Approval of Government’s Policy in President’s Address1961 15 Mar, 2012
Mr. Nagamootoo: Thank you Mr. Speaker. Thank you very much, Your Honour, for the initiative that you have taken to reflect that in this Parliament that there are three sides and we are grateful for the humble accommodation to make that third side, although it is a tight fit. So I crave your indulgence as I try to move a little so that I can get some standing space.
The current Parliament is one which has had a fresh breath of democratic air blown through its hallowed walls. In its reconstituted state, it must remain sacrosanct and it must guarantee the protection of the interest and wishes of the general populace with which it has been entrusted. The public gallery of this Parliament Chamber must be utilised to capacity and deliberations of Parliament must be fully ventilated. Its current configuration allows for the full and frank exchange of views on the Order Paper. It is true that, “a fundamental characteristic of democracy is that the will of the majority prevails over that of the minority.” I am quoting from the words of the great man, the address of His Excellency Dr. Cheddi Jagan, the late President of the Co-operative Republic of Guyana, at the Ceremonial Opening of the First Session of the Sixth Parliament of Guyana on 17th December, 1992 to this august Assembly. Those words spoken by the late President Cheddi Jagan form the basis for the recognition that there is a new dispensation in Guyana and that there is a majority in this House that reflects the will of the people. And in commenting, after listening to the speeches, the regurgitation and the repositioning of what President Ramotar has said to this House, I am tempted, immediately, since my learned and good friend, the Hon. Robeson Benn, reminded us, like Chanderpaul, to hit that for a “six”. It has to be remembered that the minority cannot masquerade itself as the majority. The majority belongs over here.
There has been a fundamental change in our democratic makeup and that is as it should be. And it is not new to anyone that we have guidance with regards to how this new dispensation should be treated. The Constitution of the Co-operative Republic of Guyana, the supreme law of our Co-operative Republic provides, in its preamble,
“WE, THE GUYANESE PEOPLE,
Proud heirs of the indomitable will of our forebares, in a spirit of reconciliation and cooperation, proclaim this Constitution in order to:
Safeguard and build on the rich heritage, won through tireless struggle, bequeathed us by our forebears;
Affirm our sovereignty, our independence and our indissolubility;
Forge a system of governance that provides concerted effort and broad-based participation in national decision-making in order to develop a viable economy and a harmonious community based on democratic values, social justice, fundamental human rights and the rule of law;”
And it went on...
“As citizens of Guyana, we adopt these fundamental laws and make provision for their amendment to reflect changes in our society, inspired by our collective quest for a perfect nation, whose characteristics include the commitments, concepts, and other principles proclaimed in this preamble”
The foundation of the Constitution and of the father of the nation has been that there shall be a democratic republic based on the consent of the governed and based on the cooperation and participation of all the representatives of the people. And, therefore, in speaking to this Motion tabled here in this House by the Hon. Prime Minister on the Address to the Parliament by His Excellency President Ramotar, I wish to say that that speech was characterised more by what it did not say than what it has said. The omission and I do not share the view of the Hon. Prime Minister that the President has addressed the most important issue that faces this nation, he has not! And, immediately, that issue that I speak of has to do with what the late President Cheddi Jagan has said and what the Constitution has said... [Interruption] You boys over there should know that I helped to craft this speech. So I have the freedom of artistic liberty to quote from it at any time, as I have done for speeches for then President Samuel Hinds, President Jagdeo and the late President Janet Jagan, I wrote all of their speeches. So just ease up. The issue that is paramount to this nation and to which I alluded to is one of national unity. And it is with that background that I would have expected President Ramotar to have come to this Assembly because he, himself, is on record on the 21st September, 2002, at the Port Mourant Congress of the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) as saying about the national democratic state and the need for national unity. He, himself, is on record on page 29 of that speech as calling:
“The national democratic state in Guyana seeks to involve all the legitimate task forces in the task of nation building. It is an inclusive state. It seeks to broaden and deepen democracy.”
And this is, for me, the single most glaring omission from the address to this Parliament because the nation suffers from a lack of national unity and cohesion. And when I was over on that side, I helped to craft, on the Political Programme of the People’s Progressive Party, page 21, that the PPP does not believe in “winner takes all”. It does not believe that one party can successfully pilot this nation to success and prosperity and that it believes in a government of national unity.
Therefore, I say that that ingredient is missing. Anyone who comes to this House knowing how the people have voted in the elections would have known that they voted for change. Having voted for change their expectations would have been that there should have been on the agenda, as a matter of national priority, the formation of a government of national unity based on the prerogative of uniting our people.
The Elections of November 28, 2011 have shown that race rules in Guyana, and we cannot hide that fact that there is racial polarisation, racial division and racial mobilisation which is being exploited even to this day as I speak. Recently, we have had to go to the press with regards to the specialty hospital on the East Coast in Turkeyen. We were told in this insidious, vicious, hostile and wicked propaganda, that the AFC had joined with the PNC – I did not say APNU – to vote against an Indian hospital because race had become this invidious mechanism by which to imprison people of Indian descent as if they belong as shackled slaves and property to the PPP.
Ms. Teixeira: Mr. Speaker, may I seek your indulgence? This play on race is extremely reckless. When the comment was made in this House that this was a specialty hospital funded by the Indian Government, the word “Indian” referred to the country and not to any specific race. Mr. Speaker, I am seeking your indulgence to protect.
Mr. Speaker: Thank you. Hon. Member, you have heard the Hon. Advisor, Ms. Teixeira, speak to the context in which the reference was made to the word “Indian”.
Mr. Nagamootoo: Your honour I have listened to the Hon. Member and I am prepared to produce, after the debates in this House on those issues alluded to, Members of Government who have gone on record- on television- to tell this nation that we had voted against an “Indian” hospital.
That having been said Your Honour... [Interruption] You shall know the truth and the truth shall set thee free. Your honour, in his remarks addressed to this House, the President, and let me say this for the record – to this date I have known Mr. Donald Ramotar, who is President, now for forty five years, longer than many of those grizzling and heckling me would choose to remember or would know. Most of those years were good years of association, of comradeship and of dialogue, co-operations and struggles for the people of Guyana. So I speaker here with no bitterness, no rancour, but out of respect for Mr. Donald Ramotar who is the President of Guyana – not Chandarpal, Chandarpal was highly qualified – either of the two in the House could have been President, but the process was not one that would have facilitated competition that was fair. So, I can only allude to the fact that the President spoke to the issue of Parliamentary democracy and the importance of this institution to our national life. I have sapped for nothing, I have only given all to Guyana and the people of this country. I have asked for no privileges, no rights, no honour; I have refused honour twice or trice.
The President spoke, and I have a list of ten issues apart from the issue of national unity. We were also told by one of the speakers, the Hon. Mr. Robeson Benn, that in keeping with the President’s Address that the Government is fighting corruption and that people like to talk about corruption. If the President came here and he himself said elsewhere that there are aspects of corruption in Guyana that he recognises, no one is disputing it, but the mechanism to deal with corruption is contained in Article 212W of the Constitution of Guyana, which is the establishment of the Procurement Commission.
The Procurement Commission has not been established. How are you serious about dealing with corruption if there is no plan? When the President came here, either in the legislative agenda of the ruling party or as the Leader of the Nation to say how serious this issue of corruption is and how it will be dealt with – every single person in this country knows, particularly the starving ones among us, babies and women that corruption eats the resources of the State. It denies people of their fundamental right to food and for a decent life. You have to come to this Parliament seriously and say,
“In the period ahead we will in accordance with the Constitution of Guyana establish the Public Procurement Commission and a tribunal to enquire where contracts and procurements are made contrary to law and in violation of regular norms of descent behaviour in society”.
Otherwise, we would not have had the fiasco we are having right here in today’s Sitting, having Members of this House questioning the allocation of votes to Policemen for food on Elections day. We would not have had anyone standing during these appropriations bills to question whether or not $29.1M voted as an emergency unforeseen expenditure was in fact spent on a piece of land where I saw twelve heaps of dirt, which I call the “dirty-dozen”, where the specialty hospital is supposed to be erected. I have the photographs right here to show the “dirty dozen”. I can pass it around to show the twelve heaps where we were told that the land is being prepared for a hospital.
His Excellency President Ramotar has failed in his delivery to tell us in this House that the cancerous development in Guyana that is eating up the sinews of the society and eating up the resource, that this corruption will be dealt with by his presidency and in his tenure.
When we look at the quality of the speech we have to comment on how many jobs we were told in this House have been created. We had what appeared to be a Post Elections Manifesto on what had been done in a propagandistic way as if we were preparing for another election, after the election in which the ruling party had failed so badly and miserably that they were thinking of going back to the poles for another failure.
We were regaled with the litany of development projects and achievements. Throughout, this word “jobs” seemed to be a “state secret”. We cannot have the statistics. How many people are unemployed in Guyana? How many people are underemployed? How many able-bodied people are there? How many jobs have been created, so that we can say, “what we see a developmental splurge in fact providing jobs and food to our young people and able-bodied men and women? We are waiting with dry lips. I am right now waiting with dry lips. [Interruption] It is a pleasure Your Honour to drink the water from this House, because I cannot drink from the taps. I do not believe anybody in Guyana in their right mind will drink any water from the taps flowing in Guyana. The one who is heckling me should come to this House and say what the quality of the potable water is. We would have liked to hear that from the President, and whether or not we are permitted to drink the water from the taps. We should hear how large the bottled water industry is and how much money is spent by hard working people to procure water in bottles. That is what we should have been hearing.
We would have loved to hear about measures taken here to ease the tax burden on tax payers. The income tax is so onerous and oppressive that to give one third from your salary after you would have worked hard, with no deduction for dependence and no deductions for children to be able to come forth here in a new dispensation and not giving the Guyanese people an assurance. For me, Your Honour, it is a great disappointment and we hope it is forthcoming. I wrote the manifesto and I expected it to be fulfilled. I am doubly and triply annoyed and angry here that it has not been fulfilled. It is a betrayal of promise.
We would have liked to hear in this House what the plans are to ease the misery of the elders in our society, that pensions would be increased and that the pensioners would be getting more than seven thousand five hundred measly dollars per month to survive on. That is the responsibility of Governance, but Your Honour I do not believe we would have change in governance unless we have change in the Government. I do not believe we would ever have change in governance unless we have a change in Government.
Your Honour, we would like His Excellency to say in his first Inaugural Address, – he is an honourable man and he is a great leader – what would be done to ease the miseries of the people of Mahaicony, Mahaica and Abary who are periodically and regularly flooded out and their livelihoods are damaged. Will the Hope Canal not come on stream in a timely manner that there is hope for them to be compensated if they are going to be flooded again.
This is what I pointed out as a glaring omission from the speech addressed to the Parliament. We have come here and been told much of what had happened, nothing new, we were told years ago, and the Hon. Minister of Finance will know that many years ago – and I have these estimates – we were told about the bridge across the Corentyne River. So that is not new. We have been told before about the Takatu Bridge. When we are told that we are going to have these things, this is old khaki pants we are repackaging all the time and coming to the House as though these are new initiatives that will be taken.
In the President’s Speech he said:
“For the first time we are faced with a situation in which no party has an absolute majority.”
That may be so, no party has an absolute majority, but the combined Opposition has an absolute majority. We know that whenever a minority rules over a majority, we are quick to say that that is a dictatorship. When South Africa had apartheid the minority racist government ruled over the majority. We said that was apartheid, it is worthy to be condemned and that it has to be boycotted and isolated and brought down by all means possible. When Rhodesia was ruled by Ian Smith, minority government, we supported revolution in this House. The united position of Guyana was that there was a minority government imposing its will on the majority. [Mr. Neendkumar: Nagamootoo you are getting senile.] We are now hearing that Nagamootoo is senile. The senility of politics that wants to turn a minority into a majority and wants to turn thirty two into thirty three, whether by way of proportionality or non-proportionality, you cannot turn arithmetic on its head. It is illogical.
We have a Constitution that says it is possible for someone coming from a party with a plurality of votes to become the President. It is possible that you can have executive power under the Constitution. That does not change the fact that the Government is a minority government, except that now it is a constitutional dictatorship permitted by the Constitution. Those who want to have disrespect for this House and the decisions of it and want to mock this House to be used as an Appeal Court against its own decisions in matters that are virtually, res judicata, we should know that there is no place for that. This reference of the President to parliamentary democracy should be qualified. I believe that it means the majority should have respect for its opinions and views, and that there would be no arrogance as we have witnessed here, even to provide details for expenditure, the arrogance for position, which is why we abstained today and did not vote in favour of those provisions. We realise that this Parliament, which is formed by the sovereign will of the people and which has sovereignty that we are being disrespected in not being given details for expenditure.
Mr. Speaker, I will not be tempted, because we are not irresponsible. We may be a small party on this side, a prophetic minority; some call it the “magnificent seven”, but we are not irresponsible. We are patriotic and nationalist. We will be motivated, not by the howling of the detractors who would wish to set us up for propaganda effect. We do not want to create gridlock, because gridlock is being exploited by those who want to show that we are antipatriotic, antinational and irresponsible. We do not want to play that game. I believe that there is a smarter view of how to deal with those who think that they can do a spin.
I would like to say this, because it is about this Parliament and it is important. His Excellency said that we do not have a unified model that we can follow.
The President said that we do not have a unified model we can follow by which we can make this democracy work. I have said at the beginning that we do have a model. It is a model that is not based on “winner takes all”. It is a model that is premised on a government of national unit. If we want to save this nation, if we want to ensure its perpetuation and if we want to ensure that this country is blessed with resources, but we are unable to tap the resources, because our most important wealth of this country - our people - are not united. Once divided, we will fail and we will fall and that is not what anyone would want for our beloved Guyana. There is a model, and it has to be an octatonic model that is born out of the circumstances of our own country, not imported nor copied, but out of the circumstance that I spoke to in alluding to the Constitution, the preamble, that talks about our forebear, the travails and sufferings of the slaves, the Indians, the Chinese and all the people who came here as indentured. Their sacrifices are important and worthy for us to try something that is pertinent and relevant to Guyana. That is why I would have said that the model which we are looking for, for national unity cannot be engineered in a Constitution. It cannot be engineered. It has to take cognisance that once you have power in your hand, as those over there seem to have, the power must be used to transform the deficiencies of the society whether it is political, whether it is historic, whether geographic, or psychological, it must end marginalisation and alienation and bring this country together as one nation. That is the foster responsibility of leadership. That is the singular mission of power – to be able to correct the deformities alluded to in the Constitution.
Those of my friends who know me, knows that I have always passionately and almost singularly fought over the many years for a formula for national unity. When I brought it forward in writing on one occasion my speech was ordered to be banned. I had to remind some of the Stalinist about what had happened to Bokansky and some other people. [Interruption: Produce the speech] I can produce the speech and leave it... We do have a model, and we cannot work if we do not have a model to bring about what is desired by the people of this country.
There is another issue here that I quickly want to turn to. I started off by saying that there should be the full ventilation of the views of Members of this House. As part of the first speech that have been made by the late President Jagan, and on to this day we do not have in this House coverage that would carry the debates live so that the taxpayers who fund us all here, they call it the elites over there or the “Pradoville gang”, who fund us here, so that they can know what their tribunes are doing for them in this House. The media have been dominated. At one time I supported State control of sections of the media. We have a Broadcasting Act which provides for private radio and private media; therefore we must have liberalisation of the media in Guyana. The strangle hold on National Communication Network (NCN) – I am hoping to see when we will vote on the estimates whether a cent is being allocated to NCN. You will know then what will be my position on the issue. You cannot be fed by state and at the same time you work against the people whom the taxpayers put to represent them in this House.
As I said, we want political cooperation. The President has said, and my other friends have quoted, in extension, from the speech itself – I do not intend to regurgitate or to quote from it at any length – he spoke in one paragraph on page three to political competition and diversity or essential of the democracy and they should not foreclose on the possibilities for compromise and consensus in the way we do business. I understand some of my friends like to call themselves revolutionaries. Revolutionaries do not litigate differences in the Court of law; that is a principle in the revolutionary life. The first thing we had here, when this House in its own wisdom being empowered by the people in the way it was empowered made a decision, we saw a recourse to the courts in an attempt that is futile to undo and to undermine this House. How can you have cooperation if you decide you will play with us here and you will attack us outside? How do you have co-operation if you set the infrastructure for hostility and animosity and if you try to undermine the most important democratic institution of this country, which is this Parliament?
The President has to go back, I believe most respectfully, to the drawing board and let us know what the mechanisms are by which he will find the consensus. What are the formulas or formulae by which we can find the cooperation? What are the mechanisms by which we can develop a political culture that will not go back to where we came from - a political culture that has been rifled with division, animosity, suspicion and even hatred? We cannot go back there.
I am here on this side of the House because I have been spawn by a process that was more than transparent; that was more than... The internal democracy was rigged, I fear for national democracy. Therefore, we feel in conclusion that we do not want to go down the political path in Guyana, where we will have no return. We do not believe that you can come here in good faith to address this House and in a way subliminally tells us that we all are here through a fraudulent and rigged process. That the election held on November 28, 2011 was rigged and manipulated and the results were intercepted and somehow changed.
We do not want to be lectured over the will of the people, that is dead and gone, in the sense that it is written and as it is written so shall it be respected, not violated - that decision by which we came in this House. We cannot accept any kind of provocation as a vehicle to take us to national unity and cooperation. We want to cooperate. I applaud the Government and all Governments in fact that have brought to this House and to the attention of the nation that we need clean energy. In fact we should applaud ourselves; Guyana should pride itself that long before the pundits had started to talk about environmental issues and talked about climate change that word was only a recent invention. We in Guyana were talking about harnessing the Tiger Falls in the 60’s under the late Dr. Cheddie Jagan’s administration. Then we were talking under the late Forbes Burnham’s administration of the Upper Mazaruni Hydro Project. For various reasons we were visionaries, we were ahead of the time, we were ahead of the world, and we did not need to see an oil crisis of 1967 to tell us that fossil fuel was going to endanger us like the millstone of destruction around our necks. We need, as I speak on this platform of the Alliance for Change, to assure this House and the people of Guyana that we will support any policy that is based on transparency and any agreements. I saw now a plethora of agreements have just been thrown at us, when we have been asking many months for disclosures. Once we have transparent processes; once we have accountability; once we have proper procurement procedures, we will support our nation’s policy in terms of energy: clean energy, fossil fuel energy, wind energy and even solar energy. We will support any initiative in the interest of Guyana and for the Guyanese people, so that we can give priority and our cooperation, for anything that will work for the interest of Guyana and we have nothing to hold back because we love this country dearly.
We do not want to be like the United States of America now, once parading and holding Olympics for the world to see how extravagant they were and suddenly they have gone broke, like Greece. We are hearing the media talking loudly now about the “P.I.G.S” Portugal, Ireland, Greece, Spain, as countries we have all looked up to in Europe, as great models and some of them were former colonisers, so called mother countries. They have failed and we have to look at those examples where accountability, corruption and extravagance could take our people down and we must smell the coffee and wake up now, and move with the times. [Interruption]
We know that we live in a competitive world and we stand to benefit from the new “B.R.I.C. Countries”, Brazil, Russia, India and China. These are countries with which we are associated and we want to see in all these countries, except Russia for the time being, were there are questions being asked in terms of the transparency of the electoral and other processes. All these countries are trying to grapple in one way or the other, with corruption and accountability, if we cite these countries as a model with which we will go forward, then we will have to be accountable just as these countries.
The President’s speech to this nation and to this Parliament was not without his simplicity. I applaud President Ramotar for the manner in which he delivered his address. It was without arrogance; it was without any flare that he had been consumed by the power. The man I have known and I hope will continue to know, is someone I have come to respect as rooted in the working people. I would like him to deliver on those promises that he has made to this Hon. House. Going back to his old roots, within working people and the working class, that they would refrain from attacking the sugar workers, threatening to ban the Unions; that they would try to make peace with people of this country who have worked hard and all the working people who are under assault, for example the Bauxite Workers Union and the Bauxite workers where some action have been taken. We are hoping to see some further actions in that respect. I know that we can count on the President, I personally feel, though I have not exchange any word with him of any consequence since the elections – yes my friends feel I am asking for something - inspired by what we do in this House and as serious as we can become, we believe that we can become the motivator to help him to take those cohorts and not fall in the pit of his predecessor. That he can take and navigate the narrow path, the so-called between the rain drops of transformation and change and difficulties that lie ahead. That we can all help him in this process to take out country forward, to bring unity among our people, to bring prosperity and most of all to be able to say at the end of our term, we too have worked for Guyana; we too love Guyana as much as those would have claimed that they love Guyana. I thank you for your patience. I thank you Sir for allowing me to speak with extension of time. Thank you.
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