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Establishment of the Forbes Burnham Research Institute
by Jeffrey Thomas
Posted on 2018-01-18

29th Death Anniversary of L.F.S Burnham OE. SC.
National Congress of Women
Wednesday, August 6, 2014

”The essential element now is the human one. Only a total mobilization based on intellectual understanding and moral commitment can ensure success and victory….”

Mr. Chairman, Leader of the PNCR and Opposition, Comrades, these are the words of the founder Leader of the PNC. In that short sentence taken from Brighter Horizons, Address to the 3rd Session of the 1st Supreme Congress of the People, December 14th, 1984 at the National Cultural Centre, you will find two of the hallmarks of Forbes Burnham. The pivotal role of enquiry and intellectual understanding in inspiring policy and driving action and, the critical role of moral commitment in vanquishing apparently insurmountable hurdles and the improvement in human well being.

I believe it is to the good fortune of the Party that the observance of the 29th Death Anniversary of the Founder Leader should come almost immediately after the 18th Biennial Congress of the Party. I say this because it gives us the opportunity to examine the significance of both events and indeed to pronounce on the relationship between these two vital developments. For we are here this afternoon not only to evaluate the contribution of the Founder Leader, but also to discuss and dilate on the significant contribution that he has made to the politics and development of Guyana. During the course of this presentation I propose to share some ideas for the protection and preservation of the legacy of our outstanding Founder Leader.

The significance of the just concluded 18th Biennial Congress cannot be in any doubt. It occurred at a time of unprecedented national crisis, and, to take a leaf out of the book of a Chinese philosopher, offers a moment of opportunity. In the last two decades most Guyanese have been the victims of extensive Government inefficiency and maladministration; constant threats to our territorial integrity, unprecedented levels of unemployment, especially among our young people; the virtual abandonment of the old and the disabled by the State; an assault on our women pride; levels of crime never before experienced in our history; and generally a sense that this nation is adrift and needs to be rescued from the corrupt and incompetent hands of the PPP Regime. Indeed it was Eusi Kwayana who warned us about this Regime when he wrote "Every sane Guyanese wants the PPP defeated. It has taken up its arms against people it is supposed to protect from harm....... It is a low gutter-snipe party using money,bribery,racism,slander,libel,provocation,nepotism,terror,torture,murder,blackmail...everything to keep in power, for the good of a narrow clique of money grabbers."Ascria Bulletin: November 24, 1961. Never has the need for enquiry and improvement in material well being of our people been more urgent.

The Founder Leader, Mr. LFS Burnham, and the People's National Congress have never, in my experience, flinched from tackling the hard issues which have confronted it over the years. It would, therefore, be instructive to know exactly how the PNC has done so in the past. Such an inquiry can provide lessons as to how the current dilemma facing the nation might best be approached and resolved. The PNC has been a Party of ideas. It was the PNC that spawned ideas which not only galvanized the nation but also kindled the imagination of the Caribbean people. Those ideas have not only had an impact on the Party and its evolution but also on the economic and social development of the country. ******

The modernization of the Party can be said to have been set in train by the decision of the Congress held at Queen's College in 1973. Recall that the decision was to make the Party into an organization which could serve as an agent for development and not a mere election machine. Furthermore, during the 70's a plethora of ideas were generated regarding the nation's economic development and the need to create a new Guyana man. The FCH, Land to the Tiller, control of the commanding heights of the economy, the creation of a tripartite economy, and empowering the Small Man. It is not my purpose today to give you an exhaustive list of the ideas produced by this Party over time. I merely wish to observe that not only has it done so but that the ideas so produced have retained their vigor and relevance. The fact that today the PPP regime, in addressing the troubling size of the food import bill, the failure to diversify agricultural production to meet our needs and the utility of import displacement, could be talking about the imperative of growing more food are testimony to the enduring validity of the PNC’s ideas and approaches to these challenges. The resurrection of elements of the FCH programme under all sorts of names by the PPP cannot mask their author or prevent us from recognizing the underlying ideas.

The distinctive use of language, the abundance of ideas and the innovative approaches to issues such as foreign policy, social questions, the environment and the economy, are the realms traversed by the founder leader of the People's National Congress, Mr. LFS Burnham. It is reasonable to say that not only was he a man imbued with vision but that he was also a man in pursuit of excellence in the implementation of the policies to support that vision.

It is imperative today that the PNCR must take active measures to defend the Party from constant attacks and preserve the legacy of the Founder Leader. I do not say that the Party is under attack lightly. Just look at what is going on the Press at the present time. It seems that any journalist or soi-disant letter writer can say without fear of reprisal that the PNCR is a Party of "thugs and riggers." I am forced to remark that as a long-standing member of the Party I found these allegations offensive and the lack of a response even more alarming. Mind you I do not criticise my colleagues and friends in the Party but simply wish to state that when a political party is under constant attack and it does not take measures to defend itself it is likely to find itself with a tarnish reputation and belittlement in the eyes of its supporters and constituents. Here the issue becomes highly political and goes to the question of the raison d'etre and its very existence as a political force. I do not know about you but I am not a member of a party of "thugs and riggers." I am a proud member of a Party that has made unprecedented and monumental contributions to the development of this country.

Incidentally, I should place on record that Daurius Figueira in his book, “The East Indian Problem of Trinidad and Tobago 1953-1961 Cheddi Jagan of Guyana 1950-1964”, has chronicled the number of references made by the security agencies of the UK to the terrorist activities of the PYO and the PPP. "The campaign of intimidation and terrorism attending the GAWU strike, and the recovery of a small armory of automatic weapons, underlined the PPP's growing capacity for violence, and it was discovered that the party had at its disposal a cadre terrorist organization with some training and experience, with arms and the ability to produce sabotage and terrorist equipment, and with ambitions of insurgency"...pg242 of Figueira's book. Yet we do not hear neither have I read that anyone has called the PPP a terrorist organisation. And for some strange reason I do not hear anything about the cloud that still hangs over the 1997 General Elections which the Commonwealth Observer group said that its many discrepancies "diminished the credibility of the results."

But I do believe that the response to the challenge to defend the Party and to preserve the legacy of its Founder Leader must be done at the level of ordinary politics and also by institutional means. I want to focus on the latter issue this afternoon.

I believe that we should do more than just make note of the founder leader’s ideas and the efforts made by the Party to implement them. It is appropriate for the Party to seek to establish an institution which can build on the vision of Burnham, recognize his approach to Guyana's development, explore the options which are necessary to solve the problems and ensure that there is a scholarly scrutiny of his legacy. It can also highlight the challenges that face this nation and which are likely to emerge with greater force in the years ahead.

In so doing it can provide the Party with a plan to nurture the skills, intellectual capacity and spirit of enquiry that could help the Party and the nation resolve these problems in the same spirit that guided the Founder Leader and which made him so famous. In keeping with that belief, I commend the Leader of the People's National Congress Reform and the CEC for the initiative to establish the Forbes Burnham Research Institute. This Institute will not only focus on areas of research relevant and essential to the development of the Party. In pursuit of that objective, it will collaborate with other appropriate institutions in Guyana, the rest of the region and indeed around the world.

The Leader has assured me that shortly and definitely before the 30th death anniversary of the Founder Leader, which is next year, the Party will let you know exactly where the institute will be established, who will be the Directors and how it will be financed. But above all, the Institute's mandate will facilitate research and education about the Party, it's role in the development of Guyana and the primary role played by the Founder Leader of the Party in the development of Guyana.

Even so, I wish to make some suggestions as to what the Institute in its initial phase can do. Above all the Institute should seek to return the Party to the position as one of the leading intellectual vehicles of the nation; a vehicle determined in a practical sense to find solutions to societal problems. I see the Institute focusing not only on the identification of important national issues but on developing plans and proposals for their mitigation or resolution. More than this, in its approach to its work, the Institute will be inter-disciplinary in nature and will be seeking to utilise ideas and methods in other intellectual areas of endeavor which can both benefit the Party and the society at large.

One major objective of the institute should be the education and the enlargement of the intellectual horizons to develop our youths. The curriculum and work of the Institute must ensure that it has the facilities to develop the leadership skills of our young people and that they are equip to boldly represent the Party and the philosophy and the politics it embraces in a robust manner. It is a cliche that young people or millenials, as they are called nowadays, are the backbone and the future of any political party. Such an essential factor in the Party and the nation's development must engage the thinking and policies of the institute as an urgent priority. I have no hesitation in saying that the Founder Leader who placed so much emphasis on the youth of this nation would whole heartedly embraced such a policy decision were he alive today. It is a truism that youths who are intellectually equipped and politically aware will not only challenge orthodoxy and complacency but will blaze a part to a new kind of productive politics.

A moment ago I referred to the fact that the modernisation of the Party can be said to have begun at the Congress held at Queen's College in 1973. I would like to go beyond this and to say that there is no issue which is more important and which ought to engage the Party at this time than its modernisation. I see this as an important engagement in the immediate period ahead. Now what precisely do I mean by the modernisation of the Party? Let me tell you in a few words as possible.

If you reflect on what is going on in the world today you will realize that most political parties worth their salt are responding to the radically new environment in which politics is being played out. I have in mind the fact that the technological and communications revolution demands that political parties alter their structure and approach to modern politics. No political party can be effective nowadays if it does not know how to capitalise on the benefits of the new social media and other aspects of modern technology. I therefore believe, that the leadership of the Party ought to deliberate on such an initiative with a view to developing a strategic programme, to use modern technology to enhance our goals, to replenish our pool of ideas and to disseminate our message in a manner that can strengthen the capacity of the Party, its members and the wider Guyanese community which we serve. For example, it should be possible now to speak on a regular basis with our comrades in all ten administrative regions on Skype and make arrangements for our leaders to address selective groups in different parts of the country, using modern communication tools.

Furthermore, we should use the most effective technological means available to gather and store information which can nourish the work of the Party, especially at the parliamentary level. What I envisage is a modern Party that can adapt to the requirements of the new technological and communication age. By so doing the Party can bring our members and supporters closer to the center. In this regard we need to bring into the mainstream our young people who constitute a majority of our population and of our electorate. If they are to be the majority of our membership we must utilize the language and media that they utilize and with which they are comfortable.

At the same time permit me to underscore that the dimension of moral commitment should not be treated as a mere idea. In the Sophia Declaration Burnham tried to capture the kernel of a code which would govern leadership principles, responsibilities and behavior. Today it is not only the actors outside of the Party who need to be held to high standards of public behavior. It is necessary within the Party itself, among our leaders and our Parliamentarians. Of late I have seen PNC MPs engage in behaviour which has undermined the credibility and standards of the Party, behavior that would have been inconceivable in any Party led by Linden Forbes Samson Burnham. We need to return to acceptable codes of behavior if the statement that they are no different is not to rise to a crescendo. The institute should be charged with helping to hold the leaders to acceptable and higher standards in this and other realms. Our leaders must be like Ceaser's wife..above suspicion.

These are some of my initial ideas. More ideas must be developed and in pursuit of them, the leaders of the Party, the membership and the wider public ought to be involved in the exercise in their elaboration and in the effort to convert them into practical programmes. The challenge facing the managers of the Institute would be to establish mechanisms to maximise the contribution from these groups for the preservation and promotion of the legacy of the Founder Leader of this great Party, the People's National Congress Reform.

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