Mar 23, 2011 News
“The Jagdeo Presidency is a difficult period for Guyana, “for the PPP, the PNC, for everybody” – Dr. Henry Jeffrey
Given Guyana’s long history of racial violence, both of the country’s two major political parties have “blood on their hands”.
This is the view expressed by former Minister in the PPP/C Administration, Dr Henry Jeffrey, during an interview.
During a recent address to commemorate the death anniversary of the late President Dr. Cheddi Jagan, President Bharrat Jagdeo told party supporters that the recently elected presidential candidate of the People’s National Congress Reform, Brigadier (ret’d) David Granger has “blood on his hands”.
The President was referring to the killing of two persons by members of the Guyana Defence Force during the 1973 elections.
But Dr Jeffrey referred to a few controversial incidents during the 1950s, including the blowing up of the MV Son Chapman in the Demerara River.
“People will want to talk about that steamer that was going to Linden…I assume that once you talk about political violence, one party got blood on their hands, both parties got blood on their hands,” Dr. Jeffrey stated.
The former Minister opined that President Jagdeo contradicted himself with the messages he sent out to two different factions of the local society.
Dr. Jeffrey was referring to the President’s statements to Buxtonians and those he made to PPP supporters at Babu John a few weeks ago.
The President during an address to Buxtonians last August urged them to forget about the past and move forward with the development of their community.
Then recently, he told supporters at Babu John, Port Mourant, to remind their younger comrades of the history of the PNC, when they were in government.
“First of all there is contradiction there. There is no doubt about that, in terms of saying one thing here and saying something else there. But this is going to continue, this is the election season and even if it doesn’t happen at that level, it happens in all the bottom houses.”
Dr. Jeffrey said that obviously it is not proper for anyone to behave in the manner the president did, but given the elections climate, it is not surprising.
“Of course it’s wrong. One person told me that these were ungodly statements and things like that. But here we have the hierarchy agreeing with what the President said because they are mobilizing support,” the former government minister said.
Dr Jeffrey left the government after serving in various ministerial positions, including Labour, Housing, Education and Foreign Trade. He said that his leaving the PPP/C government had a lot to do with his disagreement with President Jagdeo over the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA), which the Region entered into with the European Union.
Jeffrey, who was the Foreign Trade Minister at the time of the agreement, was convinced that Guyana should sign it, in contrast to President Jagdeo who had serious reservations.
Jeffrey explained that all the stakeholders had sat down and agreed to the basic tenets of the EPA over a four-year period, which was directly linked to the 2000 Cotonou Agreement which was ratified twice in the National Assembly.
“I believe that we spent four years doing that agreement. I believe that it has the kind of institutions that allow it to suit our conditions as we go along…because remember this is a twenty-year agreement. It can’t stay like that for twenty years; it has to change with changing situations and it has those arrangements within it and therefore I think it’s something we could have signed…Well we did sign in the end.”
According to Jeffrey, the straw that broke the camel’s back was when he addressed an educational forum, during which he openly advocated for the signing of the agreement, despite the President’s previously known position on the matter.
“The President was of the view that we were on opposite wavelengths, because remember he was not for signing, and here it was I was telling these people from Guyana and the Caribbean that it’s an alright agreement, and it should be signed. I never understood the President’s position on why he didn’t want to sign in the first place.”
Jeffrey said that even before that episode, he had spoken to a number of persons, including Prime Minister Samuel Hinds, about leaving the administration.
He said that he had felt that there was not enough discussions within the administration on largely important issues which led to much frustration, and by the time the EPA issue came up, he was more or less on his way out.
As a result of this, Jeffrey was offered a diplomatic position in neighbouring Suriname, which he subsequently declined.
He explained, “I had put up certain requests, requirements for going to Suriname, and at the end of the day what actually was said to me was those things cannot be accepted, and I said alright, I’m not going.”
He added that he certainly has no regrets over his decision.
Jeffrey described the Jagdeo Presidency as a difficult period for Guyana, “for the PPP, the PNC, for everybody.”
According to the Former Minister, he does not think that Guyana has made the strides that it would have made if there was more national unity.
Jeffrey also noted that under Bharrat Jagdeo the relationship between the government and the opposition has been acrimonious, more than any other period in Guyana’s post-independence history.
“Even within the PPP, I’ve always argued that we need to come together more with the opposition because everything can turn into some conflictual relationship that won’t lead to development.”
He pointed out that in terms of such societal ills like crime, there is no doubt that national unity is needed to deal effectively with it.
“That’s why today…I’m saying the same thing in different ways, we need some kind of national unity if we are to move forward successfully,” Jeffrey said.
He believes that there was some nexus between convicted drug dealer Roger Khan and the PPP/C administration during the 2002-2006 crime wave.
According to Jeffrey, the PPP/C government had lost faith in the Guyana Police Force, and is it not farfetched to accept the claim by Khan that he stepped up to help the government to fight crime.
“I think though, that because of that, the PPP now is perceived as actually colluding with drug lords. I don’t have evidence to say that that has actually occurred…I would say that I actually believe that there was some sort of nexus to Roger Khan, because of what happened in terms of the criminal activities at that point of time.”
The Guyana Government has been accused of not doing enough to fight the drug trade and there is evidence that most of the busts associated with drugs coming out from Guyana occur in other countries.
In all of these cases no one has been prosecuted locally.
The former Minister said that although there was a commission of inquiry into the events surrounding the crime wave, there should still be some investigations into the operations of a ‘Phantom Squad’ reportedly headed by Roger Khan, and those found culpable should be dealt with, depending on their level of involvement.
With regards to the perceived marginalisation of a certain group under the present PPP/C administration, Jeffrey is of the view that after gaining power in 1992, the new administration obviously felt that there was a need to rejig the make-up of the Public Service, which was at the time PNC- dominated.
“The question we need to ask ourselves, is whether or not that attempt to rejig has gone too far, in the sense that now it has not balanced. What you have now is that African Guyanese feel that they are totally marginalised. I’m not going to deny that there were changes intended to create a balance, and I’m not going to deny that there is this perception out there among Afro-Guyanese that this government is discriminating against them.
“But everybody agreed that to have balance in an imbalanced situation had to have some discrimination in some form,” Jeffrey explained.
He said that he did not see himself as a mere “token” in the PPPC administration to present a ‘black face’ in an Indian-oriented party. According to him, the question was whether or not he could have made a significant impact in the administration aspect. He said that it was Dr. Cheddi Jagan who lured him into the administration to serve, an invitation he was reluctant to refuse.
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