In the interest of historical accuracy, and as someone who is acquainted with the subject matter, I would like to comment on Ralph Ramkarran’s feature article on Balram Singh Rai (“Balram Singh Rai”, June 6) and the response penned by Frederick Kissoon (“Rai should not get a national award”, 6/9).
First, both writers are expressing their opinions as to whether Rai should or should not receive a national award in recognition for his political contributions to Guyana’s historical development.
I suspect that Mr. Rai would not care less for such an award. When he departed Guyana in November 1970, in self-imposed exile, a few years after a bitter struggle with Cheddi and Janet Jagan, he noted that “my record is in the public domain for all to see”. Rai has not commented on Guyanese politics since then. He has resisted attempts to contribute to a biography on his life because he wanted to “avoid even a mere suggestion of historical revisionism and embellishment of his political role”.
Malcolm Harripaul has addressed the inaccuracies in Kissoon’s response. Kissoon’s persistent preoccupation with branding others as “supremacists” will be addressed when time permits.
Secondly, Ralph Ramkarran provided an unbiased account of Rai’s relationship with the Jagans, except for the statement suggesting that Rai “made an effort at reconciliation with Cheddi Jagan in 1992 but received no response.” I am unclear as to what Ramkarran meant by “reconciliation” but any correspondence Rai had with President Jagan would have been regarding his parliamentary pension. The conflict between Rai and the Jagans is well documented and is now part of Guyanese historiography.
Thirdly, Ramkarran raised the issue of the denial of Rai’s parliamentary pension.
For the record, the Parliamentary Pensions (President, Parliamentary and Special Offices) Act, Chapter 27:03, enacted in January 1970 by the government, provided for pensions to legislators who were sitting members of the National Assembly on or after May 26, 1966. The Act also provided for pensions to legislators who had served in 1953 or after and had returned to serve in the Assembly on or after May 26, 1966 (Guyana’s independence), thus providing for former legislative service to be counted for the purposes of computing pensions to qualified legislators.
Balram Singh Rai served as a legislator from 1957 to 1964. He was not a member of the Assembly on May 26, 1966, when the country gained its independence, nor was he a holder of any of the Special Offices designated in the Act. Rai therefore, did not qualify for a pension under the Act, as it was written. He is the only legislator in this predicament. The laws can be changed to make this accommodation for a citizen who served his country.
Rai was first elected to the Legislative Council in 1957 when his main challenger was his Buxtonian friend Sydney King, now elder statesman, Eusi Kwayana, to represent the Central Demerara electoral constituency. Between 1959 and 1961, Rai was the Minister of Community Development and Education and between 1961 and 1962, he was Guyana’s first Minister of Home Affairs. Born on February 8, 1921 in the East Coast Demerara village of Beterverwagting, at the ripe age of 94, Rai is currently in failing health, walks with a cane, and lives in Ealing, London.
Rai had written to every President since his departure from Guyana regarding his pension. One would have thought that Cheddi Jagan, whose administration he served, would have been more responsive. However, despite writing to Cheddi Jagan several times after 1992, the first letter being sent on January 4, 1993, no response was forthcoming from President Jagan, who insisted that Rai withdrew his allegations of fraud in the April 1962 PPP General Council election.
Finally, since Ralph has revived the issue of Rai’s parliamentary pension, I would issue a personal challenge to him. As a former Speaker of the National Assembly and as a Senior Counsel widely accepted as one blessed with one of the finest legal minds in the country, he is in a unique position to lobby his parliamentary colleagues to pursue legislative action that would make it possible for Rai to receive his long overdue parliamentary pension.
By doing so, Ralph would be making a tremendous contribution towards natural and social justice on behalf of an “iconic political figure” in Guyana’s history.
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