According to Demerara Waves, the leader of the PNC, Aubrey Norton, declared to a group of Guyanese in Barbados recently that he has a plan to ease racial tension in Guyana, what he calls an anti-racism plan. A man who himself has contributed in no small measure to racial tension in our country is insisting he has a plan to ease tension.
He should start with himself, by apologising for what took place when he shared a platform a few weeks ago with Tacuma Ogunseye, who called on Afro-Guyanese soldiers and Police officers to use their state-authorised guns and ammunition to attack Indo-Guyanese and others who support the PPP. He could have eased tension by rebuking Ogunseye right there and then. Norton has since doubled-down on the endorsement, when he said that Ogunseye could have made his point with greater elegance. His declaration that he has a plan to ease racial tension is sheer hypocrisy.
One of his proposals in Barbados was to ensure that the staff of Government Ministries must be balanced ethnically. There could be no more hypocritical posture for Norton, knowing he is the leader of a political party that has done everything to ensure that such equal balancing of staff in the Public Sector never existed. After almost thirty years of PNC Government, after twenty-six years of independence, by 1992, the Public Service was almost homogenous in terms of ethnic make-up, with more than 95% of the staff made up of a single ethnic group.
Greater than 95% of the Police Force and more than 99% of the army were made up of one ethnic group. In those years, not only did they not do anything to balance the Public Service, they did everything to ensure the Public Sector was made up only of one ethnic group. Unless Indo-Guyanese, for example, pledged allegiance to the PNC and have a PNC card to prove their allegiance, they were prohibited from joining the Public Service.
The PPP Government, first under Cheddi Jagan and then under other Presidents, pursued a levelling of the playing field, such that for new entrances into the Public Sector, there were equal opportunities. The policy was that, over time, recruitment based on merit would balance the ethnic make-up. The PPP chose the slowest of all options to achieve balance, choosing not to discriminate against anyone. By 2014, progress was achieved.
The Public Service was still largely one ethnic group, but from greater than 90%, it has dropped to greater than 75%; the Police Force was still mostly one ethnic group, but from greater than 95%, it had dropped to greater than 85%, and the army from greater than 99% had dropped to greater than 95%. While painfully slow and marginal progress was made, the method of meritorious appointments avoided large-scale discrimination.
What happened after 2015, when the PNC-led APNU/AFC Government came into office? First, the cabinet became ethnically less diversified. Second, the Permanent Secretaries were almost all of one ethnic group. Third, there was a Government-led purge, with senior and junior Indo-Guyanese forced out of their positions. Some were fired, others were harassed and intimidated, and forced to resign. By 2020, the gains made in balancing the ethnic make-up of the Public Service, the Police and the army between 1992 and 2014 were totally obliterated by a Government that actively discriminated against Guyanese based on their ethnicity.
This is the legacy of the PNC. This is a legacy that the leader of the PNC must acknowledge. He now promises that a Government that is led by the PNC under his leadership would pursue balance make-up. Does he not see that he cannot legitimately make this promise, unless he acknowledges first his party’s sordid and reprehensible record of actually being responsible for the hefty imbalance that presently exists? Aubrey Norton can show his sincerity by acknowledging the reckless record of the party he leads in consolidating and sustaining the imbalance.
He must now acknowledge that he participated in one of the most racist public meetings in the history of Guyana. He must now apologise for what transpired at that meeting, and his subsequent doubling down on the sentiments coming out of that meeting. He must apologise for defending the likes of David Hinds, who continue to push the obnoxious racist lines.
Here is an open challenge to Aubrey Norton; not a difficult one, but one that he is now obligated to take on. Let him call the President and ask that we put on the agenda for consultation the balancing of the Public Service, including the balancing of the Police and army.
Virtually, all the things Aubrey Norton cited as strategies to ease racial tension are things his own party has played a major role in preventing. Take one example: hundreds of millions of dollars were allocated in national budgets between 2015 and 2020 to create economic justice and fairness.
Who benefitted? Two Ministers, and children of at least two Ministers benefitted from millions for scholarships in England and America, while children of ordinary Guyanese were denied when they had greater merits. The SLED programme was supposed to support poor people to develop small businesses. Who got that money? Norton might want to ask some of his MPs to help answer this question.
The truth is that Norton must apologise for his role and the role of his party in pushing racial tension in our country. Let him join President Irfaan Ali in pushing for ONE GUYANA.