– Guyana’s longest-serving House Speaker, Sase Narain
By Kiana Wilburg
Even at age 89, Guyana’s longest-serving Speaker of the National Assembly to date, Sase Narain, remains
witty, resolute, and assertive.
Politicians from both sides of the House, who have been guided by him from the time he assumed office in 1971, until he left in 1992, agree that regardless of your political persuasion or affiliation, if you were wrong, Narain never hesitated to deal with you condignly.
His contributions and decisions in that period of Guyana’s political history continue to remain vital precedents for some of his successors. His appointment to the post of House Speaker gave him a profound and insightful position in local politics. But his political career and family life was complicated, to say the least, by the unreasonable demands of a jealous mistress. But more about ‘her’ later.
Narain said that his life was full of sacrifices, but it is certainly worth it, and after a few minutes of reflection during the interview, deemed it, “A life well lived.”
Born January 1925, Sase Narain describes himself as “a very simple person.” He grew up in the Pouderoyen, West Bank Demerara. He reflected on the fond memories of his late parents, Oudit and Soukhai Narain, whom he said placed much importance on inculcating a high moral standing.
The father of five also expressed his undying love for his sister, Jennifer, who lived in England but passed away a year and a half ago.
With a still unquenchable thirst for knowledge, he recalled his days attending Malgre Tout Primary School which was a mere 50 yards from his comfortable home. After successfully passing his “school leaving exams” he proceeded to complete his Junior Cambridge Exams at the Primary School and left the countryside for the busy Georgetown environs, where he completed his Senior Cambridge Exams at the Modern Educational Institute.
The then young Narain was eager to commence studies in Commerce. He was the business-oriented type. But his parents managed to persuade him to pursue law.
MARRIAGE, FAMILY AND “MY MISTRESS”
At age 27, Narain found the love of his life, Shamshun, whom he wasted no time in tying the nuptial knot with in 1952. The marriage produced four wonderful sons and another was later adopted.
Committed to giving law a fair shot as he promised his parents, Narain was off to England to further his studies. After completing his Solicitors Exams at The City Law School in Chancery Lane, London, the young graduate returned to Guyana to practice law in 1957.
But even after entering practicing and earning much success, law to him remained too much of a “jealous and a most demanding mistress.” Acting upon the advice of a dear family friend, Narain made the tough decision to send his children away to England so that they could further their studies under the education system he found to be most impressive.
In the absence of his family, it was not long before Narain became consumed by his “mistress”.
“I suppose I hadn’t a choice,” he asserted, “I was determined to be successful and one of the best in the field to make my family in England comfortable.” Narain confessed that while he missed out on the “joy and love” of being a part of his children’s early days, he is proud that they all turned out to be outstanding professionals.
“They are fairly successful, but I lost the companionship with my children at a tender age, and that’s the price I paid. Is it a regret? Well I don’t know, yes there is some regret that I didn’t have the love and joy of being with them, but they have been able to successfully have a profession, have a family of their own, and I am grateful for that. My joy has been curtailed by their not being in Guyana. I do miss them. These days, I just spend my time watching a show, soaking up the news and sleeping,” he expressed.
THE UNPREDICTABLE WORLD OF POLITICS
He still remembers, vividly, his initiation into the crude and unpredictable world of politics. It started with his appointment as Deputy Chairman to the Public Service Commission and the Police Service Commission by the then People’s National Congress (PNC) administration in the late 1960s.
He stressed, “I am no politician,” and said that even upon that appointment he was still an energetic attorney-at-law.
Narain recalled the day when the then Prime Minister Forbes Burnham asked him if he would consider being Speaker. “Of course I said yes, and on January 4, 1971, I was appointed and remained there until 1992 when the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) was successful in the elections.”
During that time, the PNC held a majority position in the Parliament and the PPP, he said, while in Opposition, under the Leadership of the late founder of the PPP, the late Dr. Cheddi Jagan, was a most passionate and rebellious party.
His time as House Speaker was not without its fair share of harsh criticisms, insults, confusion and other verbal and physical displays of disfavour for his decisions and power as House Speaker. But he feels he dealt with each instance affirmatively and respectably.
Holding the position for the first time, Narain said that he had no expectations.
“The job of the speaker is a prominent one and I was satisfied with it. Whenever they didn’t want me, my position was so be it. I didn’t expect it to be difficult based on what I saw before, but I was in it for my own experience. The Speaker is like the chairman of a debating society, motions are moved, and debated, and you give everyone a fair chance to talk and then it is decided. The Speaker is rarely called upon to make a decision on matters,” he said.
He added, “Holding the majority then, as you know, was the PNC, so when they moved anything, the yeas would have it. But my successor, Raphael Trotman, he is in uncharted waters, unprecedented territory, and he, like the Parliament, will have no choice but to evolve. How gracefully that is done is another thing.”
The former Speaker recalled some of the challenges he faced when he served in that capacity.
“I didn’t have a lot of challenges, but I had some testing ones. I had to deal with a lot of improper or inappropriate behaviour from the PPP. There was one time when one of its parliamentarians, named Basheer, threw a glass at me because he was upset. Even the late Dr. Jagan had a temper. Oh yes, he used to throw down books and remove the mace when he was angry. When I asked him to apologise, he refused. I was not asking him to go on his knees and beg forgiveness, but he simply refused to apologise and so I didn’t recognise him.
“There is a part of the Standing Orders which says that you cannot speak unless the Speaker recognises you, and so I never recognised him, and that went on for over a year… but that was kind of inappropriate behaviour I had to deal with. The PPP is famous for that, but I can understand part of it. But I was always resolute on showing who is boss in that environment. I defended the Office of the Speaker. I did not stand for nonsense,” he reflected.
Asked what he believed to be one of the major successes of his time as House Speaker, Narain said that notwithstanding the differences in opinion, when Bills were passed, all were assented to, and motions and debates enjoyed due parliamentary process and no delays.
“It is sad what the House has been reduced to now. You have Bills being passed by the House and not being assented to, as in the case of the Local Government Bills. I mean I simply can’t understand the fiasco now clouding the National Assembly. And then there is added frustration with the delay in the first meeting of the Parliament when it came out of recess on October 10. But my successor has to know what will be the way forward.”
The former Speaker explained that as the National Assembly passes through varying circumstances and eras, the Standing Orders should be continuously reviewed and amended where necessary to avoid unclear interpretations which would then lead to any form of constitutional crisis.
After leaving his post in 1992, Narain resumed a rigourous, full-time relationship with his law practice and retired eight years ago. But even after all those years, law remains his passion.
“As a lawyer, you are always burning the midnight oil in order to be successful. Being admitted to the Bar is only the beginning.”
Guyana’s sixth House Speaker asserted that his time in such a prestigious position was most enlightening and a defining part of his life. He surmised that it was a most fulfilling experience to chair the House and to pass on the baton to his immediate successor, Derek Jagan.
He has received notable awards such as this country’s second highest, the Order of Roraima, and the Order of St. Michael and St. George from Queen Elizabeth II, an award is given to persons who have delivered extraordinary or important non-military service in a foreign country. It can also be conferred for important or loyal service in relation to foreign and Commonwealth affairs.
The Senior Counsel concluded that his greatest lesson from being a Speaker was, “Learning to be being patient.”Asked if he had any advice for the incumbent Speaker, Narain after a light chuckle said, “It’s for his ears only.”
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