Mr. Reepu Daman Persaud Order of Roraima (OR)1619 12 Jul, 2012
Dr. Roopnarine: Thank you Mr. Speaker. It is for me a distinct honour to add my voice to the tribute that we pay today to the long serving and very diligent, former Member, Mr.Reepu Daman Persaud. As the Hon. Minister, Mr. Rohee has fulsomely provided us with the details of Mr. Persaud’s early days, I wish only to add that having been born in a logie on the Diamond Estate in 1936, this humblest of beginnings had clearly exposed him in his earliest years to the multiple atrocities of plantation life. It was no doubt what he saw around him that impelled him in the direction of the People’s Progressive Party, which in his earliest hours had established a tradition of defence and agitation on behalf of the most oppressed and the poorest of citizens, particularly on the sugar estates.
At age 21, in 1958 he was, as we were told, elected by the East Bank Constituency to represent them on the Party’s General Council, where he served without interruption for over half a century. He entered the National Assembly, then called the House of Assembly, in 1965 at a most, I would say, tragic and terrible period in our country’s history. He came to the House of Assembly after the murders and mayhem of 1964 and it was in this toxic environment that he, a young man of 29 was entering into the House. It was in every way a baptism of fire and we have heard and been given ample evidence of the ways in which over the years he mastered the Standing Orders of the Assembly and the Parliamentary Procedures. We have heard also and I thank Minister Rohee for providing us with exerts from the Hansard, which gave ample demonstration of Mr. Persaud’s oratorical skills and creative interventions.
In a tribute I saw that His Excellency, Donald Ramotar paid to Mr. Persaud on his 75th birthday, Mr. Ramotar, His Excellency talked about his oratorical skills, the way in which he could be at times emotional and at other times cool, collected, reasonable, but he always spoke with a strong sense of logic and a wealth of knowledge.
We have also heard that although he was not a lawyer by profession, having had to do with the deprivations that a young person coming from that background had to face, but that he developed from very early on a love of the law. In the course of a debate on May 18th, of 1965, in one of his earliest contributions as a Member of Parliament, in the second reading of the Ministers, Members of the House and Special Offices Emoluments Bill, he did memorable battle with the then Minister of Finance, Mr. Peter D’aguiar. The issue had to do with his refusal to accept that the grand emolument of $4000 was about to be paid to the Attorney General, Mr. Shridath Ramphal. The Hansard reveals that Mr. D’aguiar in the course of the debate launched a very derogatory and virulent attack on the former Attorney General, Dr. Fenton Ramsahoye, referring to him rather scornfully as Professor Ramsahoye, sort of speech. In fact, he accused Mr. Ramsahoye and the PPP of “scoundreling” the nation’s funds, sending Mr. Ramsayhoe and Mr. Sasenarine up to the Privy Council and expending vast amounts of money and called him the most expensive Attorney General that we could imagine. In fact, Mr. Rudy Luck rose on a Point of Order and asked the Speaker to warn Mr. D’aguiar about the comments he was making and challenged Mr. D’aguiar to make those comments outside of the House. The Speaker, Mr. Allen, rules against Mr. Luck’s point of order and declared that there was no breach of the Standing Orders. But in the course of his presentation, the young Reepu Daman Persaud could not justified paying the Attorney General $4000, that princely sum, at a time when there was so much poverty in the land and he spoke with great passion about this. I quote from the Hansard:
“Could Members of the other side of this House honestly say that every citizen in this country is going to bed with his belly full? I ask them to go to the East Coast and examine what is happening to the displaced people. I ask them to go early and find out how many children are going to bed without food. The adults may be able to starve, they may be able to do without cassava and milk, but I submit that the little children cannot do this.”
This level of concern with the most deprived and the most dispossessed runs like a red tread through many of Mr. Persaud’s Parliamentary presentations.
I do not personally have the advantage of long experience of Mr. Persaud’s Parliamentary skills and acumens having served for part of the Sixth and Seventh Parliament. I was able to observe him at much closer range on the Select Committee on Constitutional Reform that was established after the motion of December 1994, on the Review of the Constitution and subsequently on the Constitutional Reform Commission where he led the PPP team in our work on that Commission, the so called Herdmanston Commission.
The Select Committee that was established by the 1994 motion which was chaired by the former Attorney General, Mr. Bernard De Santos, did excellent work holding consultation in the far found regions. Unfortunately it did not complete its work as it was mandated to do by the second RESOLVED clause of the motion of 1994. The RESOLVED clause of the motion had said:
“That the Committee Report to the National Assembly before the date when national elections are next due”
This second RESOLVED clause was as a result of consultations that Mr. Persaud had had with the political parties in the House and we in the Working People’s Alliance had urged very strongly that this particular clause be put in and it was put it. But then 1997, as we know, was a particularly traumatic year for the People’s Progressive Party and for the nation. It was the year when in February, Dr. Jagan fell ill and later died on the 6th of March, 1997. We of course as we know and remember observed that the funeral service was held here at Parliament Building on the 10th of March. This perhaps had a great deal to do with the fact that we did not complete our work as we should have done and we did not in fact, report to the National Assembly as we were mandated to do before the next elections. So the elections once again trumped the Constitutional Reform process and we entered the elections of 1997, I think, without the kind of reconciliation measures that I think would have done a great deal to avoid the traumas that followed the 1997 election.
It was Mr. Persaud who piloted the motion to establish the Select Committee in 1994 and it was important, this Select Committee and this motion, because it was in effect that which launched our entire exercise to review the Constitution of Guyana. It was the first review, in fact, that we were going to hold since the 1978 Referendum and the 1978 Constituent Assembly.
In speaking on that motion Mr. Persaud had this to say:
“In contributing to a Constitutional document, in looking at Constitutional Reform, I think that it is incumbent upon those of us who constitute this National Assembly, to rise above narrowness and pettiness and to subscribe to something which will constitute a legacy for generations to come.”
These are words that I think are worth remembering as we embark on a new round of Constitutional review.
On the Constitutional Reform Commission (CRC) as leader of the PPP, team he marshalled his forces and exercised the whip with great vigilance and discipline. There was a particular occasion in the course of the debates, I do not know if that was the period when maybe the Hon. Dr. Frank Anthony was serving some time on the commission, I do not recall if he was there at the time or whether or not the Hon. Member Teixeira...
Mr. Speaker: … serving a sentence following a conviction – serving time.
Dr. Roopnarine: Select Committees can resemble that sometimes. But on the CRC we had an exchange, it was a fairly heated exchange, having to do with the powers of the President and I remember Mr. Persaud blurting out that:
“just understand why I am going on the way that I am because this is something we inherited.”
And when I said, “Mr. Persaud the problem is not that you inherited it, my problem is that you love your inheritance so much.” And at this point, Mr. Persaud hurled his books off the table and his papers unto the floor. Persons were a little bit surprised because this was not, of course, Mr. Persaud’s usual way of dealing with matters. But I felt myself that there was something even then quite studied about this gesture. I did not feel that it had anything to do with a loss of composure or a loss of discipline. He did it and the books fell to the ground. We resumed the debate and in fact on the many proposals that were put to the Constitutional Reform Commission having to do with limiting the separate Presidential elections, a fixed date for elections and so on, we who advocated that was defeated and was in the minority.
Personally speaking, I think that myself and Mr. Persaud had a more comradely relationship in the periods prior to 1992, when our parties were in alliance, going back to the talks on the National Patriotic Front in 1977 and our work together in the Committee on Defence for Democracy in 1978 against the July Referendum and later on in the Patriotic collision for Democracy that was established after the 1986 elections. In those engagements I think I got to know him a lot better and to understand I think a little better the combination of firmness and politeness that was part of the way in which he engaged political debate.
We also worked briefly in the Inter-party Committee on Electoral Reform that was established after in the 1992 elections and there was one particular occasion that I do recall when we were discussing the issue of Local Government Elections and we were meeting in the Ministry of Agriculture and the parties were there, this would have been in 1994, and we were discussing the holding of the Local Government Elections. I argued very strongly on that occasion, in that Committee, that before we rush into the Local Government Elections, it would be well to carry out some reforms of the Local Government system, in particular the issue of the District Councils that I argued at the time were really too large to be the smallest unit of local Government. This was an argument that was to re-emerge and made again at the Constitutional Reform Commission and later found its way into the task force that it was established.
But in the course of the argument I think that Mr. Persaud was not un-persuaded by the arguments that we were making. I perhaps saw some little wisdom in postponing those elections until we have had a chance to do some fundamental reforms to the system. I say he was not entirely un-persuaded because he left the meeting and actually walked across the compound and went to see Dr. Jagan, relaying the sentiments of the Committee in relations to the Local Government Elections. He spent about, I would say an half an hour with Dr. Jagan and he came back and said no, Dr. Jagan did not agree and that we were going ahead with the 1994 Elections. Subsequently, the bill was brought to the National Assembly altering the District Councils and creating the National Democratic Councils (NDCs) and the Local Government Elections were held in that year. The work of Local Government Reform as we know in this National Assembly is still before us.
As it has been said I think fulsomely by the Hon. Minister Rohee, that in addition to his political work in and out of Parliament, he has emerged as one of the most outstanding, consistent and diligent religious leaders in the country. The Hon. Minister did touch on the contradiction, the doctrinal collision between the party and the temple and I myself wondered about this many times. But I think it is fair to say, I do not completely accept Minister Rohee’s explanation about the climate of tolerance in the PPP having had to do with that. I think instead it really had to do with Pandit Persaud’s own extraordinary capacity to harmonise this doctrinal contradiction or doctrinal collision, that he was able to do this smoothly and to recognise that in terms of his practice and his concerns, both as a pandit and a political leader, there was no contradiction in terms of what it is he was attempting to do.
In this as in many other areas, the immortal Ghandi had this to say:
“A religion that takes no account of practical affairs and does not help to solve them is no religion.”
I feel certain that this is a passage among many of the passages of Ghandi that Mr. Persaud must know quite well. The words of the Mahatma are a good note on which to end this tribute, to a skilful and resourceful parliamentarian and Hindu teacher who has given such long and exemplary services to the nation. Explaining his gospel of swadeshi, Ghandi exerted the Hindu priest. It is for you the custodian of a great faith to set the fashion and to show by your preaching, sanctified by practice that patriotism based on hatred killeth and that patriotism based on love giveth life. And on the great challenge still ahead of us in this National Assembly, the reform of the Constitution, Ghandi had this to say:
“The spirit of democracy is not a mechanical thing to be adjusted by abolition of forms. It requires a change of heart.” In my view, these are sentiments which I believe would receive the unqualified endorsement of my friend and colleague, Mr. Reepu Daman Persaud. With those words, I wish to end this short contribution to the tribute that we fittingly pay to someone who has given a lifetime of service to the National Assembly and to the nation.
Thank you. [Applause]
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