Alliance for Change (AFC) Leader Raphael Trotman yesterday dismissed concerns over controversial statements by PNCR Chairman Volda Lawrence that she will only hire party people and came to her defence saying that she holds no race or political biases.
“The Chair, I as Leader have known and worked closely with for 25 years has never shown racial or political partisanship, but in fact, has worked tirelessly, as politician and as a minister of government for the betterment of people of all walks of life and all backgrounds,” Trotman said in a public statement after being contacted by this newspaper yesterday for a comment on the controversy over Lawrence’s recorded remarks.
Trotman, whose party forms the governing coalition with APNU in which the PNCR is the major player, said that the statement yesterday conveyed his personal views. “It was issued by me as leader,” he said.
Lawrence has come under fire for telling her party supporters, in an address at PNCR headquarters in the aftermath of the Local Government Elections, that public sector jobs will go to PNCR persons.
During a presentation at the Region Four District Conference, held at Congress Place on November 25th, a recording of which was made public to the press by a party member on WhatsApp, Lawrence can be heard telling attendees that they should not be afraid to give jobs or contracts to party comrades while indicating that she does the same.
“Well I got news for you: The only friends I got is PNC, so the only people I could give work to is PNC. And, right now, I looking for a doctor who can talk Spanish or Portuguese and ah want one that is PNC,” she is heard saying.
The entire presentation, which is over one-hour long, appears to be a charge to those who have recently won seats or have been selected to serve on local government bodies following the November 12th local government polls.
Following reportage and circulation of the audio, the AFC said on its Facebook page on Friday that it believes that all Guyanese are equally entitled to benefits of the state. “The Alliance For Change believes and espouses equal opportunity for all Guyanese, regardless of gender, ethnicity, religion, political persuasion or sexual orientation. The AFC believes that all Guyanese are entitled to share equally in the benefits of the state,” the statement said.
Trotman echoed this point in his statement yesterday. “The Alliance For Change is in a coalition with A Partnership for National Unity based on the Cummingsburg Accord. In the Accord, we jointly subscribe to pursue a common vision and pathway that put Guyana and all Guyanese first, without a resort to discrimination or favouritism in any form. We look to President David Granger, in particular, to articulate that vision on behalf of government and his party, and most recently this was done at the Biennial Delegates Congress of the PNC,” he said.
“The AFC’s position on equality is well known and recently restated, whereby the AFC believes in and espouses equal opportunity for all Guyanese, regardless of gender, ethnicity, religion, political persuasion or sexual orientation. The AFC believes that all Guyanese are entitled to share equally in the benefits of the state,” he added.
He said that the widespread attention the Lawrence statement has attracted is an unnecessary distraction. “We believe that the PNC Chair’s widely reported statements were made in the aftermath of the hotly contested Local Government Elect-ions and have created an unnecessary distraction at this time.”
Exhume the ghosts
The Working People’s Alliance (WPA), another member of APNU has not yet said anything about Lawrence’s statements but executive member Dr. David Hinds said it is foolish for the coalition to merely dismiss the concerns of the people as he believes that it has the propensity to negatively impact voters at what would be the fiercely contested 2020 general elections.
“I think it would have a negative impact on independent voters of all ethnic groups—the very group of voters that helped to push the Coalition from the PNC’s 34% share of the vote in 2006 to 51% in 2015. The Coalition needs those voters to win. But that kind of rhetoric would signal to those voters that the PNC has resorted to the old politics. The Coalition attracted those voters because they thought they were voting for something new, that the PNC had turned its back on that kind of crude politics and that the WPA and AFC would not tolerate it”, he told Stabroek News.
He said that Lawrence’s “rhetoric threatens to exhume the ghosts of the PNC’s past” and makes a mockery of the new politics promised by the coalition.
“I have sympathy for the Minister’s apparent frustration with the ethnic imbalance in the political economy which was taken to exorbitant levels by the last government. But that imbalance cannot be corrected by overt cronyism and clientelism. It never did and never will. The Minister is part of a government that has done precious little to correct that situation via a fair and just policy. So if she feels strongly about the issue, she should be urging her government in that direction. That kind of rhetoric would scare away independent voters while giving the opposition potent political ammunition to use against the government. I don’t buy the nonsense that she is only saying aloud what is the norm. If it is wrong it should not be said period,” he added.
He believes that if politicians don’t have a commonsense answer to political defeat, they panic and resort to overt race-baiting and crass calls for ethno-political solidarity.
That behaviour, according to Hinds would be a political disaster detrimental for the coalition come 2020.
Hinds does not believe that government would be the best vehicle to address Lawrence’s statement, however as it would be difficult to arrive at a consensus position.
It is why he is calling on individual parties within the coalition to speak up. “The individual parties should say whether they condone such an approach to the distribution of common resources. The PNC most likely would not sanction its chairman. But the other parties, especially the AFC and the WPA must push back against such rhetoric and potential and actual practice,” Hinds stressed.
“They have a responsibility to their credibility and to the independent voters that they attracted to the Coalition,” he added.
‘Not nice but true’
For the Justice for All (JFA) party, also a member of APNU, Lawrence is a “good politician” and was just trying to motivate her party comrades by telling them what she wanted them to hear. Its Leader Jaipaul Sharma told Stabroek News “This was a closed door meeting; an in-camera meeting. Politicians are known to speak to their constituency in ways they believe they can best reach out to them, so they tell the constituency what they think they want to hear. If it was a public statement, we would have been up (in arms); but we understand the politics and politicians do these things. I would just be realistic and say it was not meant for the public consumption”.
Sharma said that while People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) members have been vocal in their condemnations of Lawrence, they are hypocrites since he knows for a fact that at their internal meetings they are “rabid” in the racism and divisiveness spewed.
He said that Lawrence is a politician that wants what is best for her party and was merely articulating in a way she felt could resonate with her supporters. “That is their business what they speak in house…I am dealing with the reality. That is how political parties speak to their constituencies. It is not nice but true,” he said.
Sharma was quick to point out that he does not speak to his constituents like that, as his party says the same internally and publicly; and that it wants equal opportunities for all Guyanese. But he pointed out that everyone will want to boost the morale of their own to get better output. “Since time immemorial and you heard people are going to battle, they want to rile up their people. I think it is not just a battle for the upcoming 2020 elections but maybe a battle for their own party’s survival. I think it is just internal campaigning to make sure she keeps on top. She is a politician and a good one,” he added.
Lawrence said a number of other things that have also raised concern.
Lawrence was heard addressing the PPP/C’s capture of more seats on the Georgetown City Council at the polls. She said “there are 15 constituencies in Georgetown hence there are 30 seats around the Horseshoe table and the PPP ensured that they had 28 people looking like me running for Georgetown and two looking like Jagdeo… do you understand the strategy?”
She added, “We like to assume that when we see someone looking a particular way, that they come from Robb Street but don’t assume that when you see someone looking like Comrade Sammy and Comrade Mahendra here, that they ain’t PNC. I come into the party and reach comrade Sammy. We got [to] bring more like them in. We want to win, we have to bring more of them in and they are here, they want to come in but some of us we so righteous and judgmental that the people can’t come in. Comrades, politics is a numbers game; there are many out there who didn’t enjoy the sweet of the PPP table and they see some good in us and our policies, such as social cohesion. The PPP is afraid of social cohesion but we must embrace it so we can take back the seat on the East Bank and East Coast.”
She further said, “We don’t have to wait no three years comrades there are mechanisms for us to go back to the polls. You see this long, long story, me ain’t able buse and cuss and waste me time; I lash you in you head and done the story. Done the story. Sometimes we like to yap, yap, yap, yap too much. Comrades; we have to run things in those NDCs… the same ones they say we lose. I challenge those on the East Bank and East Coast to get back into those NDCs and take them over. Don’t run from this stupidness—dem ain’t vote fo we because in some of these NDCs we just miss by a few votes. Take the statistics which you have and start to pick them off one by one. Before the three years out we must have another election going on in those constituencies. They took three from us in Georgetown… they got it in names and we will take it back. We will use the law, which is on our side and we will take it back.”