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Talking Politics In Guyana

Moses Nagamootoo on:
Guyana's 2010 Presidential Race, Shared Governance and Overseas Voting

*Interview with Mr. Moses Nagamootoo, former Minister, presently PPP Member of Parliament and party Central Committee member.

Mark McGowan: How do you assess the state our country is in today?

Moses Nagamootoo: We are today standing at the edge of possibilities, where things could change for the better. Change is something that is probable. Today we see a big budget. We're talking about billions of dollars whilst in the past we talked about millions. We are dealing with more of this and that when in the past we comforted ourselves with accepting less.

The society has changed and is changing. People's expectations are greater now. People no longer dream of a better life; they demand the better life. Some are enjoying it, but many still don't.

Things are happening. Take the construction industry. This morning I was driving along Camp Street and I saw a huge building going up opposite city complex in Regent Street. I looked beyond Citizen Bank along a street on which for years I used to ride my bicycle to
Mirror, where before all you could see was rubble of burnt out areas after the violence. Now, I am looking at the energy there.

We seem to be on the edge of possibility; we could do things; we could dream bigger; and it gives us hope that we could move forward.

Mark McGowan: What is your current role in the PPP? I know you're not in ExCo.

Moses Nagamootoo: I have been a member of the Central Committee from 1976, and I was elevated, if I could say so with modesty, to the Executive Committee in 1978 where I served in an unbroken manner until around 2005. As you know, I was removed from the Exco and though the Congress of 2008 validated me, I was not restored to the Exco. So I am shut off from an important forum that makes policy for the Party. I would say that this is disappointing and unwelcome. As you said, for all my experience, I am shut out. I could bring to the governance of my country the advantage of that experience and the wisdom that had come from mistakes. So, my relationship in my party is a relationship that has eclipsed my own contribution. And, in a sense, I have been fettered from making contributions that could help realize the possibilities for Guyana.

Now, when I say that we are on the edge of possibilities I am looking at our country with optimism. And I believe that even though many things could happen, we couldn't make them happen or possible if we didn't do essential things like firstly, finding a formula for the broadest possible unity of our people of all races. Not only to have ethnic peace and harmony but secondly, to have bi-partisanship, where political parties do not feel left out of the process but are all part and parcel of the national drive and the national goals. Thirdly, that we build a society not simply celebrating how much we do, but how well we do what we do.

In other words, we must have quality-and-standard controls in everything we do - everything in which monies, our precious resources, are spent. The infrastructure, for example, must be enduring. Not lasting forever, but they must hold up for a reasonable time, so that we show quality in what we do.

That is on the material side. At the political side the society must feel that whatever we do, it is done for the good of all. And that would speak to the quality of our governance.

In addition, we have to be equitable and just; we have to continue to strive to do better; to be tolerant of others and other views and to unite people on the basis of different views rather than promoting a uni-polar society where only one set of views prevails. And this governance must be fully accountable with zero tolerance for the theft of resources, dishonesty in public life or abuse of power and authority. All of these, as I said, are possible. So, if I were to add my two-bits to the politics of this country, I would bring these qualities to our life, to our society.

Mark McGowan: Are you satisfied with what's happening?

Moses Nagamootoo: I will say this: we have done a lot and while we may not want to boast, and I speak here as a PPPite, there is visible evidence to support the contention that our society today is different and, in many ways, better.

Mark McGowan: Are you making a comparison with the past?

Moses Nagamootoo: What we do now could compare with any period. I don't want to go back too much. But we have the appearance of a vibrant society. We are not a failed state or a state with political prisoners or where people routinely disappear.

But are we satisfied that what we do cannot be improved or enhanced? Sure. I believe there is tremendous room for a second wave of our democracy. The first was in 1992 when we talk about democracy, freedom of the press and so on. Now we have to take it further to have confidence in all our institutions, and to see whether we could open the air waves, to have greater freedoms, to have broadcasting legislation, freedom of information law, the strengthening of our institutions to deal with periodic allegations of torture, and what seem to be criticisms of the weakening of the judicial system.

Not that I am disappointed with what we have but we must press on and open more space for democracy, to eradicate poverty, deal with those who feel marginalized, as well as the disadvantaged. We have to open doors, and we can't be content with what we have. We have to press on to realize the goals of the society

Mark McGowan: Much has been said about shared governance, and you're on record as supporting this. What's your present take on this issue?

Moses Nagamootoo: I believe that incrementally you could have what is broadly characterized as shared governance. For me shared governance is not merely a mechanism to share cabinet seats as if you were handing out gravy to all and sundry. It must be premised on a shared vision, shared goals and a common program for the betterment of Guyana. So that it is not just an abstract thing; it is something that requires you to do.

We have, fortunately, a political system based on geographical representation. The NDCs, the Regions and the Municipalities already represent a plural system. Take Region 4: Mr. Corlette is a PNC Chairman. He is in the front pages (of the newspapers) where he claims that there is deprecation and atrocious behavior of functionaries. There is theft and graft. I am not going to say more as this matter is before the courts and is sub judice.

The point I am making is that Mr. Corlette and his RDC members have a role though they are from another party (PNC), and provincially, they are sharing power or governance.

Have we had a working together between central and regional government, we might have mitigated some of the hardships from the 2005 floods, especially when the Chairman was saying [that] we need more money to clear the canals, and there was the blame game.

Those of us who belong to different political parties have to work on a common program or goals. We can't pull against each other and hope to have shared governance.

At the national level you could have a formula as happened in some countries, that parties that came in with a certain percentage of votes could be in government, like in Fiji, Mauritius and Malaysia, where ethnic minorities are protected and there are constitutional provisions for that.

In Guyana, sharing has to be akin to responsibility. I am in sympathy with politicians who say, “how do I share with someone who come into the house and want to bruk it up; who want to burn it down...!”

You don't share in this type of atmosphere. We all have to have a shared program, and if the parties can have a road map say of ten things to be done for Guyana, they would feel at the end of the day that they have brought some relief for their own constituencies. They will feel that they are not just wasting their time as opposition to oppose for opposition sake, but they are realizing something for their constituents. They have contractors, friends who may get into the process....

So there would be contentment. Burnham used to say that politics is not about sharing poverty. I agree but I will say sharing contentment will help to ease social tensions. Our politics will become low carbon politics, with a healthy political environment. “Low carbon” is a buzz word. Maybe we need to apply or add it to our human resource, our people and to all their political and cultural traits which form our collective wealth - and ensure that we don't cut down one another.

Mark McGowan: You still hold on to the Jagan principles. Do you feel that Mr. Jagdeo and his government have moved away from some of these principles?

Moses Nagamootoo: Succinctly put, even if one were to say that this is sloganeering, I want to say that when I was first attracted to the PPP in the 60s we used to wear a button. It was inscribed with the words “Unity, Independence, Socialism”.

Unity: We know we live in a country proverbially of six races - not six races - but ethnic minorities. So we see the need to build cohesion because the examples of the world have shown us that people fight [each other] because of race and tribe - Hutus against Tutsis, an extreme example. We saw ethnic cleansing. Take Serbia, another example. We know that the people there are all Whites - some wearing beards and others don't, and later we heard that some were Serbs, others Macedonians and so on, and the Balkan myth exploded. They had ethnic cleansing, and did some of the most barbarous acts imaginable.

So we are learning that we can't go down that path. We came out of a shared history of slavery and indentureship, and we must evolve a political system based on this shared history. We have a shared experience. Why can't we have a shared destiny with shared governance?

We became independent. We do not endure the whiplash of colonialism. We've gone past that with our attainment of Independence and Republicanism.

What about Socialism? Don't deal with this as a slogan. Deal with it as welfare - how to address poverty, education, culture. And how do we get not only jobs but also scholarships.

In the old days when we debated communism in our Church. One fella said this thing communism is like getting bread with fried fish. So that it was something we lived for, not only to have the basics of life but to enjoy culture, education, leisure, the poetry and literature, which all make up the soul of society.

So we are looking at what Cheddi Jagan adumbrated - the tripod of unity, independence and socialism. And you ask if I am disappointed. Well, the PPP has done some amazing things. We have landmarks we could crow about but some goals have eluded us. And we could become better Jaganites if we understand that we cannot be content with the progress we made. We need to address those areas like political unity by whatever mechanism, by whatever formula. We must deal with the Jagan ethics of being lean and clean - lean, to be frugal, to cut out waste extravaganza, to become more efficient in what we do; to deploy our scare resources to get the maximum value for money. And I will not be the first or last person to say this: to shut the door to corruption by investigating and dealing condignly with it. This is the Jagan way. And I knew this man dealt with these issues [while he] still enthused our politics with humanness, which was the down-to earthness I saw in Cheddi Jagan.

I see this in some Ministers who are noted for their approachability. But in others we see the pomposity of power. All day I hear the sirens going off. We have to be less intrusive into people's lives. And we need less fanfare and more performance. And this also is the Jagan way. Not that I am disappointed but it is perhaps that I expect more.

Mark McGowan: The term of President Jagdeo is coming to an end. In a short sentence, what is your assessment of his tenure, and how do you see the next elections. How different will be the campaign without the Jagans?

Moses Nagamootoo: I will say that the Jagdeo era could be characterized as satisfactory. I cannot behave like a school teacher and give pass and fail marks in all subjects or in all areas of performance. But I can say overall he has proven to be focused, energetic, and he is, without seemingly bothered by repercussions, an interventionist. He gets into the issues and perhaps because of that he lends his own personality into things that are happening and have happened. If you judge his performance, I will say that he has given a satisfactory account of himself.

Now that his term is coming to an end, he may wish to promote his legacy. We learned from Shakespeare that “the good is often interred with our bones”. It is not the good that lives after us. People will look at what he has not done or not done adequately. And those are the things he may wish to focus on in the last days of his tenure.

The job is not yet done, and I personally would not wish to see him removed from helping the promotion of some of his policies and....

Mark McGowan: You mean in a Cabinet post?

Moses Nagamootoo: Not in any particular way. After leaving office, some usually will look for blue waters and white sands to cool off. But he is young and has been President in very hectic period in our country's life, and in the post-Jagan period. So he should be able to continue to lend or be at the disposal of the country for the things he has initiated.

Where do we go from here? Well we cannot always have the Jagans with us. That was a physical impossibility. But we could identify those things from Jagan - his dreams and ideals - and see what of those are possible. It is not that we are going into the future without the General. We are armed with both his sword and shield, and we can do good battle with his ideas.

The PPP has a body of leaders who are capable people, who collectively could fill the void of Cheddi Jagan. And in this regard I harbor no fear once we could harness the collective energy and talent of all those who have shared the Jagan ideals. Eventually someone will replace Jagdeo as President and I feel the question is not who. The question is, by what process.

For me, I have said I am always available to my party and people of Guyana. And I think that I have had enough of what it takes to be responsible and accountable. And I believe there are other colleagues of mine who equally could lay claim to these attributes or values.

Mark McGowan: I understand that the CC [Central Committee of the PPP] will meet later this month. Do you expect that a candidate will be selected?

Moses Nagamootoo: This is an internal process. So far my understanding is that potential candidates will indicate their availability. We are just in the initial stage; we're in the young period and I don't think there is any real reason to rush this. Someone will emerge as presidential candidate, but we have a bigger challenge right now - local government elections.

But a mechanism has to be in place for all individuals to submit their interest officially, whereby potential candidates can indicate their interest and availability and submit bio data that could be circulated to party members. It's an internal process, and we have not arrived there. I have seen potential candidates declaring themselves, but I don't think this should happen. All of this is a false start. Hopefully, I could declare in good form in due course.

Mark McGowan: I have seen on Facebook a “Moses Nagamootoo for President” site. Any comments?

Moses Nagamootoo: I am aware of something called 'Moses Nagamootoo for president 2001' and it seems that the person who generated it has done so on his own speed or carried away by his own enthusiasm. My colleague Anil Nandlall showed it to me in Parliament. I don't subscribe to Facebook. I must confess they have good pictures of me, much younger and more handsome, and this titillated me. But I consider this as a freedom of expression issue....

Mark McGowan: Do you know the person who started it?

Moses Nagamootoo: Yes, the person lives in Canada. He didn't say I should be leader of the PPP, but generally he thinks that the man has good attributes and should be considered for president. He is expressing himself freely.

Mark McGowan: If you are not chosen, will you join with some other party?

Moses Nagamootoo: It's a non-issue. I am a PPP man, and that's all the party I have known in my life, and some people say that I am predictable, that is, because of my being and loyalty. I have located my being in the PPP. The source of all values I imbibed in life could be traced to the PPP, particularly to Cheddi Jagan. I find it a most daunting prospect in my life to think that I could go up against myself in that sense.

So far I have exercised my independence within the PPP. I've been controversial; I've been contentious; I've been cantankerous; I've been confrontational; and maybe, I've been different. But I did so all within the PPP. And I am very hopeful that we don't allow opportunism or individualism to get ahead of us, and that we could think collectively, and act together for the good of the country.

Mark McGowan: How do you see the upcoming local government elections? Are you going up for any posts?

Moses Nagamootoo
: I think that the local government process will be an eye-opener because having not held elections since 1994 a lot of lethargy has seeped into the system. What used to be grassroots democracy has taken a retreat, and petty bureaucrats seized upon the apathy of the people at that level and, as they say, the dish ran away with the spoon. There are graft and theft. It's not new. I have seen it when I was Minister of Local Government. I had to fire a Regional Executive Officer.

But then the local government system was revolutionary and dynamic. The system is now altered and I hope it will revive people's passion to take their own welfare into their hands.

Mark McGowan: Finally, overseas voting. Your thoughts?

Moses Nagamootoo: There is an old concept to which we subscribe - no representation without taxation. This was born out of the American Revolution and I believe it is a valid assumption that those who do not live here and endure the Guyana experience within its borders, should be saved from the burden of running its government.

Mark McGowan
: Very poetic. I like that.

*Interview with Stabroek News journalist Mark McGowan, MARCH 5, 2010
(This transcript was sent by Moses Nagamootoo MP. The content was essentially printed in Stabroek News, March 7, 2010 in a different format.)