Daily Archives: 03/26/2011

“Vision or Pragmatism” – lecture by M.G. Joe Singh

The 4th H D Hoyte Commemorative Lecture


Major General (retd) Joseph G Singh MSS, MSc, FRGS

March 23, 2011

Topic- “Vision or Pragmatism: The Transformational Role of Hugh Desmond Hoyte, SC”

Download here> : 4th Hugh Desmond Hoyte Commemorative Lecture 2011-MG JGS


Esteemed Chairman, Members of the Hoyte family, Ladies and Gentlemen, about two weeks before she passed away, President Hugh Desmond Hoyte’s widow, First Lady Joyce Hoyte requested through Ambassador Ronald Austin, that I deliver this 4th Hugh Desmond Hoyte Commemorative Lecture. The lecture should have been done on March 9, 2011 but because of her passing and funeral arrangements, it was re-scheduled to today.

I am honoured to have been asked but regret that Mrs Hoyte is not present with us today although I have no doubt that she is here in spirit. That I should have been asked when there are so many other colleagues and friends of President Hoyte is very humbling and I wish to express my thanks to the relatives of President and Mrs Hoyte, to Ambassador Ronald Austin and to Bevon Currie and members of the Commemorative Committee for communicating with me the arrangements for today’s Lecture.


Hugh Desmond Hoyte was born on 19 March 1929. He completed his secondary schooling and External Examinations leading up to the award of his Bachelor of Arts Degree. He was a High School Teacher in British Guiana and in Grenada.  In 1959 he proceeded to the University of London where he completed his Bachelor of Laws and was called to the Bar of the Middle Temple. He returned to Guyana in1960 and joined the Law Firm of Clarke & Martin where he was associated with such luminaries as Eric Clarke, Babington Martin, LFS Burnham, Fred Wills and Fenton Ramsahoye. In 1961, when Burnham left to focus on politics and Wills and Ramsahoye moved out to set up their independent practices, Hoyte was carrying a substantial portfolio at the Firm. He was influenced by Forbes Burnham to join him in the political sphere and became a member of the People’s National Congress in 1968. His legal reputation was acknowledged when he was made Queen’s Counsel in 1969 and then Senior Counsel in 1970.

He served as Minister of Home Affairs 1969-1970, Finance Minister 1970-1972, Minister of Works & Communications 1972-1974, Minister of Economic Development 1974-1980, Vice President responsible for Economic Planning, Finance and Regional Development 1980-1985, First Vice President and Prime Minister 1984-1985, President and Commander-in-Chief 1985-1992, and Leader of the Opposition  1992 – 2002. He married Joyce Noreen DeFreitas in 1965 and the union produced two girls-Amanda and Maxine, who both died along with Mrs Hoyte’s sister Gwendolyn  and their driver,  in a horrific accident on the Linden Highway. Mrs Hoyte was herself seriously injured and made a slow, painful but very brave recovery.

Hugh Desmond Hoyte died suddenly from a massive heart attack on December 22, 2002 and his widow Joyce passed away on February 14, 2011.

Mr Hoyte was described as a cultivated and austere figure whose name was never associated with any hint of scandal. He had a passion for literature, classical music, jazz, calypso, folk music and cricket and an abiding interest in environmental issues. His wife was regarded as a strong, shrewd and gracious First Lady who led a dignified and humble life.

My own association with Hugh Desmond Hoyte spanned a period of three decades during which he held the portfolios of Minister of Works and Communications, Prime Minister, President and Commander in Chief, and then Leader of the Opposition. He impacted on my life and my career in a variety of ways. On October 1, 1986, the 12th Anniversary of the Guyana National Service of which I was the Director General, he announced at an open-air gathering of a wide cross section of Guyanese and members of the diplomatic corps, my promotion to the rank of Brigadier.

On Dec 20th 1989, two weeks before I was confirmed to travel, he asked that I forego attendance on the 1990 course at the National Defence College in India and that I take up the appointment of Chief of Staff of the Guyana Defence Force. He was my Commander –in-Chief until he demitted office after the General Elections of October 5th 1992. In May 2000 as Leader of the Opposition he requested that I consider favorably a request by the political parties   to be Chairman of the Elections Commission from June 01, 2000, for the National Elections held in March 2001.

I never considered myself a member of Mr Hoyte’s inner circle. In fact, he never struck me as a person who had an ‘Inner Circle’ or what is popularly known as a ‘Kitchen Cabinet’. He was a completely different personality from Mr Burnham and Dr Jagan.  Mr Burnham and Dr Jagan were extroverts -leaders who thrived on their bonding with the masses. They drew their energy from their interaction with people and reveled in the relationship they enjoyed among their constituents. I found Mr Hoyte somewhat uncomfortable in the ‘pressing the flesh exercises’   and more comfortable in small focused meetings, or in field activities accompanied by technical staff. He did not suffer fools gladly and could be very gruff and dismissive of persons whom he felt were inefficient or incompetent. He was also a very private person as reflected in his frugal lifestyle, living in his own home with his family and avoiding ostentatious displays of wealth, power and influence. I recall on many occasions when asked to meet with him in his office, if it was during the lunch period, his assistant would bring in his meal on a tray and he would sit at his desk, apologise for eating while speaking, and enjoy his dholl plantain or soup. He made me feel at ease as a professional and never in my presence, brought party politics into the decision –making process, especially on matters of national importance.

When I telephoned him at around midnight on Election night, 5th October 1992, to inform him President Carter had called me to say that on the basis of the Carter Centre ‘quick count’ there was going to be a change in government and that as a professional I felt it appropriate to offer my resignation to Dr Jagan, President Hoyte said to me that he did not see the need for such a step but he understood my position. Five minutes later I phoned Dr Jagan and after congratulating him on his party’s election victory,  I did offer him my resignation so that he would be free to appoint someone else as Chief of Staff but he said he wished me to continue. I ended up serving a decade as Chief of Staff under five Presidents and Commanders in Chief until I retired in 2000.

As is the case with all who hold the highest office in the land, President Hoyte’s contributions and his place in the history of our country will be the subject of analysis by scholars and researchers. The analysis will have the benefit of hindsight, after the fact, and the individual’s strengths and weaknesses will be celebrated or exposed. This is the price one has to pay for accepting responsibilities.  The balance sheet of positives and negatives will reflect on the legacy one leaves on the pages of history. Does history make the man or does the man make history?

We are well aware of examples of self serving assessments and evaluations by leaders the world over, through their public utterances and via the social networks. The tendency is to burnish every major decision made by them so to put them in favorable light. Serious researchers on the other hand, provide a much more critical appraisal of the performance of the   individuals, their decision- making and the influences that prevailed on those processes. Unless we are active participants in the process, and have our own objective evaluation of leaders, we tend to take the contents of what has been said or written about a particular leader with a certain degree of cynicism, especially if it originates from an affiliate.  Less so, when it is written or said by a respected commentator. In Guyana’s highly charged and personalised political environment, with its relatively small population that manifests, especially at election time, varying degrees of ethnic security or insecurity, and religious and cultural intolerance or affinity, leaders are either uplifted or demonised. There is no doubt in my mind that our post- independence leaders had their good points and their bad points, their supporters and their detractors, but in the final analysis they would have all contributed in some greater or lesser measure to the fashioning of the ‘Nation’s Frame’, as reflected in the words of The Song of the Republic:

“We’ll forge a Nation’s mighty sword, construct a Nation’s Frame”.

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