Kaieteur News – Here are the words of the PNC leader during his visit to the US as reported in the media: “I hope to restore the party to the glorious days of Forbes Burnham.” The PNC was never a glorious party under Forbes Burnham. History has judged both the PNC and its founder harshly and continues to do so.
Please see the following columns of mine. Tuesday, October 15, 2019, “History of the PNC: Part 1.” Saturday, November 23, 2019, “A history of the PNC: Part 2” and Saturday, July 31, 2021, “A history of the PNC – Part 3.” This is a five-part series with two remaining installations – the PNC after 1992 under Hoyte and Corbin and the PNC after 2011 under Mr. Corbin’s successor, David Granger.
I will resume the analysis in the future but for now, let’s examine if the PNC was a glorious party under Forbes Burnham. I will not rehash materials already contained in the three parts of the series. The PNC under Burnham after 1975 became a humongous entity by virtue of the Declaration of Sophia. This proclamation created the doctrine of the paramountcy of the party.
What happened then was that the private organisation named People’s National Congress became a state entity fitted out with funds from the treasury. Burnham merged the state and the PNC under the umbrella of the Ministry of National Development. That ministry was essentially the PNC. It was not run by civil servants and technical, professional staff but by PNC leaders. Every PNC leader was a boss at the ministry. This dubious entity suffered a humiliating death when the WPA burnt it down.
If you are going to describe the PNC as having a glorious era under Burnham, then your research methodology will be a fascinating one – how are you going to separate this private political party from the state. Normally the two are distinct. At the moment, there is the private People’s Progressive Party which is distinct from all the ministries. The manager of the PPP’s head office, Freedom House has no role to play in any ministry whatsoever.
The PNC then under Burnham was an artificial organism. It was resourceful because it was fitted out with state funds. It was powerful because it was synonymous with the state. It was large because in a dictatorship, citizens can only survive by joining the ruling party. It was feared because it was headed by a maximum leader who was willing to use harsh methods to silence his detractors.
Now the current leader of the PNC has to resolve a contradiction he created. In competing for the position of leader of his party, Mr. Norton told the nation, he would not run the PNC as a maximum leader as Burnham did.
Here is a quote from a report of Mr. Norton speaking in Agricola in the Village Voice of December 20, 2021: “Norton declared that the age of maximum leadership in the party is over. Interestingly, Norton prefaced his statement with an admittance that in the final analysis the party’s founder-leader, the iconic Forbes Burnham had been a maximum leader.”
Could a party be a democratic institution with a maximum leadership? Aren’t the two antithetical? But it must raise the curiosity of Guyana watchers in the world as to what the PNC will be like if it is returned to the shape it was under Burnham. First, the PNC was not seen as glorious under Burnham by a majority of Guyana.
Secondly, Walter Rodney just 10 years after Burnham won power in 1964 began to weaken both Burnham and the PNC. For more on this see my analysis of this period in my column of Saturday, February 26, 2022: “Burnham at 99 is among the angels? Really?”
Thirdly, anyone who lived through the period of the PNC from the seventies until Burnham died in 1985 came to despise PNC leaders because of their power-intoxication. What happened under the Burnham regime is that each public sector corporation had a “party watchman” who was not integrated in the company nor was a paid employee.
These apparatchiks were hated by public sector seniors because they were power-drunk. Yesu Persaud felt the wrath of the “watchman” at DDL and went to Burnham to resign. Burnham calmed down Persaud and told him that he would warn the “watchman” but he was not removed (source: Persaud’s autobiography – page 213).
Fourthly, Guyana has changed so profoundly since Burnham’s “glorious” PNC days that it is virtually impossible to reshape the PNC to the era to which it became a national institution. In fact, it may be a difficult task saving the very existence of the PNC in the future.
(The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this newspaper.)
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