A former member and leader of the Young Socialist Movement (YSM), the youth arm of the PNCR, recently died overseas and his body was brought back to Guyana for interment. A video is circulating on social media which seems to suggest that when the body arrived in Guyana, it was provided with a police escort vehicle with siren and flashing lights, en route from the airport to the funeral parlour.
The Commissioner of Police may wish to explain why a police escort was necessary and who authorized this service. He should state if the same service is available for any ordinary citizen who may have died and whose relatives wish to have a police escort.
One person, on viewing the video on social media, commented that this reminded him of the days of paramountcy of the party. Fears of the return of party paramountcy have been resurrected, following statements by an executive leader about giving jobs only to PNCR supporters. Now with the incident about the police escort for a fallen party comrade, the debate is likely to be about whether the doctrine has been reintroduced.
The Minister of Finance recently reminded the nation that 2020 is not only an election year. It is also the 50th anniversary of Guyana becoming a Cooperative Republic. What he did not mention was that next year, 2019, will mark the 45th anniversary since the introduction of the doctrine of paramountcy.
According to Euclid Rose, in his work “Dependency and Socialism in the Modern Caribbean”, it was in 1974 that Forbes Burnham, at a Special Congress of the party to mark its 10th year in government, announced that the party should unapologetically assume its paramountcy over the government. This doctrine saw the merger of the Office of the General Secretary of the PNC with that of the Ministry of National Development, thereby allowing the party to benefit directly from public funds.
Paramountcy blurred the lines between party and government. According to this doctrine, it was the party which was required to provide practical and theoretical leadership at all levels of society.
Paramountcy was not exercised simply at the level of government. The party became supreme over the State, with the party flag being flown over the Court of Appeal. Civil servants were mustered to attend conferences and meetings of the party. Non-attendance had dire consequences. But things went much further. The party became supreme over the military and the police, who could thence be ordered to do the dirty work of the PNC.
Declassified documents released by the Office of the Historian of the United States have revealed that the late President of the Clerical Commercial and Workers’ Union. Gordon Todd, told a senior official of the Caribbean Congress of Labour that what saved his life was an argument between a policeman and soldier as to whether their orders involved killing him. This was after he was picked up and placed in a military helicopter over shark-infested waters in the Atlantic.
The trade union movement was not insulated from paramountcy. In 1977, even a self-professed Marxist-Leninist like Cheddi Jagan, was forced to walkout of a TUC event in honour of the Enmore martyrs, because a plaque which was unveiled for the event was draped with the ruling party’s flag.
Paramountcy represents a danger to freedom. The past record of political repression, victimization and rampant discrimination should caution the nation against a return to any semblance of party paramountcy.
The police escort which was therefore provided for the transportation of the body of a former YSM leader, from the airport to the funeral parlour, must be viewed in the context of recent pronouncements which suggest that paramountcy may be back. The Police Commissioner has some explaining to do.
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