Veteran journalist Adam Harris has championed for the rights of others on more occasions than he can remember.
But not many know that Mr. Harris himself has been battling an injustice that has been meted out to him for 16 years and counting.
Not many know that Mr. Harris, Editor-in-Chief of Kaieteur News, is still to be paid his pension and other benefits that are due to him since his forced resignation as Editor-in-Chief of the Guyana Chronicle.
Mr. Harris said that he had preferred to keep the issue out of the public domain, and to allow the democratic system to work, and work fairly.
“But recently, when I edited the last story concerning former Chief Magistrate Juliet Holder Allen’s fight for her benefits, and learned that her matter is being expedited after she protested, it awoke my senses.”
“I was not prepared to beg, but this money was something that I had worked for, and I am forced to fight for it.”“I don’t want to protest, but I don’t think that anyone should be made to beg for their entitlements.”
Mr. Harris’s woes began in October 1992, when the People’s Progressive Party/Civic came to power following national elections that many proudly state ushered in democracy to Guyana.By November, the members of the new Cabinet were identified.
PPP stalwart Moses Nagamootoo was identified as the new Minister of Information.“One of the first things that he did was to meet with the staff of the Guyana National Newspapers Limited (GNNL), where I worked as the Editor-in-Chief. He said that the new Government wanted a clean slate and was prepared to accept the resignation of anyone who was prepared to leave in the public interest,” Mr. Harris recalled.
According to the veteran journalist, he was one of the GNNL employees who were singled out by the new Government.He was a former editor of the PNC publication, New Nation. Mr. Harris believes that some in the new Government viewed him as a staunch supporter of the PNC.
“I told him (Nagamootoo) that I was prepared to resign in the public interest and I expected to be paid my gratuity.“I met with Nagamootoo and (Communications Advisor) Vic Insanally in (former GNNL General Manager) Ulric Captain’s office, and we started to work out my benefits. Mr. Captain submitted all of my accounts to Nagamootoo, who was later to say that he passed them on to Dr. Roger Luncheon.
“He also said that Dr. Luncheon said that he was not happy about paying my benefits.”It was here that Mr. Harris’s long and frustrating wait began.
The months passed, and the veteran journalist was shunted from one Government official to the next in an effort to collect the money he had worked for.
“I approached President Cheddi Jagan in 1994 and he promised to look into the matter. I spoke to another senior PPP official after Cheddi died (to no avail).”
Four years ago, Mr. Harris ecided to renew his fight for justice.“I approached (the then Information Liaison to the President) Robert Persaud, who advised me to write a letter. I also approached Presidential Advisor Kellawan Lall, and Dr Nankishore Gopaul.
“Eventually, two years ago, I approached President Bharrat Jagdeo, who said that he would have Dr. Luncheon look at it.”
“Every now and then I would approach Dr. Luncheon and he would say that he was looking into it.”“It was no different with many of the other Government officials with whom I spoke on several occasions. There was no movement.
According to Mr. Harris, earlier this year, Dr Luncheon called him and informed him, yet again, that the matter was being addressed.
He arranged a meeting with the Chairman of the GNNL Board of Directors, Keith Burrowes, and worked out the details of the GNNL aspect of the payment.
“The cheque sent to me a few months ago by GNNL subsequent to that meeting was an insult.”The issue is now at the Ministry of Finance. Finance Minister Dr Ashni Singh has requested that Harris provide testimonials to support his period of employment as a teacher. Harris began teaching in 1966, and most of the people who could vouch for that are either dead or have migrated.
Fortunately, the headmaster with whom he first worked, Mr. Edgar Burchell Jordan, who is now 92, is still alive. He has provided one of the testimonials.
There is still another testimonial to be had, and efforts are being made to acquire this, but it is proving difficult.
Many hours are spent tracking down someone who could give a testimonial. Harris is now wondering whether there is anyone else who could provide such a testimonial after nearly 40 years of Harris leaving the teaching profession.
Mr. Harris hopes that, this time around, there will be no more empty promises.“Sixteen years is a long time to wait. I am long past the age of retirement. I am closer to my grave than at any time in my life.
“I hope that now that the matter approaches its seventeenth year, there will at last be some resolution.”