General Secretary of the People’s National Congress Reform (PNCR), Amna Ally does not believe that youths are being excluded from being elected to top positions in her party, but current and former senior leaders think that the PNCR has become an organisation that is top-heavy with old persons.
Ally made known her position ahead of the PNCR’s Biennial Delegates Congress at which top party officials including the Leader, Chairman, Vice Chairmen and other executive members would be elected on August 19, 2018.
“We welcome new faces, we welcome younger faces. Anybody! We don’t have barriers to whether we want old and experienced people or young and new. Once you are a member of the party you are qualified,” she said.
Asked why she thought the older faces were being returned to office, she said that probably “experience” motivates voters. “For example, in the regions if they are accustomed to ten faces, they might only nominate ten people”, the veteran PNCR member added. Asked if the party executive was encouraging the party to retool the top brass, she said “we can’t retool the top-brass; the membership has to do so. They weigh the pros and cons. They look at what they have, what they want, what they think is right,” she added.
Vying for the chairmanship are 64- year old Joseph Harmon, 55- Volda Lawrence and 64-year old Basil Williams. Party Leader, David Granger is 73 years old.
That is unlike Forbes Burnham who founded the PNC when he was 34 years old and Hamilton Green who became that party’s General Secretary when he was 28 years old and many others who became parliamentarians under the age of 30. Burnham died in office at 62 and Green bowed out of active politics in 2016 at 82 years old.
Among those in the running for Vice Chairman are incumbent, 61-year old George Norton, and the much younger trio of 38-year old Christopher Jones, 40-year old Annette Ferguson, 39-year old James Bond and 37-year old Thandi Mc Allister.
A PNCR stalwart said the age range of the party’s top-bracket does not augur well for the future involvement, growth and development of that more than 50- year old political organisation. ‘The PNC is not a pensioners’ club,” the party official said.
While the PNCR’s youth arm, Youth and Students Movement (YSM), is “a skeleton of its past” when it was known as the Young Socialist Movement, party stalwarts expressed concern that those who old senior party positions could not also function effectively as ministers. “All of these people are at an age where they cannot multitask effectively,” the official said on condition of anonymity. Additionally, another party source said the now weakened YSM could no longer make demands as they had done in that organisation’s heyday.
Urging a search for a “new breed” of political leaders, the PNCR member expressed serious concern at the posture being taken by certain party officeholders who neglect to hold regular political meetings with their members.
“They are trying to promote themselves and not working on the ground,” the retired politician said at a time when Harmon, Williams and Lawrence have been holding a series of meetings countrywide and in the Diaspora ahead of their party’s Biennial Congress.
Harmon and Lawrence have been making overtures to youths in their outreaches, while Williams has stated there was no need to change the team that has taken the PNCR and the coalition into victory at the May 2015 general elections.
A long-serving youth activist in the PNC has told Demerara Waves on condition of anonymity that he is extremely disappointed that his party had placed a lot of emphasis on youths in the 2015 general elections campaign, and the 2016 Local Government Elections but after those polls they were largely sidelined from parliament, government jobs and benefits such as creating the enabling environment for jobs. “This Congress, for me, represents a third opportunity that it doesn’t just speak about youth involvement at the highest level but that they will demonstrate such,” the official said.
However, a YSM member painted a much rosier picture of the state of youth involvement in key decision-making after the national polls three years ago. While the official said one-third of the PNCR’s current executive are youths, he conceded that those at the helm of the party have been there for 20 to 30 years. “It’s a cycle. That is of course, something that we have presently and it is something that in time it’s going to change; you are going to see a reflection of new and younger blood taking up those leadership positions,” the official said.
At the same time, the YSM member praised the older members in the PNCR’s leadership which he argued was a reflection of the party’s democracy.
“As it is right now, the older faces are doing a very good job and young people have every confidence in their abilities and we are supporting and, of course, the democracy of the PNC provides for young people to vie for positions of leadership if they see that they are so inclined and, of course, the young people are integrally involved in the decision-making processes of the party,” he said.
The PNCR was formed in 1957 as a break-away from the People’s Progressive Party as a result of rift between the Burnham-led group and the Cheddi Jagan led faction. Jagan died in office at age 79.