“If you live in a glass house, don’t throw stones!”

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Below is an article published in the March 18th edition of the Guyana Times

 

The house of the late President, Dr Cheddi Jagan

It is for good reason that the months leading up to elections here are dubbed “the silly season”. With the elections that President Donald Ramotar says are “the most important since 1964″, rather than the plans for developing the country by the competing parties being compared and contrasted, a huge discourse has developed over the home of Dr Cheddi Jagan – whose life and legacy are being commemorated this month.

It all began with former President Bharat Jagdeo holding his first press conference after demitting office in 2011 and addressing the strident criticisms about his “benefits” as an ex-President and the house he built at Sparendaam.

On the former, contrary to the tens of millions that his critics in the Opposition claimed had been drained from the Treasury to pay for his medical and other “benefits” – Jagdeo flatly announced that he hadn’t “received a cent”.

But contrary to their libellous statements for over three years, a sudden deafening silence descended in this subject. Not a single one of his critics had the grace to say they were wrong, much less offer an apology. What they did was to simply move on toanother line of attack.

On the issue of the house he had built at Sparendaam, Jagdeo explained he was able to do this from the proceeds he received from selling his previous house at Ogle. All of this had been in the public domain from the onset, but the spin placed on the attack on Jagdeo was to claim that Jagdeo had “betrayed” the legacy of Dr Jagan.

In this manner critics in the Opposition were assuming and asserting that it was against the tenets of the teachings of Dr Jagan to have a large home and that a member of his party, such as Jagdeo, should live in circumstances amounting to poverty.

Responding to a direct question based on this specious argument at the press conference, Jagdeo stated: “I don’t believe Ministers should have to live in a logie to prove that they are not corrupt…. Cheddi Jagan didn’t have to prove that by living in a logie…I don’t think Cheddi Jagan, living in Bel Air that time, in a nice house, was typical of Guyana.

“But Cheddi Jagan lived at that time there. Did that weaken his commitment to the cause? No. At that time that was a prime area. It was a big piece of land, nice house and it still is a nice house. Did that weaken his commitment to the cause? Did that make him corrupt or anything of the sort? What is the point they are making?”

One of the first to try to rebut Jagdeo’s explanation was Ralph Ramkarran, whose bitterness at Jagdeo had festered since he had left the People’s Progressive Party (PPP/C), blaming the former President for Ramotar being chosen as the PPP/C’s Presidential Candidate in 2011 rather than him.

He refused to accept that his erstwhile comrades had great resentment for his resentment in refusing to become a Minister under Jagan in 1992, because he felt under the new PPP/C Government more business would be steered his company’s way.

Ramkarran even refused to take the role as a Minister of Government when Jagan offered him in 1992, because he wanted more pay, making it clear that a Minister’s salary was below his expectations.

He also demanded another ‘salary’, wanting all Government’s legal business go through his law firm, Cameron and Shepherd. He also turned down another offer when Janet Jagan became President, citing similar financial reasons.

Most germanely, what made even some who were still willing to give him the benefit of the doubt was that Attorney General Anil Nandalall had only recently made a presentation to the Executive Committee of the party, detailing two alleged financial fraud scandals in which Ramkarran had been the central figure.

The matters involves a Trinidadian woman, Sherene Mongroo, who has strong Guyanese connections, and is still fighting to rescue her father’s estate, believed to be valued in the tens of millions of US dollars. Fingered characters include members of her own family, a prominent Caribbean banker, an airline employee, medical doctors and various attorneys including Ramkarran. The case is currently before the courts in Guyana and is also under continued investigation. Ironically, Ramkarran is one of the attorneys appearing in the case.

Ramkarran has come out in his blog, which was picked up by the Opposition media, not addressing Jagdeo’s point that Dr Jagan did not intend to have his Ministers live in perpetuity in strained circumstances.

He supplied figures of $2000 for the land on which Jagan built his house which would suggest in today’s currency that it was very minuscule. But in doing so, he disingenuously avoids Jagdeo’s point that Jagan did not live in a “logie” to show he cared for the downtrodden.

His $2000 in 1960 could buy a larger piece of land that Jagdeo’s present house is situated on. While his house might be modest by today’s standard, it was certainly way beyond the quality of the home of the sugar workers who had just moved out of the logies.

But what was most disheartening to those Guyanese hoping for those Guyanese hoping for a reasoned discussion on whether a vow of poverty is necessary for public service was not the hysterical reaction of the Opposition.

This was expected – even though most of them live in very large glass houses and should not have been throwing stones. But it was the letter from Jagan’s daughter, Nadia Jagan-Brancier, who had long ago decamped Guyana for Canada where she lives in luxury compared to any Guyanese.

Writing from her new homeland, she picked up Ramkarran’s vitriol-laden argument and using the “legitimacy” as a daughter of Jagan, berated Jagdeo for dare suggesting that her father lived in a “mansion” – something Jagdeo had never done. And of course the press pushed her maudlin and flawed argument.

In today’s edition, following the maxim that “a picture is worth a thousand words” we print pics of relevant homes for comparison.

While pointing out what no one – including Jagan-Brancier and Ramkarran – can argue against as proposed by Jagdeo: Dr Jagan never intended to have his successors to live in hovels, riding bicycles.

If so, why even bother to struggle?