Governing coalition member, the WPA yesterday said it had been sidelined by the APNU+AFC administration over the last two years and the reassigning of its co-leader, Dr Rupert Roopnaraine, from the Education Ministry without consultation was just the latest infraction.
“The WPA believes that when it looks at the way the relationship unfolded, the WPA was more or less sidelined. There is no question about that…we feel that the end result, any objective examination will force you to come to that conclusion,” executive member, Tacuma Ogunseye told a press conference yesterday during which another member David Hinds also adopted a similar position.
Hinds told reporters that the sidelining spans the entire period that government has been in office and that the party takes this issue very seriously.
“We can only assume that our partners would see the error in not engaging with other partners… it is not only the WPA that has been complaining… about the APNU not meeting and meaningful participation. Other parties in the coalition have also been complaining about being sidelined,” he said. He did not name the other parties that have complained.
Last week’s announcement of the removal of Roopnaraine and his subsequent reassignment to the Ministry of the Presidency with specific responsibility for the public service has raised eyebrows. Yesterday, the Working People’s Alliance (WPA) made it clear that it was never consulted and only knew of the decision on the day before it was made public.
At the behest of the party, President David Granger met with a WPA delegation at State House on Saturday.
The party in a statement read yesterday during the press conference held at its Queenstown Headquarters made it clear that out of respect, there should have been a process of consultation before the decision was taken.
“On the issue of the reassignment of Dr Roopnaraine, WPA reiterated that while it does not question the President’s right to determine where in the Cabinet ministers are asked to serve, the fact that we are part of a partnership and coalition and that the minister in question is an executive member of the WPA, it would have been prudent and respectful to consult with us before making a decision,” the statement read.
The WPA reiterated that that its first knowledge of the “imminent move” was when the President met with Desmond Trotman on Monday June 12, one day before the formal announcement.
“In a statement issued by the Ministry of the Presidency following the meeting with the WPA and the President, the latter appears to be sticking to the view that the WPA was consulted on the Roopnaraine reassignment. WPA respectfully disagrees with the President’s notion of consultation in this instance. For us, consultation constitutes active engagement prior to decision making. We cannot accept that notification of a decision after it has been made amounts to consultation. However, we hope that in the future, we can find common ground on this matter,” the party said.
It was also revealed yesterday that the party was never even consulted on the appointment of Roopnaraine as Education Minister two years ago.
“No, the WPA was not consulted and we are saying this for the very first time. The WPA was not consulted after the coalition won. There was no meeting between the WPA and the coalition or the President in which it was said to us `look we are now in government, the WPA is entitled to one minister…who is your nominee?’ We were not afforded that opportunity,” Hinds said in response to a question before adding that the party would have chosen Roopnaraine to represent the party in Cabinet but was never consulted on the matter.
He said that despite not being consulted on any matter for the last two and a half years, the WPA remained respectful to its partners and had not publicized this. “We have tried over and over again to get out partners to meet and so that we can iron out some of these matters. So no we were not consulted. Dr Roopnaraine was appointed and the assumption was that he was our representative but technically… we were not summoned to a meeting and told there is a ministry being allocated to you, who will fill that ministry,” he said.
Asked why the party felt it must now be consulted, he said, “We would like to believe that we gave the government the benefit of the doubt… people change, institutions change. We operate from the fact that we did not think it was malicious on the part of the government for not consulting with us, but when it came down to the Roopnaraine thing we thought that was blatant and that the line had been crossed and we needed to speak out publicly… As a responsible party we also sought a meeting with the President and to his credit, he instantly agreed to a meeting in which we made our concern very clear to him.”
Hinds, during the press conference, informed that Roopnaraine also met with the President and representatives of government the day before the announcement was made. “That is our understanding of the first time that Dr Roopnaraine learned of his reassignment. We have since had a meeting with Dr Roopnaraine—a delegation from our executive met with Dr Roopnaraine and we had a very frank meeting—who has reaffirmed his commitment as a member of the WPA and as a leader of our party going forward.”
Roopnaraine’s then junior minister, Nicolette Henry is now performing the duties of Education Minister. When asked yesterday, the party declined to give its views on her suitability to hold that post.
Asked if the party will lobby for a WPA member to take up the substantive Education Minister position, Hinds informed that while party has touched on this at a recent executive meeting, there was no extensive discussion on this particular matter. “We are going to develop more on that in the weeks coming and certainly it will form part of our discussion when the APNU meets next month,” he said.
He later said that the party did not feel there was any particular ministry in government that it was entitled to but feels it must be a substantive one.
“…We feel that if we are going to be assigned a ministry it should be a ministry that makes a difference. It should be a substantive ministry,” he said. Asked if the position Dr Roopnaraine is currently holding is not substantive, he responded, “Well we are not going there until we speak more about what that ministry entails.”
Asked whether the party sees the reassignment of Roopnaraine as a demotion, Ogunseye said it is too early to tell and the party can only make a rational judgement if the President outlines a description of the ministry.
“I will argue that because the Education Ministry was such a substantive ministry, it probably had the highest spending allotment from the budget, it is hard to see how the other ministry [public service] could compare with that but we rather to wait until we understand the exact role of the ministry before we make a real assessment,” he said.
Hinds meanwhile pointed out that Roopnaraine is still a senior minister but whether the portfolio he currently holds is a senior one, is left to be determined. “We think that we are entitled to a senior minister, then logically we should be entitled to a senior ministry. We can say that at this point,” he stated.
It was revealed that though education was one of the issues the party held high on its agenda, Roopnaraine never provided any information about his work and the executive members never asked.
Hinds said the WPA was not clear about what role the party should play in relation to government. “Our view is that parties do not govern, governments govern and so because the APNU had not been meeting we were not clear about what our relation to the ministry should be.”
Asked if the party was satisfied with the functioning of Roopnaraine as Education Minister, Hinds said the party was not monitoring him or the ministry and as such an informed comment could not be given. “There are some things that we have read in the report of the Commission of Inquiry that certainly alarmed us as a party but a lot of those problems predated Dr Roopnaraine coming into the ministry so we would not lay those things at the feet of Dr Roopnarine,” he said.
The formal announcement of the reassignment of Roopnaraine was made by government on the same day that the WPA observed the 37th death anniversary of one of its founders and then leader Dr Walter Rodney. Rodney was assassinated on June 13, 1980.
Hinds told reporters during the press conference that the party is certainly concerned about the timing of the announcement.
“We feel that it was insensitive on the part of the government which must know that since 1980, June 13, is a very sacred day for us in the WPA. That it involved the assassination of one of our leaders … Dr Walter Rodney and that on that day we set aside time to reflect on Rodney’s life and to honour him and to announce the reassignment of a WPA minister on that day was extremely insensitive.”
He said the members of the WPA believe that this move by government has to do with something larger than what happened on that day. “We feel that generally in this country those who control power have been respectful of Walter Rodney’s memories and contributions to this country. We understand that as a partisan person that there will be partisan feelings about him but Rodney was more than a political activist or politician. He was a scholar, he was an inspiration not only to us here in Guyana but to the rest of the Caribbean, to Africa to the rest of the so-called third world and to sections of the intellectual communities across the world.”
It is in these circumstances he said that the party feels the country is “lagging behind when it comes to honouring Walter Rodney and we feel it is high time that the government of this country set a new tone. We have had the Rodney Commission of Inquiry (CoI) …but we feel that 37 years after Rodney’s assassination it is time this country especially those in power come to grips with the fact that Walter Rodney was easily the most famous Guyanese academic and political activist of the latter part of the 20th century.” He added that the party was very concerned that government would make the announcement on that date. The APNU+AFC government had controversially rejected the findings of the Rodney inquiry. The report of the CoI chaired by Barbadian Queen’s Counsel, Sir Richard Cheltenham delivered a damning indictment of late PNC Prime Minister Forbes Burnham who it said was likely part of a conspiracy that involved the army and the police to kill Rodney. Granger is currently the leader of Burnham’s party, the PNCR, and attained the rank of Brigadier in the Guyana Defence Force. The PNCR had maintained a hostile stance to the CoI from the inception.
Hinds said that the timing of the reassignment was not raised during the meeting with President Granger on Saturday. “No we did not express this… We did not want to introduce contentious issues in the meeting. We went there with the objective of trying to reset relations with the WPA and the APNU and by extension the coalition… but we are not gonna rest on this matter.” Hinds informed that the party plans to raise the issue during the APNU meeting scheduled for next month.
“We in the WPA want to repeat that we are firm in our belief that Walter Rodney was assassinated because of his political activity and we hold the government and state of that time responsible for Walter Rodney’s assassination. We are very clear about that,” he said adding that 30-plus years after, if this patriot is to be honoured, “We would not use his assassination as a barrier… but to use his memory and his works as a means of bringing the country together.”