Home Letters Addressing the fomented primaeval fears expressed by PNC MP Figueira
I have been deeply disturbed, troubled and sitting dejected on reading the letter entitled, “Jagdeo’s system of apartheid,” in the Daily Chronicle of Thursday, March 7, 2019, submitted by Jermaine Figueira, PNC Member of Parliament for Region 10.
For quite a while, I was torn in mind whether we PPP and PPP/C should respond to his repeating and so propagating the preposterous historical allegations arising out of fomented primeval fears amongst us Afro-Guyanese, of the so-called “Indian” PPP and PPP/C, herein Jagdeo and Ramotar “not liking black people,” “discriminating against black people,” “wanting to dominate black people”, “instituting a system of apartheid against black people” and so on. Editor, we of the PPP and the PPP/C of all races have been responding numerous times to these allegations. We stand on our historical record of material achievements and of embracing Guyanese of all races, of all religions and from all regions from the time of the founding of our Political Affairs Committee (PAC) in 1946 to today. Nonetheless, I go once more to the battle line. I do so cognisant that a number of my Afro brothers and sisters are still vulnerable to such preposterous charges. I start as one airline safety routine begins, to remind those who have heard these sentiments before and to inform those who are encountering these allegations for the first time, that these allegations generate lots of emotions but there is much substance to the contrary.
I write also responding directly to Figueira – for I sense some playing to the gallery, some tentativeness in his opening line, as printed:
“Fasten your seat belts, as I tread on delicate grounds.”
Editor, Figueira’s letter seems to call for a response at a number of levels from specific/particular/tangible as well as general historical, social/economic/intangibles viewpoints. Taking account of the limitations of space and time, I will here and now address mainly the specific allegations.
I contend contrary to MP Figueira that during our PPP/C period in office, October 1992 to May 2015 that:
* All groups of Guyanese throughout Guyana, experienced similar levels of growth and development, in improved housing, the supply of electricity, water, telephones, education and health services. If vehicle ownership is taken as a proxy for improvement in living standards and aspirations, Afro-Guyanese and Afro-Guyanese areas did no less well than other areas.
* Addressing Linden and Region 10 specifically, as we have stated a number of times before, the PPP/C entered office in 1992 meeting an International Manager, Mining and Processing Engineers (MINPROC), installed in Linden Mining Enterprise (LINMINE) by the departed PNC Administration, in the course of covenants and conditionalities of the Economic Recovery Program (ERP). There was the covenant that after two years, MINPROC would declare whether it could see LINMINE becoming profitable or not. If profitable, LINMINE was to be sold, if not, it was to be shut down forthwith. No more monies from the nation’s treasury were to be thrown away in subsidising LINMINE. If we the PPP/C had really disliked Linden and Afro-Guyanese areas, all that we had to do was to conform to the PNC covenant. We did not; I reiterate, we did not. We squeezed, and with blood in our eyes, found ways above and below the table to resume and maintain subsidies to that company and community for many years into the future.
* We the PPP and PPP/C would welcome a review and audit of our relationships with the Georgetown Mayor and City Council (M&CC) during our period. The recent CoI which included looking into the actions of the former Town Clerk should have opened many eyes to the likelihood that the criticisms of our Ministers and Government were not of bad mind, nor anti-Afro-Guyanese.
Recall the recent Parking Meter debacle. In 1992, my ministerial responsibilities included Local Government and Regional Development which included Georgetown. The same Parking Meter proposal and some thirty proposals for municipal incinerators were brought to me by teams including some overseas Afro-Guyanese and native New Yorkers. Inherent, often buried deep in all of them were assumptions of payment fee-structures much the same as in New York – not surprising as all the equipment and installations were as in New York, but very far from affordable by Guyanese in the mid-1990s and even now. Our public has already heard much about the Parking Meter proposal and overwhelmingly rejected it. The incinerator proposals would have incurred charges of about G$800 million per year when the Municipality of Georgetown was collecting then about G$200 million per year in taxes. The early charges by then Mayor and Council of Georgetown of our PPP/C Government’s intransigence, and stymieing of proposed revenue-generating initiatives of the M&CC, and with overtones of us not liking black people and wanting black people to fail and to look bad, flowed from my unwillingness to give the go-ahead to those unsound projects.
* On the question of the alleged biased support to our various municipal areas, MP Figueira, it appears, is referring solely to the publicly stated schedule of direct grants to municipalities and Neighbourhood Democratic Areas (NDCs). That does not take account of the very much larger cash flows from Central Government’s overall budget from which those people and communities benefit – for example, the over $2 billion per year to subsidise electricity in the Linden area which works out to more than about $20,000: per household per month which we did not bring to the nation’s attention until forced to; nor does it consider the about $900 million spent in constructing well-surfaced roads and concrete drains in Bartica, and so on. I mention these instances to say that we tried as much as humanly possible to treat even handedly and equitably with all our communities whether mainly Afro-Guyanese, Indo Guyanese, Amerindian Guyanese, or no-nation Guyanese.
* On the question of Dr Roger Luncheon’s answer on the appointment of Afro-Guyanese as ambassadors, one must see his answer in the context of the series of questions by lawyers demanding yes/no answers. A number of persons appearing to me to be Afro-Guyanese were being considered and not long after were promoted to the level of ambassador.
* On the question of Sophia and the adjoining squatting areas, Figueira forces me to recall the policemen and persecution inflicted on the squatters by the PNC in the years before we the PPP/C took office, and that the PNC had earmarked Sophia in particular for high-end housing developments. We the PPP/C regularised the squatting we met in Sophia and neighbouring areas granting the land to those ordinary Guyanese, overwhelmingly Afro-Guyanese, and we sought by finding more land to grant house lots, to get ahead of the pressure for further squatting.
* Concerning MP Figueira’s charges “that during Jagdeo’s 12-year imperial rule, 468 Afro-Guyanese men were killed by an alleged State-sponsored death squad and phantom gang.” Former President, Bharrat Jagdeo has spoken to these charges a number of times and has been calling for a CoI of that period. The lack of take-up on Jagdeo’s call is an indication of uneasiness somewhere in so doing. I have been maintaining that the period started with the run-up to our 1997 General Elections and the “slow fiyah, mo fiyah” marches and real fires as elitists fomented many ordinary Afro-Guyanese to reject that second PPP/C win. They were encouraged to loot, burn and vent their frustrations on Indo-Guyanese, who were once again as I said, then made to pay the price for Guyana remaining whole. I encourage MP Figueira, all Afro-Guyanese and indeed everyone interested to put hands on and read Eusi Kwayana’s letter as he left Buxton and Guyana, on the calamity that had befallen Buxton.
* On the reports of UN independent expert Gay McDougal and UN Special Rapporteur Daudon Dienne, I do not know what Figueira might have been privy to but in his quotations, I read a report written in much measured statements with which I would not contest – not charges of apartheid. As an example, let us consider this quote from Figueira’s letter:
[She (Mc Dougal) also said that “Ethnically based division and politics have created two separate and conflicting narratives and perceptions of reality in Guyana.” On the part of Afro-Guyanese, Ms Dougal said there is a widely held belief that they are discriminated against by an Indian dominated and supported Government that puts Indian interests to the fore, particularly in resource allocation, Government contracts and employment.]
Editor, we the PPP/C are aware that narrative exists. It is exploitative of instances where any of our PPP/C leaders, members or supporters being themselves humans and members of our turbulent society, falls short of what we demand of our people – those instances are overblown. Further, we would charge that there have been persons all along, considering themselves as elites, who have fomented and cultivated the narrative which Mc Dougal refers to and which MP Figueira is perpetuating.
I am prepared to argue as I have maintained on a number of occasions that much of the problems of us, the Afro-Guyanese group, flow from the inability of our leaders to find good, positive answers to our perceived problems. Editor, let me end repeating a position I have written before:
“A big part of the confusion and frustration of ordinary Afro-Guyanese would be the historical seeming preferment of Afro-Guyanese in the public service and nationalised industries in the earlier years of that 28-year period, which backfired when that administration had to accept the ERP programme with its medicine of retrenchments, shrinkings and closures in the public service and nationalised companies, and future work being contracted out to the Private Sector. During that 28-year period, Afro-Guyanese were steered away from private business and into the Government sector, then, later, being largely salary and wage earners, pauperised by an effective devaluation of about 1000 over that period.”
Our problems, my dear Afro-Guyanese brothers, (to paraphrase from Shakespeare somewhere) lie not in our stars, nor with others, but with we ourselves and with those we countenance to become our leaders, who take themselves and our Afro group down paths that are not progressive as they propagate narratives that keep us tied to the past and to them with them in office.
MP Figueira may be earnest in his call encouraging “Guyanese from all walks of life to come together for a national and truthful discourse on ethnic relations in Guyana”, however, his letter is no starting point.
Samuel A A Hinds