(This is the first in a series of articles featuring the leading Presidential Candidates. This week David Granger details his plans to win the presidency and speaks candidly about the PNC’s losing streak and what he perceives were the errors)
By Neil Marks
When an internal squabble dislocated its support base, the main opposition People’s National Congress Reform (PNCR) had to settle for both defeat and lesser seats in the National Assembly following the 2006 general elections.
Party leader Robert Corbin could not recover from repeated challenges to unseat him from the highest office at Congress Place and chose to send the signal early that he was not interested in running again for President.
David Granger was personally not interested in contesting the nomination, and up to September 2010, he was actually a part of the panel that was tasked with guiding the process that would lead to the naming of a presidential candidate.
However, as the process kicked in, many started looking in Granger’s direction. They felt that he would be the ideal candidate to reverse the PNC’s losing streak since the historic 1992 elections, when the party, then under the late Hugh Desmond Hoyte, was unseated from its 28-year grip on power, marred by allegations of rigged elections and destructive economic policies – all blamed on the machinations of then PNC founder Forbes Burnham.
Granger is not ready to admit the elections under Burnham were rigged.
“I don’t have evidence that they were rigged,” Granger said in an interview with Kaieteur News.
“You’ll have to look at the record. The record as far as the PPP is concerned is that the elections were rigged. I’ve heard people say that; I personally never rigged anything.”
The ruling PPP, through President Bharrat Jagdeo, has accused Granger of having blood on his hands owing to an incident surrounding the 1973 elections when three of the PPP’s supporters were killed in Berbice when the government tasked the Army with transporting ballot boxes.
“He was then stationed at Atkinson Field, now Timehri Airport. Second, Mr. Granger was not at that time in the management and control of the Guyana Defence Force. Third, he was not a member of the Directorate of the PNCR or the Government,” the PNCR has said in defence of Granger against the attacks.
The PPP refers to the three persons killed as the “Ballot Box” martyrs, but Granger places their death squarely at the feet of the PPP owing to antagonistic tactics pursued by PPP founder Dr Cheddi Jagan, as is highlighted in the Commission of Inquiry report by Justice Dhanessar Jhappan.
According to Granger, Jhappan attributed blame to Dr Jagan who was regarded as provocative in his speeches, which incited young people to “take some actions which ended up being to their detriment.”
Granger charges that it was Jagan who instructed PPP supporters to prevent the removal of ballot boxes from polling stations and as a result of this they engaged in a tussle with soldiers who were instructed by the Army to protect the ballot boxes.
The PPP has sought to discredit the Jhappan report, claiming the Commission was set up by the PNC regime with the intention to cover up the crime and justify the murders. But Granger is unfazed.
“I don’t have blood on my hands; I was not there. I never killed anyone in my life.”
Granger is unapologetic about having always espoused the values of the PNC and its founder leader Burnham, but he is ready to bring his own strategy to erase the problems he sees in Guyana. With his stellar academic and military education, Granger is ready to fight for the job.
David Granger was born to parents Chetwynd and Verleigh Granger. His father served as a Police officer and his mother worked as a nurse. He grew up in Bartica and at Whim on the Corentyne Coast, and in Georgetown where the family moved when he was about nine years old.
By then, his young mind was moulded by the church, even if it confused him to have been exposed, at that young age, to three denominations of Christianity.
He was born into an Anglican family, was baptized in Christ Church and sang in the choir at Christ Church. When he married Sandra Chan-A-Sue in 1970, it was at Christ Church. Later, they took their children, Han (who now runs Topaz Jewellery Shop) and Afuwa (who lives overseas) to Christ Church.
Granger seems guarded about his family life; or at least hesistant to put them in the spotlight just yet. He respectfully declined to make available any portraits for publication at this time.
But back to his childhood years. In Bartica, he attended St John’s Anglican School and on the Corentyne Coast, Auchlyne Primary. When the family moved to Georgetown, he attended the Moravian School.
Later, he moved on to Queen’s College, where he completed his ‘O’ and ‘A’ Levels.
While at Queen’s College, he had enlisted in the Cadet Corps and served as president of the Historical and Debating Society.
During those school years, classes were disrupted with the strikes and ethnic strife. It was the early ’60s.
“It was a memorable period for the wrong reason, mainly because it disrupted our education.”
He completed schooling at Queen’s College in 1964 and enrolled in the University of Guyana the following year, sitting in the same space that served as his school classroom, given that the University was then housed there.
His university education was interrupted though by his call to the Army.
He joined the Guyana Defence Force (GDF) as an officer cadet in 1965 and was commissioned as a second Lieutenant in 1966. He received his professional military training at the Army Command and Staff College in Nigeria; the Jungle Warfare Instruction Centre in Manaus, Brazil; and the School of Infantry and the Mons Officer Cadet School, respectively, in the United Kingdom.
During his military service, he held a variety of appointments including planning officer for the establishment of the Guyana National Service (1973-74) and the Guyana People’s Militia (1976-77). He also led military delegations to Brazil, Cuba, Germany, Guinea, Korea, Somalia and Yugoslavia.
Granger would eventually complete his university education, graduating with the Master of Social Science Degree in Political Science, and the Bachelor of Arts Degree in History, from the University of Guyana; and the post-graduate diploma in International Relations from the University of the West Indies.
He was also an Internal Fellow on the Defence Planning and Resource Management Seminar at the Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies of the National Defense University and attended the Counterterrorism Educators’ Workshop at the Joint Special Operations University, Florida, USA.
He also received a Hubert Humphrey Journalism Fellowship and that served him well when he founded the monthly magazine “Guyana Review,” which is now published by the Stabroek News.
He has presented several papers on defence and security topics to international and national academic conferences including: “Civil Violence, Domestic Terrorism and Internal Security in Guyana, 1953-2003”; “Convention and Convenience: A Preliminary Study of Women Soldiers in the Anglophone Caribbean with Special Reference to the Women’s Army Corps of the Guyana Defence Force, 1967-2002″; and, Defence and Diplomacy in the Subordinate System: The Experience of Guyana”.
Granger retired from military service with the rank of a Brigadier in 1994 after serving as National Security Adviser to the President (1990-94) and as Commander of the GDF (1979-90).
He is a former member of the Disciplined Forces Commission; Co-Chairman of the Border and National Security Committee; Member of the National Security Strategy Planning Committee; Chairman of the Central Intelligence Committee; Member of the National Drug Law Enforcement Committee; and Member of the Guyana Defence Board.
Granger received the Military Service Star; Military Service Medal; Efficiency Medal; Border Defence Medal; and other service awards.
A life in politics seemed inevitable for Granger. As a young boy, he was part of the young socialist movement and became sympathetic to aims and objectives of the PNC under Burnham, who among other things was averse to aligning the country with the Soviet bloc and continued to have relations with the East and West.
He describes Burnham as a visionary and nationalist, who had a clear idea of where he wanted the country to go in terms of its natural resources. Burnham, Granger says, felt Guyanese could manage the country as well as Europeans and even better.
Granger posits that Burnham also sought to free women from male domination. He points out that Burnham was committed to regionalism and this was seen in him making Guyana one of the four founder members of the Caribbean Community and helped institute the Caribbean Festival of Arts.
In military terms, Granger respected Burnham’s judgments, crediting him with building a defence force which was capable of defending the country against secession in 1969 and other threats against Guyana’s territorial interests.
However, he does not agree with everything Burnham did. On the economic front, he calls an “error” Burnham’s move to nationalize transnational corporations, because, Granger surmises, Guyana did not have the capability of maintaining those corporations, particularly sugar and bauxite and to some extent, the banking system.
“Although those decisions were greeted by academics and others in the country, it turned out to be unwise.”
Despite this disagreement with Burnham, Granger sees the PNC Founder Leader as “a visionary leader who laid the foundation for a truly independent state.”
A COME HOME CALL
Granger believes he can command the sort of respect Burnham did with party loyalists and he is already seeing results. Indeed, it has to be the first order of the day. The PNC has to win back its supporters.
“I think particularly in the last election there was a state of challenge within the party and some members did not contribute as in previous years,” Granger says. He believes that this poor mobilization resulted in the low turnout. With Granger though, things are turning around.
“Many people have started to return; we’ve issued a come home call,” a smiling Granger says.
He believes that disenchanted PNC supporters voted for the Alliance For Change (AFC) mainly because of Raphael Trotman, who served as a Parliamentarian for the PNC but became disenchanted himself and joined with Khemraj Ramjattan, who was ousted from the PPP, and formed the AFC.
But now, he said the problems which forced the PNC’s supporters to leave and join the AFC, have been removed and they are now returning.
There is a sense of euphoria that overtakes him when he talks of PNC supporters “coming back in droves,” and especially those who are not afraid to stand up and declare themselves to be the figurative “prodigal sons” returning “home.”
Being a security expert, many see Granger being able to effectively arrest crime in the country, but he wants to be seen as someone who is committed to “human development.”
Of course, crime has to be addressed. Public security is paramount for him since he sees crime as the greatest threat to human development.
“The first thing is to create a safe environment so Guyanese in the diaspora and foreigners will invest,” he says, but argues that this is not just a matter of attracting more investment but making the ordinary man feel safe.
He says there are too many gun crimes and murders plaguing the society. If he were to be elected President, Granger says he will reform the Guyana Police Force, making sure it is properly equipped. His plan includes weeding out incompetent and dishonest officers who don’t fit into a professional police service.
BETTER LIFE FOR TEACHERS
His other priority would be the education system and making life better for teachers.
“That is the section of the public servants that will turn this country around.”
In recent memory, he counts about 15 schools which were shut down by parents and teachers because of the state of disrepair of those schools.
But at the root of his plan to address the deficiencies in the education sector is ensuring that teachers are properly trained and adequately remunerated.
By making teachers the highest paid public servants (and he throws in the “read my lips” line for emphasis) Granger wants to reverse the migration of highly qualified teachers to places such as Botswana, Belize and the Bahamas. His plan is simple: make teachers the most highly paid in the public service.
Further, he plans to address what he considers widespread unemployment across the country.
In the hinterland, for example, he says the current PPP/C government has demonstrated that it is incapable of bring real development, and finding jobs to especially young people.
His plan has groundings in the agriculture sector.
Granger believes the economy could be better integrated if there is a robust agriculture drive in all regions. The problem he sees is that there aren’t agricultural institutes in all the regions, despite the fact that agriculture is the basis of the economy.
He plans to set up such institutes, because without them, the young people cannot be trained and are hence deprived of a career in agriculture, with the country losing out on production.
Granger plans to create a micro-credit scheme, so those who want to get into agriculture would have the capital to do so.
He says the money to address all of this will come from taxes. Though he is not explicit in saying that if he gets into power he will reduce the 16% Value Added Tax (VAT), he is quick to describe the current rate of VAT as “oppressive on the backs of working people.”
Dealing with corruption, Granger says if elected President, he would not pursue a vendetta against anyone who is thought to have engaged or facilitated corruption under the current government, but he insists the law must be obeyed.
“If people are known to have broken the law, I expect the Police Force and the courts will ensure the law is complied with.”
As indicated earlier, crime, unemployment, the education sector and corruption, are but a few of Granger’s plans if he moves into the Presidential Complex in New Garden Street.
But for now, he must deal with the main competition from the PPP and its new presidential candidate Donald Ramotar, though he doesn’t see much of a challenge.
“Ramotar has got a tremendous job ahead of him,” Granger says confidently.
“I don’t think the PPP can win this election on the basis of its record,” he insists. For Granger, while there might be evidence of infrastructural development the PPP boasts of, the quality of life of Guyanese has not improved, and he points to the increasing number of street children and older destitute ones as a clear sign.
“Guyana is building drop-in centres and night shelters instead of laboratories, instead of science institutes.”
For Granger, this could be the election where Guyana can split from a history of race-based politics which has seen Indo-Guyanese voting for the PPP and Afro-Guyanese for the PNC.
But he accuses the PPP of fuelling the culture of fear which has characterised elections in Guyana.
He cites the example of a public servant whose daughter attended a meeting he held at Lichfield in Berbice and was transferred to Mahdia.
Granger claims people of various ethnicities have said they would like to support his campaign but they fear victimization.
“There is fear; those tactics are terroristic tactics.”
If that fear is removed, he believes there can be a clear campaign based on issues and definite plans for developing Guyana.
Granger believes that with the right strategy and a good woman by his side, as Prime Ministerial candidate, he could lead the PNC to victory at this year’s polls.
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