Letter: Pressing issues for new PNCR Leader

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New PNC Leader Aubrey Norton

Dear Editor,

It is necessary to make a few observations on a Stabroek News’ editorial titled “PNCR leadership.” While the use of logic, reason and analytic rigour made it persuasive, there is, however, a particular issue that needs clarification or elaboration.

It is not about the shame that the PNCR-led coalition put the country through following the 5 months of post-election turmoil, neither is it about a call to condemn violence and bullyism; instead, it relates to the performance of the Leader of the APNU+AFC Parliamentary Opposition, Mr. Joe Harmon.

It was stated that Mr. Joe Harmon “has been a distinctly uninspiring and incompetent Leader of the Opposition, and his serious shortcomings in the Ministry of the Presidency would not have escaped the attention of the PNCR membership either. But the main hurdle he would not have been able to overcome was his connection to former Leader David Granger, who has brought the party to the lowest point in its history, and who is unpopular with the rank and file.”

One important reason Mr. Harmon did not do well at the internal PNCR polls for Leader was due to the direct attack (a few days before the election) on his integrity by a PNCR supporter, who is also a well-known professional, citing his (Harmon’s) involvement in corrupt transactions. That member expressed satisfaction that the former Minister of Finance is charged by SOCU with “misconduct by a public officer,” but insisted that Mr. Harmon be charged also to have allowed such aberrant behaviour to occur.

This PNCR supporter could have chosen any other corrupt transaction, but decided to choose the one with BK International. The rationale for this choice was twofold: (1) to show PNCR delegates how a massive tract of prime real estate (2,553 acres) in Georgetown was grossly undersold to BK Marine Inc for $20 million when the property at that time was valued at more than $110 million; (2) by stressing the magnitude of this transaction and focusing on its prime beneficiary, that would have sent a powerful signal to PNCR delegates on how they should cast their votes.

There is a general feeling that many PNCR members and supporters are not too comfortable with Mr. Harmon’s friendship with businesspeople, particularly Indo-Guyanese. They know that many major contracts under the PNCR-led regime (2015-2020) were disproportionately awarded to Indian businesses. Rightly or wrongly, they blame Mr. Harmon for allowing that to happen. It was a strategic move, therefore, by elements of the PNCR to get this well-known businessperson/professional to subliminally link Mr. Harmon with Indo-Guyanese businesses.

While one does not know what level of negative impact the tirade against Mr. Harmon had on PNCR members/supporters, it certainly weakened his candidature for Leader among the 42.5% of delegates that voted in the PNCR internal election.

There are misgivings that the new leader of the PNCR, Mr. Aubrey Norton, might not be able to build a multi-ethnic party. His insistence that the PPPC is an ‘installed’ Government; his defence of the PNCR’s position that 2020 electoral irregularities benefited the PPPC; his failure to rebuke PNCR leaders for attacking Caricom leaders; and his agitation against Mr. Vishnu Persaud, CEO of GECOM, and Justice Claudette Singh, GECOM Chair, who were both legally and constitutionally appointed, are not a good foundation upon which to build trust and win the support of other ethnic groups, as well as the international community.

There was a video that showed how another PNCR member was accusing Mr. Norton of racism directed against two female Indo-Guyanese card-bearing members of the PNCR. That member stated categorically that Mr. Norton could not bridge the ethnic divide, nor would he be able to win enough crossover votes.

Who among the PNCR membership has the capability of winning crossover voters? Would it be Mr. Norton, Mr. Harmon, Mr. Williams, Mr. Ford, Ms. Lawrence, Mr. Holder, or Mr. Jones? Apart from struggling to achieve this goal, the peculiar “power anomaly” that exists within the PNCR party structure further complicates the issue. For example, there is one Representative for the APNU+AFC list; there is a different person as party leader, and a different person as Leader of the Opposition. In the 2015-2020 Parliament, when the PPPC was in the Opposition, only one person held all three positions.

The struggle ahead is formidable. The new PNCR Leader, Mr. Aubrey Norton, must decide on the formulation and deployment of a political strategy (to include image building, democracy promotion, and rejection of violence as a political tool: the most recent manifestation was on Wednesday December 29, 2021, in Parliament) to capture state power. Guyanese are watching carefully how Mr Norton proceeds.

Sincerely,
Dr Tara Singh