Neither Brindley Benn nor I recall Dr Ramharack's version of events

Stabroek News
August 22, 2001

Dear Editor

Dr. Baytoram Ramharack in his letter to Stabroek News of 16/6/01 and to the Guyana Chronicle of August 20, 2001 ended his letter saying that "Since the former First Lady can vividly recall the details of her Port Moraunt experiences, perhaps she can also remember the above" which deals with the alleged input of Balram Singh Rai on the issue of the removal of 51 schools from the system of dual control of schools.

I have thought and thought and tried to remember the alleged incident he refers to in which Cheddi Jagan is supposed to have tried to defer the bill before the Legislative Council for the government to place 51 primary schools from religious control to government control. He claims that Mr. Rai then brought the matter to the PPP's Executive Committee, which then reversed Dr. Jagan's position.

I have absolutely no recollection of the scenario Dr. Ramharack relates in his lengthy letter enumerating all of Mr. Rai's achievements. He must also keep in mind that I was a member of the Council of Ministers and the Executive Committee; in fact I was the General Secretary of the PPP and the person who wrote up the minutes.

Since we can all forget things, and not wishing to make a mistake, I spoke to Brindley Benn, who along with myself and Mr. Rai are the only living members of the 1957-61 PPP government. He tried very hard to recall the incidents referred to in the letter in question, but could not. He even asked me to wait a day before replying, so he could concentrate on the period and see if he could remember, but could not.

I regret to inform Dr. Ramharack that two of the living players in the matter cannot confirm that these things took place. Mr. Benn's only recollection is that during the debate of the Bill he pointed out that not only non-Christians suffered as a result of the fact that teachers could not get jobs in denominational schools, but that Christians not belonging to the particular religion of the school were also excluded.

We both agreed that Dr. Ramharack could not know of the points he made about Dr. Jagan wishing to postpone the bill and the meeting of the Executive Committee of the PPP, since these are not within the realms of public knowledge and there are no historical records that would contain them.

Thus, it must be assumed that Ramharack is speaking for Mr. Rai.

This is what Dr. Jagan wrote on the subject in his book "The West on Trial":-

"We also enacted legislation to enable the government to assume control and management of 51 primary schools which were under denominational church control. These schools had been built by the government and only recently extended at government expense, but were placed under church control. Their takeover created serious controversy and generated a great deal of opposition to us from the Christian Social Council, mouthpiece of the Christian denominations.

Our greatest impact in the field of education was made during our next term of office (1961-64) under the leadership of the able and dynamic Senator C. V. Nunes, Minister of Education and Community Development."

Since there is always the possibility that Mr. Benn and I could be wrong and have faulty memories, if we were to assume that all of this happened, let us analyse the meaning of the events. Ramharack recounts that Dr. Jagan was unwilling to have the proposals for removing dual control of schools proceed because of upcoming elections (1961) and a talk with the Chairman of the United Force.

That would make sense since the UF and many of the churches were violently opposed to the end of dual control of schools. The PPP already experienced the suspension of the Constitution in 1953 which arose over several issues, the two major ones being the Labour Relations Bill (which created violence in 1963 but was eventually passed in 1997) and the then Minister of Education, Forbes Burnham's Bill before the House of Assembly to remove or limit dual control of schools.

So, Dr. Jagan, if indeed this happened, would have been wise to avert another confrontation, at election time, on the same legislation. As it turned out, the United Force was very angry, and later joined with the PNC in 1964 to form a coalition that set Guyana on the track of disaster for 28 years.

In his book "Justice," Father Andrew Morrison wrote this:- "The take-over resulted in the largest crowd then on record-estimated at some 20,000-gathering on Bourda Green in response to the call of the Christian Social Council."

Looking back on my letter to Stabroek News and Dr. Ramharack's reply, it seems odd that my brief reference to the dual control issue brought forth the lengthy account of all of Mr. Rai's achievements. What I wrote remains correct: "Also, it was the PPP government which corrected another religious injustice whereby non-Christians were denied employment in schools." It was not Rai to whom the credit goes, despite all of Dr. Ramharack's pleas, but to the PPP, which formulated and implemented the policy. Rai enjoyed his position as a minister because he was elected on a PPP ticket, not doing so well when he was not. Rai lost his deposit when he was a candidate in the 1953 elections, winning only 421 votes. His Justice Party did not do well either in the 1964 elections.

As Minister of Labour, Health and Housing I did a lot of things during my term of office, as did Brindley Benn, but we do not itemize these as our personal successes, but as part of the PPP government which collectively made all the decisions which we, as ministers, carried out!

Yours faithfully,

Janet Jagan