PRESS STATEMENT By the Leader of the People's National Congress Reform and Leader of the Parliamentary Opposition, Mr. Robert H. O. Corbin MP Wednesday, June 22, 2005 Hall of Heroes, Congress Place, Sophia




RENAMING THE PRESIDENT’S COLLEGE

There was serious thought and careful consideration by the Central Executive Committee of the PNC and the Cabinet of the then Government of Guyana before the manifestation of President Forbes Burnham vision of a school of excellence for Guyana’s youth was finally named The President’s College, instead of several other names that were proposed at the time. The PNCR, therefore, is of the view that similar thought and consideration must be given to any change in the name of that College if, as hinted in a recent report sourced to the Government Information and News Agency, GINA, that the PPP/C Government is giving consideration to renaming the institution after the first Executive President of Guyana and founder Leader of the PNC, Linden Forbes Sampson Burnham.

The school is the embodiment of the vision of Forbes Burnham and has fulfilled some of his expectations as evidenced by the outstanding educational record of the institution, the stimulating and erudite letters from past students, who have achieved academic distinction in various parts of the globe, as they defended their alma mater, and the resolute manner in which the thinking students attempted to defend the vicious political assault on the institution and the bundled attempt to rewrite our history. This does not mean that in the year of the 20th Anniversary of the Death of President Burnham, (August 6th 2005), that the decision to name the school President’s College could not be revisited and changed for good and valid reason as distinct from political expediency, if not chicanery.

During the discussions to determine the name of that institution, the major competing proposal was the name, “The Forbes Burnham School of Excellence” and other variations with the name of President Burnham were proposed. One of the reasons advanced by the late General Secretary of the PNCR and Former Prime Minister, Dr. Ptolemy Reid, for not agreeing to the alternative proposal was that the Institution should be spared from the vagaries of partisan politics in the future, to allow the College to bloom as a truly national institution for future generations. Anything less would have been to misunderstand the great vision of Linden Forbes Sampson Burnham. The recent public debate over the failed attempt by Mr. DeGroot, Editor of the PPP/C’s Mirror Newspaper and Chairman of the School’s Board to remove the portrait of President Burnham and replace it with that of President Cheddi Jagan, clearly vindicates the position of the late Dr. Reid two decades ago. This was one reason why the PNCR as a political Party consciously decided not to contribute to the public debate, albeit the Leadership of the PNCR made its position on this matter very clear to the Government. The Party also felt confident that at this stage, the students were quite capable of dealing with the issue and did not want their valiant efforts confused with any partisan political initiative.

Mr. DeGroot’s attempt to cover up this unwholesome episode by claiming that the plan was to place the portraits of all Presidents at the school was not only an insult to the intellect of our young scholars at that the institution but a shocking lack of example of one of the virtues that the institution is supposed to help inculcate in young Guyanese. Surely, in the same manner that the Timehri Airport, the Dental School, the classroom at the University of Guyana and other places were named or renamed after President Cheddi Jagan, there would have been a public announcement and perhaps a publicized ceremony with the involvement of all the Parties, especially those from whom previous Presidents were elected. Regrettably, the clandestine manner in which the affair was handled is evidence itself of sinister motives. The vigilance of the students of that Institution must therefore be applauded. However, it is in the context of this failed attempt to vilify the contribution of Forbes Burnham to Guyana that the PNCR must view with some concern the information released by GINA of possible plans to rename this school. Why would there be the need for such a casual statement without any Official of the Government being identified with it?

The PNCR had, throughout its term of Office, ensured that the naming of places or institutions was done only after serious consideration and consultation. For example, Guyana International Airport was not casually named the Timehri Airport. The previous name, Atkinson Field, was considered inappropriate for the new facilities constructed by the Guyana Government and it was felt that the first people of Guyana, the indigenous Amerindians, should be given proper recognition at one of the first places where overseas visitors would set foot on Guyana’s soil. Several names of outstanding Amerindians were suggested, but, again, to avoid partisan political considerations it was decided to name the new Airport, The Timehri International Airport, after the colourful paintings found in the rock caves in the upper reaches on the Corentyne River. Consequently, renowned Guyanese artist, Aubrey Williams was commissioned and brought from Dalhouse University to reproduce those Timehri Rock paintings in the murals he painted at that facility. The fate of this name in public recognition of the contribution of the Indigenous people of Guyana is now history and one wonders what would have been the case if the name of a prominent Guyanese Amerindian was chosen instead of the Timehri paintings.

Several other suggestions were made during the period of the PNC Government about naming prominent places after Forbes Burnham such as, the National Cultural Center, the Canje Bridge, The Linden Soesdyke Highway, the Demerara Harbour Bridge and the six Multilateral Schools, all of which were constructed during the period of his Presidency and during the said twenty-eight years that many claimed nothing was done by the PNC in Government.

The PNCR considers that the issue, therefore, is not really about renaming President’s College after Forbes Burnham, but whether in so doing, there is a willingness to fulfill his vision of a school of excellence and restore that institution to its former pristine days. Several writers in the National media, including former Senior Minister of Education, Mr. Ranji Chandisingh, have adequately presented the original concept, the vision, the careful planning, the organization and development of the College, as well as the recent neglect and variation from its original objectives which have been visited on this institution through the blinkered narrow-mindedness of the present administration. This is a matter that should be urgently addressed by the Government whether or not the school is renamed. Such activities will remove any suspicions that the statement by GINA is not just a political gimmick to recover ground from the terrible miscalculation and disrespect for the consciousness of the people of Guyana, but that a serious and sincere effort is being made to give honour where it is due. This would demonstrate that the PPP/C’s Administration is willing to do business and has begun to take seriously my 2004 Congress Address, in which I stated,

“For cohesion to be achieved we have to close the Chapter of the Past. The young people of Guyana are concerned about the future and it is that which responsible Leaders must now address. I, therefore, propose that we close the chapter on the past. Give recognition where it is due. No single person in history has only good deeds. Let us honour our past Leaders: Linden Forbes Sampson Burnham, Cheddi Jagan, Dr. Ptolemy Alexander Reid, Boysie Ramkarran and others. Concentrating on their faults could only open old wounds. What we need is genuine reconciliation, and if persons still feel deeply aggrieved, then let us have a Truth and Reconciliation Commission. But, for the sake of our Youth and the future of Guyana the only way forward is to close the pages of the past and work resolutely for a bright and glorious future to bequeath a rich legacy to our future generations.”

It is hoped that good sense and judgment will prevail and Guyana can concentrate on using our educational institutions to enable the youth of Guyana to play an active role in molding their destiny.

People’s National Congress Reform
Congress Place, Sophia,
Georgetown, Guyana
Wednesday, June 22, 2005