A Successful Party Congress
31st Congress of the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) was held under the theme “Strengthen the Party. Defend Democracy. Onward to Victory.”
The Congress was held from 1December 17-19 and participants travelled literally from all corners of the country to the Congress venue.
Congress -- the highest decision-making forum of the Party -- was held at the Cotton Field Secondary School, located on the Essequibo coast. This is the second time in the past decade that this school hosted the Party Congress.
The Congress venue is located in the heartland of one of the major rice-producing areas of the country. The downturn in the fortunes of rice farmers and the rice industry has been highlighted in the recent Budget Speech and Budget Debates recently concluded in Parliament.
The current plight of the industry attracted discussions in the relevant sessions of Congress.
The highlight of the 31st Congress was the Central Committee Report, which was presented by General-Secretary, Clement Rohee, the address by the Opposition Leader, Bharrat Jagdeo, and the election of members of the Central Committee (CC) and recognition of Party veterans.
Delegates came from all over. However, the large Amerindian representation was particularly noticeable and outstanding. The Amerindian members came predominantly from areas heavily populated by our indigenous peoples. Region Nine was by far the most heavily represented.
That Regional contingent of Delegates totalled some 250, while numerous old and tried stalwarts were among them, the youthful faces predominated. This is a most heartening indicator.
This is tangible evidence that not only is the Party well represented and active in hinterland communities as demonstrated by the large Amerindian contingent, but the youth and energy of the Amerindian delegates demonstrated its relevance and adaptability. Other sizable Amerindian delegations came from Regions One, Two Seven and Eight. The presence of such a large representation of Amerindians from far flung villages across the interior of the country was a significant logistical challenge.
The Congress Committee did a fine job providing for their comfort and full participation. One special invitee from the Diaspora remarked “This is an Amerindian Congress”.
The Congress Delegates and Observers organized themselves into smaller “working groups” to discuss the Central Committee’s Report presented by General Secretary, Clement James Rohee.
These groupings of Delegates and Observers are referred to as “Congress Workshops”. There were seven “Congress Workshops” namely: Party Organization, Economic Situation, Political and Parliament, Local Government, International Situation, Youth and Party and Amerindian Affairs. These “workshops” are a standard feature of every Congress.
The “workshops” are sub-groups of Congress Delegates and Observers which are formed following the presentation of the main Congress Document - the Central Committee Report. The detailed, free and open discussions occur, in the main, at these “workshops” and are followed by conclusions and recommendations which are presented to the Congress Plenary Session which follows.
The Central Committee Report itself is a product of monu- mental consultations and discussions from the grass-root level to the leadership levels over a protracted period of almost one year. The Plenary session which received the reports from the seven workshops itself turned out to be quite robust.
The Congress was attended by some 800 Delegates and 250 Observers. Several Diaspora groups attended and participated in the 31st Party Congress. The Diaspora groups are critical to the fund-raising activities of the Party.
But more importantly, to mobilizing influential international partnerships to support the Party’s political and Parliamentary agendas. These groups were vital in mobilizing international support in the pre 1992 era and their individual members possess enormous experience that will be very useful in this current period of the Party in the Opposition. Congress is the supreme authority of the Party and is convened by the Central Committee at least once every three years.
However, the Congress may be postponed by the Central Committee for not more than one year at a time by a vote of two-thirds of the members present and voting at the meeting at which the resolution to postpone is proposed. The agenda of the 31st Congress was circulated to all Party Groups and Bodies at least six weeks before Congress. This allowed for full preparation of hundreds of Party Groups across the country.
The Congress is mandated to: a. to receive the Report of the Central Committee and other Party Bodies and decide whether to accept or reject them. b. to review, amend and endorse the Constitution and Programme of the Party, if necessary. c. to determine the general policy and tactics of the Party in relation to national and international issues. d. to elect by secret ballot a Central Committee, the number of Members and Candidate Members of which shall be determined by Congress. Nominations for members and candidate members of the Central Committee must be submitted at least two weeks before Congress. Party members of less than five consecutive yeas immediately preceding the date of Congress standing up to the commencement of the Congress and who do not belong to a group shall not be eligible for election as members or candidate members of the Central Committee. Party members who are or were members of the Central Committee shall not be entitled to be nominated as Candidate Members.
The 31st Congress brought together hundreds of Delegates and Observers drawn from all ten (10) Administrative Regions of Guyana as well as a number of overseas groups. 135 persons competed for the thirty-five (35) seats on the Central Committee. Eighty (80) persons contested for the five (5) seats of Candidate Members to the Central Committee. Several members of fraternal Diaspora groupings participated in the Opening and the work of the Congress.
The participation of the overseas groups is a long and cherished tradition of the Party. It is an expression of the Party’s continuous transnational operations which sees it firmly connected and close to the Guyanese Diaspora. The Diaspora was critical to the victory of the PPP-lead pre-1992 struggle for the restoration of free and fair elections and democracy in Guyana.
This victory brought an end to a quarter of a century of rigged and fraudulent elections under Forbes Burnham and the PNC. The continuing support by the Diaspora in the struggle to resist current creeping efforts to re-impose those dark days will now be similarly critical.
The Parliamentary Agenda and Parliamentary Strategy of the Party, too, generated much deliberation at Congress. The decisions and recommendations coming out of the workshop on Local Government is expected to engage the attention of the new Central Committee in a big way. Those discussions by the new Central Committee will be conducted against the background of the just concluded Budget Debate.
The draconian nature of the tax-laden, anti-working people Budget for 2017 will no doubt influence discussions and present challenges to create a balanced response in defense of the economic and social gains achieved under the PPP/C Administration.
The “Youth Factor” will, by all indications, be closely intertwined with these deliberations of the new Central Committee.
The ongoing review of the General Elections and the Local Government elections analyses and reviews at every level of the Party - from Group through District and Regional levels up to the full Central Committee - all raised concerns relating to the “Youth Factor” and the perceived susceptibility of our youth to new approaches (eg Social Media) and the urgent need for the Party to recalibrate its own interactions with this key sub-population group.
Several “new” and young faces have been elected to join the Central Committee which emerges out of this 31st Congress.
We expect robust and informed debate and deliberations on this and other matters as the process of “greening” the leadership continues seamlessly after the 31s Congress.
The newly elected members of the incoming Central Committee are expected to convene for the first time within a week or two. One of the main agenda items will be the election of the General Secretary and the fifteen-person Executive Committee (ExCo).