Corbin elected PNCR leader
Stabroek News
February 2, 2003

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PNCR chairman and attorney-at-law Robert Corbin was comfortably elected the party's new leader by a landslide vote at a special delegates' congress yesterday after earlier telling his audience that the country was on the brink of an explosion, but that the party could not allow such an explosion to happen.

Referring to shared governance, he said it was not a substitute for winning elections, and that given President Jagdeo's response to the idea, the PNCR would have to win an election for the idea to succeed.

Within minutes of Corbin's election, President Jagdeo dispatched a letter congratulating him, wishing him a successful tenure and inviting him to a meeting at the Office of the President at a mutually convenient date and time.

Corbin who will be 55 in a fortnight and hails from Linden, swamped his lone challenger, central executive committee member Artie Ricknauth, polling 745 of the 830 valid votes cast.

In his acceptance speech, after being introduced by Reform chairman, Jerome Khan, Corbin congratulated Ricknauth and expressed the hope that with the "election competition" over, Ricknauth and those who supported him would now support the leadership. He said the election was indicative of the democratic nature of the party and that any member could aspire to the leadership without fear that stumbling blocks would be put in their path.

Ricknauth was elected to the central executive of the party at its last Congress and is the chairman of a committee looking at inclusivity and outreach.

Earlier in the day Corbin who was then performing the functions of acting Leader told a packed Congress that ensuring victory at the next elections was one of the party's immediate tasks, likening the period being spent in opposition as one which in which the party is being burnished to return to power.

In a speech which received rapturous applause and showed traces of his involvement in the Youth for Christ movement during his younger years, Corbin assured the Congress delegates, observers and supporters, "We are almost on the river bank of the Jordan." He urged, "Let us not look back like Lot's wife, but march forward with confidence to the other shore of good governance for all the people of this beautiful land of our birth."

Corbin also referred to shared governance and stressed that the idea was "not an alternative to winning elections" nor "a fallback position to be held onto and used to share crumbs if one lost an election."

"Shared governance must be seen as the mechanism to provide for institutional arrangements which can guarantee the participation and involvement of all citizens in the mainstream of national life irrespective of the party in government."

He pointed out that in the light of recent comments by President Jagdeo, "It is a concept that may only survive if the People's National Congress gets into government... It is evident, therefore, that we have to win government at an election if the idea is to succeed."

As a consequence, Corbin observed that the party would need to form strategic alliances in and out of Guyana if shared governance was to be implemented here.

Corbin reiterated that one of the immediate tasks of the party was winning the next elections as "we cannot achieve a better way of life for all Guyanese if we do not have the power to introduce changes that are essential for this to be achieved... We must be prepared to eschew all personal prejudices and ambitions; we must attract and keep in our ranks all those who share our common objective; and we must be prepared to form alliances and work with all in mutual respect if we are to succeed."

But Corbin warned that one of the party's greatest weaknesses at the moment "is indiscipline and unless we resolve to correct it we would be dreaming to expect victory in our cause."

Corbin noted there was indiscipline at all levels of the party. "We cannot be indisciplined at senior levels and enforce discipline in our ranks. We cannot disrespect others and expect others to show us respect."

He stressed the need to re-educate and re-orient the party's members and supporters: "Unless they understand clearly the direction we are going, their actions will be counter-productive to our cause. But until we re-orient and re-educate them, we cannot castigate them. Until then the fault will be ours not theirs."

Looking at another of the tasks for immediate attention, Corbin stressed the need for the party to promote the economic and social interests of the party's members and supporters across the country.

He cautioned that because of the marginalisation of entire communities and their ostracism from the mainstream of normal life "social and economic problems with their concomitant side effects plague these communities."

"Their survival is threatened. Joblessness and poverty have created in our youth a feeling of hopelessness and despair," to which Corbin said that the government has been unresponsive to the PNCR's simplest suggestion to address them as they somehow felt insulated from the catastrophic effects of this volatile situation.

"They are wrong as can be seen from the devastating effects of the present crime wave. Whether they know it or not, our society is on the brink of an explosion, maybe sooner than later."

He warned that the party's peaceful return to parliament would not solve the country's present dilemma as "if and when the explosion occurs, no political party, no religious leader will be able to stop the effects of such an explosion."

But he said the party could not allow the explosion to take place and would have to be the catalyst for organising programmes to deal with drug abuse, AIDS awareness and other social ills present in so many communities across the country. "Unless we do this urgently, a whole generation will be lost."

The party is setting up a parallel economic organisation, Help Guyana, a non-governmental organisation, the objective of which would be to provide assistance to the unskilled unemployed, the skilled unemployed without the resources to generate their own income, single parents and hinterland communities. A report to the Congress presented by Deryck Bernard said that Help Guyana would among other things provide skills training, computer literacy, support to micro-enterprises and advice and other support to small business enterprises.

Corbin also gave the promotion of inclusivity both at the national and party level as another of the priority tasks for the party, pointing out, "It is counterproductive to work for national inclusivity if we do not practise it in our party."

He confessed that in the party there are those who harbour prejudices, which are based, many times, on stereotypes. "If inclusivity is to succeed then there is need for many of us to re-orient our thinking and change our attitudes. This need for change is not confined to any one group." He said the party members "must be slow to arrive at quick conclusions that every objective criticism or every disagreement has its roots in racial prejudice."

Commenting on the party's long history of commitment to inclusivity, Corbin reminded the delegates that the party "policy of inclusiveness... was largely responsible for the party's ideological resilience, survival and success."

Other business conducted at yesterday's Congress was the passage of number of resolutions approving the shared governance initiative and mandating the party's central executive committee to pursue the strategies necessary to resolve the problems, which have led to the present political impasse and so ensure a return to parliamentary democracy.

In thanking those who voted for him and supported him through his political life, Corbin pledged that he intended to live up to their expectations. He told the Congress that he would not pretend he had all the answers to the questions and problems, which we faced but that they as members of the party would help him to find those answers "and that together we can work as a team and march forward to victory."

"Our job is a massive... we can only succeed if we stay focused and disciplined. And I want to ask you to work with me to re-invigorate our members to be organised, to be disciplined to be focused so that we can make our party proud."

He also acknowledged those party stalwarts who nurtured him during his career like Forbes Burham, Desmond Hoyte, Dr Ptolemy Reid, whom he described as his mentor, former party assistant general secretary, Margaret Ackman, now resident in the USA and whom he described as his "political mother," the late Joseph Nathaniel Aaron who encouraged Corbin to speak at PNC public meetings in Linden, former party chairman, Cammie Ramsaroop and former party general secretary, Ranji Chandisingh.

Corbin also acknowledged the support he received over the years from stalwarts such as Cecil Cunha and Kenneth Bancroft and the other stalwarts in the regions. The delegates came from all the party's districts including some 68 delegates from Region 9 (Upper Takutu/ Upper Essequibo) for more than 15 hours to get to the Congress Place meeting, as well as from New York, Canada and the United Kingdom.

When the opposition parliamentarians meet at the Parliament Library tomorrow Corbin will be elected Leader of the Opposition. He will be the fourth Opposition Leader since Independence. The other Opposition Leaders were the PPP/C's Dr Cheddi Jagan, The United Force leader, Fielden Singh, during the period the PPP boycotted the parliament and Desmond Hoyte, after the PNCR were defeated at the 1992, 1997 and 2001 elections.

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