By Michael Benjamin
He was once Minister of Health and shaped the nation’s policies in that sector. After the People’s National Congress lost the seat of governance he moved on to other areas and was the Special Adviser on Partnerships on Financial Information with the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
He also served at other world institutions like the Inter American Development Bank (IDB) and the World Bank.
Dr Richard Van West Charles worked for the past 18 years with PAHO/WHO in various capacities in the Caribbean with responsibilities that covered Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean islands, Jamaica, Cayman Islands, Bermuda, the Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos Islands before going on to Washington DC.
Even though he lived overseas, he said, he kept abreast with developments taking place at home. “My experience can and will make a significant contribution in terms of human capital.”
During his tenure at these institutions, he remained an ardent member of the People’s National Congress (PNC) even after administrators voted for a Reform component. Now, some seventeen years after the People’s National Congress Reform has been relegated to the opposition benches, Dr Richard Van West Charles has decided that the time is ripe to launch a bid for the leadership of the Party founded by his late father-in-law, Linden Forbes Sampson Burnham.
Consequently, he plans to formulate the type of strategies that would reinstate his beloved Party to the seat of governance.
Members of the PNCR will convene for Congress in about one week’s time, on August 21, and elections will be held on August 22. Several other party stalwarts have accepted nominations for the leadership of the Party, yet Dr Van West Charles believes that at the end of the voting process it is he who will take over from incumbent leader, Robert Corbin.
Apart from Corbin, Dr Van West Charles, former Chairman of the Party, Winston Murray, has also indicated his intention to challenge for the Party’s leadership. While there has been talk of several other nominations, up to the time of penning this article, it was not clear if the other nominees were contesting the position.
Last Friday, this journalist caught up with Dr Van West Charles at his Barrack Street office and attempted to ascertain his plans and projections towards the upward mobility of the Party. He was adamant that the Constitution of the Party made provisions for such processes and that his challenge for the leadership position must in no way be adversely construed.
“The Party’s constitution makes provision for an electoral process every two years and a challenge launched by a constitutional member cannot be interpreted as pompous or presumptuous,” he said.
Dr Van West Charles is also adamant that challenges for the leadership of the Party are not indicative of raging internal warfare.
“Challenges are healthy in any democratic process and cannot weaken the Party,” he said.
However, the former Health Minister maintains that a transparent process is integral to the eventual outcome and acceptance of the concomitant results. He has identified the need for vigilance in several areas.
“At the moment the two sticky areas that I believe can compromise the process are the need to enact a secret voting process as well as a reliable form of identification.”
He also suggests an intense scrutiny of the membership register. “I am confident that logic, fairness and good sense would prevail,” he concluded.
Certain elements outside the Party’s leadership believe that an integral aspect of the PNCR journey to the seat of government is an apology of the perceived ills perpetuated against the nation during its tenure at the helm.
Earlier reports in the media have quoted Dr Van West Charles as agreeing with this position. He attempted to set the record straight.
“I never said that the PNCR must apologise. In fact, what I said was that the people that were peddling these views must present objective evidence to support their claims and once they are authentic, then the Party must not be afraid to apologise.”
The plainspoken candidate clearly asserted that the PNCR, while in power, was all-inclusive and shied away from unlawful practices.
“The PNCR never had a policy of doing bad things to any section of society; the PNCR, as a political Party never engaged in organised crime; the Party never murdered anyone; we had never set out to corrupt the state nor have we established racial inequalities in the access to basic services,” Dr Van West Charles expounded.
He further pointed out that strong and decisive leadership from the opposition forces would curtail such excesses. “This is the type of leadership the Party needs and which I will provide,” he stated.
Dr Van West Charles juxtaposed the policies of the current government in the communicational field with those of the PNC while it was in government and posited that his party, despite certain global constraints, nonetheless, stuck closely to the principles of democracy.
“Mind you, I was not the Minister of Information but my understanding of the situation then was that the world was different and the global values precipitated certain necessities so the PNC Government was constrained to some extent.”
He further adumbrated that since Guyana is a plural society, Government ought to be cognizant and respectful of the different cultures and the way the dispensation of information is handled.
Quizzed on his expectations of the impending elections, Dr Van West Charles stated, “I am feeling positive because I believe that the delegates will realise that the Party must wake up and be organised, be strengthened and forge ahead with plans to build partnerships and alliances.
The PNCR must get into all communities and represent the issues of all citizens. We must be seen as possessing the capacity to govern this country. I bring to these projections to the Party and I hope to influence the electorate in my bid to take up the mantle of leadership,” the veteran politician remarked.
While his eyes are riveted on the premium post of leadership, the astute politician believes that he has a lot to offer the Party. Quizzed of his interest in contesting any other position, he pointed out that while the Vice Chairmanship seems lucrative, he believes that such a position should be occupied by a young stalwart.
He reasons that such a ploy would effectively initiate a grooming process where a young member could aim for the leadership position in the future, even as he/she acquaints themselves with the workings of the party.
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