Sep 26, 2023 Letters
Dr. Randolph Persaud began ‘Henry Jeffrey’s ideology of racial antagonism,’ (KN: 20/09/2023) ‘I have tried very hard to make sense of Dr. Henry Jeffrey’s letters to the editor. To date, I must confess no progress has been made.’ Not surprisingly, he then proceeded to scribble nonsense that exposes his intellectual and conceptual limitations.
Off the block he inquired of me: ‘what did you do for Africans in the very long time you were a member of the PPP/C cabinet?’ This question is usually asked by Africans who believe that they are being socio/economically marginalised by the PPP/C government and that those of their ethnicity who have held apparently strategic positions did nothing about it. Therefore, while in the confrontational ethnic political context of Guyana this is a legitimate inquiry, it is not quite clear why, given his political orientation, it is being pursued by Dr. Persaud. After all, my doing nothing or only acting in the interest of Indians during my time in office would not go to the credit of the PPP. I suspect, then, that he expects me to robustly defend my tenure, but if he believes that by showing that Africans were treated equitably by me in the process of my providing for all Guyanese, it follows that they are not presently being systematically discriminated against, he is badly mistaken. Jeffrey’s behaviour needs not apply to the entire government and there is also the question of the nature and timing of his interventions.
In any case, let me again make my position clear. Africans are being systematically marginalised in Guyana, but it was not always so. The persistent ethnic difficulties that forced the resignation of Janet Jagan led the PPP to sensibly conclude that there are only two ways to make Guyana governable: democratically, by some form of power sharing or by dictatorial means. The PPP chose the latter and as a result, the present autocratic political context will persist. My ‘ideology of ethnic antagonism’ if you can call it that, is that after Janet Jagan was forced to resign the PPP government set about establishing ethnic/political dominance and has not provided for Africans on an equitable basis to force them to either join its ranks or migrate. The question as to whether Africans are being systematically discriminated against by the PPP can only be settled by a scientifically done ethnic disparity audit that Dr. Persaud should encourage his reluctant party to conduct.
Whether Cheddi Jagan would have chosen differently, I do not know. After all, he had the opportunity to go for shared governance during the independence negotiations of the 1950s/60s but rejected it but we now know that he had already committed the PPP to Soviet-type communism. But by 1992, Soviet communism was history and in the same way that he was able to accommodate Western capitalism he might have taken the more democratic pathway. Indeed, confronted by questions like Persaud’s, to the irritation of some of his close advisors, his advice usually was ‘show them the records’ and today we know that this is the last thing this autocratic regime does!
As for my record, very briefly, it cannot be denied that between 1992 and 1997, when I was the Minister of Labour, Housing, Human Services and Social Security, some of the most important labour-related and social legislation in Guyana’s post-independence history – the Trade Union Recognition Act, Termination of Employment and Severance Pay, Occupational Health and Safety Act, Prevention of Discrimination Act and Domestic Violence Act – which on a daily basis still affect the lives of thousands of people, was enacted and implemented. Between 1993, when the housing sector restarted, and 1997, some 22,500 house lots were allocated in 36 schemes in which some 5,000 houses were built. All 2,025 government flats in 17 schemes were sold for $15,000 and $25,000 to their occupants, who were mainly Africans. At the Ministry of Health from 1997 to 2001, I initiated health sector reform with semi-autonomous regional authorities for Berbice, Demerara, Essequibo, and the Hinterland.
The Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation and the Materials Management Agency were established as legal semi-autonomous bodies. The first – and unfortunately last – public hospital inspection took place and the Canter was established. At the Ministry of Education from 2001 to 2006, the National Accreditation and Technical and Vocational Education laws (the latter having been in the pipeline since 1990) were passed and their Councils established.
Surely, Africans must have benefitted significantly from the above. For one thing, industrial accidents reduced from 8,383 in 1993 to 2,370 in 1999. But nothing I have said deals adequately with the main contention that Africans are being systematically discriminated against, and some mopping up is required as I need to simplify a few matters as Dr. Persaud appears to have a problem understanding me.
Firstly, in relation to the PPP’s unusual behaviour with regards to recent increases in public servant pay, my position is that the PPP intended to give an end of year 7% increase to public servants for 2022 and its unusual twists and turns to arrive at its final offer and the size of those increases -13% to & 74% – for 2023 suggest that it was pressured by the United States, whose ambassador found it necessary to depart from a prepared presentation to thank and applaud the regime for its sensible decision to make decent increases.
The PPP now finds itself in the position of having to give similar increases to teachers and other public servants but wishes to undermine the GTU and make it appear that the decision to give such increases was voluntarily made by it, so as it did during the local government elections, the president is undemocratically attempting to bypass the official representatives of teachers. Secondly, I spoke to the possible migration of Africans and of educated Guyanese leaving largely because they are not being properly incentivized to remain, and Dr. Persaud gave some figures for ‘net migration’ that include some 24,000 Venezuelans and other refugees and called me clueless!
Thirdly, how can one still support the PPP, which has been historically twinned with the Guyana Agriculture and General Workers Union that it used as a battering ram in its political ambition to deceptively take not only Guyana but the entire English-speaking Caribbean into the Communist Stalinist fold by the use of its then ethnic majority position, when he frowns upon the GTU relationship with the PNC. Fourthly, Dr. Persaud brazenly linked the PNC to Jonestown and suicide but not the PPP to Stalin’s gulags where suicide was a relief, estimated to be 1,000 times more frequent than in Soviet society generally, where the situation was bad enough. Fifthly, Dr. Persaud, ‘One Guyana’ is not an innovation, it is nothing more than a stanza taken from the national motto that was crafted at a time when such aspirations were reasonable and were not being undermined by the very party that claims to value it! Sixthly, Dr. Persaud appears not to realise that his ethnically based party was ‘installed’ in government through elections manipulation that is it is terrified will be proven in court. As one recent survey showed, most Guyanese question the legitimacy of the government. Randolph Persaud, it is time to move on.
Dr. Henry Jeffrey
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