Public Records Are the Nation’s Assets3909 10 May, 2012
Ms. Teixeira: This is an important issue we are discussing here today, in terms of the nations assets, and public records are the nation’s assets. In Guyana, as in many other countries, there are located under the custodianship of many institutions by statute. The Parliament Office has been the repository of the records of Parliament and as Minister Dr. Anthony pointed out that, in fact, it was only in 1992 that the Parliament Buildings was handed over exclusively for the use of the Parliament Office. I am glad that Dr. Frank Anthony reminded me, because when we used to come here to picket, and also to come and sit in this hall to listen to the debates, that whole wing, at the western side, was occupied by the Prime Minister, at one time it was Mr. Hoyte, and at another time it was Mr. Green. The Parliament Office was only a small section of this building. Therefore, the Parliament Office, itself, has also had an exciting history and anyone of you who….
The great challenges for Guyana, in terms of preserving records and keeping them, are basically fire and flood, the two things that pose the greatest risk to the preservation of our records, including most of our property in Guyana, as well. I remind you of recent ones where, for example, the Sacred Heart Church burnt down and the records of 1865 right through to 2006 were destroyed. Those were valuable records of the births, death and marriages of persons who used that particular church. It would be the same thing if we become concerned about some of the other church records in this country, but also to go back to public records. There are a number of places where other public records are kept - our maps, our land titles, all those are kept in particular places, our defence records and our maps that are under the defence and security care; the issue of National Trust and some of its records that may be papered and may not be, they maybe architectural and physical, but the National Archives is obviously the next repository of our public records. For the younger people of this House the… [Mrs. Backer: Thank you…inaudible] Mrs. Backer, you do not qualify. You are in between my dear; you have to get used to that idea. You are no longer in the youth category.
One of the things is that there were records kept here. Mr. Greenidge referred to records of an earlier period of the Parliament and it has been documented to show that records were being kept in the dome - I think that is what you call it, the dome of Parliament - that section there, in the archive. The dome was where records were being kept and in the 1940s there was a fire which destroyed a lot of those records that were kept up there in that period by the British Colonial Office. So fire has been one of our main issues.
We have also been our own worst enemies, in the sense that in 1977 the National Archives was basically dumped on top of the fire station at Stabroek Market. I remembered well, because I was doing research, and looking for dates for certain records, and I ended up… That was the first time I met Mr. Tommy Payne, who was the archivist, who bemoaned the fact that on top of the fire station there were no windows at all in the building and rain and insects, and everything, were destroying the records. I remembered being very pleased when the archives… A lot of stuff was damaged by insects, by water and by people stealing. As in many places, people found the penchant to remove certain document form the place.
I was very pleased when parts of the archives was moved from that location, near Stabroek Market, and put into the section of the now National Museum, where the newspapers records remain for a long time, until the new Walter Roth Museum was opened in 2008, where all of those records were able to be moved. Then, of course, the other movement of the National Archives was under Mr. Hoyte in 1981. The problem with all of this is that every time records are removed, particularly papers records, they get damaged; they get misplaced; they get misfiled and a whole range of things. Even at the National Archives, when I was Minister of Culture, Youth and Sport, it attempted to get a list of holdings to see where the gaps were and to then recognise that a number of stuff was actually removed from the building, because it is that people just like to take things out of the building.
I will give a personal experience. That is why I am trying to preamble this to say that Mr. Greenidge’s motion is… I caution Mr. Greenidge in jumping the gun and casting aspersions, because those of us who have some background in this area and who are record keepers in a variety of ways really know how… I will give the anecdotal for example. We decided to have the bicentennial exhibition of the Schomburg exhibitions in Guyana. That was where our boundaries were determined in the 1930s and 1940s. Lo and behold, we did put out to intellectuals of this country to share records with us, and they did come forward. They shared valuable handwritten records by Schomburg which was written to the Venezuelans and how we knew they were the archives property was because they had a specific mark on them that could only come from the National Archives. Of course, I need not tell you that we did return those records to those who shared them with us. I am just using that anecdotally to say that to jump the gun on a number of issues is, in fact, mischievous.
I want to clone to this by saying that in contrast to what was experienced between 1977… and a number of us wrote in the newspapers of those days - quite a number of us wrote including Mr. Eusi Kwayana and others - and I know I was one of those writers, talking about the state of the public records of our country.
Other than the quote that Minister raised from the Frank Narain’s document, which was shared with the National Assembly, I bring to the National Assembly the issue of what was our record. In fact, in 1993 the Hansard was reinstalled, reinstituted, into the Parliament Office and there was a contract with a person to start producing it because there was no capacity in the Parliament Office, at that point, to do it itself. So if we were the destroyers, burners and arsonist, as some Members on the other side seemed to have proclaimed, then why would these efforts, which I am going to document to this House, be done if we have no interest in what is the preservation of our country’s records.
The Auditor General’s Reports were reinstituted back into Guyana. I have seen some things in the newspapers saying that audit records were submitted and I read from the Auditor General’s 1992 Report, which was tabled in 1993 - this was signed by no other person than Anand Goolsarran, 1993 September 14th - and he said the following. I am saying this to show the efforts that have been made to try to bring these things back into order.
“A civilised country, a developing country, a sophisticated country must be able to have respect for its records and the preservation of them.”
The last set, to quote:
“The last set of financial statements submitted for audit examination and certification was in respect to the fiscal year 1981 and the Auditor General’s Report thereon was laid in the National Assembly on the 18th December, 1987. As a result, a gap in financial reporting covering the period 1982 to 1991 existed. In addition to respect to the year under review two of the ten statements of accounts comprising Public Accounts of Guyana were not submitted by the Accounting General.”
And he went on.
If that first report of the year 1992 is read then the problem with the Consolidated Fund and balancing the accounts of Guyana can be seen.
So the first of the two things this Government did when it got into power in 1993 was to reinstitute Hansard and Auditor General’s Report. The second thing was to work with, I think it was, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), as Minister Dr. Frank Anthony spoke about, for the establishment of the Parliament Office’s library, in this House, and the rumour designated was that it looked and smelled like a library, and that was the beginning. We also then were not satisfied with that and then the Fiscal Financial Management Project which is the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB)-Government of Guyana project, we then went on to do training and upgrading of the facilities to try to pull together the way in which the Parliament Office operated - in a more efficient way. That project ended in 2007. I think it started in 2004.
The Millennium Challenge Threshold Account - I might have got that wrong – but it is the United States Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC). Under that funding, we started doing something which we have talked about before, and that was to digitalise the records of the House. Whilst we can talk about paper documents, the point is that this world is about digitalisation and about double keeping of records and not being depended on paper records, recognising the fragility and the vulnerability. In the 2006 to 2007 period this House moved into the digital era, with funding from the MCC to start digitalising, and that is when an estimate was done on the number of records that were available and had to be digitalised. The decision based on the money available was that… I know this because, part of all, it was on the Parliamentary Management Committee that those were issues discussed.
Two, in terms of co-helping the Government in dealing with and trying to get money for these programmes with the United Nations (UN) and with the Millennium Challenge Corporation that I am familiar with some of those things and I am not talking from a distance. I am talking from knowledge of recognition by the Parliament Office, by the then speaker, Mr. Ralph Ramkarran, by the Government and by Members of Parliament that we could not be dependent only on paper records and that were there to be a fire, and were there to be a flood, we would lose all of what we have, even though we recognise that there were public gaps. The Millennium Challenge Accounts started the digitalisation of the records, starting with the most current period. There is then the next project which is the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)/ United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Parliamentary Support Project presently in operation, which was from September 2011 and it will go on, in which, again, it includes websites - updating of websites, updating of records, uploading of records onto the website, dgitalising, which has to be done before website can be uploaded, and therefore creating parallel records.
There is also the Hansard Unit which is being established. This House should be proud of the Hansard Unit that, today, is up to date. Then, as you know, there is the weakness now and again – somebody slips up; someone is getting a baby or someone is not feeling well, but the point is that we can look back and figure out and deal with that part. The UNDP/ UNICEF Parliamentary Support Project helped to build…
The issues of public records… and because there was so many damages done to the public records of the country, and the repairing, we were so far behind the rest of the world on what is done normally in any Parliament. Go to little Montserrat, go to Trinidad and Tobago Parliament and see their record keeping, but we were so far behind, because in the 1992-1995 period, for example, there was no money. I understand Mr. Greenidge’s dilemma, as a Minister of Finance. This country was so far in debt; it had to deal with competing resource. Do you give money for water or do you give money for paper records? Obviously, somewhere along, he tried to do both and he fell on whatever. I understand and he has my sympathy. In those days someone like me could not have sat in this National Assembly, because the Opposition only had five or six seats, because the then Government had rigged the elections.
Some of us, who were young in those days, used to come and sit in this House to listen to debates. Two women, I always remember, Ms. Amna Ally referred to them, Ms. Eileen Cox and a lady called “Shanta”. I cannot remember her last name. Those two ladies faithfully took the records in shorthand, which most people do not know how to do anymore, and also the old tape decks. Throughout all the sittings they would have sat here and did that. Later on, as Dr. Cheddi Jagan’s personal secretary… the Parliament Office used to send the speeches of the Members of Parliament (MP) on onion-skin paper. The young people do not know what onion-skin paper is. It had to be hand corrected by the Member of Parliament and returned. From there it was retyped, as Ms. Amna Ally went through, hand glyph stetting, and stuff. Somewhere in that period, because I used to handle the Hansard for the Members of Parliament on the Government side, the onion-skin paper reports of the speeches had stopped coming. They were not coming. So a Hansard cannot be read if there were no speeches because the Member of Parliament has to approve his speech. Mrs. Janet Jagan and Eusi Kwayana, who came into the National Assembly later - Dr. Roopnarine would tell me if I am wrong; we used to sit over that side - both, at different times, raised the issues as to why were the speeches not being provided to the Members of Parliament anymore and where was the Hansard. Well, there cannot be a Hansard without the speech. By the way, those questions, which were tabled by those two Members of Parliament, on the Opposition side, never saw the light of day on an Order Paper because in those days the Opposition questions did not go on any Order Paper.
Under the new cycle, the new United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Country Programme for 2012 – 2016, under inclusive governance, there is an allocation or support for a Parliament Office - again record keeping, again digitalising, again website, again for Hansard and again for Committees - because it is a process. You cannot scan and digitalise thousands of records in a short period of times. It needs money; it needs time and it needs space, and so on.
I think I am very clear, in my mind, that tremendous amount of effort, time, contribution and dedication by the Government and by this Parliament office…. Look around the room here, who is from that era? The only persons from that era are Mr. Greenidge and Ms. Ally [Mr. Nadir: It is from the error.] Is it from the era or error? Yes, it is the error. The two Members of Parliament are from that era. The rest of us are foegies. Even the Clerk started from 1992, after the elections. The Deputy Clerk, all those young people who come from those Committees and Committee Clerks were not there at that time. Probably one of the older Members on the media side - I will point to him – was Mr. Colin Smith from the Catholic Standard, who would remember that period and sat in the House in those days. The records… and Mr. Frank Narain, who was the Clerk at that time, can be asked by this Parliament Office to provide a paper, because his memory is very intact,...
Mr. Speaker: Believe me he will be asked.
Ms Teixeira: …about wuh happen to dem record? Why dem record na do? Let him tell the story, because he is the only one who could tell the story. [Mrs. Backer: Why do you want to speak like that?] You do not tell me how to speak. I think that if we are serious… and I want to read from the Minutes of September 1991 of the National Assembly. It is the sitting of the 1990/1991. The 54th sitting at which there were sixty Members of Parliament present. The only one missing was Mr. Greenidge, who happened to be on leave at that time. It states so; I am not making it up. Here is the announcement by the Speaker of the House. The Speaker of the House was Mr. Sase Narain. So here we are saying that we cannot find records, and here is the record. I did not go and dig it up from somewhere. It came from the Parliament Office. The Speaker said, this is Mr. Sase Narain, that he had been exploring ways and means to have published the verbatim records of the proceedings which are for various reasons, remained unpublished for a number of years, and that they were some hope in having that done. Before the publications stage the materials had to be conserved and preserved in good order. Those materials were very important part of history and had to be protected.
The British Executive Services Overseas (BESO) had placed at the disposal of the Parliament Office Dr. Michael Pascoe a scientist, whose specialty was conservation management, training, planning science and technologies for libraries, archives galleries, museums, and historic buildings. Dr. Pascoe’s career also included keeper of the Conservation and Technical Services of the British Museum, head of Conservation Science at Camberwell College of Arts and a wide range of consultancies. Dr. Pascoe had arrived on the 6th and would have spent three weeks. On their behalf and his own he extended to Mr. Pascoe a warm welcome to Guyana.
So there was recognition 1991that the records had not been done. That was in 1991 and look who was talking. It was the Speaker, Mr. Sase Narain.
Mr. Speaker, as you know, there could be a storm in a tea cup. This is a storm in tea cup, Mr. Greenidge. You are trying to point fires where fire does not exist. The funny thing is that when we jump before we look we will end up falling and hurt ourselves, because I have been around long enough. Mr. Greenidge was overseas, so I forgive him. Was it with the Africa, Caribbean Pacific Group of States (ACP), Minister Rodrigues–Birkett? Yes. So he did not witness the amount of rooms that had to be opened up and boxes that had to be moved and everything. I remember the stages and the dislocation and how much things had to be moved in this place. I think that the best thing in our heart we should do, instead of looking for the villain in the room, is to look for what can be honest mistakes and honest issues and try to resolve them. But this motion is wicked; it is a wicked piece of work. Do you know why I say so, Mr. Speaker?
Notice, I never say the Member is wicked; the motion is a wicked piece of work, because it calls on the Parliament Office to submit the full reports, but then it states that if they cannot be found, are being destroyed, have an inquiry. Comrade, this is a storm in a teacup. You are wasting the House time.
When I saw the motion came up on the table, I did not have time; any way we asked for a search, and I have found…I have been here for twenty years now and I am pleased that I can now, over the last few years, call and say, “I am looking for a record, could I have a copy of it?” “I am looking for a Bill, could I have a copy of it?” I will get it so fast. I think the staff has done well. Let me go back. We are looking, we asked, because we cannot believe that the records are not here. They are somewhere and so Hansard was not found for Mr. Greenidge, because the copies of the Hansard were not published. Mr. Sase Narain said so himself. So the Member cannot look for something that is not published; he has to go back to the transcripts. The transcripts and records were found, as Minister Dr. Anthony pointed out.
Mr. Speaker: Hon. Member, you have five minutes before your time is up. I am just giving you notice.
Ms. Teixeira: So in 1998, six transcripts were found - I have all the dates - 1989, seven Order Papers, ten transcripts were found. Let me give the year 1989 for fun, because I know that was when there was the big Economic Recovery Programme (ERP) going on this National Assembly, and the big debates, and everything. I agree with Mr. Greenidge. Here are the transcripts, verbatim records, which may not have been checked, which may be in their real form, but we can solve this. This is not an issue to bring all this hullaballoo, but the 10th of January, the 13th of January, the 20th of February, the 11th of April, the 13th of May, the 9th of June, the 11th of June, the 9th of November, the 14th of November, the 20th of November were the only sittings that this House had during 1989, by the way. All it had was a few sittings.
The 1990 records, the transcripts and verbatim records, were nineteen, from January all the way to December 28 1990. So Comrades, I believe firmly that we, as a Parliament, and the Parliament Office, with the writing, support, with some of the funding from UNDP, from the UN programmes, what we have done before, that those documents are in different places. They get misfiled. Maybe, Mr. Greenidge has not been in a position where he had to file his documents, but I can tell you, put a document in a wrong file, it would take years to find it back.
This, we have done a lot. I believe that the amendment brought by Dr. Anthony is that to encourage and to say with the support we have now, technically and financially, that we continue and we make a special effort to find whatever records are available during the period 1985 to 1992. Furthermore, if there are Members of Parliament, who are still alive, out there, from that period, they could copy their records, whatever they have - we do not need to check with them - and give us just whatever copies they have. It is to bring them into the archives and sort and fill the gaps wherever they may exist. I will tell you: this is what we had to do in October, 1992 - Members on the other side.
I walked into the Ministry of Health, as the Minister of Health, on October the 13th, 1992. The incinerator was burning and, as I walked into the compound, files were been thrown out of the Ministry of Health into it. The incinerator was full. I did not say who destroyed; it was the incinerator which destroyed. The incinerator destroyed all the Cabinet’s records that were in the Office of the President. Let me tell how we got them back. Let me tell you how we recompiled those documents, because they were gone. We went to every Minister in the Government and said “Can you seize your Cabinet records in your Ministries? Copy all of them, send them out to the Office of the President and let us try to recompile them.” Hopefully, we have most of them. We did not get all, but we have, at least, the records because it was not about this Government records, it was the records of our Cabinet of our country that were just burn - destroyed.
So the motion before us, let us take the essence of it and not what, I believe, is some mischief in the intention. Let us continue the search to fill the gaps - to go through those transcripts, to do the editing, because some of those Members of Parliament may no longer be alive - and let us try to get… As we get them we publish them and we would print those Hansard. If we cannot, we will make records of what are the Minutes of the sittings, which are different from the Hansard. I believe that there are all sorts of cupboards, and places, and things are tucked away. The reason why is that, this Parliament Office did not had a lot of staff. It had a tiny staff. People were being paid well. A lot of people, of those days, worked part-time in this place; they came from other Ministries and worked part-time. So let us be kind to ourselves. Let us be kind to those who, I believe, in the past tried and somewhere a number of those records are there.
Therefore the motion that is amended by Dr. Anthony, I believe, removes what I think is a sword of Damocles and allows us to do what I believe is the intention. Let us search and rescue, because in some case it is a search and rescue. Having been with the National Archives and knowing about those, and Dr. Anthony knows it too, records can be damaged just by time, by wrong filing, by the air, by heat and all sort of things. So paper record in a tropical environment is a challenge. It is a serious challenge. The fact that our debt records have been kept in such pristine state, it is not only to do with the fact of how they are cared for, but also, funny enough, it is the paper and ink that they were on, because the new paper and ink and the old fax machines, which at some point we switched to, faded all over the place. So Comrades, we need to not only search, find, compiled, published the Hansard, but I want to go a bit further and add to what Minister Dr. Anthony added. That is, let us digitalised. Let us keep digitalising, as we get support from different donors, and what we can do ourselves - that we digitalised all our records.
But secondly, I want to suggest…, based on the experience of fire at the Ministry of Housing and Water that was in the post 2001 Elections. What saved that the Ministry of Housing and Water was that it had digitalised and stored its records of those land and house lots allocations in two different places. So what was burnt was only what was in that period that had not been uploaded/downloaded, whatever is the right word. So we cannot anymore rely on just luck. Therefore, it is with the digitalising and the record keeping and the publication, putting on a website, but also it is trying to create double entry, double storage of using the new technology, to put in vaults elsewhere what are the public records we presently have in our thing, by digitalised means.
Thank you very much and I support the amendment. [Applause]
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