Mr Ralph Ramkarran who in a peculiar way embodies institutional memory in modern Guyanese politics, since he lived through it and was a principal actor, addressed a large gathering on Sunday night in the largely Indo-Guyanese village in Richmond Hill, Queens. Raised in a family where his father was a founder-member (and later a Minister) of the oldest political party – he himself served that party as a senior functionary and later as Speaker of the parliament.
Mr Ramkarran said we need a political solution to our largely ethno-political problem, one in which there are “no losers”. And, there must be agreement on “watchdog” organizations. Unless we have machinery on how to manage oil wealth, we will end up like other oil countries where the oil resource is more a curse than a blessing. He urged the diaspora to keep pressing for solutions.
Alliance politics: Hardly does any party secure 51% of the vote in the current era. He made reference to EU countries and cited the recent German elections ‒ no one gets 51% ‒ where Angela Merkel is currently putting together a coalition. In the real world it is about mastering the art of alliances. He then mentioned the ineptitude of leaders of the PPP in 2011 and 2015. In 2011 PPP fell below 51%, and had two choices (PNC and AFC) to form an alliance, but chose to do nothing. It was only a matter of time before someone moved a no confidence motion. Again in 2015, the PPP leader did nothing. As if to emphasize the PPP’s inept leadership, he mentioned the AFC’s offer to withdraw the no confidence motion if only the PPP would agree to establish the Procurement Commission designed to stamp out corruption. The PPP’s leader chose to do nothing.
Oil: He said oil wealth potentially will transform Guyana in ways we cannot imagine. The oil industry and the new economy will need lots of workers. Thousands of Brazilians and Chinese are moving to Guyana. The workers from the Caribbean countries are more likely to be drawn to Guyana. He said the ethnic composition of Guyana in the next 50-years will resemble nothing like it is today. (With both the PPP and PNC stuck in the mode of 1960s style ethnic politics, which one stands to gain in future scenarios?)
New vision: Bill Clinton’s presidency was successful (booming economy, eliminated budget deficit, reduced national debt), yet his party’s candidate, Gore, lost. Obama ‒ the same thing; very successful, but his party’s candidate, Hillary Clinton, lost. The modern electorates become “jaded”, and want something new; a new grand vision. And the PPP did not offer such a vision. In the case of Guyana, what could that vision have been? Ralph suggested constitutional reform. ‘Winner does not take all’ could have been the answer. This idea could have inspired hope in much of the African-Guyanese electorate and win the PPP a lot of crucial support.
Economy: Mr Ramkarran cited three large development projects: Amaila, the airport, the specialty hospital, which together would have pumped US$1.5 billion into the economy. Such spending, given a modest multiplier of 3, would have lifted the economy beyond all expectations. All the projects were scuttled by the Granger government, except a miniaturized version of the airport. Today, Mr Ramkarran said, with the potential of oil and tourism, we need a bigger airport than was originally planned. (C+G+I+(X-M) = GDP. If you take out the G from this pivotal macroeconomic equation, there is not much of an economy left. (And, given the lack of services and high crime rate, high unemployment, higher taxes (VAT), local investors will not invest). Of the higher VAT tax rate imposed, he said, this essentially sucks money out of the economy ‒ a real no-brainer. Also, money allocated in the budget was not spent, further placing the economy in a chokehold.
Future electoral prospects: AFC has lost its Indian support. And, he did not see any third party of significance, but anything could happen.
Restoration of democracy in 1992: He gave a very detailed breakdown of the movements that led to the restoration of democracy in 1992, and said Guyanese should be vigilant about not losing those essential reforms of our electoral systems (counting at place of poll, statements of poll, presence of party representatives, etc).
Lead-up to 1980 constitution: PNC folks began saying in the early 1970s that the so-called Independence constitution (Westminster model) was holding back progress. PPP folks in discussions with the ruling PNC said: ‘Tell us what parts needed to change, we can fix that with amendments’. The PNC evidently had other ideas, and eventually held the massively fraudulent 1978 referendum where according to best estimates only 15% of the voters showed up to cast a vote. The result was the 1980 constitution that expanded the powers of the ruling party and president, and provided specific advantages for the incumbent party.
Mr Ramkarran also answered a few questions, including the following:
Former (Cheddi Jagan) presidential guard Surujpaul asked whether the scuttling of Amaila was not justified in view of the part played by Fip Motilall. Mr Ramkarran said the issue was not Motilall’s lack of construction skills or lack of financing. The issue was that the government did not see the need for cheaper electricity, and how that level of spending would have boosted the economy. It was more a lack of vision and not understanding how macroeconomics works. He also cited a Norwegian company which rated the project highly.
Was Jagan a communist? Ralph answered in one word ‒ “yes”.
Does the PPP have a shot at the next elections? He said “yes”.
Could ExxonMobil influence elections? Ralph explained that EM is one of the largest multinationals in the world; they would not risk giving a few million dollars to PNC’s election campaign and then get exposed and have their reputation ruined.
At age 71, Mr Ramkarran looks mentally and physically fit. Many folks wanted to know whether he is willing to throw his proverbial hat in the ring for the presidency, should an opportunity arise. I heard him say he is engaged in public speaking events, doing political analyses in weekly columns and practising law, all of which, he says, he enjoys. I did not hear him say he has ruled out anything. He remains a highly respected national figure, and is considered by many to be the dean of a class of truly great Guyanese statesmen.