Mr. Ramkarran and the PPP – commentary

Mr. Ramkarran and the PPP

Stabroek staff On July 8, 2012  Editorial | Comments

Guyanese politics could hardly be accused of being boring – at least most of the time. And last week it lived up to its reputation with the resignation of Ralph Ramkarran from the PPP and the revelation that the government had hired a Trinidad-based Senior Counsel to assist them with their case against the budget cuts in the High Court.

It was the resignation of Mr Ramkarran, of course, which stopped the party and the nation in their tracks, although one might have thought that given the recent tenor of his contributions to the Weekend Mirror, it should have occurred to his more discerning comrades that trying to bully him into submission was not the recommended strategy if they wanted to keep him within the fold. And they surely wanted to keep him within the fold, since they are now seeking an accommodation, which is why there has been none of the vilification which accompanied the exile of Messrs Ramjattan and Nagamootoo from the bosom of Freedom House.  

This loss has both shocked and damaged the governing party; Mr Ramkarran was PPP aristocracy with a party lineage which no other member on the Executive Committee can match. His father, Boysie Ramkarran, was there at the party’s birth, was a close confidante of Dr Cheddi Jagan, and remained a major figure in the hierarchy to the end of his life, enjoying great popularity among the rank and file. Mr Ralph Ramkarran himself has done all kinds of work for the party and the government, most notably in the legal and border spheres, and in the eyes of the public is perceived as one of the PPP’s more intellectual figures.

Whether Mr Ramkarran resists the Freedom House’s blandishments to return or not – and his reintegration at this point would seem unlikely – the party is at a crossroads for several reasons. There is no firm hand steering the ship – at least in the electorate’s perception – and along with the psychological resistance to accepting the results of the November 28 election, the PPP appears to have fallen victim to centrifugal tendencies. This has been apparent in the PNC for some time and other reasons aside, was perhaps inevitable once the towering figures which dominated both parties for so long had passed from the scene. But this is too, a different era, and the democratic centralism which served the governing party as a decision-making framework for so long, is hard to reconcile with a modern open environment in terms of the free exchange of views and access to all varieties of information (and misinformation) at the click of a mouse.

Freedom House has clearly not yet adjusted to the brave new world of open access and the level of debate which is necessary when there are divergent views – and there are plenty of those in our politics. While all democratic parties need to work out their policy parameters, within those limits there should be a certain elasticity for executive members to express themselves; monolithism and complete secrecy don’t sit well in the current climate where the art of persuasion and not the bludgeon of compulsion is key. And where Mr Ramkarran is concerned, he has been expressing some candid views in the Weekend Mirror for some time, that to his credit did not read like the mishmash of party clichés which are the staple of certain other writers.

What seems to have set off the train of events which led to his resignation, however, was the Executive Committee meeting called to deal with a specific column, namely that on corruption which he described as “pervasive.” The details of what transpired at that meeting have not been disclosed, and while it was the remarks of a particular member which, it has been reported, triggered the resignation, as far as the public is concerned the bottom line of the issue was his publicising from within the bastion of Freedom House the fact that he recognized there was a problem. It will not help the party in the electorate’s eyes, if it feels he breached confidentiality because the subject had not been discussed by the Executive or the Central Committees; all that  does is reinforce the public conviction that the PPP does not want to confront corruption at all.

In any case, why hasn’t it been discussed at the decision-making levels of the party? Why, seven months after an election, has there been no statement from the President assuring the public that the government intends to get serious about official corruption, and outlining some approaches in that regard? Are they not picking up the mood of the country, and even the mood of their own constituents? With the departure of Mr Ramkarran the PPP has confirmed the perception that they do not recognize the corrosive nature of the problem, not just on the nation, but on the party itself; that they really don’t intend to take serious measures in relation to it; and that transparency is the last thing they are seeking in government. It is all out of kilter with the times.

Many years ago, Lord Hailsham, when reflecting on a crisis in the British Conservative Party in 1962 under Prime Minister Harold Macmillan, said: “The party had lost its sense of direction and invention and this was due to neglect from the centre. Party inspiration is at the centre of electoral success and without electoral success you don’t win elections.” The PPP, maybe partly from being too long in government, partly from ennui, partly from a lack of the infusion of new ideas, and partly from an absence of controls once in office, has lost its “sense of direction” and its “invention.” Transforming itself into a modern party will no doubt be a difficult process, and it will require leadership. As things stand, the party appears to lack a “centre,” despite the fact that President Ramotar is both head of state and General Secretary of the PPP. Genial and avuncular, Mr Ramotar nevertheless has advanced no clear policy positions other than repeating the promotional patter on the pet projects of his predecessor. He has been in politics a long time and he should know that he cannot afford to be seen by citizens merely as a cutting-ribbons president, who is not in charge either at Vlissengen Road or in Robb Street. That will be interpreted as weakness, and the centrifugal tendencies mentioned above will become more pronounced, no doubt aggravated by personal ambition on the part of some.

When Mr Ramkarran was asked to give an account of himself at the Executive Committee meeting a week last Friday, clearly it had not occurred to most of the members present that he might hand in his resignation. In addition to misunderstanding the times and failing to see the weakening of the party structure which reduced their weight, they also misread him.  It was a fatal misjudgement whose consequences have not only put the debility of the normally secretive PPP on public display, but have dissolved more of the connective tissue which linked it to its origins and the principles of its founders. Through his contributions to the Weekend Mirror and the way in which he has conducted himself over the years, the public knew what Mr Ramkarran was and what he stood for. But where principles are concerned, no one is too sure what the PPP stands for any longer, which leaves enough space for the critics to supply their favourite thesis – self-enrichment.  Mr Ramkarran’s resignation has been a severe blow to the PPP, but it could still be a salutary blow if they take the opportunity for some introspection, reform and reconnecting with the principles of scrupulous financial honesty and a modest lifestyle which Dr and Mrs Jagan exemplified. Above all else, it should shock them into recognizing that it is not enough to assure the public they are going to do something about corruption, they genuinely have to commit themselves to doing something about it.

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  • Cyril Balkaran  On 07/10/2012 at 1:20 pm

    Robert Frost, a great poet once wrote in verse
    ” The lives of great men
    Do remind us that we can make our lives sublime,
    And departing leave behind us
    Footprints on the sands of TIme”
    The great leaders have come and gone. The lived their lives and have left a legacy of honesty, sincerity, simplicity and have toiled hard day and night to build a house and a nation. Today due to numerous internal squabbling that house is being dismantled by the present day architects of doom and Gloom.
    There is a saying” Whom the Gods wish to destroy, they first make you mad.”
    That power Corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely is the scene of today. A great leader has gone and the ship of state is left in the dark. The allegations of CORRUPTION is everywhere, in the markets on the streets, in the hospitals, in the cinemas, in the armed forces and in the rice fields and everywhere this word is being mentioned and not to mention the free Press and Media. So what next. The President must act now, He must set up the Anti Corruption Tribunal and put men in jail now as the veidence unfolds. This is not a time to resign or call the elections. No, deal with the CORRUPTION now. Let the country see your mettle, November 2011 to now is a long time, when will you listen to Ramkarran, Luncheon and your own voice Mr. President! The ball is in your Court. Act Now. You alone have the power and you must use it to avert a disaster in the making.

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