Red House fiasco: Govt’s approach could have been different – new Social Cohesion Minister

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After less than two days in the capacity of Social Cohesion Minister, Dr George Norton has said Government’s approach to the Red House matter should have been less aggressive, in the interest of fostering national unity.

The new minister in charge of promoting social cohesion, during an exclusive interview with Guyana Times on Monday, weighed in on the controversy which is believed to have intensified the tension in our multiracial nation.

New Social Cohesion Minister, Dr George Norton
New Social Cohesion Minister, Dr George Norton

He explained that the actions taken by the Government were too extreme.
“Things can be handled differently. Probably our approach should have been different. There have been some actions that might not be in the best interest of people coming together (unity),” the Minister expressed.

In this regard, Dr Norton underscored the importance of the Social Cohesion Ministry, whose work he was fairly unfamiliar with, in bridging the divides which exist among the people of Guyana.

Workers of the Ministry of the Presidency had invaded the property and hammered down the hallmark sign of the Red House.

This occurred even though Government had given the occupants up to the following day to vacate the property.

The Red House sign that was ripped down by Government officers
The Red House sign that was ripped down by Government officers

Then, in the evening, former Social Protection Minister Volda Lawrence led a picketing exercise to disrupt a peaceful vigil, which was held by the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) outside Red House.

Matters escalated when a physical altercation ensued between Shondell Hope from the People’s National Congress (PNC) and PPP’s Jason Abdulla.

In a video that went viral on social media, Hope was seen aggravating Abdulla and attempting to hit away his phone. She had invaded his personal space in an attempt to slam Abdulla’s phone out of his hands when he pushed her out of his way.

Abdulla then attempted to walk away, but was attacked by the group of PNC protesters, including Minister Lawrence, who reportedly threw a glass bottle in his direction.
Dr Norton was recently transferred from the Public Health Ministry as the substantive minister following a series of controversies which erupted in that sector.

Norton said although he was unacquainted with the nature of his new ministry, he was willing to learn and work in the best interest of the Guyanese people.

The tug-of-war continues between the coalition Government and the PPP over the rightful ownership and use of the Red House, which houses the Cheddi Jagan Research Centre Incorporated (CJRCI).

Red House was leased to the CJRCI at $1000 per month for 99 years in order to use the building, the former home of Dr Cheddi Jagan, to promote research into his life, work and ideas.

Two weeks ago, President David Granger ordered the revocation of the lease of the Red House, based on advice from his Attorney General, Basil Williams, that the agreement was invalid. Williams had argued in a detailed statement the day before that the lease held by the CJRCI was invalid on several grounds, including that there was no evidence that the President of the day had sanctioned it.

However, quick action by the PPP-backed Management Committee of the CJRCI saw legal action taken to reverse the President’s decision, with the court ordering that the property of the CJRCI “not be interfered with or removed until further ordered”.

The matter will be heard again on February 20. (Guyana Times)

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