It is evident that the PPP/C Government and its several representatives have embarked on a campaign to divert attention from the real issues by challenge my tenure as Minister of Finance of Guyana and to besmirch my integrity. The highly personal attack on me in the National Assembly is the surest indication yet that the PPP will stop at nothing in its efforts to ensure that either my voice is stilled or my ability to make a contribution to the national conversation on our economic condition is severely curtailed.
Let me at this early juncture make it quite clear that I am not opposed to any scrutiny of my tenure as Minister of Finance nor do I apologise for my participation in the policy decisions and implementation during the period I was in charge of the nation’s finances. Indeed, I welcome such scrutiny.
In fact, I would welcome any debate or discussion on this period especially if the objective is to determine what lessons can be learned from this period so that they can be applied with profit to the future endeavours to bring real development to this nation and its peoples. It would be a debate and discussion, however vigorous, which I welcome.
What is unfortunate is the culture of “cussing” and personal attacks which are unhelpful to our national discourse and a barrier to free discussion and an impediment to creative debate. I wonder sometimes if my misguided compatriots in the PPP realize the damage that is inflicted on this nation and the political environment when they engage in the kind of ad hominem attacks and the wilful attempt at character assassination. Surely, they have learnt a lesson from the last elections that the “cuss down” version of politics has worn thin with the Guyanese people and that it is past time that we engage in a civil dialogue on the issues which are critical to our success as a nation and our mature development as a people.
My travails with the several PPP administrations are not of recent vintage. Just after the 1992 elections the then PPP government, led by Dr. Cheddi Jagan, did its level best to stymie my career as an international civil servant. My candidature for the position as Deputy Secretary-General of the ACP Secretariat was endorsed by the Caribbean Community in defiance of the PPP/C Administration which had engaged in activities calculated to undermine and perhaps scupper my candidature. Fortunately, the Heads of the Caribbean Community stood firm and my candidature succeeded. Yet, in carrying out my duties as Secretary General of the ACP, I did nothing which could harm the national interests of my country. I even, at the request of President Jagan himself, appeared in a court matter and was able to ensure that the interests of Guyana prevailed.
But even this was not sufficient to slake the PPP’s thirst for vengeance. I was asked and agreed to a request to speak at the funeral of my late friend and colleague, Mr. Winston Murray. During the course of the eulogy I stated, among other things,” that in spite of the fact that the politics of the post 1939-1945 War epoch has prevented us from enjoying the economic and social lifestyles that we believe are possible, we still could lift our country out of the difficult circumstances in which the country finds itself.” A basic factual statement of this nature was deliberately misconstrued to mean to that I had engaged in partisan politics while employed by the Caribbean Community Secretariat. The Jagdeo Administration brought considerable pressure to bear to encompass my removal.
Yet hardly had I returned to my native land than I came under verbal assault by the State owned national media, with President Bharrat Jagdeo himself leading the pack. Having been accused of engaging in partisan politics I was denounced as the worst finance Minister Guyana has had, who had not produced any audited reports during my tenure. These allegations are not new and they cannot bear scrutiny.
When I became Minister of Finance, in 1983, Guyana was still in the grip of the then global economic crisis, which did not spare any state especially a small, open and vulnerable one like Guyana. But the PNC government did not throw up its hands in despair. We got to work and crafted an Economic Recovery Programme (ERP) which had succeeded, by 1991, in generating more than 6% growth in the national economy. The success of the ERP is best described in the words of the 1991 IDB country report:
“Over the past year rice production has increased by 61% and sugar by 23%…non traditional exports increased by 81% in terms of tonnage..the monetary reserves are now at the level of 112 million dollars and the real growth of the economy is that of 6.1% for 1991.”
I am glad that I played a part in the creation of the ERP and Guyana’s economic recovery.
As regards the audited accounts I have on several occasions stated that I have laid 11 of them in the National Assembly and, on at least one occasion, the Minister of Finance acknowledged this. But in his attempt to prolong partisan rancour he has shifted the argument to say that I did not present audited reports for the period I was in office but for those of my predecessors. This kind of sophistry is unworthy of Dr Singh. That the reports were in arrears is not in doubt. I could not, in the circumstances, produce reports which did not address the question of those which were outstanding.
I stand by my record as Minister of Finance. And no amount of “cussing” by the PPP and personal attacks will prevent me from serving the people of Guyana. I have been tempered by the harsh nature of our politics and am prepared for the longest and the most difficult of fights.
More to the point, the challenge before the country is the current PPP policies, specifically the issues of non-accountability, corruption and petulance in response to the Debate on the Fiscal papers and the Budget preparation.