As we unveil this Gallery of Photographs of Our Presidents, let us strengthen our commitment to Get On With It: Get on with us growing and developing ourselves and our country, aware of but not incarcerated in our history of the arrival of Europeans in the land, and subsequently the times of slavery and of indentureship.
People from six different parts of the world thrown together here like press-ganged sailors of old on a ship setting out into the then not well known oceans, must survive together or succumb together: thrown together for the setting up and manning of colonial plantations –cocoa, coffee, cotton, sugar, rum – we must now together find our own way in a changed and ever changing world.
Fellow Citizens, during the childhood of any of us Presidents, I suspect that there would have been little to foretell that we would have attained the highest office in our Country: and I am inclined to believe, reflecting on the circumstances of and the late age at which I came to the politics of our country, my becoming President might have been the most unlikely, accidental, even an interloper into politics: someone who had strayed far from his chosen, safe, solid working career of chemical engineering. But such is life.
Friends, particularly our younger fellow citizens, we have progressed much less than was expected at our Independence, but naught but little crying over spilt milk – would we not have done better if we knew better? It has been fashionable in our country to blame and disavow politics and politicians, but once we live in groups – living in ever larger groups, our productivities and possible standards of living go up a thousand fold compared with what we could do if we each lived in isolation – once we live in social and economic intercourse with others we are into politics and we are to some degree politicians.
Early in our PPP/C being in Office, I took the visiting Prime Minister of Zambia to see the bauxite operations in Linden. Reflecting on my assertion that I was new to politics he responded – “When someone speaks with himself, we already have the germ of politics and when two people speak the politics is already very rich”. Politics and politicians may be to the north or south or east or west side of where the people are but they cannot be too far away from where the people are.
Each of us should strive to make ourselves the best person we could be: capable in a number of areas; kind, helpful to others and contributing to society; expecting and satisfied with receiving some fair share of what we have produced together – you would be noticed, a call to step on our political stage may never be far away.
Growing through my childhood years of the 1940s and 1950s, I was among the 70% of our people who would have been assessed at that time to be below the poverty line. Not knowing it, without chips on our shoulders we were not restrained by that material fact: all were striving to do better.
I lived for periods of time here and there in the city, returning often to the Eastern Mahaicony countryside; coming into contact for periods of time with our various peoples in our various worlds of overlapping differences of race, religion, rural-urban, richer and poorer, traditional and modern. Growing cognizant of the different views and imaginations in different groups of our people, my own country and world view was not fully in accord with that of any group and to many, I would have seemed quite contrary, not fitting in with the beliefs, attitudes, behavior which prevailing convention expected of me.
As I came to this building again today, after a number of years, my mind went back to the first time I entered this building, in August 1955, to receive my first County Scholarship, living expenses, term allowance of $15:00 (fifteen dollars) then, about G$30,000 in today’s money, from our country’s Treasury which was then on the ground floor of the east block where there are now Committee rooms. This building constructed over 1829 to 1834, at the ending of slavery and the beginning of indentured immigration, known earlier as the Public Buildings, housed the total Government of those colonial days up to about the 1950s. I came here regularly unto early 1962 to draw that scholarship allowance.
I came again to this building about October/November 1970, on the request of then Prime Minister Burnham to meet him in the Prime Minister’s Office, in the upper flat of the western block, now the Office of the Clerk of our National Assembly. Mr. Burnham had passing acquaintance with me as a nephew of one of his friends, Mr. Frank Denbow.
Earlier, in about July, 1962 I was called to my first one on one with him, then as Opposition Leader, at his lawyer’s office in the Clarke and Martin building. Mr. Burnham, recently back from a trip to the USA, had been offered some six University Scholarships by President Kennedy’s Office and I had been recommended to him, most likely by QC Chemistry teacher “Bup” Barker. No doubt on checking with his people, Mr. Burnham greeted me with the probing question, “How is Cheddi’s boy this morning?’ I responded, “I didn’t tell you so: Is that what you have been told.”
To set the record straight and to express my appreciation all around, a little over a year later the US Embassy sent a letter inviting me to receive the grant of a University Scholarship but by then I was in Canada on a DEMBA Scholarship. Also, for the record, before mid- 1990 on the way to becoming his running mate, I had not met Dr. Jagan except for a passing handshake in our city streets during the Christmas/New Year season of perhaps 1962.
On this second meeting (October/November 1970) Prime Minister Burnham greeted me saying that in speaking with people in Linden/McKenzie, he discerned that they were favourably impressed by three Guyanese members of the Staff of DEMBA (about 40 Guyanese then in a total of about 200) – I was one, the youngest not yet 27 years old. He was about to call ALCAN for talks about participation in DEMBA but was concerned about a hinted response of “take all or nothing at all”.
At the end of the discussions Mr. Burnham asked what I thought was the greatest need for Guyana. “Better understanding between our two major ethnic-racial groups”, I replied. He responded that it was the same answer I had given him years ago in 1962, “but lots of water have passed under the bridge since then.”
It so happened that that very day was the Nomination Day for the Local Government Elections of 1970 and telephone calls kept coming updating a chuckling Mr. Burnham on all the shenanigans that had seen off all other contestants, except in a very few places. I kept saying to myself, I don’t want to overhear and know these things – these are things for our country’s elders, for our politicians. You can imagine therefore how I felt in 1994 – 24 years later, a little like Jonah when it fell to me as Prime Minister heading that large Ministry that included then, Local Government and Regional Development, to lay the Bill for the Local Government Elections 1994, the very next one following the one I didn’t want to know about in 1970.
The third occasion on which I came to this building would have been about October 10, 1992 to see again and bring an end to having the Prime Minister Office in this building, Dr. Jagan had taken the position that all Executive Government Offices would be relocated away from this Building and this Building would thenceforth be for the exclusive use of the Parliament. And I have been here for many Parliament sittings and Committee meetings over the following twenty-three years until our change of Government in 2015. (To be continued)
Mr Samuel A A Hinds
Former President and