Indra Chandarpal's earliest memory of political
activity is helping her parents at the age of six decorate the
streets of Enmore, East Coast Demerara with buntings after the
PPP victory at the 1957 general elections. She says that this
was not surprising as her father was a long-time supporter of
the PPP and their home was referred to as a little parliament.
She has literally grown up in the party, having started work after
school as a typist at Freedom House, later being appointed assistant
manager of the Michael Forde Book-shop after spending a year studying
political science in the Soviet Union and serving first as coordinator
and later general secretary of the Women's Progressive Organi-sation
(WPO), which she joined in 1970, and as an elected member of the
PPP central committee since the 70s. She also served in the secretariat
of the Progressive Youth Organisation (PYO) which she joined in
1968 as the secretary for culture.
Chandarpal who has been a member of the National Assembly since
1992 when the PPP came to power has experience of being a frontbencher
and a backbencher where she has sat since the March 2001 elections.
But she finds the experience of a backbencher as fulfilling as
her time as Minister, as she is a member of the Public Accounts
Committee and the parliamentary sector committee on social services
which she chairs and for whose meetings she spends a lot of time
preparing so that she can make informed interventions. Chandarpal
says too that it was convenient being a backbencher since she
had been elected chairman of the Inter-American Commission on
Women in 2000 which required a lot of travelling which she was
able to do.
About her experience as parliamentarian Chandarpal is a little
disappointed at the level of debate on both sides of the aisle,
explaining that she believes there is a need for more preparation
for debates by parliamentarians. She says that the older parliamentarians
among them Winston Murray, Harripersaud Nokta, Clinton Collymore
and Cyril Belgrave and Reepu Daman Persaud give a better account
of themselves than the younger ones. And it is not only the presentations
that she finds at times disappointing but the heckling too.
Chandarpal says she would like to spend a lot
more time in the parliamentary library but that her time is often
taken up with preparing for meetings and with meeting members
of the communities on the East Bank Demerara to which she has
been assigned by her party.
She says this activity takes up a lot of time, listening to the
problems of the residents of the various communities regardless
of whether they support the PPP or not. She says ideally she would
like to be able to have them come to an office in the area where
the residents could discuss their problems with her. About her
relations with the opposition parliamentarians, Chandarpal says
she finds no difficulty in relating to them, particularly as the
debates in the National Assembly do not take place in an acrimonious
setting as both sides realise that they each have their jobs to
do. "I don't know that it can change as it is the way of
the world", Chandarpal says, pointing out that in relation
to some other parliaments around the world, she and her colleagues
in the National Assembly don't really behave so badly.
Citing her experiences attending conferences abroad with opposition
parliamentarians, Chandarpal says though they may have their differing
positions at home, abroad it is her experience that they are Guyanese
and close ranks. Two instances stand out, one of which was a conference
she attended in Trinidad and Tobago for government and opposition
members of the Public Accounts Committee and so closely did she
and Lance Carberry work that other participants expressed the
view that had they not known that the conference was for government
and opposition parliamentarians they would have believed that
they were members of the same party.
The other occasion was a conference in France which she and James
McAllister attended and they sought each other out to dine together.
Chandarpal observed that those experiences tend to create a warmer
relationship between parliamentarians who share them. About the
stipend paid to parliamentarians, Chandarpal says recent increases
have made a difference but she feels that payment of the stipend
should be based on attendance, since the absence of parliamentarians
really does hamper progress and as the elected representatives
of the people, parliamentarians should give of their best in serving
their constituents who gain no benefit from their absence.
She says in addition to their pay, parliamentarians also enjoy
a duty-free concession for the purchase of a car which is a great
incentive and a great many people would be happy to be in their
position. About the work of the social sector committee Chandarpal
says eleven meetings were held during which they had agreed on
a programme of work but she was disappointed that it could not
be completed. This in part she says was due to a couple of meetings
having to be aborted for want of a quorum.
She said the committee's mandate covered nine government ministries
and the committee was able to work as a team. She says they were
able to cover two ministries and both ministers and a team of
officials appeared before the committee. At those meetings she
said there was not only a sharing of information but opportunities
for clarifying issues.
Chandarpal said in the meetings with Health Minister Dr Leslie
Ramsammy, among the issues examined were the legal framework for
the health sector, which the minister described as antiquated;
the regulation of health care professionals - doctors, nurses,
pharmacists etc; the regulation of private hospitals; the public
heath regulations; and the expansion of the rehabilitation programmes.
She said the committee also made a number of field trips to look
at the health facilities at Linden where they spoke to the staff
as well as identified issues of concern.
As a result of the visit, Chandarpal said the committee recommended
that the Linden Town Council should hand over the management of
the Vivian Harris Health Centre to the Region 10 Regional Democratic
Council and that the Linden Centre for the Disabled should be
staffed by more trained personnel. She said the lack of trained
staff to help the children with disabilities was a problem being
faced not only by the Linden centre but the David Rose School
and a Resource Unit for the Visually Impaired at St Rose's High
School. It suggested too that through collaboration with the Ministry
of Health, the services of Voluntary Service Officers experienced
in this area could be requested.
Also she said other recommendations were that the Ministries of
Education and Health should collaborate to ensure that there was
enough bio-data for the students at the centre and the need for
professional attention before the students are registered at the
Chandarpal said the committee also identified the need for public
education for the parents of children with disabilities.
Chandarpal said the committee also had an interaction with some
parliamentarians, officials from the Health Ministry, and representatives
of the Commonwealth Youth Programme during which the programmes
about HIV/AIDS were reviewed and the committee briefed on a leadership
seminar in which ;leadership was identified as a vital tool in
the fight against HIV/AIDS. She said at the meeting the committee
was requested to be the spokesperson on HIV/AIDS-related issues
and the Speaker of the National Assembly has since been written
to about the request.
About its deliberations on education Chandarpal said the committee
identified a number of crucial issues such as truancy; school
drop-outs; strengthening the services for children with disabilities;
the school welfare service; and the school attendance programme
and problems of drug and alcohol and children abuse.
She said as a result of the meeting with Education Minister Dr
Henry Jeffrey and officials from his ministry, the committee formulated
a number of recommendations among which were the collection of
data on the use of drugs and alcohol in schools to facilitate
an analysis of the extent of the problem and to have systems to
address it designed and implemented, and collaboration between
the School's Welfare Division and the Probation and Family Welfare
Division of the Human Services Ministry and the re-introduction
of the School's Welfare Service to address the question of truancy.
She explained that some 25 teachers were trained to provide an
initial unit which would be further strengthened as other teachers
In relation to the strengthening of the services for children
with disabilities Chandarpal said the committee is recommending
the establishment of a centre in the Mahaica- Mahaicony area as
well as a drop-in centre in Georgetown where children with disabilities
could be cared for while their parents were at work.
She said that the dilemma which the committee faces is the question
of follow-up but that she anticipated that with the expansion
of the capacity of the Parliament Office the secretary to the
committee would be able to follow up on these issues.
Chandarpal has travelled widely, some of which was to attend short
courses and at other times as a result of being on the executive
of a number of international orga-nisations such as Women's International
Democratic Federation which was headquartered in Berlin and the
Guyana representative from 1985-1989 to the Caribbean Association
of Feminist Research and Action.
Chandarpal's ambition was to be a lawyer so that she could represent
women who were the victims of violence but in those days the lack
of resources was a real barrier for persons from a working-class
background. However, she said that her involvement in politics
allowed her to represent not only supporters of her party but
the people generally who were in need of help and assistance.
In this regard she said that her stint as a minister was both
a humbling and rewarding experience.
Two programmes stand out in her memory in her stint as a minister
and these were the housing programmes which President Cheddi Jagan
initiated and the Difficult Circumstances Fund which her ministry
administered to more readily offer assistance to those in need.
She said in the first year some 4000 persons benefited from the
Chandarpal is married (she has been married for 26 years) and
has two children, both grown up. One is a civil engineer and the
other is pursuing a post-graduate degree in Barbados. She and
her husband met while they were both serving on the secretariats
respectively of the WPO and PYO. Both she said travelled extensively
in the early years of their marriage but they were fortunate to
have a helper who is a friend from school days and has always
been regarded as a member of the family.
Her children she said are not politically inclined but are committed
to remaining in Guyana to serve their country. She said that she
and her husband have honoured the children's wishes by keeping
them out of the limelight. She said they are a close-knit family
and that her husband has been her best friend for twenty-six years.
[Editor's Note: Article published in Stabroek News in October