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Moses Nagamootoo Wants Fair And Inclusive Selection Process In Presidential Nomination

Guyana Journal, September 2010

Yesu Persaud: Welcome to “Eye on the Issues”. With me this evening is a gentleman who is no stranger to this programme. He is well known throughout Guyana. He is a politician of many years' standings and he is also a well known lawyer.

He travels a lot throughout the country and he still has the personal aspiration of being President [of Guyana]. And nothing is wrong with that and he should have this aspiration. The field is wide open and he can make a contribution that is different from what is taking place now. He sees things differently, that all the people should be involved and at the present time this is not the case. He is also of the opinion that this term called “elected dictatorship” is very present in Guyana and he will explain this also.

So Moses, welcome to this programme. I think that the time is ripe for you to come on and to explain to the Guyanese public what are your aspirations and how you see yourself in the race for the president or for the Number One spot. You are still in the race, I suppose.

Moses Nagamootoo: Yes, very much so. I always say that in a race they have thoroughbreds and kangala. So it depends on the pedigree of the horse.

On the issue of “elected dictatorship”, I came across that term in one of the columns by Freddie Kissoon, in which reference was made to other writers like Zakharia. Let me say this: the PPP government that has been elected for four consecutive terms so far, was elected in free, fair and transparent elections. I don't think there is any dispute over that.

And, that notwithstanding, there have been labels attached to it by critics of the government and dissidents who say that there is fascism and elected dictatorship in Guyana. I do not subscribe to that view. I think that when we do political labels we do not exaggerate the situation because by exaggerating it and creating something that is not real, you are not inviting people to address something they could change but you are dealing with semantics. This does not mean that some governments elected democratically could not be accused with abuse of power.

Power to me is supposed to be a higher norm that should be used to address all the problems of the people at the same time, simultaneously, in accordance with the resources that are available. But if you are perceived to be discriminating and excluding and selective in what you do, you could attract that allegation that, though democratically elected, you are behaving like a dictatorship, that you are riding roughshod over people's opinions and views.

People like Freddie Kissoon had been throwing their volleys at the government in that regard. And so we have to now examine whether things that ought to be done are being done to dispel that notion that you are in fact ruling in a way that is acceptable.

Just as an example: We have been talking about freedom of information legislation and broadcasting legislation. These are things that are fundamental to a democracy-whether you could express your self freely in plural medium and whether you could access information that hitherto you could not get so that you could be better informed and view issues in a rational and serious way.

These are things that belong to a democracy and therefore the announcement by the President that they will come soon is an indication that we are addressing the situation as regards these and other issues like the procurement commission about which we spoke on the last occasion. We don't have one, and we need to address this to ward off allegations that this government and party is not in fact conforming to the standards of democracy.

Yesu Persaud: Let's get back straight to you; you will be contending. How do you see yourself being selected as a contender?

Moses Nagamootoo: There is a selection mechanism but I have felt that this is inadequate. Traditionally, the Executive Committee of the [PPP] party would make a recommendation and put the recommendation to the Central Committee (the Executive Committee is 15 and the Central Committee is 35 members). The Central Committee is elected by the congress which meets periodically once every three years. Now, for me, that process would be relevant where you had a single candidate because we never had a plurality for president. So it was automatic.

Now we have a few persons – I, myself, the Speaker of the National Assembly Ralph Ramkarran, the General Secretary Donald Ramotar and…

Yesu Persaud: and Clement Rohee.

Moses Nagamootoo: Yes. I read somewhere that Clement Rohee had thrown his hat into the goat pen, ooops, in the race. So I feel that with a plurality of candidates that the process ought to be broadened and widened to include the members of the party.

I tell you what: the CC holds its authority in trust of the members of the party but I recall in 1998 and again in 2008 - ten years after, at two congresses, I have been elected with high votes by the members of the party but I could not have been endorsed by the 35 members who constituted the Central Committee to be among the 15 members of the Executive Committee. So in a sense the Central Committee had betrayed the trust given to it and held by it on behalf of the members of the party.

So one asks one's self why should you have confidence that on this occasion when you would have the selection of the presidential candidate, the nominee of the party to be selected by this group?

I am tempted to feel that one: we ought not to take to the Central Committee a single candidate. It would be better to take a composite slate so that the CC could exercise its mind on how best to unify the party; how best you could have a slate that could appeal to all the people of the country and two: in arriving at the slate, we commit ourselves inexplicable to a policy that says that whoever wins the election, whoever emerges as the president, would be committed to the formation of a government of national unity.

In other words, we must do two things at the same time: unite the party this is, the PPP which historically was considered to be the vanguard of the people's struggle and at the same time, advance the unity of the party into a higher sphere to achieve unity of the country.

Yesu Persaud: Your thinking is that you want to embrace all and the concept has been that all the people should be involved in the politics of the nation and have rights and obligations as citizens. And you the politician as the rulers are obliged to the people who elected you. But is it now the other way around where the political directorate ignores the people and the people depend on the politicians and not the politicians on the people.

Moses Nagamootoo: I recall some time ago Sir Shirdat Ramphal, more or less in a mea culpa, was asked what he thought went wrong and when, and I recall him saying, if I report him correctly, that he thought that when Forbes Burnham, the Prime Minister at the time, had removed himself from Parliament; when he [Burnham] was there, he had interacted, and took part in the cut and thrust as the quintessential politician but having removed himself and become the Executive President in 1980 (as you climb higher you become lonelier and if you become lonely, you could play with mischief).

Well, I think that when one becomes aloof, hubris steps in. Some people call it “arrogance” and we have to guard constantly that the energies that make us relevant as politicians are the energies we feed from the people and the moment you are divorced or removed from the people you can have tendencies; these are not policies; these are not characteristics of democracy. These are personal traits we have seen happening in so many situations across the globe.

Now, having said that, the thing is how do you go about uniting your people. I know from personal experience, talking with western diplomats, that the position we were taking in the 70s was not good for Guyana, that is, to have a national front government. It was still in the period of the Cold War and coalition governments or united fronts were seen as a recipe for one-party states and most of these states that have emerged after the Second World War and even prior to that, were in fact dominated by communists and were one-party communist states - what the West called authoritarian states.

[Discussion on coalition politics in England, Trinidad and Australia edited]

Moses Nagamootoo: We have to put the past behind us. If you look too much into the rear-view mirror, then you could make an accident. Suriname is a recent example where people try to look ahead. Here in Guyana we should not go back too far and think that the Guyanese people will be beholden forever to the “28 years” [of PNC rule]. We [PPP] ourselves will be 18 years in office next month and we have to be careful that we do not take advantage of an attitude that people would go back to the past.

[President] Bouterse is an example: that in spite of what had happened they [Surinamese people] chose to make a conscious decision to validate him in elections, so he is the people's president; he is the democratically elected president of all the people of Suriname. He is coming to Guyana with a message – something I had explored with him when I went there with Ms. Jagan - on how we could unite our peoples, and he said way back in 1892 that the Corentyne River does not divide us. It unites us and I am personally heartened that he would be visiting Guyana in the context of that quest to bridge the Corentyne River as we are neighbours and we have to coexist as neighbours.

His visit to Guyana also brings to our attention that we have to go beyond the one-party contest, and have to experiment in forms that could bring broader unity and inclusiveness so that we should find a formula to keep this country moving forward and not be caught by this polarization of being an Indo Guyanese or Afro Guyanese and such other consideration.

Yesu Persaud: We must respect each other; indeed what you said there makes lots of sense. We can go back to your original ideas that all the people of Guyana should unite in the sense that in the political arena there should be togetherness.

Moses Nagamootoo: Yes, I want to go back to what I had said. At a certain time you couldn't talk of togetherness because of the cold war, when the ideological battle was fierce. We had two socialist parties that claimed or espoused socialism - the PPP and the PNC. It seemed that if we had come together we could have then a one-party socialist state and that was the reason why there was resistance to the idea. Now Guyana has chosen to go into the mid-stream of the free enterprise system - a mixture of capitalism, the state and cooperative...

Yesu Persaud: The cooperative is dead…

Moses Nagamootoo: I wouldn't use that term; it is not potent and it is not well organized. So the point is that now we are not dealing with the ideological issue. We are dealing with issue of social cohesion. Our people are our greatest resources and therefore you couldn't run a state where half of the people feel they are inside and the other half feel that they are outside. Exclusion is not the way forward; it is not the way of the future. Inclusion is. And, if you accept that as praxis, as a truism, you would do every thing that it takes, including experimenting in forms of government that are bi-partisan and multi-party to achieve unity.

You might arrive at a situation where, if the PPP, which is the stronger of the parties, unfortunately or in an unlikely event, does not get 50% of the votes, it has to work with another party or parties to get its programme going, to get approval for its budget and therefore it requires functional cooperation. So if you could look forward to such cooperation, why don't you a priori formulate it, not as a necessity or as a necessitous occasion, when you must have unity.

You must have unity as a matter of form for the survival of the nation because to suggest otherwise in a multiracial society (in this country you have two dominant groups) you are toying with ideas of factionalism or social implosion if you do not put on the agenda a political solution to this issue of social disintegration.

I am not a pessimist; I am an optimist and I believe that people in the end will not vote for a party because of ethnicity [interruption] though I accept in the past [racism] has been used as a tool of political mobilization, racism being used as a political weapon.

When I walk around in Berbice in villages where I came from they do not see me as a PPP man or Indian man. Many people in the villages refer to me as “aunty Chunoo son”. They see me as the fisherwomen's son, and see me invariably as someone who is fair or fair-minded person. This will not only apply to me. There are several other leaders in the PPP and in other parties as well who are fair-minded. In the final analysis if you have someone who shares the concern the burden and soul of our people it doesn't matter what is your ethnicity once you are committed to the concerns of the people.

I am accused of being a Jaganite. I have no apologies for this. God knows, he was a fair man and we all know that and those of us who gravitated to him, by him and alongside him and struggled over the years, share certain ideals about which certainly I feel very strongly. And I should not be isolated because of the views that I hold. I have a feeling that some people [in the PPP leadership] say that I have strong views; that I want to sell out to the other side. I can only sell myself to Guyana. I am a Guyana man: I play for Guyana team; I bat for the Guyana team; I bowl for the Guyana team; and if I have to run, I'll run with the Guyana team.

This isolation is happening. That is why I say that this process by which a person emerges as presidential candidate for the PPP, my party, if it does not conform or satisfy the requirements of internal democracy I will have no part to play with it. If the State uses its resources to sponsor a candidate, a single candidate, to the disadvantage of other candidates, I will have no part in that.

Yesu Persaud
: You want to see democracy at work. They must have equal opportunity.

Moses Nagamootoo: And that is how it ought to be, because in the end this must not be a life and death issue, the be-all and end-all of political life and involvement. People learn sensibly to back away or to engage and they learn sensibly to deal with situation with which they are comfortable. Compromises can be found because I cannot want unity for Guyana if the issue of unity in my party, the issue of cohesion and a composite slate, is not resolved. Because if the PPP is weak, it will be bad for Guyana. In other words, every party that wants to join the unity process ought to conform to its own standards of democracy.

Yesu Persaud: What do you think about the 'Big Tent' politics some talk about?

Moses Nagamootoo: This has been in the air for some time. In our time, we talk about the PCD [Patriotic Coalition for Democracy]. PCD was a big tent in concept and intention. The Front we were talking about even before the PCD came into being was also a big tent.

And I want to share this with you: Sometime in 1977 I was walking up the stairways of Clerico House with Walter Rodney, somewhere in Quamina Street. We were going to work on the draft programme for national unity, and I asked Walter how we were going to go about including the PNC. I think this could have been after the 1978 referendum when everybody felt bad about what had happened. He said that if the PNC accepted free and fair elections in Guyana you cannot exclude them from a government of national unity.

So that what he had set was a standard that you could exclude or include based on a standard. We all claim to be democrats and we are all committed to abide by democratic principles; then if we want a role to play in the future of our country, then that is the standard that should guide us.

Yesu Persaud: Well Mr. Nagamootoo, Sir, you made it very clear where you want to go - how you see things from here and you want to see that all the candidates are given a fair chance. There is nothing wrong with that. You have every right to put forward your ideas.

Moses Nagamootoo: This is as it ought to be, but is not. I see all of a sudden, I say this openly, that the General Secretary of my party is being put on the presidential bandwagon to attend Cabinet Outreaches. He features on presidential visits overseas…why is this done selectively? Why are not all members of the Central Committee promoted? If you want to show the symbiotic relationship between government and party, all members of the CC to which I belong, should be allowed in the process to interface whenever the government goes out? Why is it that when you plan a trip, it is selectively done.

The General Secretary – and I am not dealing with him as a person or by name - is a paid functionary of the party who holds an office in trust of the leadership of the party and of its members. He enjoys no special privileges in relation to the status of the party and when it appears on the eve of the elections that one person is taken on the shoulder of the incumbents who exercise authority, you know that it is done opportunistically for purpose of sponsorship.

I have no apologies for saying this. Because this will destroy the process if it continues, and I don't care about the excuses that are made there that the PPP is ideologically, politically and ideologically part of the government. It is not something that is done for this purpose. This is done for one purpose only - to give one person, one candidate a weighted advantage over the others and that constitutes unfairness of the process and if that process is unfair I will have nothing to do with it. I will not baptize it. I recall Gandhi saying, non-cooperation with evil is a sacred duty. We had accepted that praxis of not cooperating with what we had considered as evil, and if we inject in our own internal process those attributes that are negative it will breed negative reaction, and it will implode.

I do not want that on the eve of being 50 years with the PPP. It is not easy for me to make a decision to withdraw from the process. I have withdrawn before but at every stage when I felt that some thing improper was done, and I tried to use whatever political integrity I have to win corrective measures.
My interest in being the presidential candidate of my party is not personal. It concerns principles; it concerns policies; it concerns programmes; it concerns the nation. It is not that I want all these for myself. I don't want an unfair advantage.

Yesu Persaud: You want every candidate to be given a fair chance.

Moses Nagamootoo: Yes, as Sharma would say, “Justice for all.” (Laughter).

Yesu Persaud: You want all to go out there and all to have equal access to do so.

Moses Nagamootoo: Yes, we should all go out on the hustling. If you can't go to your own peers, your own compeers, your own comrades and tell them that “I am here. These are my thoughts and I am a candidate, what do you think?” you don't deserve to be a candidate.

There was a poll recently and Mr. Bisram came up with some figures. Well polls are important. They are not scientifically what we call truism. Polls are an indication of how people…

Yesu Persaud: There have been many polls…

Moses Nagamootoo: Yes, but this poll gave me 10%. It shows that I am not without influence and I am not without attraction to a segment of the people of Guyana. Even though that is a mere 10% (and you know [Eric] Williams used to say that if you take 1 away from 10 you leave 0, in the context of the West Indian Federation. Well if you start trying to turn Moses into a zero [meaning O's] (I know I have a lot of noughts [O's] in my name – NAGAMOOTOO) does mean necessarily that I will be blown away as if I were nothing.

Yesu Persaud: Moses we have reached the end of the programme. Thank you very much. I have nothing much to say; you said it all, and to the point. Let hope that somehow your thoughts will be taken into consideration and all the candidates, not only one, will be given the same opportunity, placed on the same platform, and let the people decide.

Moses Nagamootoo: And that is how it ought to be. I walk with the people, and they count.

Yesu Persaud is a leading Guyanese industrialist and banker, who hosts a TV programme, “Eye on the Issue”.

Moses Veerasammy Nagamootoo, presently a Member of Parliament and the PPP Central Committee, is a former Government Minister. He left journalism and is now also an Attorney-at-Law.