||Interview With Prospective Presidential Candidate
Mr. Moses V. Nagamootoo, MP.
Mr. Dennis Chabrol: You did say at one stage, Mr. Nagamootoo, that “I done with all of you all.”
Mr. Moses V. Nagamootoo: Well, I was at an Executive Committee meeting of the party some time in 2004 and I tried to raise issues that I thought were important, that I had canvassed and fought for a long time. I felt that there was no room for the elucidation of these matters and, frankly speaking, I was p….d off that I could not convince my comrades that these issues were important enough, critical enough to be discussed. So I walked out from the leadership of the party at a meeting and I said that I done with all you, in disgust. I had not resigned; it was just a dramatic expression of the way I felt about the intransigence I had experienced in dealing with some issues. It was my frustrations and, I must tell you this, those frustrations were very strong. I really, really felt that I was being shafted, that this was happening to someone who had given so much to his party and someone who had contributed to the reshaping of the party's line, to the reformulation of the party's ideas and political platform. There was not an election prior to the 2006 election that I have not played as good a role as many others in shaping the platform of the party; in shaping its program and its policies.
And so, sometimes if you walk too high up the mountain, you tend to become cold; you experience the cold if you are way up and high above others. And I think that while we sat in the leadership of the party, we have not realized how much we had become out of touch with people and I realized why some of the things that I was saying were not tolerated or listened to. I decided to make a retreat and go back to where I came to the base of the party among the people. I feel re-energized, having done so.
So, yes, I felt bad about the way I was treated, but what do I do? You know, when you feel bad in politics, you just do not stand on the sideline and suck you thumbs. You feel bad and you try to analyze why and I can now come to a conclusion that many of the positions that I had embraced had not in fact been shared by my colleagues. Some people say that I ought to be a better team player and maybe I have not been a good team player as I ought to be. Some people feel that I am intolerant of other views if those views clashed with mine and maybe that is true as well, but by the same token while I can be so ready for self-criticism, I am also asking myself, is there nothing that my colleagues ought to be self-critical about?
Mr. Dennis Chabrol: Mr. Nagamootoo, you were sidelined at least twice from Ministerial positions - Ministry of Home Affairs possibly, possibly Foreign Ministry. You were voted into the top five positions at the last PPP Congress, yet still you were not put into the Central Executive of the party. Why do you believe that you will get the nod to be the presidential candidate for the PPP?
Mr. Moses V. Nagamootoo: Look, what has happened after the 2006 Congress is not something that is unprecedented, I must say. I recall what happened before what you had referred to just now as the 2004 event. It was a period when we had a lot of killings in the streets and I felt that there was an insurgency, a very limited, arm, but dangerous insurgency and I had said at one time - at that time, even earlier I had said that crime was being used as a political weapon, and I had tried to talk about cooperation and collaboration (with the opposition) precisely because I did not want that the political space must be occupied by criminals. So I had said something to this effect that if people want to get in (and that was the time we were talking about power sharing), if someone wants to get in by the front door and the front door is closed, which is the electoral door, as the PPP would have felt that it has the electoral arithmetic on its side, meaning the 'ethnic arithmetic' on its side; and the person feels that he ought to get into the house through the backdoor which is power sharing, but you close the back door as well; then what would prevent this person from burning down the house if he could not get in any way. And it becomes more sad, in fact an indictment, if the only people in the house happen to be PPP supporters or Indians when the house would have been burnt down.
So I was concerned about the party. I was concerned about how it was relating to issues and I spoke these things and I wrote about these things. So when I was being shut out, it is perhaps because of some of my views that others had not shared. So I had decided not to renew my membership in the party in 2005. I did not go to the Congress in 2005. I did not seek re-election to the Central Committee or the Executive Committee, and when I was holding talks with leaders of the party for my inclusion on the 2006 electoral slate, I had made no demands except that I should be co-opted to the Central Committee and to the Executive Committee where I had been a member since 1976. I had served in an unbroken period at that point in time for all those years, and I had asked for nothing else.
After the elections I was co-opted to the Central Committee but never to the Executive Committee, and I felt that that was a betrayal of our arrangement. I had expected that I would have been allowed to play a role in the Slate and the two areas that I had identified were in security and more particularly, because of the events prior to that in the country; and/or in international relations, in foreign policy, because I think that we needed to bring investment to Guyana, we needed to restore further confidence and work among the Diaspora and so on and so forth, because we could not overcome our problems of under-development unless we are able to address the issue of investment, development and job creation and enlarging the base of our wealth.
So I wanted to play a role in an area that would be meaningful, but it did not come off that way. Of course, President Jagdeo made other offers to me; he had not shut the door on me, but I understand that at that point there had been constraints, and the constraints had to be that I might have offended some of my colleagues in the leadership. So my exclusion came out of a political process and it was not just an invention, and whatever I might have represented my views I do not think that they were unworthy views.
Subsequently, I have seen that people in the leadership of the Government and the party came around to accept the notion that there was in fact an insurgency; that there was in fact elements both in the narco and the conventional and criminal enterprise collaborating politically using crime as a weapon of political struggle, because we had seen in the era the latter part of the Hoyte period where the streets in fact had become a substitute for Parliament, extra Parliamentary struggle. Whatever was said I am not going to repeat all of that, but street politics was pressure politics and I had said that Hoyte probably got more political concessions from the street rather than from conventional political postures. We had the Herdmanston Agreement and so on. Though (Herdmanston) was not a reward for bad behavior, for street behavior, for looting and burning and ethnic attacks and so on, Parliamentary parties are going to be tempted to see where they get the greater advantage. So eventually some of my colleagues came to accepting some of those views. They did not come and tapped my shoulder and said, “Mose, you are right and you are a good guy and your views were so crystallized” and so on, but you could hear in the way they spoke, that they needed to have people like me around, who were always critical and who applied this critical focus to every issue, even when it had to be an internal critical focus, when it applied inward and inverse criticism.
And so when we went to the 2008 Congress, the Congress validated me; a large support for me came from the rank and file of the party. You were there and you saw. I was hardly around doing campaigns and so on; people just know the name and they identified the name with some good features of this party and the party's history.
But of course, the drama did not end there. I was locked out from the Executive Committee. I got, of the thirty-five people who voted at that meeting; I think I got seven votes. It was an amazing turn of events and it was almost a rejection of the results of Congress, but that was part of the political struggle. You have to ask yourself, why was I excluded and should I roll over and walk away to allow a kind of pyrrhic victory to those who had wanted my exclusion in the first place. And so I stayed around, I stuck around, and I kept my powder dry.
At the same time, I do not think that I am the type who would surrender. I started to see that there are possibilities that I could make a come-back, because I think in this period of the country's history, a lot of the ideas that I represent, the question of national unity and shared governance, however you may define that, we have to find some formula to make inclusion meaningful. These are the things that excite me and these are the things why I am there. I am there for the people who support me. I cannot walk away; they need leadership and I am there also for the ideas, which I think, I can bring to the platform together with others. I am not going to hold against my colleagues forever any act of omission or commission. I understand politics the cut and thrust of politics that you are going to have these things happening periodically. And sometimes when you look back at these events with some hindsight, you probably think that they might have happened for good reasons. Even if I give that a generous interpretation that it happened for good reasons, I am prepared to bury that; I am prepared to let that be part of my history and see what possibilities there are now for the re-awakening of this quest for unity, for cohesion and to go into the election, where the party can put forward the best leaders and provide the type of enlightened leadership that will in fact address all those things that I felt had not been addressed.
Mr. Dennis Chabrol: Mr. Nagamootoo, you talked about graft; you talked about corruption, but since the time you are out of Government, and you pursued your law studies and in your legal practice; even when you were having your difficulties in and out of the party, you have said very little, your critics say about these two issues publicly.
Mr. Moses V. Nagamootoo: Well, I have always been talking that wherever there is corruption and graft that these should be investigated and they should be dealt with. Maybe we should institutionalize:
(i) The Procurement Commission.
We need to set up the Commission to ensure that all procurement, Government contracts, all services that require expenditure of money should be policed.
(ii) The Integrity Commission
We need the Integrity Commission to have teeth so that the Integrity Commission can start inquiries and to investigate into assets undeclared and otherwise of officials who are part of the schedule to the declaration of assets.
And so you need to move now to the mechanism to deal with these issues. The Auditor General is investigating and some people say that that investigation is defined and limited, but you need mechanisms. Perhaps you need to go back to, as you had in the past, a dedicated fraud court. There should be no sacred cows, whether goat bite them or did not bite them, they should have no sacred cows and no one ought to be protected for transgressions. And this is the only way that we can show out there that we have nothing to hide; that we have clean hands and we demand fairness of people in the society towards us they must be fair towards us. We have to also tell people that we are fair in everything we do in all our dealings - and we have to make the processes transparent.
Mr. Dennis Chabrol: But why haven't you been publicly vocal as you are now?
Mr. Moses V. Nagamootoo: I do not know what you mean by “publicly vocal”. You have given me all the reasons why I was put on the side-line; that I must have said things sufficiently that required the attention of those who were in authority to place me on the garbage heap.
Mr. Dennis Chabrol: You surely have access to the letter columns; to the news media and so on: you have access to Parliament, where you sit in the back bench.
Mr. Moses V. Nagamootoo: Yes, I have access to Parliament.
Mr. Dennis Chabrol: Why not use those mechanisms to voice and make known to some of these very issues that you say you are very peeved about?
Mr. Moses V. Nagamootoo: I have also a seat in the Central Committee of the Party and whilst I would address these issues in the Press, from time to time I raised issues in the Central Committee as well. But, of course, there is a difference between raising an issue and trying to propagandize the issue rather than trying to seek solution to it.
Look, when I was the Minister of Local Government (I believe I was the first Minister of Local Government the country has had in twenty-five years after 1975), I was the first Minister to fire a Regional Executive Officer - the Regional Executive Officer of Region 3. I had done an investigation, where it was alleged that thirteen culverts were built and when we inspected we only found six. I held the REO accountable for the expenditure that was incurred, but was in fact not spent and fired him. I think he went to court after I demitted office, et cetera. He might have been restored to his office or he might have been told, “listen, the Minister had no authority to do that”.
I remember when I brought Phillip Hamilton from Region 10, where he was an REO, he was a YSM activist. I was told that before; but when I saw him dealing with corruption in petty contracts in Region 10, I went there and I applauded him. I promptly named him (I did not know that I could not do that - that that was a Presidential prerogative) I named him my Permanent Secretary in my Ministry! And of course, it was not just sinking someone for corruption; it was elevating someone for fighting against corruption.
So you know that in my own political behavior, this is what I did. I stood up to any kind of practices that were inconsistent with the norms of accountability and efficacious behavior. My hands are clean and in my head the blood of corrupt officials does not run. I would like to keep it that way. So that in my own behavior, I carry with me always, constantly, the watchword: “look out for excesses; look out for graft” and combat them. So I do not think that just saying that I ought to come out in the public and give the party a whipping or the Government a whipping necessarily would achieve what I have been doing over the years even though I have not been rewarded for it, in a sense, by the administration.
I am sitting in the back seat in Parliament. I do not speak most of the times. The last time during the (2010) Budget Debate, I did not speak to the Budget. Sadly, I am not on the Executive of the Party, where I help to make policies, so how do I defend policies. I would speak to a piece of legislation, because I am a lawmaker; I am a legislator helping to make laws. Currently, I sit in the Special Select Committee of the House dealing with the amendment to the Court of Appeal Act. In another Committee, I had sat perfecting the Anti-Money Laundering and Counter of Terrorism Act. I sit in several of these committees. I spoke to the issue of Judges who do not give timely decision in cases and helped to amend the law so that the Judges can in fact give decisions in cases that would make the judicial process not only fair, but will also make the process free from undue delay, which is a burden to litigants.
So where it is required, I make my voice heard on important issues. For example, tomorrow the Opposition Party, the AFC, will be tabling their version of the Broadcasting Bill. I intend to speak to that Bill; I have been passionately espousing the requirement and necessity for such a legislation and I myself, when I was Minister of Information, I gave four drafts of that Bill after consultation with UNESCO; after consultation with experts like Rafiq Khan and Murdecai out of Jamaica; consultation with the media; consultation with all journalists and practitioners in the country. I had produced versions of the broadcast legislation.
And so I feel that not only should we have a uni-focus on a particular issue, say, graft or corruption. We also have to look at all other issues that will contribute to making our democracy more healthy and to bring into the democracy those features that will become weapons to help perfect the system, like the Freedom of Information Act. We do need that and so publicly I will say that there is nothing to fear but fear itself (forgive me if I sound hackneyed) that you need a Freedom of Information Act. It may be costly; it may require a bureaucracy to give people access to information, but it is necessary, because it is an ingredient for people's self-emancipation, for people's self-confidence and for people to feel that they are empowered by access to information hitherto they have not been able to access.
So my contribution is not being limited to just sloganeering or making propaganda allegations and for which I may be despised that all “Moses talking about is corruption; all Moses talking about is graft; Moses is looking for an excuse to attack the Government and so on”. Those are the things that people who do not want me around are saying and these may be coming from people who are well placed also in the apparatchik of the ruling elite. So I do not want to appear to be an apostle only of negativism; I want to be an apostle of change; and it is not the negative that will take us forward; it is when you contribute in a positive way to taking the process forward giving this new wave, as I said, an impetus to take away the space that would otherwise be available for people who will undermine the system. It is to open up the system. It needs more openness in the system.
Mr. Dennis Chabrol: Mr. Nagamootoo, you talked earlier about a mixture of criminals and narco traffickers and so on in fighting political struggles, but critics of the Government say that the Government itself had used the narco traffickers to help to fight the battle of the criminals and to gun down at least four hundred black people, as they put it. I mean these are clearly serious allegations that must face people like you, who sit in Parliament, who are part of the Central Committee of the PPP and clearly are things that you would have to confront.
Mr. Moses V. Nagamootoo: We live in this society and we had experienced between 2002, particularly between 2002 to 2006, an unprecedented wave of criminal activities and criminal behavior. We have also seen the nature of trans-country and trans-border crime. We have changed to gun running and narco-trafficking as well as the decoration (if I may use a glorified term) of our terrain with deportees who had practiced and refined their art of criminality in what they might have thought was hitherto their utopia and they came back here with their mischief at a time when the security forces were ill-prepared to deal with these new manifestations of crime. So there was in fact, I would say, a blot in the country's history both in terms of insurgency and counter-insurgency, crime and anti-crime fight that involved as a matter of fact (this is not fiction) the occupation of the turf by rival drug lords and drug groups and, in fact, the political players exploited the capacity of these narco-criminals to deal with their opponents and to deal with others condignly, forcefully, ruthlessly some acts like Bartica and Lusignan in a barbaric way.
In fact, the analysis is still being made to what extent criminality was fuelled by political ambition or vice versa so that no one denies that there had been many deaths and the deaths were not even (I would say) in a selective way. Loosely speaking, it might have been in a sense symptomatic as both sides of the fence saw themselves as crime fighters. In a short period of time after the jail break, by 2005 around the big flood time, twenty-one policemen were killed in the line of duty. Members of the Police Force, not so many in the Army, were shot and killed by criminals and criminals were killed; people involved in drugs were killed. I still recall the gruesome picture in the papers of Axel Williams, who had been accused of being given a firearm by a Minister inappropriately as he had not qualified, shooting someone over G$120 - over a box of food or something ... [Interruption]
Mr. Dennis Chabrol: Twenty dollars for a puri
Mr. Moses V. Nagamootoo: ... twenty dollars for a puri. So no one is denying that you had a blood bath in this country. It was like killing fields at a time when the security forces were not very well prepared in a logistic way and even in terms of weaponry to match the sophistication of the weaponry used. But I would not want to start throwing about blame and identifying guilt to any party or accept as facts what the opposition had presented in a dossier and say, “look, these four hundred men or women who have been killed are victims of police violence or extra-judicial killings”. There was a Commission of Inquiry. Maybe one day we need to revisit that (the Commission of Inquiry) and broaden the terms to have a comprehensive inquiry not only whether there were judicial killings but also find out the root causes and the players in all the killings that probably had taken place post (let us say) 2001 or perhaps go back a little to 1997, to what had happened in the streets in Georgetown, the arson and so on.
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