WPA should put on its political agenda whether it makes sense to remain in APNU, coalition government

Dear Editor,

When the news broke that columnists, Dr David Hinds, executive member of the WPA, and prominent trade unionist Mr Lincoln Lewis were banned from the Guyana Chronicle newspaper, I was certain that the decision to stop publishing the ‘Hind  Sight’, and ‘Eye on Guyana’ columns was one made by the government either at the formal or informal levels.

In spite of this conviction, I supported in the WPA executive an appeal by Sister Tabitha Sarabo-Halley, WPA Chairperson and member of the Chronicle Board, that we refrain from commenting on this grievous matter since the decision to fire the two columnists was one that was not sanctioned by the board and would have been addressed with urgency at the next board meeting. Since the board has spoken on the matter I am now free to engage the issue in an open and frank manner.

It is no secret that in the corridors of power at the highest levels there were concerns about the criticisms of the government by David Hinds. Whether those views were expressed in the pages of the state-owned Chronicle or other newspapers, they had become for the ruling politicians a matter of great concern which had to be to be dealt with indecent haste.

Objectively, the thrusts and tones of the articles by the two supposedly ‘controversial’ columnists have emerged as undisputed clashes of political cultures between Hinds and Lewis on one side of the divide and the authors of the decision to relieve them of their right to propagate their views in the Guyana Chronicle, a fully owned paper of the citizens of Guyana, on the other side.

I have spent a large part of my political life functioning as a member of the WPA Executive Committee and I say this, without fear of contraction, that as a party, we have never challenged, placed or, sought to place restrictions on the fundamental right of any leader, member, activist or supporter of the party to express their political views on matters, even when those views conflict with and/or are critical of the party or its leadership. In adopting this approach we believe that the political culture of the party has been strengthened immeasurably. This characteristic of the WPA is what has distinguished it from all the other political parties in Guyana.  The PNCR leadership cannot now claim ignorance of this fact, and if truth be known, it did not hinder WPA’s participation in the process that led to the formation of the APNU, which successfully participated in the General and Regional elections of 2011 and 2015.

Now that the APNU+AFC is in government and, given the mindset of some of the ruling politicians, some of whom have neither sense nor history of struggle in Guyana, the issue of the right of the WPA and its members to engage in objective criticisms of the political process has emerged as a cardinal sin.  After reading the public explanations by Nigel Williams, Editor-in-Chief of the Guyana Chronicle, on the removal of Hinds and Lewis as columnists, I am forced to conclude that David Hinds, the WPA and Lincoln Lewis are victims of a conspiracy hatched by major players in the APNU and AFC.

What subsequently, played out in the Chronicle Board meeting of Tuesday, March 13th, 2018, confirmed my suspicions. It is now crystal clear to any right-thinking Guyanese at home and abroad, that the decision to remove the two popular columnists from the Chronicle was orchestrated by and had the blessings of senior members of the APNU+AFC government.

Over time, I have played a major role in the WPA to improve relations with the PNCR, in spite of the historic ‘bad blood’ between the two parties. I, along with Desmond Trotman in the lead up to the 2011 general and regional elections which occurred at a critical juncture in the discussions that led to the formation of the APNU, sponsored a motion in the WPA executive, which was carried, requesting that Dr Rupert Roopnaraine reverse his decision that he had communicated to the PNCR leadership, (which was similar to one by Professor Clive Thomas) that he was not interested in being in any of the top spots in an APNU slate at those elections. At the time that the motion was tabled and passed, both comrades, Thomas and Roopnaraine, were out of the country.

The concerns that led to the motion being sponsored had to do with our belief that the PNCR was having extreme difficulty finding a suitable Indian candidate to be Mr Granger’s running mate. Time was running out as the elections were drawing closer. More importantly, and given the real politics in the WPA both at home and overseas and conscious of the failed effort to have WPA and PNCR contest the 2006 general and regional elections under the umbrella of ‘One Guyana’, we felt an obligation to ensure that history did not repeat itself in the 2011 elections. Based on the arguments advanced by the movers of the motion when it came up for discussion it was carried and Trotty and I were mandated to meet and discuss the matter with the then Leader of the PNCR, Mr Robert Corbin.

At the meeting, Mr Corbin, who was accompanied by the PNCR General Secretary, Oscar Clarke, reminded us that both Professor Thomas and Dr Roopnaraine had indicated zero interest in any of the top positions on an APNU slate, and this was told to the PNCR leadership. Consequently, and as a result of what Thomas and Roopnaraine had indicated, the PNCR was working assiduously to find a running mate for Mr Granger. Corbin said that while he recognized and respected our political judgment, he could not give any assurance that his party will agree to change course. He however promised to do what he could to convince his comrades to agree to the new position.

I recall being at a public meeting at the Stabroek Market Square when Mr Corbin approached me with the news that his party had agreed to Rupert Roopnaraine being proposed as APNU’s Prime Ministerial candidate for the 2011 elections. We both felt that we had done something good for Guyana ‒ the rest is history.

Editor, my reference to what I have just stated has been done for the benefit of your large following of readers including APNU supporters, and members of the African community, whose interests at that time were of paramount importance to me and were reflected in the actions I took. I hope they will have an appreciation for the positions I assumed then and am now disclosing publicly for the first time.

After careful consideration of the WPA’s experiences – negative and positive ‒ in the APNU, the coalition and government, I am convinced that the WPA, should as a matter of urgency, put on its political agenda, the issue as to whether it makes political sense to remain in the APNU coalition and government. The need for a frank and open debate in the party on this and other very important matters impacting the coalition assumes greater importance, particularly, given the consistent disregard and disrespect shown to the party.

The victimization of Dr Hinds is yet another example of this unceasing political high-handedness and disregard for coalition politics. If the WPA cannot be respected in the coalition and government that it helped to bring to power and is unable to defend its own, its members and the people’s interests in keeping with its stated principles and objectives against political bullyism and dictatorial behaviour, then thought must be given to its future direction and role on Guyana’s political landscape.

I end by saying that while the treatment of David Hinds can be seen and interpreted as simply a political matter between parties, in the context of Guyana, it raises a profound and unavoidable issue of the evaluation of African politics and the role of its leadership in the political life of the nation. Additionally, one cannot ignore what the removal of ‘Hinds Sight’ and Lincoln Lewis’ ‘Eye on Guyana’ signals. It gives the impression that we are returning or, that we have already returned to the dark days of intolerance of views that are inconsistent with those of the political rulers of the day and the trampling of the rights of those citizens who express those views. Like the WPA has said in its most recent statement on the Hinds and Lewis affair, those who champion this course of action have never struggled for anything in their lives. We need to resist them.

Yours faithfully,

Tacuma Ogunseye

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