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Vivian M. Williams, Esq. LL.M

It is no longer in-fighting. The rift in Guyana’s main opposition People’s National Congress is now deep and certainly bitter. Internal party struggle is not a new feature of the PNC, it has been around from since the days of the party’s founder leader L.F.S. Burnham. As powerful and charismatic as Burnham was, tension in the party’s hierarchy was well known.

After Burnham’s death in 1985 tension was expected to explode into a hotly contested battle between Hamilton Green and Desmond Hoyte for the leadership of the party. Green was a powerful leader within the party who exerted a great deal of influence and following among card-bearing members.

PNC elders were able to contain the Hoyte/Green tension from spilling into the public domain. Green, in fact yielded to Hoyte’s leadership so that there was an appearance of unity in the party, at least for a period of time. It was not until 1992 when the PNC was defeated at the polls after 28 years in power, that the tension between Green and Hoyte exploded.

Green was eventually expelled from the party though he was enormously popular and influential. After being expelled he engaged in a public campaign to disgrace Hoyte. It turned out that his support evaporated and with it, his political influence and career.

Now the party is confronted with another serious challenge to its leadership after a disciplinary committee decided to sanction James McAllister and recall him from the Legislature. McAllister was part of a team that supported Vincent Alexander in his bid to be elected party leader. The PNC alleges that McAllister engaged in inappropriate conduct while campaigning for Vincent Alexander.

As a result of the sanctions imposed on McAllister, Alexander withdrew his membership from the party along with other members of the team that supported him. Their action though would have NO effect on the PNC and surely would NOT result in the resignation of party leader Robert Corbin. If continued, it would outrage party supporters and Team Alexander will soon find itself in the same position Green found himself in after persisting with a campaign to smear and undermine Hoyte.

Whether McAllister was justifiably sanctioned is NOT a matter I am in a position to give an opinion. There were allegations against McAllister, a committee was set up to investigate the allegations and recommend appropriate action. Surely an issue is whether McAllister was given proper notice of the allegations against him so that he could have defended himself against the charges.

If McAllister was given proper notice of the charges and proceedings that resulted in sanction and he deliberately ignored the proceedings, then it is difficult for this writer to support a subsequent challenge of the merit of the charges because due process was waived and the means by which a challenge would have been brought was deliberately forfeited.

However, if the whole proceedings was a sham, and the likelihood of a fair hearing was absent, then the entire process was flawed and might have been just a pretext to give legitimacy to pre-determined sanctions. This surely would be undemocratic and inconsistent with the PNC’S criticism of the Jagdeo administration for undemocratic actions.

If there is evidence to prove that the PNC engaged in undemocratic conduct then McAllister is duty bound to expose it to the public. In the end the principles of democracy tower above any institution, regardless of how fondly one attaches himself or herself to it.

This writer would NOT condemn any action by Team Alexander whether in the public domain or within party structure that firmly seeks to uphold democratic principles and hold a political actor accountable, particularly if it preaches one thing and does another.

In the McAllister case though, there are many questions that require answers. First, if McAllister is to be viewed as a champion for democracy, due process and fairness, why didn’t he demonstrate a greater commitment to fighting the substance of the allegations against him rather than sit back and ignore the disciplinary process and then cry foul after? Champions of democracy and free speech must put to the test any falsehood that is peddled against them so that truth emerges from that clash. This writer therefore, wonders why McAllister did NOT take up the opportunity given to him to defeat the charges against him and expose any evil scheme to witch-hunt.

Also if McAllister is to be viewed as a champion for democracy, due process and fairness, then it must be conceded that the allegations leveled against him by the party strike at the core of what he stands for and are therefore serious. If McAllister is to be viewed as a champion for good governance who holds the leader of the PNC accountable for his actions and inactions without fear, then McAllister must also expect that he would be held accountable for his own actions and inactions.

Just as how supporters of the PNC should NOT stand behind and support party leader Robert Corbin blindly because of their strong allegiance to the party, any indiscretion by McAllister should not be supported and tolerated simply because it would be the convenient thing to do. The party and its membership have a right to sanction indiscipline provided due process is followed and the disciplinary committee is one that would grant a fair hearing.

If the party turns a blind eye to indiscipline then monsters would be created within the party and it would be just a matter of time before the party is destroyed by the monsters it creates. This writer is of the view that it is strong leadership and a strong leader who holds his followers to established rules of discipline and imposes sanctions when those rules are violated, irrespective of who the infringer is.

The issue therefore, is not whether the PNC should turn a blind eye to indiscipline among its long-standing stalwarts, but rather whether there were justifiable reasons to impose sanctions against James McAllister. Sanctions should NOT be wickedly used and manipulated to serve the interest of a few. If that is what happened in the McAllister case then Team Alexander must be applauded for the position it has taken.

However, in the interest of the party and the principles Team Alexander declares it is standing up for, McAllister should have confronted the allegations against him during the disciplinary proceedings. He should have insisted on his due process and fought for a fair hearing. If he had done so and the party had refused to grant him a fair hearing and due process, then supporters would have had a clear view of where the wrong lies and what remedial course of action they should take.

Team Alexander should have been loudly calling for due process and a fair hearing since this was the only way by which the party’s democratic or anti-democratic tendencies could have been put to the test. When the procedures that are the foundation of democracy are ignored it is hard to make the argument after a result is arrived at, that the arbitrator exhibited anti-democratic tendencies.

Because I do not support the argument that anyone, including Alexander and McAllister, are above discipline, I would not condemn disciplinary action against McAllister merely because he is a long-standing stalwart of the PNC who has made a valuable contribution. My condemnation would be based on the violation of due process and a fair hearing, but it has to be shown that such a violation occurred and is not just a case where an accused ignored the disciplinary proceedings and condemns the outcome subsequently.

Leaders should NOT be cowards who give a slap on the wrist, instead of disciplining followers, simply to avoid conflict and controversy. Leaders must be strong enough to discipline those who cross the line, while followers should be courageous enough to challenge abusive and repressive leaders who use disciplinary proceedings to intimidate others.

This writer therefore, hesitates to condemn the decision of the PNC in sanctioning James McAllister just as I hesitate to agree or disagree with Team Alexander’s harsh criticism of the party. Team Alexander must lay out the facts establishing that McAllister was denied due process and a fair hearing. It is in the interest of the PNC for that party to lay out the facts showing that it offered McAllister due process and a fair hearing and he abandoned and ignored the procedure.

When we get those facts reasonable and independent minds would be in a better position to conclude who exhibited anti-democratic tendencies.

The views expressed above are those of the author/s and do not in any way reflect those of the publisher or members of the Boston # 1 PNC group.

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