A parliamentary procedural device called an “Adjournment Motion” was in the news recently. I have been asked on this occasion as well as in the past when the issue arose, usually in controversial political circumstances, what it is all about. It is a rule, called a Standing Order, of the National Assembly which allows a member at the beginning of a Sitting to move an “adjournment of the Assembly for the purpose of discussing a definite matter of urgent public importance.” If allowed by the Speaker, the business of the National Assembly is interrupted at a particular stage to discuss the matter. Because of this potent effect of the rule, disrupting the nation’s legislative business, its cautious application is mandated by the rules which have grown up around its application.

Parliamentary practice consists of rules, conventions and precedents. Our own rules provide that where they are silent the usage and practice of the House of Commons of Great Britain shall apply. For this reason Speakers of the Guyana National Assembly have relied heavily on Erskine May’s Parliamentary Practice, the best known text on parliamentary procedure in Great Britain, when confronted with issues of procedure for which there is no Guyana rule or precedent. I have expanded the range of authorities and frequently consult or cite Canadian, Australian, New Zealand and Indian parliamentary practice. Guyana’s precedents are available on some matters but are not always adequate and, in any event, do not attract the confidence of a significant number of parliamentarians. For this and other reasons I have an established practice of not always relying on them only, of looking far and wide for justification for my rulings and of giving them in writing so that a record of precedents, justified by authorities from other Commonwealth parliaments, can be built for the future. I have given two written rulings on adjournment motions analyzing some of the basic rules and principles. I have also caused material to be distributed to members of parliament outlining the basic rules and practices which apply.


You cannot expect marriage without courtship

The argument that the constitutional arrangements which exist in Guyana today are an obstacle to national unity, or at least, fairness and legitimacy of the political system, was not started by Eric Phillips, but he is its most recent advocate. The advancement of this idea, but not with the vehemence of Eric Phillips, began shortly after Guyana returned to democracy in 1992 and its main advocate at that time was the WPA. Around this period or shortly after, a group within the PNC began to advocate shared governance, though not specifically constitutional reform away from the Westminster system. ROAR was also an advocate of shared governance. The issue of constitutional reform to accommodate shared governance reached its climax during the constitutional reform process in 1999-2000, where it was rejected. The issue arose again after the 2001 elections when the opposition published detailed proposals on shared governance which would have entailed further constitutional reform.
Eric Phillips’s argument, sadly, lacks any cogency or particularity as to why the Westminster system is Apernicious and why Aonly a civil society-led, shared governance model can rescue this deepening human tragedy. The Adeepening human tragedy consists of Mr. Phillips well known criticisms of the government. These can be found in his letter in the Stabroek News of Friday April 17.
The Westminster system is a British model which was imposed on or adopted by all the colonies upon independence and has been retained in its essentials in most of them. It has been argued by Mr. Phillips and others that the Westminster system is inadequate to deal with societies like Guyana with large ethnic minorities seeking or requiring separate political representation in government. In Guyana, the argument goes, the system works against the African Guyanese population because, having regard to the ethnic voting patterns, they can never gain political power since they comprise a smaller ethnic group than Indian Guyanese, itself not a majority ethnic group. There are other subsidiary issues such as alleged discrimination which only political authority can resolve. Mr. Phillips goes further than other, earlier advocates of constitutional change to institutionalize shared governance, by suggesting that it is a fundamental human right for all Guyanese.
I have just returned from Bermuda where I attended a meeting of the Executive Committee of the Commonwealth  Parliamentary Association  on which I represent Guyana. The population is 62,000, (as of 1990) of whom sixty percent is black and forty percent white. The United Bermuda Party (UBP) was in office for many years before and after self-government. It was then seen as a party representing the interests of, and drew its essential support from, white Bermudans even though it was led for many years by Edward Richards, a Guyanese of African descent, who had migrated to Bermuda in 1930, joined the UBP and became the first black Bermudan to hold the office of Premier. He is regarded by many as the father of modern Bermuda. Allegations by black Bermudans of discrimination were prevalent. How did a party, accused of representing the interests of a minority of the population, hold on to power democratically for so long? The answer is, as all serious politicians would know – by seeking support across the political divide and making alliances with as many groups as possible. This is what the UBP did. It was the key factor responsible for the UBPs longevity in office. As happens in politics, the coalition eventually unraveled and the Progressive Labour Party (PLP) is now in office. This political process plays out in many countries in the world, including the United States.
Between the years 1964 and 1992, two things of relevance to this issue occurred in Guyana. The first was the decline of Guyana’s economy. The second was the rigging of elections and establishment of authoritarian rule. The cumulative effect of these two developments was the shrinking of political support for the PNC although its electoral support remained intact as the results of the 1992 elections showed. To many, the PNCs maintenance of its electoral strength after so many years in office confirmed the strength of ethnic voting patterns and the argument that ethnic insecurity is an important factor in Guyana’s politics.
In the meantime the PPP fought against the economic and political policies being implemented and organized for the day when electoral fairness would return. Once again two important developments took place. Against enormous odds and with great courage, the PPP took up the cause of the Amerindian population by, year after year, travelling to hinterland areas, listening to problems, advocating solutions and organizing the people. This was painstaking, dangerous and dedicated work carried out with enormous courage and sacrifice, but driven by humanistic considerations and not by political cynicism. The result was that the PPP won over the support of the Amerindian people. The second development was that from about the same time, the mid-1960s, a dangerous period for the PPP, it returned to Region 10, in particular Linden, and starting with small steps such as the selling of a few Mirror newspapers, began to slowly organize as a result of the same considerations. The result was that the PPP won over significant support from the African Guyanese population at Linden where it established and still has an office, once again by painstaking work. By these methods, in areas of traditional opposition support, the PPP began to win friends, and eventually some votes.
This explains why, with a population of Indian Guyanese of just over 40 percent and declining, the PPP commands the support of 54 percent of the electorate. If all Indian Guyanese voted for the PPP at the last elections, it would have received 14 percent of its votes from non-Indian Guyanese.
Since all Indian Guyanese do not vote for the PPP, it is clear that the latters success results from its political work and not merely from ethnic voting patterns. Why has the opposition party(s) not seized the opportunities available to whip up support across the ethnic divide as the PPP and the UBP did. They already had 16 plus years to do so. And even assuming ethnic voting patterns, the possibilities still exist. A full 16 percent of the population describe themselves as mixed, according to the last census. Surely they would have no ethnic allegiance to any political party and ought to be susceptible to persuasive political arguments.
It seems to me that the attack on the Westminster system and the demand for power sharing are motivated by and are a confession of political failure. The opposition has failed to do its work and is now relying on allegations of victimhood to secure political office.
I hasten to add that I am not opposed to a far greater degree of political inclusiveness than exists at the moment. The PPP supports such a position. Steps have already been taken in the reforms to the National Assembly and elsewhere to enhance co-operation. I also confess that more can be done but the charged political atmosphere has been a hindrance. And shared governance is not the only way, or necessarily even the best way, to treat with Guyana’s political divisions. And a change in the constitution to effect shared governance is not necessary. It is not a constitutional issue; it is a political issue. A coalition government does not require constitutional change. And even if you want to entrench shared governance in the constitution, political agreement must first be obtained. But as I said at another place, you cannot expect marriage without courtship. When the atmosphere improves and the courtship starts, developments will flow naturally and inexorable towards a situation more conducive to further measures to enhance inclusivity in governance mechanisms. It must also not be forgotten that the adversarial political system has proved to be the most effective and enduring in this era of liberal democracy. This requires an effective opposition, with the potential and capacity of taking political office in free and fair elections and willing to relinquish such office in similarly organized elections. The PPP, UBP and numerous other experiences worldwide show that this is possible for the current opposition in Guyana. Such an opposition is the highest expression of good governance and offers the greatest protection to minorities. Shared governance is a far less optimal solution as Fiji and Trinidad and Tobago have shown in the past and as Kenya and Zimbabwe are showing today.
Notwithstanding the above, the PPP is on record as stating that upon completion of the constitutional reforms, consideration could be given to moving to a higher level of inclusiveness. Situations can certainly arise in the conditions in this period, far different to when Dr Jagan made the supportive statement about shared governance quoted by Mr. Phillips recently, where, upon additional political advances and the establishment of the bona fides of the opposition, an advanced form of inclusiveness can become a topic for serious public debate. Some of these are the courtship I talked about; a strong, vibrant, political opposition, wedded to democracy and peaceful politics; completion of all existing reforms; and the existence of consensual conditions in Guyana which invite such a course.


August 3, 2009.

Dear Editor,

I refer to Mr. Winston Murray’s letter published on August 1, 2009, captioned: “This was an obvious and serious violation of the Standing Orders.” Mr. Murray accused me of countenancing a violation of the Standing Orders when I allowed a motion approving the Report of the Special Select Committee on the Local Government (Elections) (Amendment) Bill  to be debated without the motion having the requisite one day’s notice. This is not true. There was no motion in connection with the Bill before the House because in the specific circumstances in which the Bill was referred to the Special Select Committee, no motion is required to be tabled. None was.

Mr. Murray did indeed object to the Second Reading of the Bill, on the ground stated above, when I announced at the beginning of the Session that it would take place at that Sitting. He is accurate when he said that I indicated that I would rule at the appropriate time.
I later came to the conclusion that, once I was satisfied that no Standing Order was violated, I was not obliged to rule on Mr. Murray’s point because he had clearly forfeited his right to be responded to when he, along with his colleagues of the Opposition, abandoned their responsibilities to the Assembly and walked out of the House amidst a raucous clamour. Notwithstanding this provocative act, I did extend the courtesy to the absent Mr. Murray of dealing with the point he raised. I ruled on the issue at an appropriate time – before the question that the Bill be read a second time was put by me to the House. For the benefit of Mr. Raphael Trotman, who has been publicly claiming the same procedural lapse as well as relying on a point made by Mr. Bernard DeSantos, but was not in the House, having announced a boycott of the proceedings, my ruling also incorporated the point raised by Mr. DeSantos.



Dear Editor,

An obvious and serious violation of the Standing Orders of the National Assembly was allowed by the Honourable Speaker, Mr. Ramkarran, at the sitting of the National Assembly on 30th July, 2009.

At that sitting the Report of the Special Select Committee on the Local Authorities (Elections) (Amendment) Bill 2009 was being presented according to Supplementary Order Paper (No. 2) of 30th July, 2009. The Report was on members’ desks on their arrival for the sitting.


Jack Gladstone

The Demerara Slave Rebellion of 1823 was a seminal event in the history of slave resistance in Guyana and in the colonial world. Its stark exposure, once again, of the horrors of slavery speeded up its demise even as growing mercantilist trends were ravaging its economic foundations. Jack Gladstone was the rebellions principal organizer and leading militant. While he has not been forgotten by history, his monumental contribution to the abolition of slavery in 1838 and the advancement of freedom is little known. Professor da Costas book, Crowns of Glory, Tears of Blood B The Demerara Slave Rebellion of 1823, restores Jack Gladstones place in the narrative of resistance; but popular recognition and full knowledge of his role have still eluded his contribution to the freedom struggle. I seek to join and contribute to the emancipation commemoration and celebrations by writing these few, though hardly adequate, lines on Jack Gladstone and the 1823 rebellion, the detailed facts of which were learnt mainly, though not exclusively, from Professor da Costa book. The conclusions about Jack Gladstone and otherwise are my own.
The two most prominent figures who emerged from the Rebellion, and who have deservedly achieved the recognition of history, are Quamina and the Rev. John Smith.
Quamina was a skilled carpenter at Plantation Success. He became a Christian in 1808 when Rev. John Wray, the predecessor of Rev. John Smith, arrived at Le Resouvenir. His diligence and devotion resulted in his appointment as a deacon. He assisted in preparing for the services, participated in church activities and kept Rev. Wray and later Rev. Smith apprised of the problems and difficulties of the congregation. He quickly earned the trust of Rev. Smith who frequently consulted him. He was a slave from childhood and was originally sold together with his mother who died in 1817. He had had several wives but had lived with Peggy for twenty years up to the time she died in 1822. He was a proud and dignified man and a dedicated worker. He had suffered, like all other slaves, from severe punishment by way of beatings and confinement for minor or no infractions of slave rules.
Rev. John Smith, a man of modest origins, had himself been an artisan apprentice and had experienced poverty and privation. He arrived in Guyana in February, 1816, by which time the campaign for abolition had attracted much support and abolitionists were no longer reviled. Rev. John Smith and the London Missionary Society which sponsored him had been influenced in their attitudes to slaves and planters by the abolition movement. Rev. Smith and his wife, Jane, arrived at Le Resouvenir to take the place of Rev. John Wray, strengthened in his view about the helplessness and innocence of slaves and the >sinfulness and godlessness of planters after seeing on the journey from the city the hovels of slaves and the manicured lawns and mansions of the planters.
There had been growing tensions between planters and missionaries, intensifying under Rev. Wray since he came to the colony. These arose as a result of a dispute about teaching slaves to read. Planters, including Governor John Murray, felt that if slaves knew how to read, they would become agitated by the various proclamations and abolition writings which were being made and published from time to time. Missionaries felt that it was necessary for the slaves to learn to read so that they could read the Bible. It was not surprising in this atmosphere that animosity grew against Rev. John Smith to such a fever pitch  during the Rebellion and immediately after that he was indicted with assisting the rebellious slaves when in fact he had no foreknowledge of the rebellion and did his best to stop it when rumours on the eve of its outbreak became widespread. He was pardoned but died in prison before information about it reached Guyana.
Jack Gladstone, named after an absentee plantation owner, (probably Sir John Gladstone, the father of British Prime Minister, William Gladstone, who had estates in Demerara) was the son of Quamina. He was tall and described in wanted posters after the Rebellion as >handsome, no doubt in accordance with European standards. He was a skilled cooper, had several lady friends in several estates and was deeply intolerant of his condition as a slave. After word began to spread that new laws had been made but that the authorities were suppressing them in order to keep slaves in thraldom, general agitation spread and Jack Gladstone became incensed. He was determined that slaves should not be shortchanged and should receive the benefit of the new laws. Several rebellions had already taken place in the region and in particular in Barbados in 1816. Expectation by slaves of amelioration of their conditions were high.
Jack Gladstone was the principal leader of the Rebellion. He traveled secretly and at night to estates agitating and encouraging fellow slaves to rise up. He planned, organised and established teams and systems. His father, Quamina, had been hesitant at first but came on board later. His prestige added support for the Rebellion. Even though he wavered toward the end because of uncertainty as to its success, he still held firm and eventually refused to surrender, walking away with head held high in response to a shout from a soldier to stop. He was shot in the back.
The Rebellion along the coast was widespread, involving 9,000 slaves, but astonishingly free of violence. No one was killed and very few were hurt. Planters and their families were treated with great courtesy, even though they were locked up in their homes or elsewhere in the compound as plantations and property were taken control of.
The revenge was swift, deadly and murderous. The Rebellion collapsed after the militia was deployed. There were some brief firefights but most slaves surrendered. The butchery then began. Some 225 were summarily executed,  the innocent as well as the guilty, many without trial and some after a brief, perfunctory, trial designed to intimidate. Many who were executed were decapitated, forcibly and tearfully by their fellow slaves and co-workers, and their heads displayed on poles in the estate.
Jack Gladstone was tried and convicted. The colonial authorities knew of his role in the Rebellion. They assessed the strength of his character, the depth of his courage and the example of his leadership. They knew that if he were executed he would become a martyr. He was sentenced to deportation and taken to St. Lucia where he was sold as a slave. This story needs to be told, again and again.