Coming out of a period when the People’s National Congress Reform (PNCR) was deemed to be ruled by a ‘maximum leader,’ Aubrey Norton, its newly elected Leader, said it is not his intention to seize total control.
“I don’t want to be a maximum leader,” Norton declared as he appeared on Politics 101 – a virtual programme hosted by Political Scientist, Dr. David Hinds.
It was Dr. Hinds, who in early 2021 opined that issues facing the party at the time, was as a result of decisions made pre and post 2020, in part, by a single individual, who was given an enormous amount of power, with little checks and balances.
Though the PNCR’s Constitution does not provide for a ‘maximum leader,’ it was Dr. Hinds’ opinion and that of others, that with the immediate past Leader, David Granger sitting at the helm of Government from 2015-2020, he had developed a leadership style akin to a ‘maximum leader.’
“During the Coalition’s tenure Mr. Granger emerged as a very strong maximum leader. He was Leader of the party, Leader of the APNU, Leader of the Government and Head of State. He was also officially chair of Cabinet which turned out to be the only functioning council of the Coalition…That was a lot of power concentrated in one person even for a party and country that are accustomed to maximum leaders. What was worse is that there was little or no institutional or informal checks and balances on his power,” Dr. Hinds told this newspaper.
But Norton, who now replaces Granger, said while there will be changes in the PNCR under his stewardship, decisions will be made in consultation with the elected representatives on the Central Executive Committee (CEC), members and supporters.
“I think you have to have a mindset to want to be a maximum leader; I have no intention of developing that mindset,” Norton said, while noting that though being the Leader of the PNCR, he is a member like all others.
But even before his ascension to office, there were questions about whether or not the Leader of the PNCR should be the Leader of the Opposition in Parliament. Norton’s main contender, in the lead up to the PNCR’s 21st Biennial Delegates Congress, was Joseph Harmon, the current Leader of the Opposition. Notably, the PNCR forms a large part of the A Partnership for National Unity + Alliance For Change (APNU+AFC), which holds 31 seats in the National Assembly.
Asked whether he is comfortable with the positions being held by two different individuals, Norton steered clear of giving a direct answer.
“It is an issue I will raise at the level of the party’s Central Executive,” he told Dr. Hinds, while noting that he does not want to make arbitrary pronouncements on issues that should be thoroughly discussed at the level of the Executive.
However, he recalled that it was Harmon, who in the lead up to the Biennial Congress contended that the two posts, should be held by a single individual. In fact, it was Harmon, who pointed out that when Linden Forbes Sampson Burnham served as President of Guyana, he was also Leader of the PNCR. Similarly, he said when Desmond Hoyte served as President and later Opposition Leader, he was also Leader of the PNCR. He noted that the situation was the same for Robert Corbin, who served as Opposition Leader, and former President David Granger.
But while Norton declined from sharing his personal views on that particular matter, he expressed a desire to see changes in the composition of the parliamentary team. “At the personal level, I’ll push for some amount of change at the parliamentary level because there are a lot of young parliamentarians there who are doing well but there are also scope for improvement, and when I meet with the Central Executive of the party, I will discuss it,” Norton explained.
The PNCR leader said it is important for the Opposition to have the best group in parliament to represent the interest of the Guyanese.
Among issues Norton believes should form part of PNCR’s parliamentary agenda is that of Procurement. “As presently structured, the Procurement Laws are structured in a way for those who have to have more, and those who don’t have can end up being excluded,” he posited.
However, he made it clear that the party’s political work should and would not be restricted to Parliament. On that note, Norton refuted claims by Vice President Bharrat Jagdeo that his sole political tactic is to engage in street protest.
“I haven’t mentioned anything about street protest, I have always been talking about political action, street protest might be one of it, but I have always talked about political action,” Norton said while making it clear that he cannot be scared by Jagdeo.
“He has a history of jailing people; there are many accusations that people were murdered while he was President, so I don’t know if he thinks that will scare me. I cannot be scared by Jagdeo,” he said.