Interview With Prospective Presidential Candidate
Mr. Moses V. Nagamootoo, MP

“Our Party Members Must Have A Say –
Do Not Cut Down Trees Jagan Planted”

Mr. Dennis Chabrol: As you know, there is a number of Candidates in the PPP, who have expressed their interest publicly for the first time in becoming the Presidential Candidate for that Party for the next elections due in 2011. They include:
o Mr. Clement Rohee;
o Mr. Ralph Ramkarran and
o Mr. Moses Nagamootoo, and, I also include
o Mr. Donald Ramotar.

AND NOW for this week's Programme: PERISCOPE ON POLITICS INTERVIEW with Mr. Moses Nagamootoo, a former Minister of Information and Local Government in previous PPP/C Administrations. I am Dennis Chabrol, and with me is Mr. David King, our in-house Political Analyst.

Mr. Dennis Chabrol: We first ask him: Why his decision to throw his hat into the ring?

Mr. Moses V. Nagamootoo: Literally, you mean: throwing my hat in the ring; well goat ent bite me too! [Laughter] I believe I have the credentials and qualifications that will provide leadership to Guyana of a type that we have not seen before within these trying circumstances and challenges that Guyana faces politically and otherwise.

And I have given great thought to what I opt to do for Guyana and realize that there are very few options: I cannot cop out; I cannot walk away. I think in all my political life, spanning the period since 1961, I have engaged politics with a passion and I have engaged the issues of our people with deep interest and therefore at this time, in the post-Jagan era, those who have had the experience, and the wisdom that would come from making mistakes accompanying those experiences, that we need to throw our hat into the ring.

In my case, it is not simply a hat; it will be a petard in the pond to create ripples, because I believe that I am seen as a non-conformist; I am seen as a dissident; I am seen as a liberal democrat with very broadly tolerant views and broadly tolerant of other views and therefore at this stage, when Guyana needs a second wave in its democracy - particularly around the issues of governance - that the credentials that I have are best suited for Guyana.

Mr. Dennis Chabrol: Mr. Nagamootoo, what would you like to do for Guyana should you get the nod by the Party machinery – the Party decision-making process – to be its presidential candidate and possibly win the 2011 elections?

Mr. Moses V. Nagamootoo: The “Party machinery” is perhaps what we need to define. Hitherto when we had the Jagans in our party, the issue of consultation with the membership as to who should become president did not arise, because they were seen as the halos of the party; the natural leadership types that did not need the validation of the membership. They were accepted; they were the “given of the moment”. That was so with the Jagans who are now out. And, in one case when we had an incumbent, in the case of President Bharrat Jagdeo, I did not think the issue as to the modus of selection had arisen that would have been different from the modus that we had applied in the case of the Jagans. In this case, the machinery, broadly speaking, ought to be the entire machinery of the party - the entire party making up this machinery - and not a select group or a select body of the party.

Now, I had said that if the process is fair and democratic, meaning the internal democracy of the party at work, then all of us who claim to want to be leaders of this country and offer ourselves as presidential candidates, should subject ourselves to the scrutiny of the membership of the party at the various region, perhaps the ten regions. And therefore I want to broaden the process of consultation and to make sure that the people, who have been supporters of this party and who have been its members, have a say.

So, given what I have said, if after all of that I am given a nod, then I have to offer this country leadership that is fair and reasonable; leadership that would give everyone, people of all races, of all classes, an opportunity to have fair representation and to share fairly in the resources of the State, however, limited these resources may be.

I also feel very strongly that this country should work towards a “low carbon” politics and by that I mean that firstly, the PPP as a political party cannot subscribe to saving the trees of the forest and at the same time have their best trees planted and nurtured by Cheddi Jagan cut down. The process would then lack viability and we will suffer from a lack of political oxygen.

So I believe that at the party level, all those who vie for political leadership and opt to become presidential candidates, must work together. They should take a leaf out of the book of Abraham Lincoln; the book currently of President Obama and have “a team of rivals” so that you do not exclude talent; you do not exclude resources, and as I said, you do not indulge in the wanton exercise of cutting down (political) trees.

Our greatest assets in this country are our people and our political resources. Yet we suffer from institutional failure, because we do not have the best of our brains tapped into the process. For example, we ask ourselves: why should a Dr. Clive Thomas be excluded from advisory positions in the State on matters of trade, on matters of economics. Why Ravi Dev or Rupert Roopnaraine or Joe Singh or Yesu Persaud and so many others like Christopher Ram, are people considered to be alienated from the process and (they are) cast on the wayside. This is a squandering of resources and, as I said, you cannot preserve your forestry resources at the expense of your resource of personnel and the resources that are your people. They are your greatest wealth. And that is on the first limb.

The second limb is, for too long, we have opposition for opposition's sake in this country and we may be enraptured by various models that might have been applicable to developed countries, where you have Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition, the Tweedledums and the Tweedledees – the Tories and the Whigs.

It is an accepted notion that you must have a “government” and an “opposition”. But given the context of limitation of resources, you will have to recast that into an autochthonous model that suits your country and the needs of your country. By that I mean that this notion of an opposition there to oppose and ultimately to depose, is nihilism. It leads to nothing in the end. Deposing one set that is “in” by the other set that was “in” but is now out fighting back to be “in” again, leads to a vicious circle of constant destabilization of your political and social systems.

So on the second level, the leadership I propose to offer would be that of inclusiveness. To have firstly, bi-partisanship, which says that the two major political parties must participate in an active program that requires their consultation and acceptance; that is, we should define national goals rather than party goals; goals that can be broadly supported by the people; goals that would be in the interest of all the constituents of the political parties; be they Amerindians, Africans, Indians, Chinese and others; so that a political party that is in the opposition should find that there is nothing wrong in supporting the government of the day in a particular task or a particular project as that project would be also in the interest of their supporters. So that I am looking at a rational and pragmatic approach that deals with identifying these targets – goals – and working out a minimum national program that is based on consultation and based on agreement.

Secondly, depending on how the relationship would develop – the bi-partisan relationship – you will be able to incorporate elements that have hitherto been called the “opposition” into the process of governance. You must include them in Boards and Commissions, as I had done. When I was the Minister of Information, the first thing I did, and you know that, I broadened all the Boards and made them State Media Boards to include professionals initially. I did not think really that I aimed at getting people, because they were politically affiliated to this or that party. I tried to get people into the Boards, because they might have gotten different opinions from mine and different views, and therefore in that sense, we must add to our democracy an element of pluralism that people need not conform to be accepted. They must be accepted because they are different and their views must be tolerated (and perhaps their views might be right even though it is different from mine).

And therefore in this process of building relationship initially, at the provincial level, at the local government level, the grass root level, parties must not fight each other because they represent different ethnic groups. They must have a healthy contest on the basis of their programs – what they are prepared to do for the people at the grass root levels and, as you can see already, the pluralism at the local government elections after the 1994 elections had shown that there were people supporting the governing party and the opposition party in the local government system right up to the regions and in the municipalities. So that now what you have to do is to make the judicious allocation of resources to enable and empower parties that may not form the government to run provincial councils so that you have a power sharing that is not constitutionalized, but a power sharing that is accepted by the governing party at the local government elections, which must be supported financially. It has to be supported, because it is not giving power in a sense to your opponent; it is empowering the people who represent those political oppositions.

Now, having said all of that, my vision for Guyana is based on the broadest possible unity of our people and that unity incrementally must involve all the political parties in a proportionate way. If they went to the polls (and this is just from the top of my head) and, say, have fifteen or more percent of the votes of the electorate, that political party with more than fifteen percent of the votes of the electorate ought to be in some way recognized as a constituent player representing an interest and that interest has to be respected.

So that you are not going to start from the process that those who lose the elections are vanquished and therefore they are losers and they have no role to play. You start from the process that proportionately I have fifty percent, but the other party has fifteen percent. I am a proportionate player: I play a bigger role, but the other party with fifteen percent ought to be allowed in some way to contribute to the process, because we stand in Guyana on the threshold of possibilities – tremendous possibilities. If we can tap our human resources; if we can tap all the resources of all our people, it will create greater development in our country.

We are seeing some energy in the society; we are seeing the things that are not what they were before. There seems to be a higher standard of living. I am not saying that we have eliminated poverty; I am not saying that we have eliminated inequality; we are still an unequal society; we are still a society ridden by poverty; we are a society without the adequate resources that are necessary to make us viable and prosperous. But we are not a dying society. We are a society that is fighting for its existence and its being. So we have possibilities; there is energy in various sectors of the State. [Siren sounding] Even on the road, as you see, the security forces seem to be very energetic; every five minute I hear a siren. Hopefully they catch all the bandits.

But we are on this threshold of possibilities, where if we have a new wave of democracy, where emphasis is placed on governance, on accountability; emphasis is placed on combating all forms of graft and corruption by elected officials and by people who hold offices in State institutions, we could tidy up the acts of the State and acts of para-state bodies to show that we are guarding the resources of the State zealously so that more can be garnered for the people; more can be garnered for social services, for health, for education, for water, for housing…. These are essentials we are talking about. And so, my vision for Guyana, if I am chosen as the humble servant of the people, would be a broader vision that perhaps if I may say would be a Jaganite vision.

Some people do not like to hear this – people talking about Jaganite vision – but this is the reason I came into the PPP. I was attracted in 1961 when I came out after the PPP's victory of that year, the electoral victory. I was fourteen years old, but I came into politics very early, I was motivated as a Lutheran. As a Christian, I rebelled then against family tradition, family beliefs and religion and I became a Christian. My father was a head of the Whim Kali Temple – a Hindu who worshipped Mother Kali, and I gravitated to the Lutheran Church, because I felt that Jesus Christ had given a sacrifice and the way he did it was as a revolutionary. He fought the mighty for the poor, the dispossessed and the disadvantaged and that excited my passion. It stirred my emotions quite a lot.

So when I came into the struggle, I came with what I have seen Cheddi Jagan had set for Guyana – the goals of independence, of freedom. It was perhaps what every single human being wanted in every stage of history, to breathe the free air of freedom; not to be colonized, not to be the object of anyone's rule. I wanted to be a subject; I was born, as you know, a British subject. I was born in British Guiana in 1947 and I grew up thinking that I was a British object, but we wanted to be Guyanese subject. And so in that sense, there was this ideal that we grew up looking at freedom, meaning independence, and looking at our own country as the nation in which we want to be. We wanted to be Guyanese; we did not want to be known simply as Indians or Africans or Chinese or Amerindians; we wanted to be Guyanese, because it is only out of nationality that we have a sense of duty; a sense of commitment; patriotism and a commitment to things that are lofty for ourselves, for our own being, for our own nation and that means a lot to me.

As I said, these are the things that initially sparked in me an interest in politics. And these became the Jaganite ideals that, later, made me become a financial member of the party and its youth arm from 1964. I began to associate things like honesty, accountability, some ethical approach to life and even to resources with these ideals. I have seen all of these things as part of Jagan's ideals together with, later on, ecological justice, social justice; things like access of resources to people or people's access to resources, even scarce resources like land, scholarship, promotions, jobs and promotions. I think these were things that characterized the Jagan ideals. In a sense, I shared part of that vision and I think they are good for Guyana. Whoever becomes the president of this country cannot avoid these ideals.

Mr. Dennis Chabrol: Mr. Nagamootoo, critics of yourself say that your time is long gone; you had been more or less tossed about by the current executive of the country, particularly the President; you were sidelined from ministerial positions. So why stick around with the PPP, when in fact you should move on and perhaps get into other spheres of political life with other parties rather than subject yourself to what appears to be an elusive system for you?

Mr. Moses V. Nagamootoo: Well, you may say “elusive system” and I am not in a position really to cross swords with you. I have lived through the difficult period and I often wonder how we survived in that period. If I appeared to be confrontational; I appeared to be aggressive; I appeared to be able to take the licks; it was what was needed in what we had considered to be the Burnhamite period, which we have considered to be a type of dictatorship. I do not like trading labels, but it was a difficult period when the best was required of you and so we had to don the armor of toughness to survive. As you know, there is an old saying: it could be any type of tea bags, but it was said, applicable to an Indian, I have heard it said that the best comes out of an Indian tea bag when it is placed in hot water! (laughter) So we had gone through that period of living in the hot water and the best came out of us.

Unfortunately, comrades like Walter Rodney and so many others, Ohene Kwama and so on, did not survive that cruel period. So too in the political process, in the PPP, I have had to face the reality that I might have been different. It was a party that was fiercely committed to, at one time, Marxism-Leninism - Communism. I read Marxism. I did not study in Moscow. I was attracted to the Cuban model particularly in the post 1968 period, when Guyana had descended into a type of autocracy; a kind of (I would say) fractured democracy that had rigging of elections, and the possibility of “one man, one vote” did not become viable. I had thought increasingly then, and always, of “one man, one gun” as having more potential to liberate our people. That was the Cuban model, the Tri-continental Model and, it was in fact not the general line that might have been espoused by the Soviet Union of peaceful co-existence and trying to cooperate with parties on the basis that they were anti-imperialist.

And on that basis, I began to see more and more that anti-imperialism was insufficient to lead to anywhere in our country if you did not have internal democracy. So in a sense, inside of the party, I had experienced tremendous challenges, because of the position I took. I was not alone. There were others as well. I had not gone to study in Moscow to come out of a party school being a credentialed Marxist-Leninist. I had great sympathies for the democratic traditions of people who struggled in the United States, Great Britain and Canada, in the Western democracies and so on. There was no orthodoxy about me in that sense and it was almost a disqualification being a Marxist and at the same time being a Christian; and it was a disqualification being a Marxist and embracing a Western notion of democracy, freedom of expression and freedom to choose.

As you know, as a journalist over the years, I fought on different platforms here in the Caribbean and internationally for these broad principles of freedom - liberal democratic freedom of the press, freedom for journalists, freedom to pursue the truth irrespective of authoritarian regimes and more so, against authoritarian regimes. So that I had embraced lofty ideals that were perhaps, not strictly speaking (and of course I embrace a multi-party democracy), the norms for people who had belonged to communist type parties.

And what you said there may be true: I have been beaten about – kicked about – outside of the party and inside as well. But in party life no one comes out of there untainted as if you are walking through a coal field in white shirt and white pants hoping that you walk out in the other end 'specklessly' white. You are going to be tainted by and in party life. I carry scars of internal struggle and I believe that I had a very charmed life with Cheddi Jagan. We shared ideas together. In many ways I thought I was like his other brain, because he would run things off me as I became his speech writer, his researcher and helped him in his many articles, papers and so on. We worked together; we were a team and so in a sense he embraced me. But when he was gone (remember the big mango tree would give shelter to the smaller trees) when he was gone, many trees started to spring up very quickly and so we appeared to be in competition of each other. And it is in that context, where cooperation and comradeship gave rise to competition, that I believe that I was marginalized.

It was because of positions that I had taken, not new positions – these were old and consistent positions - against corruption, against graft; against excesses of one type of another. These were all aimed to strengthen the party. So I do not see myself, though embattled at some time, I do not necessarily see myself as rejected, because every time we go back to the membership of the party, they would validate my participation in the party. However, in spite of that, I am not in the fifteen-member leadership of the party (Executive Committee). I think that my exclusion is a loss to the party; is a loss to the possibilities to this country that I could contribute to the policy of the ruling administration.

So that I take my licks, I lick my wounds and I am putting myself in the fray once again. Because I believe that more than my personal ambition, I have to respond to the people who suffered, who sacrificed, who struggled. They are the ordinary bare-footed man and woman who came in the PPP and who had always had higher expectations, who had always felt that they could share the bigger dream, who could always feel that there was a light at the end of the tunnel. They are the ones that I hold out possibilities for, and I cannot walk away. And for people like me, who have been walking for so long, it is hard to walk away, and that is an honest statement. I always thought that if I walked away from the PPP, then I should I walk into something.

Continued page 2


Moses Nagamootoo Wants Fair And Inclusive Selection Process In Presidential Nomination

MOSES NAGAMOOTOO SPEAKS ON: Guyana's 2010 Presidential Race, Shared Governance and Overseas Voting