15TH BIENNIAL CONGRESS ADDRESS BY MR. ROBERT H. O. CORBIN, MP LEADER, PEOPLE’S NATIONAL CONGRESS REFORM CONGRESS PLACE, SOPHIA FRIDAY JUNE 20TH 2007
1. SALUTATIONS, WELCOME AND INTRODUCTION
Mr. Chairman, members of the Central Executive of the People’s National Congress Reform, Members of the Diplomatic Corps, Delegates and Observers to Congress, guests and friends of our Party. It is with deep feelings of humility, joy and anticipation that I greet you all at this the 15th Biennial Congress of our Party and on the 50th anniversary of our existence as a political institution under the name PNC. Those of you who are attending our Congress for the first time a special word of welcome. I am particularly pleased to see so many of our younger comrades here at Congress Place for these deliberations. It gives me renewed confidence and hope that our movement will go on from strength to strength and that the forthcoming 50- years will be even more successful and eventful than the first. To those of you who have come as delegates and observers from our Diaspora, I know that you will be able to return to advise our Comrades overseas that rumours of the demise or disintegration of our great Party are significantly exaggerated. One of the most heartening and thrilling things about a party congress is the effort made by our comrades from hinterland regions, who face the dangers of hard travel and great expense to be with their Party.
Imagine that only a few days ago there were unprecedented floods in the Rupununi: some areas of Lethem had over three feet of water. I doubted that the delegates from Region 9 would have been able to attend. Yet, they recognised the importance of this Congress and decided that despite these adverse circumstances they had to be here. After a rigorous 20 hour overland journey some eighty of our Comrades arrived here at Congress Place two days ago and I think we ought to acknowledge their presence. Stand so that the world can see that there are no phantoms here.
Region 1 is also here despite the harsh economic conditions in the North West District. They too arrived after a rigorous journey through the rivers.
Our Youth have not been outdone. They have registered their presence from all of the Regions and thereby signalled to all that the human resources for rejuvenating and re-positioning the Party are readily available. WE SALUTE our young people and members of the GYSM.
‘Region 11’ decided not to be out done; we have at this Congress Delegates from all our groups overseas from the United Kingdom to North America. Let us acknowledge them all. We salute you. You are the true heroes of the People’s National Congress.
It can truly be said that,
“From Pakaraima peaks of power to Corentyne lush sands;
From the undulating hills of Region 10
To the expansive savannahs beyond the Kanuku ranges,
We have all come to bear testimony that our beloved Party
Is resilient; is alive and well and ready for the challenges ahead,
Yes! We are here because we love our Party
We are here despite our performance at the last elections,
We are here despite the organised campaign to undermine the solidarity
And demoralise our members,
We are here despite the vulgar campaign to sully the character of our Leader,
We are here because we are still the Party of Jane Phillips Gay, Winifred Gaskin,
Beryl Simon, Viola Burnham and Margaret Ackman.
Of J.P. Latchmansingh, Eugene Correia and Robert Jordan
Of Ptolemy Alexander Reid and Hugh Desmond Hoyte
And of Our great founder Leader, Linden Forbes Sampson Burnham
We have all come to these hallowed grounds of Sophia to renew our pledge
Of loyalty, of commitment and of selfless service,
AND to give meaning to our Congress Theme:
PNCR: UNITED, REJUVENATED AND REPOSITIONED FOR THE NEXT FIFTY
2. ACKNOWLEDGEMENT AND THANKS
We must acknowledge and thank God for bringing us thus far and giving us divine guidance and blessing in these difficult times. Without Him nothing would have been possible.
I wish to personally acknowledge and thank the Thematics group led by our Party Chairman, and comprising David Granger, Lance Carberry, Deryck Bernard, overseas contributors Aubrey Amstrong and David Pollard as well as those who participated in the series of consultations for this presentation. It is this thematic group that conducted the major consultation with youth, with women, with the business sector etc and did the research to make this Congress Address possible. I am indeed indebted to them all.
We acknowledge and thank all those who worked against tremendous odds to make this Congress possible.
We also acknowledge and thank all those persons, named and un-named, who contributed material and financial resources to make this event possible.
We must also use this opportunity to thank all those stalwarts who have remained loyal and dedicated workers throughout the years without whose contribution we would not have been here today.
We thank those Comrades from overseas groups and individuals who have remained faithful and despite their distance have continued to support our Party financially materially and with their talent: the UK Region, The North American Groups and Individuals like Valda Forsythe and Beni Rayman. I would also like to single out Dr. Aubrey Armstrong and Dr. Ivor Mitchell for continuous use of their expertise and advice.
And for the thousands who have continued to support this Party and want to remain anonymous I thank you all on behalf of our Party.
3. 50 YEARS OF THE PNCR
Fifty (50) years ago some young men and women with vision led the way in organising a Party Congress in the face of an election defeat at the 1957 General Elections under the name of Burnhamite PPP. They met on the 5th October, that year to analyse the objective conditions which existed at that time and chart the way forward. They did not despair after the loss of that election; they did not lose faith in themselves; they did not seek to self-destruct by casting blame on each other and identifying scapegoats. Instead, they recognized the need to strategise and reorganize. (As I prepared my presentation over the last few days I reflected that this may not be too dissimilar a time)
It was at that Juncture that they decided that, among other initiatives necessary, it was time to change the name from Burnhamite PPP to a new one: People’s National Congress. They set themselves noble objectives and from the inception recognized the challenges of a multiracial Guyana at a time when the 1957 Elections ushered in race as a major factor in local politics. That factor unfortunately still plagues our politics.
The Elections results at that Congress clearly signified that recognition and it is apposite to review the First Executive of the PNC in the face of the persistent attempts by some to paint the PNCR today as an African race based Party. At that First Congress the Party elected:
• Forbes Burnham, Leader,
• JP Latchmansingh, Chairman
• Eugene Correia, Treasurer
They then proceeded to build a mass party which primarily represented the working class but also acknowledged the responsibility to all classes and groups in our society. They recognized that the whole could not progress unless all classes and races were equally treated and shared equally in the benefits that the society had to offer.
Despite their re-organisation, however, they faced yet another election defeat in 1961 but, again, they did not lose faith in themselves; They regrouped and in 1964 were able to enter the halls of Government in a coalition arrangement with the then United Force. The rest is history.
When I hear the utterances of the fainthearted in our Party today in the face of our last Election defeat; when I hear utterances that the PNCR could never win an election in this country: I say to myself that those persons either do not know or have not learnt from our Party’s history and are shackled by their own lack of confidence in themselves. If, indeed, we cannot win another election; if indeed we can never again walk in the corridors of Government, then we may as well close shop and utilize our time in other pursuits. I, however, believe differently and those who lead or want to lead our Party have to think positively, learning from our own history, the history of other parties in Guyana and elsewhere and believe the motto once adopted by the Guyana National Service that, “Whatever the mind of man can conceive and believe he can achieve.” But as one of our past Congress themes suggested we have to, “WORK TO WIN”. Victory will not fall in our laps as a gift from Heaven. As we celebrate 50 years of PNC, we need also remember that the PNC was here at the beginning of mass party politics, in then British Guiana, when it contested the first elections under Universal Adult Suffrage in 1953 as part of the original PPP.
Since then our Party has wrought mighty achievements and overcome ferocious odds. We resisted a furious onslaught of mayhem and terrorism. We took the reins of government and brought peace and tranquility000 to a troubled land. We built the basic infrastructure of our country, of main roads, bridges and institutions from the backwardness of colonialism and PPP misrule. We built great drainage and irrigation schemes. We established Guyana as a major player on the international scene and gave ourselves a commanding voice in the Non-Aligned movement, in the struggle against racism and apartheid and in the growth and solidification of Caricom. We resisted threats to our Territorial Integrity and built efficient and effective security forces. We built a University and Cultural Centre. We advocated indigenous products and self-help, cooperatives and micro enterprises. When others talked, the PNC achieved. We were blessed with mighty stalwarts like Forbes Burnham, Ptolemy Reid, and Desmond Hoyte. Even today, we bask in the respect and achievements of Bishweshwar Ramsaroop, Shridath Sonny Ramphal, and Mohammed Shahabudeen. We had stellar leaders like Winifred Gaskin, Shirley Field-Ridley, Jane Phillips-Gay and Viola Burnham. We founded Carifesta, Guyfesta, and the Guyana Prize. When the West Indies selectors made misguided decisions, the PNCR brought Clive Lloyd back from Australia to shine for our regional team. We played a leading role in fashioning and policing the Gleneagles Agreement which did so much to help defeat prejudice in Sport. That is why Comrades, every one of us who bears allegiance to the PNCR can wear our membership with pride and commemorate the achievements of our founding fathers and mothers with admiration and celebration.
4. KEY ACHIEVEMENTS OF THE PARTY
There are those who seek to rewrite history and, like the Ministry of Truth in Orwell’s novel 1984, would try to make us forget the reality of the story of Guyana. They would, for instance, have us forget that when the PNC came to office in 1964, as the larger partner in a coalition government, the PPP had left the country in ruins and bankruptcy. Communities were divided and murder and bloodshed were the order of the day. The country was occupied by British troops and the economy was in ruins. Guyana featured on the international news broadcasts as one of the world’s trouble spots and few expected the country to survive, let alone achieve independence.
The PNC, led by Forbes Burnham, rescued this country, made us a nation, gave us pride and dignity and led us to independence and eventually to Republican status. Let all those who now dare to besmirch the name of Burnham remember that, without him, the nation which we share might never have survived at all.
The PNC then proceeded to build the basic institutions of national independence. A professional Army, a proper University, reorganised the Civil and Teaching Services, a reorganised Judiciary and a diplomatic corps second to none in the Third World. We understood the importance of culture and patriotism in national development and, thus, the Guyfesta and Carifesta movements were born. We understood the need for integration and mutual support amongst the former colonies of the British, hence our advocacy of the Caribbean Integration movement. We were pioneers in the outreach of the Caribbean to Cuba and China. We were pillars in the Non-Aligned movement. We understood the importance of Self-Reliance and Self-Help. We understood the importance of Community Development. We established the network of universal secondary education which included the multilateral project and provided free education from Nursery to University. We reorganised and vastly expanded teacher training. We expanded and developed the rice industry. We bridged the Demerara and Canje rivers and built the main public roads, including the Soesdyke-Linden highway. When the tides of world economic life turned and state-owned and controlled economic management proved a liability in a changing world, we instituted the Economic Recovery Programme, in 1988 that sparked the rebirth and reinvigoration of our economic life. Ours is a proud heritage. We resolutely pursued our task of a destiny to mould.
5. EVALUATION OF THE PNCR
It would be neither appropriate nor wise for us to spend the rest of congress basking in the achievements of the past. It is all well and good to reflect on our past achievements, but life moves on and times change. Whilst we need to take strength from our past successes over 50 years, we must make a realistic assessment of our present condition lest we become irrelevant to the trials and challenges of the current times. We must be realistic. The PNCR, despite its abundance of talent, the eminent superiority of our capacity to manage and our development programmes, is out of office. The working classes are, in many places, suffering under the burden of incompetence, underdevelopment, injustice and marginalisation, and the PPP/C government has shown no increased capacity for reconciliation, institution building or international vision. Thus, we cannot afford to spend all of our time, in 2007, basking in the glories of past eras. Too many times in our internal debate we retreat to the mode of recounting the past successes. The challenge is now, the battle is in 2007. The issues at stake are nothing less than the survival of Guyana as a coherent nation and the turnaround of our economic fortunes to sustained viable growth.
A group of leading and experienced members of the Party, whom I referred to earlier, have consulted widely and studied the issues and the state of the Party. We have had several studies and retreats. The fact is, Comrades that we will not be able to achieve our gaol of returning to government, if we do not retool our Party, in appropriate ways, for the challenges of the forthcoming 50 years. Our party machinery, our party structure, our Party ideology, our Party tactics, our party polices and our Party manifesto must all be held up to close scrutiny during this congress. Our leadership, at all levels, must be scrutinised. Our standards of performance before elections, during elections and in the course of regular Party work, must be re-examined honestly and fearlessly. Inappropriate and outmoded practices must be identified and modified in radical ways. Unproductive and useless modes of operation must be radically and ruthlessly excised. All of us, from the highest office holders to the newest members of the Party, must be prepared to do the self examination that is necessary to bring this Party back to its full glory. None of us should leave here content unless we have made a commitment to the people of Guyana. We are at the crossroads and we must seize the moment.
6. THE PNCR IN AN ETHNICALLY DIVERSE SOCIETY
There is a debate which is taking place among many Guyanese, including several who suggest that they are or wish to be supporters of our party. That debate seeks to ask: What is the position of the PNCR in relation to the fact that Guyana is a nation composed of many ethnic, cultural and religious groups? The historical position of the PNCR stated in its constitution and reinforced in the Declaration of Sophia and in the statements of leaders of this Party for the past 50 years, is clear and unequivocal. “Membership of the Party is open to all Guyanese regardless of ethnic origin, cultural background, geographic location or religious persuasion.” The Party opposes all forms of racism, discrimination, intolerance and oppression. The PNCR is not, has never been, and will never become an ethnic enclave or pressure group. It is for that reason that we feel so keenly the assertion by our Comrade, Sir Shridath Ramphal, when he wondered, in 1988, whether we have not travelled far enough to become simply Guyanese. Guyanese, it is true, whose ancestors came at different times from different places and in different boats, but Guyanese … who share in an inseparable identity… Today, whatever the ships we came in, we are in one boat. Thus we are able to celebrate the cultural and religious differences, which are both promise and problem for us, but which will in the end provide the richness and energy to make Guyana great again. That, Comrades and friends, is the position of the PNCR. It is enshrined in our constitution because we take it seriously. The welfare of all working people is our business. The prosperity and safety of all Guyanese is our constant concern. We must insist that, within this party, political correctness is honoured and preserved. Racism, whether crude or subtle, has no place in the PNCR. That will be one of the important pillars in our indoctrination and orientation over the next two years. Our programs of outreach must move from talk and paper to reality.
7. THE IDEOLOGY OF THE PNCR
The PNCR will approach its work with a clear ideological position in relation to the development of Guyana and its place in the world. I wish to suggest that there are certain principles which must be part of the foundation of our Party’s principles and on which we should have a frank and open debate.
a. Our Party is dedicated to the development and empowerment of the working people as a basic focus of our work in and out of office.
b. Our Party believes that the welfare of working people can best be achieved and sustained by policies which encourage investment and rapid growth in relevant modern sectors of the economy and by wise and judicious engagement with the global economy.
c. Our Party believes that the private sector, local, regional, and global must play a vital and primary role in the growth and expansion of our economy.
d. Our Party believes that the empowerment of small investors, through a variety of modes, is an essential parallel to the investment by larger scale investors.
e. Our Party will re-establish and reinforce our commitment to democracy, to the rule of law, to parliamentary government underscored by respect for the constitution, and the importance of shared governance as a basis for our economic development.
Democracy must, however, not be confused with indiscipline and insensitive behaviour. If this party is to remain strong and united we have to enforce discipline and excise irresponsible behaviour. We must respect each other and recognise that every member has a contribution to make. While we have never been a party that sticks slavishly to past practices we need recognise that, whatever our ideology, there are certain principles that must remain constant. Some of them are enshrined in the “Declaration of Sophia” adumbrated since 1974 by our Founder Leader and approved by the Party at its Special Congress held that very year. In Chapter Three of that Declaration we agreed among other things that,
“Party membership must be a reward to be sought after, a qualification which has to be earned. It must not be come by, unless the applicant has gone through the crucible of training, testing and performance. It cannot, I repeat, be bought”
“On the other hand, though membership should be a reward and a badge of honour, it is not, and the Party should see that it does not become, either a means of self-aggrandisement or something to be used as “royal purple” to be arrogantly vaunted abroad. Arrogance and insensitive behaviour do not go with service to the Party and the Nation…. Understanding, humility and example are the instruments of persuasion”
It is my firm belief that the abandonment of some of these principles has given rise to some of the difficulties that we are experiencing today. We must return to sanity. When we removed from our Constitution the requirement of the probationary period of one year before full membership we gave birth to the questions which have arisen at this Congress and the belated calls for verification. We cannot however change our rules midstream, without notice, to satisfy any special group or fulfil partisan agendas. We have to do so in the correct way. It is for this reason that I support one of the motions presented by a GYSM group for approval at this Congress which essentially seeks to reinstate the provision in our Constitution requiring members to serve a one year probationary period of membership.
There is just one other section of the Declaration of Sophia that I wish to bring to this Congress’ attention: Chapter 11, A Code of Conduct. I believe that this should be revised and if it cannot be concluded at this Congress then the Congress should mandate the First General Council to have the new code approved based on recommendations made here.
IT IS MY VIEW THAT WHAT HAS TRANSPIRED IN OUR PARTY OVER THE LAST THREE MONTHS IS TOTALLY UNACCEPTABLE. IF IT WERE NOT SO CLOSE TO THIS CONGRESS I WOULD HAVE DEFINITELY TAKEN A DIFFERENT COURSE OF ACTION, BUT WE AGREED THAT SINCE CONGRESS WAS SO CLOSE, THEN YOU THE MEMBERS MUST GIVE CLEAR DIRECTIONS ON HOW YOU EXPECT YOUR LEADERS TO BEHAVE. DEMOCRACY OR NOT, NO PARTY INTERESTED IN COHESION COULD TOLERATE THE KIND OF INDISCIPLINE WHICH WAS RECENTLY DISPLAYED. DO YOU AGREE WITH ME?
IF YOU DO AND IT IS YOUR WISH THAT I CONTINUE AS LEADER AFTER THIS CONGRESS I NEED TO KNOW YOUR WISHES. FOR ME, HOWEVER, I SAY THIS: UNLESS WE WANT TO BECOME THE LAUGHING STOCK OF THE WORLD, NEVER AGAIN MUST WE TOLERATE IN THIS PARTY THE KIND OF BEHAVIOUR WE WITNESSED OVER THE PAST WEEKS. AND WE MUST BE PREPARED TO TAKE FIRM ACTION IN THE FUTURE.
Finally on this matter of discipline I wish to bring to your attention the Congress Address delivered by our Founder Leader at the First Biennial Congress of 1975 which I believe is apposite to read in its entirety:
“As the Party grows in strength and influence, and proceeds to dwarf all other political groups in the country, I see signs of a most unpleasant tendency which, if allowed to develop, can weaken and destroy us all, and rob us of the distinction of carrying the revolution to a successful conclusion, I refer here to factionalism which we must nip in the bud.
“In our Party, there has always been and must always be democracy. There has always been, and must always be, the freedom and the right of every member within the various Party forums and agencies, to express his point of view fearlessly on all matters, important or otherwise, regardless of whether it coincides with any other member’s, no matter who that other member is. For it is only by free discussion that matters can be fully ventilated, ideas clarified, theory amplified and decisions arrived at unanimously or by a majority.
“There must be the freedom to agree or to disagree. But it is another matter when support for, or opposition to, the views of one member or another is automatic and referable to extraneous, personal and/or factional considerations.
“To be sponsoring and joining factions in the Party is to indulge in anti-Party activity calculated to weaken, if not aimed at weakening, the Party.
“There may be different motivations, some springing from personal ambition, others from a minority opinion firmly held. Whichever it may be, the objective result is undesirable and deleterious. Factions and factionalists are wittingly or unwittingly instruments of our enemies and must be dealt with accordingly”.
(Prime Minister, Forbes Burnham, Towards the Socialist Revolution, Georgetown, Guyana Printers Ltd., at the First Biennial Congress of the People’s National Congress, Sophia, 18th August 1975.)
8. A PARTY OF WORKING PEOPLE
It is important to stress our commitment to the welfare of working people and, in particular, our belief in the importance of the rights and welfare of the small man. Our society has seen the burgeoning spectre of powerful and rich groups, largely the products of the heinous and wicked international trade in narcotics, defying the law, the government and conventions of decency. Murder, violence, bribery and racketeering have grown rapidly and the poor and powerless live in fear. The small farmer, the small business-man, the honest worker, all take the back seat and the rich drug lord and smugglers stalk the land. The PNCR must oppose this trend and take appropriate steps to ensure that the honest, working-people of Guyana regain the respect of the State. Trade unions must, once again, be given their rightful place in the development of our political and social order.
We did as a party record successes in our struggle against extra judicial killings which forced the PPP to agree to the establishment of the Disciplined Services Commission; in our fight against the notorious Death Squads and our determination that, “Gajraj must Go”; in our relentless exposure of known drug lords, some of whom have now retreated while others are guests of the State in other jurisdictions. But there is much more to be done. The Campaign to free the political Prisoner Mark Benschop must be intensified and the battle to remove the tremendous burdens of the incorrect application of Value Added Tax must be escalated. The rule of Law is threatened by attempts to exercise political control of the Judiciary but we must resolve that this must not happen in our lifetime. This Congress must deliberate on these and other matters of concern and give clear directions.
9. GUYANA IN 2007 - THE ECONOMY
When the PPP/Civic came to office, in 1992, they inherited an economy that was enjoying record growth and the promise of sustained development and expansion. This persisted for a few years but, as the incompetence and vindictiveness of the PPP/C took root, the economy slowed down and stalled. Guyana went into, and remains in, a period of economic decline that is unique in our region and exceptional in this period of world economic history. We rank 20th out of the 22 counties in the Caribbean economic grouping. We have unemployment over 36%; we have had several years of economic decline. We lag way behind the rest of Latin America and the Caribbean in growth, investment, employment creation, and as a result, we are now numbered among the 15 basket cases in the world. The Government would have people believe that our recent status as a HIPIC country is something to boast of but, in reality, Comrades, it is a badge of failure. That failure is reflected in the desperation of Guyanese to leave Guyana and in the despair of young school leavers and university graduates as they search desperately for reasonable employment. The reality, Comrades, is that the PNCR has a duty to regain office, if only to put our economy on the path to self sustained growth. The working people, suffering under the hammer blow of the VAT tax, and the young people trying desperately to leave Guyana, deserve no less.
10. GUYANA 2007- SECURITY AND COMMUNITY
There is, however, no greater demonstration of the ineptitude of the PPP than the state of security in this country and the mismanagement of law and order. We must be brutally frank on this matter. The PPPC, on their arrival in office, systematically denuded the powers and resources of the police force, on motives hatched in the twisted Machiavellian minds of Freedom House. The Community Policing System was destroyed and the PPP began a reckless expansion in the granting of licenses for the ownership of firearms. They cohabited with the leaders of the fledging drug trade and winked at all manner of irregularities. When the inevitable consequence of their short sighted polices came home to roost, they reacted by creating mayhem in the form of death squads and murder-for-hire gangs, which have scarred the psyche of Guyana in deep and profound ways. We have the continuing embarrassment where officials and ministers of the government are forbidden to visit friendly countries because of evidence that they are in cahoots with criminal gangs.
The numbers of criminal scandals which have engulfed the government are numerous, including the visa scandal which exposed, for the world to see, the close nature of the relationship between crime and the PPP/C Government. The reality is that we are in deep trouble. Murderous gangs and thieves wreak havoc all across the country. Hitherto peaceful rural communities now find themselves the victims of armed robberies and murder. No Businessman can go to the bank or close his or her place of business without the fear of the bandit. Smuggling of people, drugs, fuel, and gold continues unabated. What is worse, the government has resisted every effort to generate collective and consensual solutions to these grave problems. Comrades, Guyana cannot develop if it is reputed as a haven for violent criminals and an unsafe society. We must leave this Congress agreed that we will stand resolutely against crime and corruption wherever it is found, that we have zero tolerance for criminals and that, when we regain government, we will deal efficiently and ruthlessly with criminal enterprise and the culture of crime. We must make it clear to the citizens of this country that the suppression of crime and lawlessness is the number one priority of the PNCR and it must be on the front burner of our agenda, from now until our victory at the next general election.
11. SOCIAL , PHYSICAL AND INSTITUTIONAL INFRASTRUCTURE
By the time we do return to office, the mess created by the PPP/C will be monumental. The roads that have been rebuilt several times and that are still in shambles, the decrepit drainage and Irrigation Schemes, the denuded and depleted public agencies, the demoralised security forces, the shambles in the education system, the decline at the university of Guyana, the soaring level of unemployment, the tottering judicial system, the low prestige and profile of our country will all have to be restored. These are sobering realities. Many of you may be tempted to shy away from the thought of having, once again, to rebuild a country which was destroyed by the PPP. You may ask, why it appears that, like 1964, the PPP/C will bequeath us a society in turmoil and sorrow for us to rebuild. But we are equal to the task. The PNCR is as tough and as wise and as visionary in 2007 as it was in 1964 and we will prevail.
The PNCR Vision for Guyana
What are the main tasks of the Peoples National Congress Reform? A careful analysis will tell us that our immediate objective should be to oppose with vigour and energy those policies and actions of the incumbent government, which are inimical to the best interest and welfare of the people of Guyana. While in Opposition the PNCR must also focus on empowering our supporters economically and ensuring that they are prepared and equipped to utilise the opportunities available in the society. We must organise programmes to deal with their problems and deficiencies. This is an urgent task and we cannot afford to be diverted from this responsibility. Our other objective should be to do all that is necessary and relevant to retuning the PNCR to Government in order to pursue our programmes and vision for the people of Guyana.
There are those who suggest that the PNCR should convert itself into a minor pressure group, acting on behalf of the interests of selected citizens of Guyana. We must always bear in mind that our Party is for all Guyanese, irrespective of race, class or religion. This does not mean that we must not vigorously promote and defend the rights of our supporters, particularly those who are marginalised and discriminated against on the grounds of race and politics in the award of contracts, job opportunities and in enjoying benefits to which they are entitled as citizens of Guyana. There have been those who have dared to suggest that the goal of winning political office should be deferred or denied for various reasons and postures.
In the early days of the PNC, we were as our founder leader put it, “really an organisation of protest and struggle against corruption, misrule and narrow partisanship.” It does not take the brilliance of Einstein to recognise that such conditions and, therefore, such need for protest subsists at the present time in our country. But our Party has matured. We have gone past the days when we can be content merely to object and to protest. Though protest and campaign we must when necessary and we must never abandon our right to utilise all the methods available under the law to do so, even if it requires returning to the streets. We are, however, a mature and fully grown organisation which must make its wisdom and experience available to the nation once again to lead this country out of darkness. The ultimate aim of this Party must be to equip ourselves to regain the governance of this republic for the good of all concerned. That is our goal and that is our policy. Those who are not committed to that goal must question whether this arty is their appropriate home.
There are many, within and without, who have questioned the tactics of our Party in recent times. Some say we are not militant enough. Some have gone as far as to suggest that we have deliberately sold out to facilitate the PPP/C. Others, who singled us out for harsh criticism when we considered it necessary to engage in streets protests and boycott of the Parliament in the past, now urge us to return to the streets. We must not shy away from discussing these issues at Congress and give direction to the Leadership of our Party. This is the highest forum of the Party and it is here that fundamental decisions are made. Not by any group who believes that the PNCR exists to respond to their wishes alone. While we must be and have to be responsive to public opinion we have also to take our responsibilities seriously and do what we think is right in all the circumstances irrespective of whether we lose temporary popularity. In simple language, we must analyse the objective conditions properly and set our own Agenda not swing and sway to others just for the sake of remaining popular.
The last Biennial Congress gave specific direction to the Leadership and I wish to report that I have obeyed those instructions carefully irrespective of the consequences. We met two years ago under the theme, “PEACE NATIONAL COHESION AND NATIONAL RECONSTRUCTION”. We agreed that an important approach of the party was to build and promote alliances on a one Guyana Platform; we agreed that in our quest to remove the PPP we should make an unconditional offer to all opposition forces to form an alliance and that there should be no preconditions. We said, and I fully agreed, that in such arrangements we will not insist that the PNCR candidate should and must be the Presidential Candidate. We pursued that decision until the very last moment when it was evident that for various reasons that alliance as originally conceived was not possible and we proceeded with those who understood the broad realities and the big picture. In the evaluation of our performance at the last elections it was assessed that one of the reasons for our performance was our delayed commencement of our campaign. This was, however, because we took seriously the decision of the Congress. That we did not succeed fully in our original intention should be no reason to be demoralised beyond recovery. We must use our experience to guide us in the future.
Prior to our last Congress we agreed at our General Council that our leaders must be more accountable; that our Members of Parliament and representatives on local Government Bodies must be more accountable and that if they failed to perform they should be recalled. That decision was discussed and approved by our last Biennial Congress. I suggest you read again my 2004 Congress Speech to refresh your memory. (It can still be read by accessing our Party web site: www.guyanapnc.org) Yet, when it became necessary for us to implement that decision we witnessed the most schizophrenic behaviour by some of our Leaders. It was as if the matter was being raised for the first time with sinister objectives and the new found democracy made some leaders feel that they could publicly disregard decisions made solemnly at the highest forum of our Party even without reference to the Central Executive Committee. This Congress must determine whether this is the type of indiscipline that our Party must permit. A final note on these matters: it cannot be denied that the Leadership and the Leader, in particular, has been very tolerant in the past and, while I admit errors of judgment for which I now apologise and seek your pardon, there can be no dispute that free, frank and open discussions were encouraged and permitted in our party over the past two years and that Democracy is alive and well in the Peoples National Congress.
12. THE ECONOMIC VISION
The basis of the future of the PNCR must be a clear economic vision. It is my belief that a half hearted commitment to Private Sector investment and growth, inhibited by outmoded and irrelevant ideological baggage has not served Guyana well. An objective assessment of the world economy tells us that sectors and certain polices which attract and encourage direct investment, allow countries that are small and vulnerable such as Guyana to grow at rates that were considered unlikely in times past. Modern manufacturing, services, tourism, specialist agriculture, are all areas that we must take seriously as engines for development. We must also examine the importance of linkages and strategic alliances between our own Private Sector and global players. The sustainable utilisation and or capitalisation of our natural resources must also be given high priority in our economic programme. We must pay great importance to our development and investment possibilities in the CSME structure and in terms of our strategic location as part of the South American and Amazonian area. We must create a low tax economy to attract investors and utilize the tax free zones as strategic weapons. The hand of state interference and discrimination must be excised from our economic management finally and effectively. We must position Guyana as a place to invest and not as a HIPIC basket case. We must grow out of debt and poverty rather than accept a proud place as the mendicants and beggars of the Caribbean. But we also need to pay special attention to the Human Resource Development aspect of our economy, for if there is a factor that inhibits our growth prospects in Guyana, it is the shortage and loss of skills in every area of economic development. Radical measures are needed to address this issue. All our plans and dreams will come to naught unless we address this issue in practical and realistic ways.
13. THE POLITICAL VISION
The PNCR has, over its 50 years of activism, been a progressive voice in the Caribbean and the world. We have stood solidly behind other movements against colonialism; we have stood solidly with the movement against racism and discrimination in southern Africa and with the right to determination of the Palestinian peoples. We have been consistent in our belief in multilateralism and our opposition to international hegemony from whatever direction, East or West. We have believed and continue to believe in the rule of international law and the desirability of the peaceful resolution of international disputes and the right to self determination of all peoples. We have as a Party been consistent in our belief in the importance and desirability of a strong Regional Integration Movement at the economic and political level. These principles are as important as they ever were and we will continue to advocate them in opposition and put them into practice when we return to government.
We must also place great importance on the role of good governance in development and the fight for fairer terms of trade and financing for developing countries. These are important matters and we need to ensure that our voices are focused, relevant and in keeping with current challenges. In our own domestic circumstances, we need to continue to press for the devolution of power through a reformed local government system and to give more autonomy and power to the local communities for a greater say in their development. We must also continue our debate in the national forum on structural changes in our constitution to make our system of governance more related to our social and political realities. The need for change is essential and Shared Governance is not a desire, but a necessity if stability in this country is to be achieved. Consequently, it must remain a priority issue for discussion among stake holders and for implementation through constitutional changes.
14. OUR YOUTH
Comrades, we need to acknowledge the harsh reality that Guyana has by and large failed its young people. Our youth are largely disillusioned and disenchanted with Guyana, with their future, and with politicians. They do not have the expectation that the political and democratic processes will have any real impact on the issues and challenges that they face. The level of patriotism is low and many of them regard a ticket out of Guyana as their salvation for the achievement of the better life for which they legitimately and rightfully desire and deserve
If Guyana is to achieve real progress these issues must be urgently and frontally addressed. Sustainable solutions have to be found now. Time has run out. Our youth are, understandably, impatient. Programmes must be developed and implemented to deal with the very troubling situation where we see large numbers of young people unoccupied in most of the villages and towns all across our country, from Mabaruma to Corentyne and in our hinterland communities. These young people become vulnerable to the scourges of drugs and crime.
It is our responsibility as a Party, one which we cannot abdicate, to immediately bring the youth agenda to the forefront of the Party’s concerns in a way that convinces our youth that we care about their needs and concerns.
Over the next two years, the party must get closer to its young people, not to mobilise them for adult causes, but to work with them to meet their needs and help them to fulfil their dreams for a better future.
The issues of employment, youth empowerment, youth entrepreneurship and the health threats which they face, are not matters which need await the action of government. The party must, over the next two years, carry out meaningful and high impact programmes as an essential part of our overall party work programmes.
We must continue to initiate and support comprehensive Youth Empowerment Schemes (YES) across the country. These schemes should be driven by the members of our youth movement who must become more dynamic and proactive in their own outreach work to other young people countrywide. We must re-create the enthusiasm and excitement that existed in the early days of the movement when young people in various parts of the country took great pride in becoming members of the YSM and were motivated, mobilised, militant and committed to the development of themselves and Guyana.
Our Party must move very fast to institute training and other supportive programmes which help and encourage self-sustaining employment generation for our youth.
The youths themselves must be actively involved, and become initiators of the types of employment or productive activities that they would like to be engaged in and the party must be ready to support and facilitate their efforts.
In this globalised world, cultural, social and economic barriers are being broken down, leading to replication of activities in several countries by young people especially. An example is the entertainment industry, which is witnessing tremendous cross cultural engagement. In the light of these, our party should initiate comprehensive Youth Empowerment Schemes across the country.
Entrepreneurial training for youth in various sectors of the economy should commence immediately. Economic activities which do not require large financial outlays, but can generate attractive financial returns must be supported by our party
Strategy for Implementation
We must immediately engage our Youth arm to develop sustainable strategies for the implementation of agreed programmes.
The importance of education cannot be overemphasized. Our party must begin with the implementation of an educational policy which will provide scholarships and sponsorships for youths by the party to various institutions of higher learning in the country and abroad.
Our party must be ahead of the governing party in this regard. The aims and objectives of this laudable policy are to make Guyana’s youth mentally self-sufficient, make social integration easier and more successful and to facilitate economic and financial freedom.
These are the challenges I throw out to our Youth in the GYSM. Rest assured that in the pursuit of these programmes the Party and I will be fully behind you.
15. OUR WOMEN
Over the years the women in our Party have played a significant role in the reorientation and empowerment of women generally at the national level through implementation of various programmes. It can truly be said that women have played and continue to play the major role in organising and campaigning for our Party. Describing them as the salt of our Party is not an exaggeration. As one reflects on the past 50 years it is easy to recall the significant contributions of many outstanding women such as the late Jane Phillips-Gay, Winifred Gaskin, Viola Burnham, Stella Assanah, Enid Abrahams, Bidyawattie Tiwari and those who are still with us such as such as Urmia Johnson, Ovril Yaw, Yvonne Harewood Benn, Shirley Klass and Margaret Ackman, former Assistant General-Secretary who has come home to be with us at this Congress. This Congress must salute all our women, past and present for they are the true heroes of our party.
Let us not forget that it was the WRSM that advocated or spearheaded the movement to have women trained in various non-traditional occupations and skills, bringing them out of their more traditional mode of being housewives and help mates. It was during that period that we saw women being trained as mechanics, drivers and technicians, and occupying positions, which were formerly the preserve of men. It was the WRSM that promoted local craft and demonstrated how local materials could be used productively. With such a rich history we can see that there is much work to be done by the women of our Party, particularly at this time when our economy is in such a parlous state. Our women must again lead the way, instilling confidence particularly in our young women to embark on economic projects to improve their lives.
One of the areas in which the problems of poverty and the soaring cost of living manifest themselves are in the welfare of girls and women. It is a fact that some of the socio-comic issues in Guyana affect females disproportionably. It is also true that the solution to many of these problems rests with the empowerment and energising of women. And this must be a major focus of our Party, which must now strenuously support its women’s arm the NCW in its efforts to be revitalised and strengthened. Work has to be done to mobilise resources for programmes for women. Programmes in micro-lending, training and adult education, health and family matters, child health and welfare, and entrepreneurship, are key to making an impact in this area. Over the 50 years of the PNCR, we have made much of the role of women in the work of our party. We must now ensure that we give focus to the role of women in reviving our party and our communities.
16. MAKING THE PARTY FIT FOR PURPOSE
The Party has an imperative duty to overhaul its operations and retool its structure so as to make it fit for effective Government. The outline of that reform should emerge from the deliberations of this congress and its implementation must commence from the moment this congress rises on Sunday afternoon. The process of restructuring must not be a paper affair which is documented and lodged to gather dust in the Secretariat: it must mean action. The broom of reform must go into every corner of the Party removing cobwebs of sloth and indifference. New and improved procedures and tactics must be implemented and those of us in the party who find that our comfortable positions and privileges are affected must accept that these changes are necessary for the good of the country and the good of the Party. There must be a clear and non negotiable deadline. In my view, the reform of the party must be complete by the convening of the congress of 2009 so that the new model PNCR can be well tuned and poised to sweep the corrupt drug friendly and discriminatory PPP Civic from their posts in the next general election.
17. THE LOCAL LEVEL
Local Party work must be reformed. The activities of the Party must be made attractive, interactive and dynamic. Work programmes must be challenging enough to sustain the interest of Comrades. The secretariat must be equipped to give guidance on this matter and the need for trained full time facilitators in this area must be a major priority. Party programmes at the local level must also include appropriate social, community, self help and economic programmes appropriate to the need and concerns of the people in our various communities. We must ensure that the principles of the Enterprise culture are understood and active as the focus of our party training and our local Party activity. New leadership must be brought in and talented and gifted community leaders who are not in the PNCR fold must be actively pursued as members and potential leaders of our work. Community group leaders such as church leaders must be persuaded that they can serve their community through the PNCR. The work of our regions and neighbourhoods must be assessed primarily in terms of the life and growth of active party member ship. We must once again be a Party in season and out of season. We must be particularly active in resuscitating Party work in professional and national institutions. The work of the party must be re-established at the University, The Training College and the Critchlow Labour College and other adult educational institutions. The Party must present its program to young people in those organisations within the bounds of the law. We must also penetrate the professions with the PNCR ideology and message. Our economic and social positions, our cultural policies must be known and understood. We must engage in active work amongst athletes and cultural activists. Many of them realise that our ideology matches their concerns and beliefs and will welcome our active engagement with them.
18. THE NATIONAL LEVEL
The basis of any mass based working class political party is the local organisation. In our case it is the Party group. It is at this level that we recruit, train, organise, mobilise and develop our members. Let us face facts Comrades, our local party is in disarray in many regions, districts, and neighbourhoods. This Congress as other Congresses in the past has stimulated a massive recruitment of members. But it is what happens after Congress that will be the test of their effectiveness. There is no consistent recruitment, little if any political education, irregular activities, few meetings and in some cases, none at all, irregular elections, no mobilisation, and no work in the community to make ourselves visible and useful to the community. Groups are mobilised for the purpose of Congress and our organisation goes into high gear primarily for the purpose of elections. The priority of the party must be to put in place a modern and dynamic model whereby Guyanese can be drawn to the party, particularly younger Guyanese, to be trained and groomed to serve their communities. That is the ABC of politics. Nothing is more important than that. Those of us who are too tired or preoccupied to be in the forefront of this battle must stand aside and support those who will be warriors in this aspect of the work for the next two years. I wish to refer again to the Declaration of Sophia where Forbes Burnham made it clear that the party had matured to the stage that membership must be a serious business. He said then “Every member, every officer, every leader, be he in the centre or at the group level must be a trained activist, organizer, and educator….he (or she) must have no reservations about the party’s programs or philosophy.” If we are asked at the end of Congress, what is our greatest priority, we should be able to assert that it is to revitalise party membership in terms of outreach and quality. It is to put in place a new cadre of leaders to carry this Party and, by extension, this nation forward.
19. THE SECRETARIAT
Over the past three years some effort has been made to improve the operations of the Party Secretariat and equip it appropriately to become modernised and effective. Our continuing efforts in this regard will require new human and physical resources. We need to develop and embark upon a clear programme to raise the necessary resources to support our development plan. The Party’s HQ needs new technology, new work practices and more comprehensive use of new technology. It also needs to put systems in place to make it more attractive to the citizen in need of support or advice. The project to enhance the physical surroundings of the Party must also be brought to fruition.
20. NEW LEADERSHIP
We are fully cognizant that in addition to our plans for improving the physical shape of the party, the human face must also undergo necessary change. Our greatest challenge is to ensure that by our 2009 Congress, the Party must have at every level, fresh and talented young faces representing every shade of Guyana’s life in the leadership of the party at both the local and national levels. Of course, experienced heads will still be necessary to give stability and experience and indeed, some leaders are mature in body but young in mind. But the hope of the party is the future and no party will survive if it stifles new talent. We need to be resolute and sincere in this matter or all the work of the past 50 years will come to naught. If the CEC and the General Council look exactly the same as they do now, we would have failed our people and failed the country. We must recruit and train new talent, new thinkers, and new workers with energy and perspective. We must also begin early preparation for the 2011 Elections. It will not be won by empty slogans and wild dreams but by hard work and effective organisation. It is my own aspiration not only to have the new team of Leadership cadres identified by the next Congress but to hand over to them while still around to give the necessary support. This cadre of highly trained persons must be committed to the task of taking this Party forward, as we retool for the challenges of restoring Guyana to its place of pride and prosperity. They must however demonstrate by work and example that they have the capacity to do so.
21. THE PROGRAMME
Over the next two years several reforms will be urgently needed. This Congress should therefore consider and approve that:
a. The party central executive committee must reform its agenda to give adequate attention to supporting the work NCW and the GYSM and the new programmes which we will define and adumbrate in the next weeks.
b. The Central Executive Committee of the party must have statutorily on its agenda a report on the programs of the NCW, the GYSM, and the reform committees of the party and any other such organs of the party as the CEC might decide.
c. The various arms of the party must derive working programmes to be completed by the Congress of 2009.
d. Each region of the party will be charged with deriving a two year programme of work to include the areas of emphasis at the national level for completion in 2009.
e. The party will name a working group to generate programmes for suitable business and fund raising activity by the party
f. The congress will appoint a working group with the responsibility of monitoring and tracing the programmes of reform in the various organs of the party and reporting to the General Council on the progress or lack of progress.
g. The party will appoint a working group to generate a programme of education, training and indoctrination for a two year period to cover the entire membership and geographical spread of the party.
h. The aspects of the YES and the Help Guyana projects which can be implemented before we come to office must be up and in full operation by the Congress of 2009.
i. The party leader should be charged with producing a plan for the recruitment and orientation of new leadership to the party at all levels to be presented at the next General Council and implemented in time for Congress 2009.
j. The party micro-enterprise project will be resuscitated with professional help and the board of trustees will be charged with presenting a programme of work to the next general council of the party.
k. The leader of the party should be charged with producing a reform package for the management of the party secretariat to present to a meeting of the Central Executive Committee before the end of August and then to the next meeting of the general council.
l. The Central Executive Committee will approve and issue benchmarks for the achievement of this reform programme.
In carrying out this programme, we recognise that it will require complex planning and implementation, but we will prove equal to the task. We will need to identify the resources, both technical and financial, of new friends of the party and more particularly of our friends and supporters in the Diaspora. Our new structure will have to be accountable and transparent. That is the norm in modern political life and we must meet these standards if we are to progress. The talents and experience of project management and business development at home and in our Diaspora will be key to the changes which we will be bringing into force.
Comrades, we have survived and triumphed over 50 years of difficulty and adversity because we have held up as our priority the need to serve the people. They need us as their servants more than ever before. If we ever lose sight of this fact, we will not be true to the heritage and memories of the heroes who have gone before us. While we encourage and promote youth, we must not lose sight of those stalwarts who have struggled with us over the years and who, despite their years, continue to give valiant and dedicated service to our Party. We thank them and this Congress must salute them.
Nothing is more important than service to the people. I want to propose that we make a solemn pact with the people of Guyana, especially the young people that we will contract with them to reform our party and renew our capacity to represent their interests. In doing so, all of us must put party above self. And if in the process, we are called upon to make sacrifices for the good of the party, let us do so with joy and decency. In so doing, you will ensure that our next 50 years as a party will be even more glorious and successful than those that went before.
As we leave this Congress on Sunday, let us remember that there are many important challenges before us. House to House Registration which must be monitored effectively, Educating our constituency on the New Local Government System; effective organisation to ensure success at the Local Government Elections, confronting racial and political discrimination by the PPP and accelerating the achievement of Shared Governance are only a few.
In all of this Party unity and discipline are essential. It must start at this Congress. Many strange predictions have been made by friends and foes alike about what will take place at this Congress. Let us resolve to prove those prophets of doom wrong. Let us resolve to uphold the high traditions and standards of our Congress. If we can’t do so how can we claim to be ready to lead this Nation. Let us remember the founders of this movement, particularly our dear founder Leader, whose spirit I feel present with us today at this Congress. Let us resolve to work and fight and win together. Let us resolve to make our Congress theme a reality; PNCR; UNITED REJUVENATED AND REPOSITIONED FOR THE NEXT FIFTY YEARS.
Long live the Peoples National Congress Reform! Long live the working people of Guyana! Long live the Republic of Guyana!
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Designed By: Denton Osborne