INTERVIEW WITH THE FORMER ATTORNEY GENERAL AND CURRENT MEMBER OF PARLIAMENT DURING HIS RECENT VISIT TO NEW YORK
By Mohamed Alim Hassim
RICHMOND HILL, NY – Who will be the People’s Progressive Party’s next presidential candidate? That’s the question on the minds of many Guyanese following the politics in Guyana.
A number of names are being floated. The candidate is likely to be named before the end of the year. Former Attorney General and current Member of Parliament, Anil Nandlall, is among the mix. During his recent visit to New York, he was well-received by the Guyanese community here.
In an interview with THE WEST INDIAN, Nandlall was asked whether he was eyeing the highest office in land and what he thinks are his chances. “It hardly matters what I think. What is important is that the PPP supporters would like me to run for office and that is expressed wherever I go,” Nandlall responded. “It is expressed in the media, it is expressed all over. So in politics, one is there to please the wishes of the people,” he added.
Nandlall explained that the system is designed in such a way that the party’s leadership, comprising of the Central Committee, has to make the decision as to who would be the presidential candidate.
“There are many contenders who have indicated their interest. They’re all competent people. Our party is fortunate to have many persons qualified and competent to vie for the position, but it depends on who the 35 persons choose,” Nandlall said. He is hopeful that the choice will reflect the sentiments of the electorate. “At the end of the day we are going to an election, a process by which the public determines whether that person will succeed or not. So that is an important principle that one hopes would be paramount in the minds of those who are vested with the responsibility to make the choice,” he noted.
Asked whether his visit to New York was to canvass support for his candidacy, Nandlall asserted, “No, not at all. No one is permitted at this point in time to campaign because you have not received the nomination. What I have been doing in New York is what I always do. It’s what I have been doing in Guyana since I entered parliament. If I am in New York, wherever there is a Guyanese group I go and I associate myself. I meet people and people invite me.”
He added, “In Guyana the work that I do in the fields, I have been doing it for the longest while. Its all set out on my facebook page if one wishes to go and examine the history of my political and social output. What I am doing in the court system I have been doing for a long time – representing the party’s interest and championing constitutionality, trying to stamp out illegality whenever it raises its ugly head, and representing the causes of our people.”
Nandlall explained, “There are cases that I charge for, because I am a lawyer by profession and I own a law firm, so we are a profit-oriented organization, but I try also to do a lot of pro bono work. I hardly turn away a person who has a good case because of a paucity or lack of finance. But at the end of the day, these things I have been doing for a long time.”
During the more-than-two-hour long interview, Nandlall touched on many issues that are crucial to the people of Guyana, as the country heads into the next general election:
YOUTH AND THE PPP/C
Asked about opportunities for young people in the PPP to pursue high offices, Nandlall said: “Instrumentally the PPP has always promoted young people. (Former President and current Opposition Leader) Bharrat Jagdeo is a product of the PPP. He was given a chance at a very very young age to be a minister of Finance and then given the unprecedented opportunity of being the youngest head of state of the world. Many young people have enjoyed that kind of exposure. Dr Ashni Singh became a minister at a very young age; Irfaan Ali, Priya Manickchand, Frank Anthony, Beri Ramsarran, and yours truly. Possibly at the time I was the youngest attorney general in the world. So we have a policy in the party that promote youth and recognizes that young people are our precious assets and young people should be nurtured and entrusted with positions where they can mature, grow and make a constructive contribution.”
At the same time, Nandlall pointed out, the PPP has managed to maintain “the delicate balance of not discarding people who have made significant contributions politically to the party and nationally to the country.”
He said, “We value their continued contribution and we will continue to partner with persons of that age group because we believe that their experience, their institutional knowledge and the sagacity which comes with age can inform the younger ones and I believe that together we make a unique combination that has made us made us win every election. We continue to maintain that we did not lose the 2015 elections.”
WHAT WILL ANIL NANDLALL BRING TO THE OFFICE IF ELECTED?
“It’s not so much what I will do, but it is what the party’s agenda is, because I am not going to be there by myself. I am merely part of the package called the PPP/Civic,” he stated.
“First of all we believe in alliance politics and we are going forward with that, whether we call the component ‘civic’ or we use another rubric to describe it, it’s not going to be winner-takes-all politics. We will assemble a team that will include PPP persons but also will accommodate, as broadly as possible, persons from every ethnic group across the Guyanese spectrum, from different professional backgrounds, different orientations, different ideological indoctrinations, so that we will assemble what we hope will be the best possible team to take Guyana forward.”
He argued that institutionally, the PPP has always formulated policies that target the poor and underprivileged. “Our policies always target the poor the working people, the underprivileged, the pensioner, the disabled, the vulnerables in our society,” he said, adding, “Our educational policies will be fashioned or rather skewed in that direction with an emphasis in that area. Our housing policy and a wide array of social amelioration programs are all designed to arrest poverty or at least to help persons who are in that vicious cycle of poverty and deprivation.”
The party, Nandlall said, believes that “the foundation of any country is law, order and the constitution … the freedoms of individuals.” He noted, “That is a massive cornerstone of our ideology and that must always be recognized. We believe in Government in accordance with the law. That’s what modern democracy is all about… government in accordance with the constitution, government that is designed not to restrict people’s rights but to advance their freedoms and make the society as liberal as possible, while maintaining some degree of regulation which is necessary for peaceful co-existence. That’s the general constitutional philosophy.”
Nandlall said economically, policies are going to be influenced by the party’s priorities “which are poverty reduction and bringing our country together.”
He explained, “Our economic policies are going to be designed to ensure that there is strong macro fundamentals. Once we have that, we will ensure that the dollar is being kept stable, that interest rates are being kept stable, and maintaining a healthy foreign currency reserve. Then we begin another stage which is encouraging the productive sector.”
He argued, “What we have taking place now (under the APNU-AFC coalition Government) is the stifling of the productive sector. We need to encourage investments in the country. Guyana cannot move forward without investment but we have to ensure that there is a level playing field.
“Take for example, our oil; the most skewed and lopsided contract ever negotiated perhaps in the modern world is the one negotiated by the Government of Guyana and the oil company operating there. The Government has a history of doing that. If you look at the telephone company, they did the same thing. If you look at the Demerara Timbers they did the same thing. Omai, they did the same thing, and you could go on.
“We do not believe in that philosophy. We also believe that the private sector and private capital must be the engine of growth. They must drive the economy with the government being a regulator and to ensure there is no unfair competition and to ensure that the national patrimony and the people’s and public’s interests are protected.”
Significant to the achievement of development in Guyana, according to Nandlall, is ensuring that the country has a policy that guarantees a cheap and renewable energy.
“I believe the reason why Guyana has been unable to unleash its vast potential is because of its failure to find a cheaper source of energy. Fuel is a source of energy currently used in Guyana. The cost of fuel, the cost of electricity in Guyana is five times that paid in New York. I pay five times more light bill than you do in New York and you work by the hour for US dollars. That is 200 percent higher … So look at the disparity; you can’t have any competition. So Guyana’s resources cannot be tapped into because we are confined only to primary production, only to the cottage industry. We can only plant.”
Nandlall pointed out that Guyana’s real potential lies in agriculture. “We can feed the Caribbean; we can feed most of South America; we can feed the diaspora with a product that they can get nowhere. And what that product is? Fresh organic food — vegetables and fruit, and meats. But we can only do that if we are able to do processing and packaging to meet international standards.”
He referred to the recent suspension of catfish importation from Guyana by the United States government, blaming it on the “state of industry in Guyana, the level of marketing and packaging and the inability to compile historical data.”
Nandlall stressed that “agriculture will continue to be our base.”
He noted, “We have so much potential. Take Black Bush Polder, for example; if we are to cultivate just the lands there, that one agricultural scheme can possibly feed the Caribbean. If you go to Black Bush now and see the farmers dump vegetables — fresh vegetables. Why? Because to sell it at the price they are being offered is a loss, and it’s better they dump it or feed animals with it. I’ve seen that, and it is the most hurtful thing. You see these people in the sun from morning till night with their children and all their labor is poured into a canal just like that. That should never happen.”
He pointed out, “If we had industries, that were producing tomato ketchup, not from concentrate, but from organic tomatoes, picked fresh from the trees, there would be nobody in the world who will be able to compete with us, certainly not in these areas.”
SUGAR – PART OF LIFE IN GUYANA
Turning to sugar production in Guyana, Nandlall argued, “Sugar is not an industry; sugar is part of Guyana’s life.”
He noted, “When you shut down a sugar factory you are not shutting down an economic unit of production; what you are shutting down are communities that span miles, you are destroying the lives thousands of people and the social fabric of dozens of communities that are so intertwined, so inter-related and so inter-dependent into a small society that you are in effect destroying the entire fabric of Guyana. That’s what they (the Government) have done to the sugar industry.”
The PPP/C, he said, will resuscitate, revitalize and get the sugar industry going all over again.
“We already have a turn-around plan for the sugar industry. We had that as part of our manifesto and we shared it with this government. It involves modernization of the factories. That’s one component. It involves co-generation using the bagasse etc to co- generate electricity to supply the national grid for which you’re supposed to get payment,” the former Attorney General said.
Diversification, he said, will also include projects such as the establishment of distilleries.
“There is a document out. It received the blessing of the parliament (when the PPP was in Government). It was shared with the then opposition (APNU-AFC) and when they went into Government they looked at it, but, they were bent on closing the industry. What they don’t understand and what we asked them to do is do a feasibility study; don’t close the industry vacuously; close the industry and make your decisions predicated upon some empirical findings based upon some assessment that you have done.
“Why we invited them to do so? It’s because we are convinced that if they do such a study it will indicate to them that the cost of closure is far greater than the cost of keeping the industry alive. The president has said himself that they have invested … they call various figures … Lets use the figures that he used, thirty-something billion. In two years they have put thirty-something billion in the industry. Where did that money go? What did they do with the that thirty-something billion? We used to put $4 billion per year and kept it alive for 10 years. They put thirty-something billion in two years and shut it down… We used to pay everybody. We used to pay increases, we used to pay back pay, we used to pay incentive scheme. They did none of that, shut it down and knock off everybody and then borrowed $30 billion dollars more and up to now can’t tell us what are they going to do with that money.”
Nandlall further argued, “What they don’t understand is that the sugar industry apart from the industry itself, has a spin-off effect. The sugar industry is the live blood for a whole number of villages around it – directly through employment and indirectly through number of use. For example, it is the sugar industry that manages the irrigation and canal system in back lands… By shutting down the estates they have closed down the network of canal that keeps that water off the land so at Wales, for example, the entire Canal Number 1 and 2 has been flooded out since Wales closed and that will be replicated throughout the country.”
Nandlall argued that apart from the sugar workers, the Government they has put on the lifeline, about 2000 private farmers who used to farm and supply cane to the factory. “They have damaged and destroyed all the farms of the cash crop farmers because of the canal drainage problem. They cane cutter’s pay pocket is what sustained village community, the village economy. As you know, next to every pay office is a market … so hundreds of vendors depend upon the sugar industry. The grocery shops in the villages etc all depend on the industry. In these villages when the estate is not grinding, the whole place is dead.
“So in a nutshell the cost of keeping the industry going is far less than the destruction that is taking place now.”
‘Our Oil Sector Has the Potential to Transform Our Country’
The People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C), once elected to office again, will put in place the necessary framework to ensure that the emerging oil and gas sector is properly managed and effectively benefited from.
This is according to former Attorney General and current Member of Parliament, Anil Nandlall. Nandlall, in a wide-ranging interview with The West Indian during his recent visit to New York, pointed out that certainly the oil discovery in Guyana has brought a lot of international attention to the country and if managed properly, the sector has the potential to transform the economy.
However, Nandlall argued, “If we were to judge by the first contract negotiated with ExxonMobil, it is clear that it will not yield what it should yield for Guyanese and Guyana as a country.”
He noted, “We have to have a different approach. We have to have a body of qualified professionals advising on this. These oil companies are some of the richest entities on planet earth. They have the best experts and the best lawyers and its hard for a country like ours to compete with them, but at least we have to have a group of men and women who are competent to represent the state’s interest. We must include civil society, all the stakeholders, the people of Guyana, in projects that are of this magnitude. This resource belongs to the people of Guyana, all of us.”
Nandlall charged, “The Government negotiated and signed a contract on the people’s behalf and refuses to disclose it to the people. When, two years after, the people discovered that you (the Government) have signed the worst contract ever, they realized that their interest was sold out. That, by itself, should be the basis for the removal of this government.”
He said a PPP/C Government will ensure the country gets the most out of the industry as possible, “and if refining of the oil can bring that to us with no undue exposure to environmental harm then why not?”
Nandlall stressed, “We have to ensure that we explore every potential that the industry has. We do not even have a modern law governing the oil industry. There is no framework that governs how the industry must operate.”
Nandlall is hoping that oil proceeds will be used to be build the foundation of the country’s economy and help to develop other sectors such as agriculture.
“The agricultural potential is non-exhaustive. But our oil is exhaustive. After 40 to 50 years it’s finished,” he contended, noting that the administration has to ensure proper management so that the proceeds can be used “to build a better country for our children.”
Nandlall slams the Government for what he believes are policies that, instead of encouraging development of the private sector, is driving fear in the economy and scaring investors away.
“This government is guided by a philosophy that seems to display an allergy to development. They don’t believe in wealth creation, obviously. And so they are not doing that which is necessary to create a climate that will induce and conduce productivity and economic activities. They do the reverse,” Nandlall claimed. “They have a series of polices that drive fear in the economy. They have SOCU (Special Organised Crime Unit) and SARA (State Asset Recovery Agency), that are there like guard dogs against people who show success… people who build a big house. Clive Thomas, head of SARA, said that they are investigating people who have high buildings. It is the most backward mentality.”
Nandlall went on to point out that “there is a threat.” He said, “People are being audited because they speak out. Or SOCU is sent to their business premises. Who will want to invest in a climate like that?”
According to the former Legal Affairs Minister, the Government has dismantled all the concessions that the PPP/C had given out to encourage development and investments, while in office.
“We had a regime of concessions, attractive to certain industries in certain geographic regions that were depressed. Linden, for example; if you invested in Linden you got everything duty-free. They have dismantled all of that,” he stated.
In addition, he said, “They have passed a series of laws that make the banking sector extremely brittle and susceptible to collapse. For the most minor offences the central bank can take over a commercial bank. No banker can ever be happy with that. Depositors cannot be happy with that because they are not guaranteed that they are getting back their funds, or when.”
He added, “When you do all these things you bring uncertainty in the economy and people are not prepared to invest. So based on the statistics, you see economic contraction taking place rapidly.”
In addition, Nandall noted, the Government has imposed a series of new tax measures and fees that make it hard for businesses to thrive.
“They are passing a set of laws that are intrusive,” he stated.
Nandlall is of the view that Guyana now needs to develop South-South relations. “For too long we have looked at North-South relations. Brazil is a giant thats right next to us. We have road connectivity to Brazil. We need to exploit that,” he said, adding, “There is on record a project to build a highway bridging Brazil to Lethem and coming all the way up the Berbice River, with a deep water harbor at Berbice. That is certainly a project that is worth pursuing.”
He argued, “How did America develop? How does any society develop? It’s by way of opening it up. One highway has the potential to transform the entire society.”
He said, “Of course these things cost money. That is what we should use the oil proceeds for.”
HANDOUTS AND CASH TRANSFERS
Nandlall expressed his disapproval of any proposal to distribute handouts or direct cash transfers of oil revenues to the “poor” people of Guyana. Nandlall is on record saying that “policies of this nature develop a degree of dependency that destroys the human initiative.” He further argues, “It destroys families, it destroys communities. It creates not only a sense of dependency but it creates parasitism. It makes the human being into a parasite, dependent only on the largess that will come from the State.”
Dr Clive Thomas, an economist and WPA Member, has proposed that each “poor” household receive US$5000 (G$1 million) of the oil revenues on a yearly basis. The idea is also supported by the AFC.
Nandlall told The West Indian, “I believe in the philosophy that to give a man a fish per day, you make him dependent, but you teach him how to fish and you give him a future.”
Nandlall feels corruption has to be dealt with at all levels. He noted that it’s ironic that the Government is alleging corruption and calling for establishment of a public procurement commission, when it is itself guilty of corrupt practices.
“I have written that this is the most corrupt Government in the English speaking Caribbean since independence… They are corrupt now and when they were in office before. All the things that they were calling for, such as the public procurement commission, all of that have now become obstacles to them. They are finding ways and means of by-passing them. They have a philosophy that once you are in Government you own the country.”
LAW BOOKS AND TAPED CONVERSATION
On his current legal matter, Nandlall noted, “They have charged me for larceny of books, which are really mine. I have maintained from the beginning that I was paying subscription for those books and they were all on my shelf, dating back to 1999.” He said when he was offered the position as Attorney General he told the President at the time that his law office was paying subscription for the books, but now that he is part of the Government and will be using the books for the Government purposes, he asked whether the Government will pay the subscription, and “the President said of course.”
He continued, “But Basil Williams (the current Attorney General) decided to charge me, and you would note, he charged me a year and a half after he knew about them. I told him about the books when I met him to hand over. He even gave me one of the books that I had left on the desk and I explained to him the arrangement I had with the Government and he said that was a good arrangement. He said he was not subscribing to anything and wished he was.”
Nandlall added, “But, the case is on going and we have made a no-case submission and hopefully the magistrate will throw out the case.”
Nandlall does not see that as affecting him, should he be the Presidential nominee. Neither does he see the issue of a taped private conversation with a Kaieteur News reporter as an obstacle.
“I suppose that will be resurrected and persons will try to blow that out of proportion, but I have moved on beyond that. Guyana has moved on,” he said.
“First of all, they had no right to invade my privacy. I didn’t know that i was being taped. I was talking to someone who I trusted. I was loose-talking, I was joking and I was goofing around and if that is what I say in my my most loose moments, I am prepared to withstand scrutiny for it. And I have done that,” he maintained.
He continued, “For many people, truthfully, if their private conversations are revealed, they wont be able to come out of their house the next day. I have moved on. However, the entire episode is regrettable but I don’t think it contains anything that is so serious and if that becomes a campaign issue of any political party, then surely we will win and I will be a successful candidate.”
In the recorded October 2014 conversation, then Attorney General Nandlall was speaking to a Kaieteur News journalist and friend, Leonard Gildarie, joking around about different things and, apparently hinting at a possible ‘hit’ on the Kaieteur News newspaper. The taped conversation, once revealed, went viral.
A criminal investigation was launched into the conversation and there were calls and protests for Nandlall to be fired as Attorney General.
In an interview with iNews Guyana subsequently, Nandlall had dubbed the remarks as an “unfortunate” event noting that he has apologized profusely for the situation.
“We all make unfortunate remarks, we all have conversations that we all hope will never see the light of day…We have our private conversations, I never thought this thing would be taped. I never thought it would be released as a news item and going to be all over the world,” he was quoted as saying by iNews.
AFC NO LONGER A POLITICAL FORCE
The AFC “died” effectively the moment they joined the coalition, Nandlall believes. “(Khemraj) Ramjattan, prior to the coalition, did say the day AFC joins with the PNC or joins the APNU it will become dead meat. Well Ramjattan’s prediction did come true. The AFC has been continuously ridiculed and reduced to next to nothing in the coaliton. From the beginning, (Moses) Nagamotoo was denied the chance of chairing Cabinet. Ramjattan’s portfolio was cut and they were never really given any real responsibility. Nagamotoo has never been given anything of worth. But as a political force I think they are finished, and they know that. Hopefully the PPP is able to get back the traditional support they have lost to the AFC and the APNU.”
FEARS OF RIGGING
“It is the PNC that is in power, really. There is no coalition. The word coalition is being loosely used. So there is no coalition. It is the PNC, and the PNC has a notorious record, nationally and internationally, for rigging elections. So once the PNC is involved in an electoral process the fear that there is going to be rigging while they are in government is a natural one and it is not an unfounded one. It is one based upon history and truth,” Nandlall said.
However, he argued, “The world has changed, and in fact they lost power in 1992, because the world changed, as cold war influences were removed. The world has become a far more fair and democratic place since. Technology has advanced tremendously. One photograph from a cell phone camera will go viral in a matter of seconds internationally. So there cannot be the open type of rigging anymore. That doesn’t mean that they will not try other methods of rigging.”
Nevertheless Nandlall said every effort will be made to ensure elections are free and fair and no one should be deterred or discouraged from voting.
Nandlall noted that the PPP/C has learnt from mistakes made and “we have publicly acknowledged them.”
But, he noted, “A lot has changed and people are demanding that we go back in office. I walk the length and breadth of Guyana, I travel widely to where Guyanese are. Here in New York here I have met thousands of people of all walks of life and ethnic backgrounds and they have signalled that they want the PPP to return to office.”
Commenting on the subject of national unity, Nandlall referred to the late leader Dr Cheddi Jagan, who, in the early 50s said “a racist is an enemy of himself and his country. So we have to unite our people.”
According to Nandlall, national unity is be an important pillar and foundation of his party and will be the focus of a PPP government. “We recognize that divisiveness, ethnic discrimination and racism have destroyed our country,” Nandlall said, contending that the current administration has caused a tremendous amount of discord among the ethnic groups in Guyana, “even though they have a ministry labeled social cohesion.”
He said, “If you look at any one of the programs you will see discrimination. And their discrimination is so blatant. All their appointments being made are of one grouping of people and of one age group.”
He said the PPP believes the country’s policies must be designed to give opportunities to its young people. “The young people must be the center of our development… Young people must play an prominent role and must be given all the opportunities available,” he stated.
(PHOTOS COURTESY OF ANIL NANDLALL’S FACEBOOK PAGE)