The world woke up to the news yesterday that Fidel Castro had died. Although his increasingly frail health and advancing years suggested that Fidel’s continued sojourn amongst us would be of limited duration, the news of his passing nevertheless delivered a shock, then sadness, that a revolutionary giant of the 20th century would no longer be a presence. It was the sheer audacity and bravery of his Moncada attack, his inspiring speech (“history will absolve me”) at his trial and the death-defying persistence of the Granma invasion, buttressed the rousing speeches but vague notions in Guyana of independence and socialism, that inspired me as a teenager.
The success of the Cuban Revolution lies not only in the social developments which it brought to Cuba by way of its world class health and education systems, exemplified by one of the highest literacy rates and one of the lowest infant mortality rates in the world, but by bringing an end to the second class status for Afro Cubans who were historically discriminated against and lived in dire poverty. These social benefits are available to every single Cuban.
Minister Winston Jordan’s outburst at Auditor General, Deodat Sharma, a constitutional office holder, was unusual. While it came from a man of moderate temperament, it offends what is or should be the normal practice, namely, that the executive should not publicly chastise or question decisions of independent, constitutional office holders except within official channels. The issue was the Auditor General’s opinion that certain government expenditures did not qualify as emergencies and so were not properly charged to the Contingencies Fund.
The Minister’s view was that the Auditor General has no jurisdiction under the Fiscal Management and Accountability Act (“the Act”) to pronounce on whether an expenditure qualifies as ‘urgent, unavoidable and unforeseen.’ He argued that the decision is that of the Minister who reports to the National Assembly. The Minister further suggested that in the past the Ministry was given the opportunity to edit the Auditor General’s Report but that such a facility has been withdrawn. The Auditor General rejected the Minister’s assertions.
October 5, 1992, was an historic day for Guyana – the day when democracy returned in free and fair elections for the first time in twenty-four years. It is commemorated only by the PPP but in a way that aids its own credentials and whatever current political disputes it is engaged in. It would have marked a maturing of Guyana’s political leadership if the PNCR could have also noted the importance of October 5 and claim ownership of the role it played in restoring democracy. Since the PNCR would have had to confront a part of its past to do so, this period of its and Guyana’s history, like several others, for which it shares some credit, remain unaddressed. Guyana will have to ascend to a higher level of statesmanship for both of our main political parties to put the events of that now historic period in full perspective without the politically antagonistic framework in which it is now remembered.
By the time October 5, 1992, came along, both the world and the PNCR had changed. The Cold War had ended and, quite independently, the PNCR had transitioned dramatically from a party that espoused Marxist socialism, close relations with socialist countries and state ownership of the means of production, to a party which identified itself in completely opposite terms. The PPP came to accept these changes in 1992.
Jeremy Corbyn is probably the first person to have won the leadership of the British Labour Party on a campaign that advanced a left agenda. He did so in fine style, with the support of 60 percent of the membership, to the dismay of the Labour Party establishment. Reports suggest that plotting immediately began among the leadership of the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) to remove Corbyn from the leadership. The majority support for the referendum to leave the EU, provided the occasion on the spurious ground that one-third of Labour supporters voted to leave. There was no evidence to show that any leader could have achieved better results.
The Labour Party establishment, traditionally to the right of the membership, does not believe that Corbyn’s leadership and his full-blooded opposition to neoliberalism, austerity, inequality and tax breaks for the rich, which are being offered by the Tories, are the correct policies or that they will win elections. It always believed that a core policy of the more efficient management of capitalism, not extracting a greater proportion of its profits for the working population, is the route to periodic electoral success. This strategy, adopted by right wing social democracy in the West, is designed to win over some undecided or pro-Tory voters, not to mobilize a left/progressive alliance.
The right to question took centre stage last week in the National Assembly. The Speaker ruled that Mr. Anil Nandlall abused the right in relation to a number of questions tabled by him. The questions appeared to be quite innocuous, even if the information sought was a bit much. In relation to the persons pardoned by President Granger during last year, the questions asked for their names, addresses, offences committed, criminal records, length of sentences, process and criteria employed, how many persons granted pardons were subsequently charged with offences, the names of those persons and the offences for which they were charged.
The Speaker was not required to and did not give any reasons for his ruling. But over the past fifteen years Speakers have sought to explain their rulings in order to demonstrate that their decisions are based on rational considerations. This effort was intended to limit allegations of bias.