Hansard for the Period January, 1985 to December, 19923501 10 May, 2012
Minister of Culture, Youth and Sport [Dr. Anthony]: I would like to make a brief intervention on the Hon. Member Carl Greenidge’s motion titled “Hansard for the period January, 1985 to December, 1992”. Like the Hon. Member Mr. Greenidge, we on the Government side of this House understand the importance of having Hansard since it gives us an insight into the thinking and decision making of our legislators. It also serves as an important primary source for historians and other researchers. The Hansard is, no doubt, very valuable records and we should have it properly catalogued and maintained for anyone who would like to use copies of it. However, this is easier said than done and I think the Hon. Member Mr. Greenidge just stated how far back our parliamentary records should go. In fact, my little research on the subject would have shown that from the Dutch period, sometime between 1718 and 1803, we should also have records. Then there are the records of the British period - the initial period when the British were still using the policies by the Dutch – and that goes from 1803 to 1928. Then there was the later British period which was from 1928 to 1966 and, of course, we then have the post-colonial records, from 1966 to the present.
Looking back over that period, there are many gaps in our record keeping. It is not just our parliamentary records, but also the national records. In fact, a former President of Guyana… [Mr. Ramjattan: You cannot even find who it is.] I will call his name… but at the time he was Vice President of Economic Planning and Finance, Mr. Hugh Desmond Hoyte, on the occasion of the formal opening of the National Archives, at Main Street, Georgetown on Saturday 17th March, 1981, had on that occasion to remark:
“I have always been pained at the distressing condition of our National Archives and the constant threat of damage or destruction to which our valuable and historical documents have been exposed. Because of the absence of satisfactory facility, it has been impossible for our archivists to examine, classify and catalogue these documents in any systematic way. Their accessibility to scholars and other interested persons has, therefore, been limited and the rich mind of historical information has remained virtually unexplored. As we seek to create a nation, proud of its past and confident in its future, we cannot continue to treat our irreplaceable legacy with nonchalance.”
These were the words of the late President. It is not only these national records that are in the archive, and it is not since then that we have recognised that there is a problem with our record keeping. But while some steps would have been taken at the national level, the issue of parliamentary records continues to be problem, and this was documented by the former Clerk of the National Assembly, Mr. Frank Narain, who in a document… I think, in the last Parliament, Members of Parliament were given a copy of this folder. In this folder, he pointed out, on page 160, what were the conditions of the documents which were contained, here, in the Parliament Office. In fact, it was only in 1953 that the collection of documents started in this National Assembly, and at the time – these are his words - he said that there was a small room where these records were placed. “The records of legislature had been increasing, have kept increasing, and it reached a stage, a long time ago, where there was no longer any further shelf space available. Records, other documents, and files had to be placed and left on tables, chairs, and even on the floor. No additional space was forthcoming.”
When one goes on to read what he said here, on page 160, he then said that in 1992 he approached the then President, Dr. Jagan and asked whether the Parliament Office could have further accommodation to house these material. The President had acceded to a request and in a letter dated 16th December, 1992, informed Mr. Frank Narain that it was agreed to make the Public Buildings available for parliamentary matters only and placed it under the administration of Mr. Frank A. Narain, Clerk of the National Assembly.
So we have moved from a situation where a lot of our parliamentary documents were contained in a room, not properly catalogued, and in 1992, we worked to start establishing a parliamentary library. He further went on, because he has documented the process of setting up the parliamentary library, and here he said that in 1992, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) was approached and it gave assistance. It hired the National Democratic Institute, a non-governmental organisation, based in the USA, to assist with putting together our parliamentary library. It brought in international experts to work with the parliamentary staff and, later on, there was also the benefit of local people who worked in the library. One of those local persons who assisted with the development of our parliamentary library was a person who had held the office of Deputy Librarian at the University of Guyana (UG). She worked here as a consultant and helped put together this library.
We have been going through stages, and I think it is very important that we understand the context. Basically, the documents, which were here, were collected, many of them were tied in bundles and left in a room and it was very difficult to retrieve the information, from how it was placed in the room, in any timely manner. Of course, it was not properly categorised. After it was put it in the library and tried to document it, I still feel that there were a number of documents which were not properly categorised or catalogued.
I recall that when this House passed Resolution No. 46, in the Ninth Parliament, to recognise Dr. Cheddi Jagan, one of the things that we committed to, in that resolution, was to prepare a special edition of the Hansard containing a collection of his speeches, spanning his tenure in the National Assembly from 1947 to August, 1992. To put together this collection – to pull all of these speeches together – was, indeed, a very herculean task. While this resolution was passed in 2007, it was only this year that we were able to present seven volumes of those speeches. Even in those volumes that were done, some of the older colleagues, on the People’s Progressive Party side, have said to me that very important dates and occasions were missed. I am sure that there might be records out there that are not yet categorised or catalogued and we have to look for those records. It is a work in progress.
Apart from this…and I heard the Hon. Member Mr. Greenidge in his presentation say that while Dr. Jagan had this long tenure in the National Assembly none of his speeches was missing. I want to say to him that of the seven volumes that were done, actually, from the years 1947 to 1987 were only able to be done. Dr. Jagan was in this National Assembly until 1992. It was because we did not have some of those records available to us.
I know in the motion one of the things that Mr. Greenidge has said is that…In the “Be It Further Resolved” clause, he is asking for an inquiry into the said disappearance or destruction of those records and to report the findings. These are indeed strong words and any wilfully destroying or disappearing of public records should be met with the full force of the law. However, I am not convinced that there is any wilful or deliberate attempt to disappear or to destroy these records, in the Parliament Office. On the other hand, I think that because of our lax record keeping and poor cataloguing, the records might not be readily available. I was made to understand, quite recently, from the Parliament Office, that it has closed the library, searched – it probably did a very vigorous search – and found stacks of additional material that were not previously categorised. Those include records from the years 1988, 1989 and 1990. I, myself, would like to get more details on those records because they might help us to complete the final volume of Dr. Cheddi Jagan’s speeches. Maybe the Hon. Member Mr. Greenidge would also find the record that he is looking for.
In addition, most recently, based on resolutions passed in this National Assembly, the staff of this Parliament Office was engaged in compiling Hansard pertaining to former Presidents - LFS Burnham, which dates back from - there are periods - May 1953 to December 1953 and September 1957 to 1980; there is Hugh Desmond Hoyte’s records here, in the National Assembly, from January 1969 to 1985 and then from the period 1992 to 2002; and there is Mrs. Janet Jagan’s period, in the National Assembly, from May to December 1953, from September 1957 to July 1961 and then from 1973 to October 1997.
Here, again, now that some additional documents are available, we would really like to see…because those that we have been working on did not contain some of those later years and I am sure that once we get them available we will have completeness of the speeches that we are trying to publish.
Mr. Speaker, we, in this country, do not have a perfect archival system, and this Parliament Office does not have a perfect system. But I certainly recognise the efforts of yourself and the staff, because anytime I request information, whatever is available, they try to provide it. Archiving is a very special field and we need to improve the system that we currently have in this Parliament Office. I would have preferred a more comprehensive review of our parliamentary records, going back to 1718, and, in such a review, for us to examine our current parliamentary record holdings and to do a catalogue of what we have and what we do not have, so that we can search and get into other archives, especially for the colonial period, so that we can retrieve those and have them as part of our records here. The current state of the record must also be documented. It should be checked to see if the conditions under which these documents are stored are the optimum. After the compilation of such a review, what we should do, when we know what we do not have, is to take active steps, especially for the colonial period, in getting those records here. We must also take active measures to preserve the original documents and we must make copies of those documents and put them in formats that researchers can access, such as microfilms. They should be presented in a user-friendly format. I am sure that all of us, who would like to read more about our history, once it is presented in that format, will be able to access it readily. I see, right now, for this Tenth Parliament, we can actually access some of the Hansard online, and that is a good thing. We should move to get the older documents to be online, as well. There should also be a system where the original audio recordings can be kept in a audio archive so that if we need them we can listen to the old tapes. I think that the time is right, now, for us to also consider having an official video record of the proceedings of this Assembly. Maybe, that is something for us to consider.
I think that all of us recognise the importance of our parliamentary records and it is important that we work collectively to maintain the integrity of those records. If there are gaps and weaknesses, then we should strengthen them. It is in this collaborative spirit, Mr. Speaker, that I have submitted some amendments to the Hon. Member Mr. Greenidge’s motion and I do hope that they will be favourably considered.
Thank you very much. [Applause]
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