March 6, 2003
Although Robert Corbin may be the third successive lawyer to lead the Peopleís National Congress in its 45-year history, similarities to his two predecessors, Forbes Burnham and Desmond Hoyte, probably end there.
Burnham was a mere 34 years old when he founded, and became leader of, the PNC in 1957 with only 6 months of ministerial experience behind him. Desmond Hoyte became party leader in 1985 at age 56 years after serving 16 years as a cabinet minister. On the other hand, Robert Corbin, now 55, has held executive positions for over 38 years in the YSM and PNC and served 24 continuous years as an elected member of the National Assembly.
Mr Corbin held office in the YSM (Young Socialist Movement, now the Guyana Youth and Students Movement) as General Secretary and National Chairman, and in the PNC as a member of the Central Executive Committee; Senior Vice-Chairman; General Secretary; and Chairman, becoming acting Leader on the death of Desmond Hoyte on 22 December 2002, and leader on 1 February 2003.
From August 1973 to October 1992, he also held a variety of ministerial portfolios including: Co-operatives and National Mobilisation; Youth, Sports and National Service; Regional and National Development; Local Government; Agriculture & Forestry; and Works, Communications and Public Utilities, entering office as a Parliamentary Secretary and leaving with the Cabinet rank of Deputy Prime Minister.
There is little dispute about Robert Corbinís seniority as a party functionary, his popularity among the rank and file and his political experience, making him the logical, if not the most practical, choice to become the PNCís third leader. In fact, next to the PPPCís Minister of Parliamentary Affairs Reepu Daman Persaud, Robert Corbin is probably the most experienced active politician in the entire country.
Robert Corbin moved quickly to dispel any notion that he might be a clone of Forbes Burnham or a creature of Desmond Hoyte. He set his unique stamp and style on the PNCR with a rash of spectacular, headline-grabbing, head-turning political initiatives. His walkabouts in Annandale and Buxton, two troubled East Coast Demerara communities; his ready acceptance of an invitation to meet with President Bharrat Jagdeo; his attendance at the National Assembly sitting to debate his own Memberís Motion on the national crisis; his appearance at a national Evangelical Prayer Meeting to mark the Republicís 33rd Anniversary all immediately set him apart from his predecessor.
He has also held meetings with the Commissioner of Police about the crime crisis, and with the Guyana Manufacturers Association about the electricity supply crisis, and has led PNCR members of the National Assembly and Central Committee in a strategic leadership retreat to chart a new political course.
Corbinís gambits should have sent signals to the PPPC that the PNCR is prepared to be part of national solutions to the political impasse, the crime wave and the socio-economic problems that have wreaked havoc upon the country over the past five years. They were also an advertisement to the public at large that the PNCR may be prepared to abandon its street protests and relocate debate in the National Assembly which it boycotted a year ago, if the PPPC responded positively to its initiatives. They were Robert Corbinís personal message to President Bharrat Jagdeo that he was open to serious talks; and, not least, they were Mr Corbinís statement of his personal ambition to be seen as a statesman who is prepared to embrace a constructive political agenda in response to the political crisis confronting Guyana.
At his partyís post-Congress rally in February, Mr Corbin started to accustom his supporters to the idea that he intended to engage the PPPC Administration in talks, although he emphasised that his agreement to meet the President should not be seen as a resurrection of the derailed Dialogue Process.
The failure of the PPPC Administration and the PNCR Opposition to agree in their debate about so obvious an issue as the existence of a national crisis was a setback of sorts. However, the fact that such a debate took place at all, and within days of his election, suggests at least that the new PNCR leader is prepared to meet the PPPC leadership to steer this country out of this Slough of Despond.