Debate over successor to Hoyte rekindled
Leadership not No.1 issue - key executives By Patrick Denny
Stabroek News
January 28, 2002

Debate over a successor to PNC/R leader Desmond Hoyte has been rekindled in spate of letters sparked by a missive from former PNC General Secretary Aubrey Norton that the party "no longer constituted an opposition of any consequence".

Key executives of the party with whom Stabroek News spoke see the number one priority of the party as crafting a programme to address the ills facing the nation and not leadership.

The present debate seemed to be a replay of the leadership search which the party embarked on after some of the younger members persuaded Hoyte that the process should be set in train to identify a leader to take over from him. There had been disaffection in the ranks of the party over his leadership.

Furthermore, Hoyte had been at the helm of the party when it suffered two defeats at general elections and another at local government elections.

A process was set in train to identify a cadre of leaders from whom Hoyte's successor would be chosen and to have the party constitution amended to provide for this new arrangement. In the end, a special party congress decided against the amendment and the present provision provides for the chairman to lead the party in the event of the leader stepping down between congresses. However, a special congress to elect a new leader within three months of the leader's demittal would have to be called.

Not in public
Some members of the present leadership structure of the party, aware of what developed in 2000, believe that desirable though the debate may be as to who should take over after Hoyte and the qualities that person should have, it should not be conducted in public. They contend that it is matter, which should be deliberated on within the confines of the party structure. Not so, says Norton who believes that the newspaper columns is the only place available for it since he claims that Hoyte would not allow such a debate within the party.

The PNC REFORM (PNC/R) general secretary, Oscar Clarke, however, told Stabroek News that because the biennial congress will be held in August, there is some consideration of the issue at the level of the party groups which nominate candidates for election to the posts of leader, chairman and vice-chairman and the fifteen members of the central executive committee. He is one of those who subscribes to the view that the leadership issue is an internal party matter and should not be discussed in the newspaper columns. He sees nothing wrong however with non-party members conducting their debate in whatever forum they consider appropriate. Clarke is a longtime party member who held ministerial office under Forbes Burnham, was chairman of the East Berbice/Corentyne region, and served as Guyana's High Commissioner to Zambia and its Ambassador to Cuba.

Parlous state
Of economy

Former Education Minister Deryck Bernard, considered a contender for the party's top post when Hoyte leaves but who confessed to not having considered running as fully as he would need to, does not believe that the leadership issue is of vital importance at this time. He says that the discussion is a phenomenon of the letters column of the newspapers but says he has nothing against the discussion there.

For him, it is the parlous state of the economy and the rash of extra-judicial killings by the Police on which the party should be focusing its energies at this time. He told Stabroek News that these issues would have to be addressed by whoever is the leader of the PNC/R.

He said that the leadership issue is not of importance now and noted that the party's biennial congress at which the leader, chairman and vice-chairman of the party are elected is being held in August.

About his candidacy for the top post, Bernard says that he would have to consult his family since the post would require a lot of his time. But he confessed to liking the roles he now plays in the party. One of them is being among the leading lights of the party's public relations operations. He is also the PNC/R frontbench spokesman on education, the ministerial portfolio he held in the Hoyte administration.

About the usefulness of the dialogue between President Bharrat Jagdeo and Hoyte, which Norton derided, and some party members believe should be abandoned, Bernard believes that it should be given a good try. He said that he believes that dialogue is the way to go in the discussions of serious issues except when there is a lack of good faith, and then it should be abandoned.

Bernard believes that the parties have to find better ways of solving the problems that divide them and that could come by the establishment of the practice of good inter-party relations.

About power sharing, Bernard said that the way the term is being used does not capture all the forms it could take, stressing that dividing up ministries is but one form of power sharing.

He explained that participating in the formulation of policy is a form of power sharing, pointing out that the government has conceded the right of the parliamentary parties to participate in important policy issues. He cited as an example the work of the joint broadcasting committee on the future management of the media.

The party's chairman, Robert Corbin, says that the discussion is not surprising to him but he would have preferred that it was taking place within the confines of the party.

Insiders say that Corbin's intervention during the run-up to the last elections squashed the factional squabbling that was developing as the party was trying to find a successor to Hoyte. Corbin had just returned to Guyana from the Hugh Wooding Law School and was horrified at the turn of events in the party. Concerned for the stability of the party in which he was practically nurtured, he set about trying to ensure that the issue did not rip the party apart, as it seemed to be doing at the time, the insiders say. The squabble was between those who were considered "old-timers" and the "newcomers" brought into the party by Hoyte in an effort to extend the outreach of the party.

Corbin's efforts were in the direction of re-focusing the party's energies on the overriding priority of electoral victory ahead of settling the leadership issue.

This time around, he holds the view that the leadership is still not the major issue, which he identifies as the need for the party to formulate a programme and strategy for effectively dealing with the challenges facing the nations.

According to Corbin, the party must have such a programme and strategy whoever is the leader of the PNC/R.

Asked about the continuation of the dialogue with Jagdeo, Corbin believes that the leadership of the party would have to determine what would be the best strategy for the party.

Combined leadership
He stressed the need for a decision by the leadership, explaining that for too long, people believed that the leadership was a one-man band. The PNC/R Leader has discretion but his effectiveness is bolstered when the combined leadership is involved to fashion the strategies and programmes to address the challenges being faced by the nation and the party.

Pressed as to if he is a candidate for the top post, Corbin said that the question does not arise as Hoyte has made no public announcement that he is stepping down.

Corbin believes that the party has a large pool of young and talented people to take over the leadership of the party. He has always considered himself part of the leadership of the PNC/R and is prepared to continue working within that structure. Corbin has held a number of leading positions in the party as well as its youth arm, which he chaired for a number of years. He also managed the party's elections campaign.

Jerome Khan, the chairman of the REFORM component of the party, disagrees with the debate being conducted in the newspapers, stressing that Hoyte is the leader of the party and has made no announcement about stepping down.

He pointed out that the party's constitution provides for the top positions to be contested at the Congress at which point in time the issue could be properly ventilated. Then, Khan stressed, what will be important would be for everyone to rally around the leader who emerges. He is prepared to give that leader his fullest support.

Khan stressed that whatever happens, more than ever before, the PNC/R did not need a poster-boy as leader since that approach has failed the Guyanese people as is evidenced by what he contended was the failure of President Jagdeo first as Finance Minister and later as President to come to grips with the economic development issues facing the nation.

"The party and the nation needs a seasoned and experienced hand to guide the party to victory and rescue the nation from the corruption and mismanagement of the present regime."

Khan noted the democratic nature of the party in not condemning those of its members and/or supporters who take to the newspapers to raise the issue. He contends that the debate is a function of the restlessness in the society and of the search for instant solutions as result of the disillusionment with the Jagdeo administration.

Khan, like Corbin and Bernard, believes that what takes priority over the leadership issue at this point in time is the challenge to end victimisation, discrimination, poor governance, restoring confidence in the Guyanese people and designing a national development plan that would benefit all Guyanese and not just the supporters of the governing party as he says is happening now.

About the dialogue, Khan believes that at the beginning of the process it attracted support because most people felt that was the way forward for the country.

But he charged that the President was responsible for decisions taken in the dialogue not being implemented and of backing away from agreements like the establishment of the parliamentary management committee.

Khan does not buy the argument that President Jagdeo does not have the support of his party for implementing decisions, pointing out that he uses the powers of the presidency to make decisions in the economic sphere without reference to the major stakeholders in the economy. Khan says the President has to know of the enormous powers he has as a President to do what is in the best interest of the country and that he does not need the approval of the PPP/Civic to act in the best interest of the country.

Asked about power sharing which the REFORM wing sees as a necessary direction in which it should go, Khan says that at the end of the day some arrangement has to be made to assuage the insecurities of the Indo- and Afro-Guyanese.

"Both groups have concerns about their security as a result of the way politics has evolved in this country. Therefore some mechanism has to be fashioned to address these concerns."

Khan is not concerned about the model of power sharing that develops once it addresses the insecurity of the various groupings in the society. "At the end of the day, the majority of Guyanese want to live in peace and enjoy economic prosperity."

Deborah Backer, a rising star in the party and one of those considered as having a chance of replacing Hoyte, is concerned about the debate in the newspapers. She thinks it is an internal party matter and should be dealt with as such. She has no intention of contesting the leadership post but will support whoever emerges.

About the dialogue and whether it should continue, Backer believes not enough has happened but sees it as ushering in a new dispensation if properly utilised.

A break
Backer believes that the country needs a break and some form of power sharing should be pursued, perhaps for a ten-year period.

Such a move would indicate a desire to move the country in the opposition direction to which it is being led by the present government.

She does not believe that promoting power-sharing is an acceptance that with the present voting pattern the PNC/R was doomed to be an opposition party.

Winston Murray, once chairman of the party and considered at one time a candidate to take over from Hoyte, has no intention of standing for the post. He declined the last time round and even turned down nomination to the central executive. Murray is one of the PNC's front-benchers in parliament

Raphael Trotman, hotly favoured to take over from Hoyte until he withdrew from the race, was unavailable for comment on the issue as was the party's vice-chairman, Vincent Alexander despite several calls to his office.

Norton who sparked the debate with his January 3 letter has no intention of contesting the leadership position. He believes that the party needs a "Carl Greenidge" type to lead it at this juncture. Greenidge a former PNC Finance Minister now heads an industrial development agency of the ACP Secretariat. He was elected to successive terms as Assistant Secretary General of the ACP.

Why a person like Greenidge? Norton says that the PNC/R needs a person untainted by the stigma of the old PNC and who would have the respect of the technocrats in the society and a person to whom the young people could look up. A person like Carl Greenidge could look at the major problems of the society in a more profound way than any one in the party has ever done.

Norton believes that the PNC/R could attract a Carl Greenidge if its international affairs department was properly organized to mobilize the necessary resources. Norton blames Hoyte for degrading the party's international affairs section and of running it as a one-man show.

He also accuses him of breaking down the party structure and only having machinery that he cranks up at elections time but which does not function between elections.

He also accuses him of not wanting independent thinkers around him, and sees that as being manifested in the changeover of those close to him after every election. But Norton's most strident criticism of Hoyte is his lack of a party strategy and programme to deal with the PPP/Civic and promote the interest of the members and supporters of the party.

Norton like Khan sees the dialogue as a dead end, pointing out that all that has happened is that it has kept people off the streets. He is not against it but feels that the process must address the hard questions such as unemployment, discrimination and poor governance, issues keenly felt not only by PNC/R supporters but all Guyanese.

He said that it doesn't serve the interest of the 44 per cent of the people who voted for the PNC/R to be given token membership of one seat on the various state boards as was recently done.