Mr. Ramjattan: I rise to move the motion in my name to pay tribute to Mrs. Sheila Valerie Agnes Holder. That wonderful woman of so many parts and that lady of all seasons must rank in the top order of public figures in our country’s recent history.
From the time I knew her, her hallmark was public service. It was a voluntary, caring and incorruptible public service. This is what attracted me to her and realised such a solid friendship right up to her death. Her loving husband, who is here with us today, the gentlemanly Mr. Noel Holder, confirmed that prior to that journey into the active public realm her focus was on homemaking, raising a family of three children, coping with their educational, nutritional motivational needs at a time when runaway inflation, food shortages and declining academia were overwhelming our Guyanese population. For the purpose of the record of this august Assembly I wish to adumbrate her association with such public service.
Sheila, as we all lovingly called her, was an executive member of the Guyana Consumers Association from 1982 to 2001 and its president in 1995. She contested national elections in 1997 in an alliance of labour, citizens and the Working People’s Alliance and was sworn in as an elected Member of the Eighth Parliament of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana on the 4th May, 2001. In October 2005, along with yourself, Mr. Speaker, and me, she formed that new multiracial political party which we called the Alliance For Change which after only ten months secured five seats in the National Assembly at the national and regional elections of August, 2006, an unprecedented occurrence in the history of Guyana, and she served her second five-year term as a Member of Guyana’s Ninth Parliament. In the lead up to Guyana’s national and regional elections, scheduled for 28th November, 2011, last year, she was elected as the AFC’s Prime Ministerial candidate, a position she unfortunately had to relinquish due to the rather sudden illness which resulted in her premature and untimely death on 20th November, 2011.
Mrs. Sheila Holder was born on 7th February, 1946, the daughter of Sydney and Stella Marshall in Georgetown. She was the eldest of three siblings, the others being Paulette Ambrose Patricia, Angela Eunice Elizabeth and Lindsay Ann Theresa.
Her secondary education included a mixture of formal education at the Guyana Education Trust, piano folk training under Gloria Smith Mansook and art under the tutelage of the venerable E. R. Burrowes at Queen’s College. A faithful member of his Working People’s Art Class, she excelled in this field as well as in music and in 1968 won the Chopin Open Class Competition at the Guyana Music Festival.
On leaving school she secured employment as an art and music teacher in the Ministry of Education over the period 1965 to 1966 and then became a script writer, a broadcaster and producer for the Government Information Service and subsequently the newly established Guyana Broadcasting Corporation where she specialised in disseminating Government’s information emanating from the interior locations of the country. During this period of her career she produced and anchored a woman’s radio magazine programme called “Mainly for Women.”
In August 1969, she entered into marriage with her childhood friend, from her music and art lessons period, Mr. Noel Holder and became a resident of the Ebini Livestock Research Station on Guyana’s intermediate savannahs in the interior of Guyana where her husband was the officer in charge, a period broken for only one year, in 1971 to 1972, when she sojourned with him in Gainesville, Florida, where her husband pursued his higher degree – Master. During this period of her life she was the prime mover in the establishment of the Ebini Primary School on that location; permitting the children of the employees who had formerly to attend school on the coastland, away from their parents, to enjoy a much more normal family life. She was also instrumental in catering to the religious needs of the community by arranging for twice monthly visits by a priest of the Anglican Diocese of Guyana to conduct services at Ebini.
In 1975 she returned to the capital city of Georgetown when her husband was offered and accepted the position of Chief Executive Officer of the newly formed Livestock Development Company which ultimately owned and operated a number of dairy and branch operations in various, as it was then called, “eco-zones” of the country. During that period she not only became quite familiar with the entire interior of Guyana, but applied herself to the well-being of her three children, Sheldon, Yale and Kyla, and served in many executive capacities in the Parent Teacher Associations for her children’s various educational institutions.
I want to say that Mrs. Sheila Holder was not only an active advocate, as I stated earlier. She also found time, apart from her strong family life, to serve on the Board of Directors of Guyana Stores Limited, the Bauxite Industry Development Company (BIDCO), Guyana National Bureau of Standards. She was also the Chairperson of the Environment Section of the National Development strategy. She was appointed by the Consumers International UK’s representative for the Latin America and the Caribbean Global Policy Campaign Committee and she was also a trustee member of what was called then the Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) Forum. During the period of 1999 to 2003, the height of her years as a consumer advocate, she was elected as an executive member of the Caribbean Consumer Consultative Committee and represented the regional group at meetings at CARICOM with heads of Government. The 7th CARICOM Council Meeting for Human and Social Development, she also attended and the 23rd Meeting of Ministers and African Caribbean and Pacific states – European Union (ACP-EU) Economic Social Interest Groups Meeting at the European Union Parliament, Brussels. Over that period too, 1995 through 2003, her consumer advocacy was reflected in the following “very serious” publications and articles, and I quote them. She authored the Guyana Consumers Association consumer magazine and also its annual reports. She contributed articles on consumer related matters and regional and international publications called Consumer International. “Privatisation of Telecommunications, the Guyana Experience”, was presented by her to the 4th Regional Conference of Latin America and the Caribbean in Chile, September, 1998. “Challenges for the Caribbean Consumer Movement” was another major article presented at the opening ceremony in Jamaica, October, 1999. Another very important one – these are publications that we ought to do something about – “Food Security” at a workshop, again, in Jamaica, October, 1999. “A Perspective of the Caribbean Consumer Movement” in St. Lucia this time at the behest of the St. Lucia Consumer Association; “the Guyana Experience of privatised public utilities was presented again to the Sir Arthur Lewis College, St. Lucia. Then we also had a very important one, “Consumer Protection in a Liberalised World”, presented at the opening ceremony of the 5th Caribbean Consumers Conference sponsored by the Government of Trinidad and Tobago in May, 2003. She received an award for the advancement of the consumer movement in St. Lucia, West Indies, from the St. Lucian Minister of Commerce and Tourism as a result of these works and her reputation as a consumer advocate.
During her stay in this National Assembly Mrs. Sheila Holder served as a Member of the Parliamentary Management Committee, the Standing Committee to appoint Members of Commissions, pursuant to Article 119 (c), the Standing Orders Committee and she also served in a number of other Special Parliamentary Select Committees.
Following her parliamentary efforts and regional political exposure, such as in that of the National Development Institute sponsored Inter-American Forum and Political Parties, she was contracted in 2003 by the Organisation of American States to prepare a study of Guyana’s political party campaign financing status. We all know about that. In 2004 she served as a Member of a Commonwealth expert team of five mandated by the Commonwealth General Secretary to report on the Cameroon electoral registration process. Following this international task she was asked to return to Cameroon as a member of the 45th Commonwealth Elections Observer Group to the Cameroon presidential election under the chairmanship of the Right Honourable Joe Clark who, by then, was the former Prime Minister of Canada. She was also a member of the Commonwealth Observer Group to the Mozambique elections in 2009.
Fortuitously she was selected by the World Bank, along with myself and you, Mr. Speaker, to participate in the famous seminar “Parliament, Government and Poverty Reduction” in Helsinki, Finland. It was during this meeting that the seed was sown among us, three parliamentarians from different parties, to form a new all-inclusive movement to change the partisan political climate for the better of Guyana and the Alliance For Change indeed was born thereafter. That is a beautiful story which must not be left untold.
Mrs. Sheila Holder saw her mandate as one to improve the moral standard of political intercourse in Guyana. She abhorred the prevailing winner take all approach which, in our opinion, resulted in what is considered zero-sum growth. She hated results she saw from this approach, namely that other countries of the world with far inferior natural resources are superseding Guyana in development – human, institutional, infrastructural, economic – largely, as a result of the alienation and the marginalisation of large sections of the population by this approach to politics and governance. As a parliamentarian, she gave praise to the Government when justified and criticised the political administration when evidence of corrupt practices and bad governance were revealed. We know that all too well. She, however, always ensured that due political decorum was maintained at all times and was intolerant of bad form, bad manners, unacceptable parliamentary behaviour, and even when exhibited by either side of the floor she would immediately exhibit her condemnation.
Mr. Speaker, I acknowledge your effort in having done an extensive piece on the quality of work she produced in this Parliament and I want to repeat a couple of them. I so seek your permission. It was in this National Assembly that Mrs. Sheila Holder distinguished herself as a legislator and representative of the people. She held the distinction, much to the chagrin of the Government side at times, of submitting the most questions for answers by Ministers and the most needling and provoking motions for debate and adoption by this House. Though the parliamentary majority at the time always weighed in against her, the victory was hers as adjudged at the court of public opinion. In December, 2008, she piloted a motion to seek to have the people of Region 10 access to television of their choice other than that rapacious thing called the National Communications Network (NCN). In that debate she was given to remark:
“But worst than that, Mr. Speaker, is the greater cause for concern which this situation presents in the context of developing our fledgling democracy since, along with transparency and accountability, freedom of thought and expression form the very rationale needed for constructing a democratic society.”
In 2012 the people of Linden and the greater Region 10 continue to cry out for justice and respect despite entreaties, pleads, demands and petitions in relation to television. There is still only the rapacious NCN, but as we have seen recently other rights have been denied Lindeners – the right to associate and assemble peacefully, the right to life, which denial sorely, had she been around today, she would have roundly condemned.
In her final presentation on the national budget 2011 she took the Government to task citing example of bad governance as she said:
“Imagine telling us that they have adopted principles of inclusivity when large sections of our society continue to express feelings of exclusion, describe their experiences of discrimination and being denied equal treatment and equal opportunity in their profession and business. How could Member on that side of the House speak so brazenly about good governance when they have been dillydallying for a decade on establishing the Public Procurement Commission, the Human Rights Commission and their attendant tribunal?
To continue the quote.
“Real democracy could only be attained when there is no need for questions like these to be asked. Real democracy could only be attained when a programme is devised to devolve power to the people, restore village government and hold Local Government Elections. Real democracy can only prevail when systems are put in place to allow the judiciary and this National Assembly to be financially independent of the Government.”
She reasoned, and rightly so, that the budget is supposed to look at the concerns of the society and come up with fiscal, social and economic solutions for these issues. Mrs. Sheila Holder set out her vision for better fiscal management by recommending the adaptation of a system that exists in the more developed economies and societies whereby there is an interaction with specific section of the society. Her recommendation was that the budget should only be finalised after interactions with these members: the business class, labour class, women’s groups and NGOs; in a sense, it was the entire civil society. In such a reform system the Minister of Finance would be required to submit an outline of the proposed expenditure and then the final budget will be presented so that it could be subject to that kind of scrutiny she spoke about and which we regarded as the “Holder Initiative”. These suggestions, in a sense, then should serve as a guideline to our Cabinet when in preparing the Estimates.
I need not, as you, Mr. Speaker, who wrote most of these words, to state how important that ought to be the case, especially in the context of this new dispensation. [Mr. Nandlall: You are reading the Speaker’s speech.] He had done a massive piece of research on her, my dear, and that is what I am mentioning. You seem not to be listening, like you always do.
In October 2010, Mrs. Sheila Holder introduced for debate an all important and still relevant motion for the following resolve clauses:
“This National Assembly recognises that a strong democracy requires healthy political parties and resources to sustain and operate a basic party structure capable of representing people, contributing creatively to the public policy debate and contesting elections and that the role of money in politics undeniably influences the quality of democracy and governance…”
And then she went on.
“Be it resolved that the Government presents to the National Assembly such relevant laws and regulations pertaining to political party campaign financing, curtail abuse of public resources by the incumbent leading up to and during elections, as recommended by the Commonwealth Secretariat in order to create a levelled playing field for contesting parties at elections in Guyana.”
This motion was not debated in the Ninth Parliament and we, the Members of the Alliance For Change, will seek to bring it up back for debate. I am certain she would have appreciated that very much.
I could not leave Mrs. Holder’s parliamentary work without referring to the matter that created the greatest controversy of all - senior citizens’ pension. A squall, may I naysay. A tsunami was created in this Assembly when Mrs. Sheila Holder pointed to empirical data to show that many deserving pensioners were being denied their just rewards because the list was padded by unscrupulous being who not only crowded out the deserving who had served the country with distinction, but also prevented a much needed increase from being granted. During the debate she was called on by an Hon. Member, from the other side, to retract her statements and her response to that Hon. Member was “vintage Sheila Holder”. She stood her ground and said: “I will retract nothing, Mr. Speaker, I am prepared to give the study to the Hon. Minister and to the Auditor General.” She even urged the Hon. Minister to publish on the Ministry’s website the names of all those pensioners receiving pensions so that she could have verified her assertions. That to date has not been done. However, we all smiled recently when a Demerara Waves report headlined “Pension system reform to be a priority - Minister Jennifer Webster”. On the issue of this old age pension and the controversies which arose because of her in-depth research, history will absolve her.
She worked zealously and assiduously for change in Guyana and earnestly expected to witness this happening at the national and regional elections, for change, that is, at those last elections held on the 28th November, 2011. However, Almighty God, in his profound wisdom, determined otherwise and called her to higher service on 20th November, 2011. This Assembly will miss her, her gentle yet forceful voice.
She was certainly a champion parliamentarian with total integrity and the highest standard of morality and decency. I have missed her dearly, thus far.
In these circumstances, Your Honour, I move the motion standing in my name:
“That we the Members of the National Assembly of the Parliament of Guyana –
• place on record our shock and profound grief at the great loss to the National Assembly of the Parliament of Guyana, by the tragic death of Mrs. Sheila Holder, on 20th November, 2011;
• pay tribute to the committed and exemplary service which she rendered to the National Assembly from 19th March, 2001 until the dissolution of the Ninth Parliament on 27th September, 2011,”
“That the National Assembly directs that an expression of our heartfelt sympathy be conveyed to her sorrowing widower, children and relatives.”
I so move. [Applause]
Mr. Ramjattan (replying): I am moved by the strong support and endorsement of this motion in my name. I now move the motion, as stated here, that we place on record our shock and profound grief, that we pay tribute to her and that we also direct an expression of heartfelt sympathy to her widower, children and relatives.