The GTUC’s interest is in the nation knowing the truth

Dear Editor,

Attention is drawn to letters ‘The GTUC has not been targeted by the Rodney commission’s terms of reference’ and ‘The PNC wants the work of the Rodney commission aborted’ by APNU’s Shadow Minister of Legal Affairs and Labour Basil Williams (SN, August 12) and Minister Leslie Ramsammy (SN, August 11), respectively.

The determination of the Guyana Trades Union Congress (GTUC) appearing before the Walter Rodney Commission of Inquiry (COI) rests entirely with the body guided by the terms of reference (TOR). The GTUC will not countenance any individual or group denying us the right to be heard and represent the workers and nation’s interest. The GTUC’s decision to participate in the COI was informed by our repeated calls over the years for closure to Dr Walter Rodney’s death. This call was repeated in 2013 when Dr Rodney’s name and death were used to galvanise support to deny the late President Forbes Burnham, South Africa’s O R Tambo Award.

The GTUC expressed its disproval that an allegation on how Dr Rodney died was used to deny what we felt was a deserving award to Burnham, given the conditions under which the award was dispensed. These conditions were consistent with the leadership Burnham delivered to Guyana in the liberation struggle for South Africans, a struggle organised labour supported and in which it played a part.

When in 2014 the government decided it was going to activate the 2005 parliamentary motion to have an independent international inquiry, the GTUC took the decision it would support the work of the commission and participate. And while Mr Williams is aware of the TOR but sees no role for the GTUC, such is understandably a concern of his, but not a bother to the GTUC. The GTUC has an abiding interest in the social, cultural, economic and political well-being/rights of workers, past, present and potential, in the workplace and wider society, be they unionised or non-unionised.

Organised labour’s emergence and presence in the society is built on these pillars.

Consistent with the TOR the GTUC sees itself being able to help the commission in understanding the environment, since we were a major player during the period. The state during the period under the COI review controlled 80 per cent of the economy. Most of the state’s workers were not only unionized, but the trade unions engaged in industrial action with employers and also formed alliances with the political forces based on labour’s interest. Such alliances saw working relationships with the PNC administration, the PPP and WPA.

Consequently, the GTUC was not surprised when from the beginning of the inquiry persons sought to position the workers’ unions and the GTUC as being supportive of the cause to remove the government of the day and hosting May Day rallies at Congress Place, the PNC’s headquarters.

It is unfortunate that Mr Williams, appearing in the interest of the PNC, did not hear such evidence and was guided in the belief that “No accusation or allegation has been made against the GTUC to date.” It is also instructive that even as he thinks the GTUC should not appear at the inquiry he has prepared his cross-examination of my testimony.

Selwyn Pieters has been retained by the GTUC to represent our interest and we repose confidence in his ability. He continues to articulate the GTUC’s interest and elicit answers from witnesses in order to give true meaning to the TOR. His legal experience, along with that of colleagues at the inquiry, who reside and practise in Canada, Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, Jamaica and London aid in the development of the legal community and is a benefit to all Guyanese. The GTUC is not driven by who is guilty or innocent; ours is an abiding interest in the nation knowing the truth.

The issue of the management of the taxpayers/workers’ money is a concern. As such Mr Williams and his parliamentary colleagues who voted unanimously for the sum allotted are encouraged to return to the table, review, and where necessary make recommendations to ensure our money is properly spent. For the GTUC money properly spent factors into the nation knowing the truth and using it in its process of healing. The legal fees and expenses of the GTUC’s lawyer are not being paid by the commission.

Politicians must also be able to multi-task and competently address a multiplicity of issues. The opposition must develop and expand their capacity to deal with national, regional and local government elections, Bai Shan Lin, the COI, the no-confidence motion, good governance, corruption and other pressing issues simultaneously. These are not unrealistic expectations given that this is a practice in every modern society.

And as for the dastardly claim by Minister Ramsammy that cabinet can spend taxpayers’ money without parliamentary approval, he is called upon to provide where in the constitution such authority is given.

The nation is experiencing a period where some persons placed in a position of trust believe that that trust authorises them to withdraw from the Consolidated Fund under the guise that they have been given authority. The executive without the approval of the legislature cannot allocate money to the COI, and this nation expects the administration will be guided accordingly.

 

Yours faithfully,
Lincoln Lewis

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