It is in areas like education that Amerindians must band themselves together and demand change. It is through education that the perception of Amerindians as third class citizens will change.

GR: What about hinterland development as a whole?

V. G-L: The hinterland is  vast, it is rich and it is beautiful but there are no proper plans for its development. Everyone goes to the interior looking for gold. Do we put in anywhere as much as we take out? Look at the state of the roads at Port Kaituma, for example! The roads there are in a terrible condition. Gold in mined there; presumably royalties are paid. How much is being reinvested in the community? It is simply a matter of raping a community. That’s wrong! That’s wrong! If we are to develop the Amerindians in a sustainable way we have to develop the hinterland. The two are intricately connected. You know sometimes one gets the impression that hinterland development is very much a secondary thing. You only have to look at what comes out of the hinterland regions and what gets put into those regions. My parliamentary colleague Ronald Bulkan strikes me as being serious about hinterland development.

GR: Do you get a sense that other Amerindian MP’s share your concerns?

V. G-L: I expect that they would have a sense of the significance of what I say. What we really need is collective commitment that cuts across political lines and goes straight to the heart of Amerindian interests. I have had discussions with Minister Sukhai about issues like Amerindian entrepreneurship and the Low Carbon Development Strategy. She has been open to engaging me. Perhaps there are limitations to what she can do.

GR: Isn’t it the function of the National Assembly and Parliamentarians to open up the issue of the well-being of the Amerindian communities for broader national scrutiny?

V. G-L: There has been some level of representation. As I have said, however, that we need to work as Amerindians both inside and outside the National Assembly… and not necessarily only as politicians on different sides of the House.  We owe it to our ancestry and we have the opportunity to make that representation. I say this because sometimes you get the impression that the political parties are playing politics with Amerindian issues. Those of us politicians who are Amerindians have to separate ourselves from the political games. Where Amerindian issues are concerns I do not feel constrained by party loyalty. For me the issue is bigger than party loyalty. I am saying that Amerindians who are in the National Assembly and other places of influence have got to be the ones to put their hands up and agitate for change in the condition of the Amerindians of our country. It is a duty that has nothing to do with our political affiliation.

 GR: Does Valerie Garrido-Lowe have

long-term political ambitions?

V. G L: Yes, I do have long-term political ambitions. Women have to throw themselves out there, to have lofty political ambitions. It is time that the women of our country begin to make political waves rather than just political ripples.

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