By Naomi Marshall
“It matters not where I am seated, my voice can and will be heard,” are the words of exiled former PNCR Member of Parliament, Vanessa Kissoon.
After almost seven years of being suspended by the People’s National Congress Reform (PNCR), Kissoon remains a resilient advocate for youths, women and the people of Region 10.
Although Kissoon was born in Plaisance, a village on the East Coast of Demerara, while growing up, she was always fascinated by the thought of having a Linden experience.
So after graduating from the Cyril Potter College of Education (CPCE) in 2002 she opted to teach in Linden at the Mackenzie High School (MHS) where she currently heads Home Economics Department.
In an interview with Village Voice News, Kissoon stated that while teaching is in her blood, she was also passionate about imparting knowledge into the lives of young people which is why she began a career in teaching, one that she calls both wonderful and challenging.
“Teaching is challenging but I don’t regret it. I’m not so enthused like before due to a lot of changes but teaching is a wonderful thing because you are being able to impart knowledge into other people’s lives. I like dealing with teenagers, I like talking to young people which is why I opted to teach a secondary school,” Kissoon explained.
She added, “when I see people that I have taught excelling and even working with me, I feel so proud to know that I would have imparted knowledge into all of these young people’s lives.”
While teaching is what brought Kissoon to Linden, being in the town led her to pursue another one of her passions, politics. After three years of living in the mining town of Linden, Kissoon was recruited by a member of the PNCR to join the party’s youth arm, Youth and Students Movement (YSM) in 2005.
She noted, “I did some research and some of the policies that Mr. and Mrs. Burnham had motivated me and I like to ensure that people’s rights are respected, especially women’s rights and young people. So I thought this would be the place for me to do what I do best.”
From here on, Kissoon would elevate in the PNCR party to the rank of Member of Parliament, representing not just the people of Linden but the entire Region 10 from 2006 to 2015, having served two terms. During the ten-year period, Kissoon would make representation for nurses who were not being paid their gratuity, security guards who were being underpaid, and the Linden Legal Aid Centre which now provides equal access to the justice system for poor, low-income and vulnerable residents of Region 10 who would otherwise be unable to afford an attorney. Kissoon made a way for these issues to be looked at and addressed.
In March 2012, the PPP/C Government read the proposed Budget for 2012 in parliament which included the hike in electricity tariffs for the people of Region 10. The tariff was going to be increased from $5 per kilowatt to $65. Kissoon recalls being in parliament at the time when the budget was being read.
She told this newspaper, “I remembered when it (the budget) was being read in the parliament and I heard it, the first thing that came to my mind and my heart was that Region 10 has a high unemployment rate. I’m thinking the people of Linden, were not going to be able to deal with such an increase.”
She went on to say, “We must understand this, as we said then we will say now, it is not that we never want to pay but it is because we have a high unemployment rate and we had a lot of single mothers in this Region. Being a teacher, I know of some of the issues that children face coming out from different homes. And so I knew at that time that we were not going to be able to deal with that increase.”
This led to Kissoon along with a group of other women starting a protest action in July 2012, against the implementation of electricity tariff, with marches from Wismar to the Mackenzie shore of Linden. As time went by, the protest action intensified, thousands of persons from the around the Region joined the protest, which culminated with the police shooting and killing three peaceful protestors and injuring several others. Kissoon along with then Regional Chairman, Sharma Solomon steered the protest in a direction where solution was brought, the people’s voices were heard and their rights were preserved.
The protest action lasted for over 30 days, and ended when an agreement was signed, on August 21, 2012 between the Region 10 Regional Democratic Council and Central Government.
This agreement entails the return of the community television gifted to the people, the return to regional management of the Land Selection Committee as done in other regions, the establishment of an Economic Committee to develop a plan for the development of the region and its people, and establishment of the Technical Committee to look into the electricity situation in Linden.
This agreement was taken to the National Assembly via motion brought by Kissoon. It was deliberated on and passed without any opposition. When asked about how satisfied she is about the implementation rate of that agreement, Kissoon said that she is disappoint because “we did not get the package we agreed to”.
“The people of Linden would still love to see the implementation of the committees and the return of the television station that they fought tooth and nail for, a return as this would benefit the community greatly and enhance the libido of the people,” she added.
She also called on the leadership of Region 10 to ensure that the 21 August, 2012 agreement is met. In July of 2014, a section of the PNCR’s Linden faction staged a protest at Congress Place during the opening ceremony of the party’s 28th Biennial Congress and Kissoon was seen among that faction. This event led to Kissoon being suspended from being an active member of the PNCR.
In explaining what led to the protest action Kissoon said: “We (protestors) were members of the PNCR and in 2014, the delegation that went down to participate in the congress, we were disenfranchised and we were not allowed to participate in the elections of the leadership of the PNCR.”
The reason as to why the section of PNCR’s Linden faction was not allowed to participate in congress is unclear. However, Kissoon was told that they did not meet certain criteria, which she disagrees with. It was stated in the media that the protest action has caused some form of disrespect or embarrassment to the former President, David Granger, and senior executives of the PNCR party. There was also word that there was need for Kissoon to apologise to the said executives.
However, Kissoon noted that she never received a document in any form notifying her of both her suspension nor the need for an apology to be done. Kissoon added that she is aware of an altercation she had with the former PNCR General Secretary, Oscar Clark, which has been resolved by the two, as such, Kissoon is not sure what the apology is for.
“There was an altercation between Mr. Clark and myself but I am not sure what it is that I have to apologise for because what I can assure you is that Mr. Clarke and I have put our differences aside and we would embrace each other and communicate with each other,” she said.
When asked if she knows who issued the suspension and if it is over at this point, Kissoon noted that those questions are for the leadership of the PNCR and more so, its leader, David Granger and the current General Secretary, Amna Ally.
The suspension has restrained Kissoon from participating in any activities on behalf of the PNCR from 2014 to date. When asked about her feelings towards the actions took by the PNCR towards her, Kissoon said she will always be an activist for her community, women and youths, no matter what her position is. “I am a community activist, I am a women’s rights activist and I will continue to represent people and whenever called upon to lead and to give leadership, I would do so.”
“The people of Linden, if they know who they want to lead them, then they know exactly what they have to do in order to get the people that they would like to be their leaders,” she added.
According to Kissoon, motions have been carried in the past at Congress for her suspension to be reversed. However, persons were told that she is on suspension and the motion was never carried.
Kissoon said that her wish for the PNCR is that the party leaders would get more youths involved, which she said is important. Kissoon added, “I know that we have a lot of young people who are really not feeling the energy or as the young people would say, the vibe. I would appreciate if the party leadership will sit down and ensure that we have more young people involved. I say this because I engage persons and I know how young people are feeling and this has gone pass where young people believe in blind loyalty, young people want to see change, especially in the leadership of the PNCR.”
Meanwhile, Kissoon’s hope is for the Government of Guyana to give Region 10 leveled-playing field, a fair and equal chance of succeeding. The woman who has proven herself to be a passionate advocate for the people of her region is encouraging youths to get involved and become the change they want to see.
“I would like to encourage my young people out there, I know a lot of you are feeling down and out but I believe that if you want to see change you have to be the change you would like to see, and in order to be that change you must get involved in the process and ensure that your demands are met,” Kissoon stated.