Hoyte says he is working on a 'seamless transfer' of the leadership of the PNC
Stabroek News
March 14, 2002

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PNC Reform leader Desmond Hoyte says he doubts that he will spend another year at the helm and is currently working on a "seamless" transfer of the leadership of the party.

In an interview with Plain Talk host, Christopher Ram broadcast,last Friday on Channel 28 and to be re-broadcast this Friday on Channel 9 at 9.00 pm, Hoyte indicated that within a year or so, the arrangements for the transfer of leadership should be worked out "satisfactorily to the party".

Hoyte, who turned 73 on Saturday, said he did not expect to find himself at 74 as leader of the party. He said he did not hold the view that as leader of the party, which lost successive elections, he should have resigned. Hoyte noted that the late Dr Cheddi Jagan did not resign when he lost successive elections nor did Edward Seaga of Jamaica. He said that such a tradition does not exist here.

The former senior counsel said that the PNC has a party leader under its constitution and so long as this person has the confidence of the party, he remains in that position. He said he had never felt constrained to resign his post as party leader. Rather, he said he had felt obligated to keep the party unified and to gear it for its role in opposition, for the new political dispensation and to turn it around from some of the political ideas prevalent in the old days to ideas more relevant to its circumstances.

Asked about the departure of Kenneth King, Aubrey Norton and Hamilton Green from the party, Hoyte said Dr King had given his health as the reason for giving up his party functions. He said Norton was given a chance and "he failed. I have a duty to the party and I discharged that by terminating his appointment," Hoyte told Ram.

As to his relationship with Green, he said there is no relationship and his departure has been good for the party. He said Green's position was a divisive one and he, Hoyte, had to stay on at the helm to keep the party unified.

Hoyte says the PNC has held its support base as the elections have proven. He said it is often the case that if a party is in government for a long time and is then defeated, it is decimated. But this has not happened to the PNC.

Hoyte's interview with Ram touched on the high points of his life, which involved his political career starting from being invited by the late L.F.S. Burnham to be a candidate on the PNC list for the l968 elections.

When he became president in 1985 on Burnham's death, Hoyte said he was proud but never in his wildest dreams had he thought that he would one day become the political head of Guyana.

Touching on the changes he had brought about, Hoyte said that even before Burnham died the issue of the importation of certain goods were being discussed, including wheaten flour. He said that Winston Murray and himself had discussed these issues.

He pointed out that Burnham never banned flour as has been said but because there was no money to pay debts, the suppliers cut off the supplies and no money was there to import it. He indicated that Burnham just went along with the popular belief that certain items had been banned.

On the credit he has been given for the reintroduction of the free press via the Stabroek News, Hoyte said there was no legal ban on the press but he informed David de Caires and another person who met with him (Ken Gordon) that he had no problem with the establishment of the Stabroek News.

As to the return of free and fair elections in 1992, Hoyte said that fundamental changes to the electoral process were made before 1992. He pointed out that shortly after he became president, he invited Jagan to have the internal wrangling settled as it was impeding development and was not setting a good example for youths.

Hoyte said Jagan was concerned about the rigging of elections by the manipulation of overseas and postal votes and the abuse of proxies. The latter was restricted and overseas and postal votes were abolished for the 1985 elections. Hoyte said Jagan, who was supposed to get back to him on these issues, did not do so despite repeated efforts to contact him and that he went ahead and had the fundamental adjustments to the electoral process made.

Hoyte told Ram that the overseas and postal votes could have been subject to manipulation, as you could not know how accurate they were. He said electoral malpractices were a part of the political culture even in the pre-independent years. He said he is not saying that he condoned it but when he became president he started to reduce the possibility of any such malpractices and to narrow the scope for people to make allegations.

Among the low points of his political life was the failure of the economy prior to him becoming President. Hoyte said many people at the time were mouthing shibboleths and did not sit down and analyse what was happening even though they were in a position to know better. The economy at the time, he said, was heading for real disaster as the country could not pay for imports and the government was not paying its debts to the international financial institutions and was also losing control of the economy.

Asked to what extent he takes responsibility for the slump the economy found itself in, Hoyte pointed out that the depression came at the time when the socialist philosophy was sweeping the world. It had nothing to do with Guyana specifically but with what was happening in Venezuela, Peru, Brazil and the African countries. That philosophy was for countries to take control of the "commanding heights" of the economy in the hope of pushing rapid development and to have resources which would have gone into the hands of private entrepreneurs spent in the social sector to lift the standard of living. "It was a very starry-eyed approach to governance and development and I must confess in the early days I believed that. Then with the wisdom of experience you realised something was wrong," Hoyte said. However, he said that the model of politics in Guyana also made development difficult.

He said that during his tenure as President, he can recall no violence in which Indo-Guyanese were targeted and said after 1997 people spoke glibly about the subject but the issue is more complicated. However, he claimed that the violence was external to him and his party and denied that it followed protest action organised by the PNC. He said demonstrations he led had resulted in no problems and it was only when the police intervened that there had been problems.