A Vindictive President
Statement by Varshnie Singh 20 January 2009
I was married according to Hindu rites to Bharrat Jagdeo since 1998. In 1999 he became President and I the First Lady.
During our marriage I was not allowed to work and did not receive proper maintenance or care, financial or otherwise.
The First Lady's office is a myth that I created because of a need. It advocates on behalf of the voiceless and receives no government funding or any type of assistance.
I left England in 1997, where I was working as a paralegal for a top 5 law firm and earning a very good salary to come to Guyana to assist my father with a land case.
My intention was to serve my country, Guyana , as a lawyer. Doing free work for poor people and a few paying cases so I could earn a living. I had also aspired to enter politics as a servant of the people perhaps as an MP.
Bharrat and I had a deal before we got married that we would work together, to move Guyana forward, but that never happened.
A week after being married he locked me out of our bedroom. From then on it was one problem after another, nothing I could do was ever right. Any attempts to find out what the wrong, why he stopped talking to me, why he was so mean, were met with long silences which lasted days on end and I got no answers.
I left my family and the country of my birth to make a new life with someone I loved, only to find I meant nothing and he had little to give me but contempt. I saw his behaviour in every possible light, he had no regard for me or any of my family
I left to go to the UK to complete my studies and to get away from the loveless and stressful life I found myself in. I told Bharrat that I was not happy and didn't want to live like this, that we should go our separate ways. He did not want to do so and kept telling me it would be different and that he was sorry. It sounded fine on the phone but when we were together it all went terribly wrong.
Later he told me he would become President and asked me to come for the swearing in. I told him I didn't think it was a good idea. I did attend the ceremony not wanting to upset his special day. I also tried to give our relationship another chance. Still nothing improved, it just got worse.
Whilst visiting my Aunt in Industry I was approached by a lady who sold greens; she had a sick grandchild, Vijai Naraine, who needed help to go to Trinidad to remove a tumour from his brain. They did not have enough money and Ministry of Health could only afford to pay part of the cost. The grandmother put her child in my lap and begged me to do something. I told her I would try my best.
I had a copy of the estimate from Mount Hope Hospital and a photograph of the child. On my father's advice I walked all over Georgetown meeting the business community and asking them to help the child and they did.
It dawned on me that there must be many people who need expensive medical treatment but can't afford it. So my idea was to set up a charity for children, use my job title to raise funds and then leave the charity with someone reliable to run it and return to the UK.
I did set up Kids first and the Citizen's Advice Bureau, but never found anyone to run them properly, so I was left to run both.
I did not complete my studies but I found ways to serve through Kids First Fund (helping sick children) and the Citizen's Advice Bureau aka First Lady's Office (dealing with adult health, social and welfare problems, advocacy and empowering youth and women). Being the Chairperson of the National Commission of the Rights of the Child, the Chairperson of the National Steering Committee Against Child Labour, Patron of The Divine Charitable Society and Patron of the Guyana Hindi Prachar Sabha.
When I told our President of my idea for Kids First, he was angry and said it was a slap in the face of his government as he had invested so much money in the health sector. I could not see it that way, I felt it was badly needed and beneficial to the country. So I continued unsupported.
We ended up at BK International's office because when I asked the President to use a room at Office of the President, he said that OP belonged to him and there was no room for me.
Our first Kids First meetings were held outside in a yard in Church Street , when that was not possible we had them in BK International's yard, eventually we were offered a space inside the building. After that we were in high Street and now we have been in Mr Gafoor's building for the past 5 years. All locations have been rent and overhead free.
Although my work is done with total commitment, fairness and honesty for the benefit of others. It irritated my husband a lot. I used my fancy job title to advocate for those who had been taken advantage of and needed help, the voiceless, poor people, regardless of race, religion or political affiliation.
I would accompany people to hospital, court, police stations, home visits etc do whatever was necessary to help. This he found as interfering and offensive, personally and politically.
I have given without any personal benefit, 10 years of my life to fulfil my dream of serving Guyana . I have done it to the best of my ability, without regret; but in the face of serious challenges and obstacles, lining my path because my husband and I don't get along and he finds my work embarrassing and me annoying because I want to help.
The First Lady of every country in the world whether they are helpful or not are treated with respect and given the full backing of her husband, government and nation. Even if they never do anything other than cut ribbons and kiss babies heads. I have enjoyed the support of the nation, most Ministers and very little from the President.
Anyone who has ever received a call or letter from me, can tell you that I don't demand, I don't expect any special treatment, but I do expect that once presenting the facts of every case that the decision makers would do the right thing and help. I am persistent because people are depending on me and I don't want to let them down. And I feel I have an obligation to try my best to help.
This is the first country that I have heard of where the First Lady is proactive, doing good for the nation but gets penalised because her husband is President and finds her work to help the same people he swore to defend and represent as “showing up the inadequacies of his government” and therefore made me his enemy.
He decided that to punish me he would withhold all resources, financial and otherwise and line my path with a multitude of cruel, selfish obstacles.
Propaganda was used to peddle lies about me, my work and the court case in Trinidad . People would repeat, misinformation being spread by irresponsible people. I had to stand alone to explain to the nation why I could not let Medical Associates and Dr Mathura rob Kids First and therefore our people. So court action was necessary. Our President said I was an embarrassment and refused to listen to the facts of the case.
Yet a prominent lawyer in Trinidad gave me a hearing and when I explained my case and inability to pay he agreed to take my case free of charge. He could see the injustice even if our President wouldn't.
Later down I would hear other cruel rumours, but the worst had to be this year after the Lusignan Massacre when I was requested by the families of the victims to organise a peace rally, which never materialised.
I met the Leader of the Opposition Mr Corbin and his wife in the yard of one of the victims' the day after the tragedy. He shook my hand, introduced me to his wife and told me to keep up the good work as I am helping everyone and not to let anything prevent me from doing so. I thanked them for coming and they left.
By that evening the propaganda was in full effect, the word on the street was that I am collaborating with the PNC and Mr CN Sharma to bring down the Government and organising a protest march. I was oblivious to this until 2 friends of the President came to the wake where I was meeting the families and informed me that this was the case and they had come to find out if this was true.
Running in my veins is the blood of a patriot, I have a deep love for this nation, for humanity in general, regardless of race, religion and political affiliation. To demand excellence in effort and integrity and justice from our elected officials doesn't make me anti-government or anti-party or pro- opposition. It makes me pro- Guyana . This is my right as a citizen of a great nation to expect nothing less and I have no apology to make for this.
I have been begging our President for financial assistance so I can live, for the past ten years and have not received it. I have had to depend on my parents who are pensioners and my family to support me. It is shameful at this stage of my life to regress to having my parents support me.
I had wanted to leave many years ago and tried to get our President to co-operate with me to call it a day amicably. He refused to entertain any dialogue until after the last election. Then everything went into overdrive by his hand.
It is funny and sad to hear the politicians talk about the campaign against domestic violence, investing millions to “stamp it out” etc when what I am experiencing is hi-tech domestic violence and persecution. Our President is using his office and state resources including Ministers unprofessionally to disadvantage a woman.
Everything comes under the control of our President. There is no provision for a First Lady or any wife of an official in our constitution. This is something I think needs to be changed.
There was much speculation about all the money I got in settlement etc after the marriage was over.. Yet my reality was and is far from the wildest imagination. There is no one in this country that would work as diligently as I have done in these awful conditions for the past 10 years without any pay or financial/other incentive.
For almost 2 years (2003-2004) I was denied access to the Presidential apartment at State House. If I was not home by 6pm the apartment door would be locked with the latch from the inside so my key could not open it.
Even if I was home at 6pm I would be in my room by myself, where all I could do was read and listen to music. We were two people living separately under one roof.
When I was locked out, I would have to spend the night on a sofa on the 1 st floor, without a sheet, get murdered by mosquitoes, praying for the night to pass quickly so I could get into my room bathe and get to office, or to my public engagements etc
I got no sleep at all during the period I was locked out. Eventually I would walk with a change of clothes, just in case and then go to my Aunt's house nearby to bathe the next morning. Making a joke of the water tank at State House not having water.
When my Aunt heard from some other source about what was happening to me she told me off and offered me accommodation. I stayed by her and other relatives but always felt embarrassed and angry that I was being put in this position.
My room in the Presidential apartment had a bed, wardrobe, en suite bathroom and a telephone that could make only local calls. I have no personal cooking facilities or fridge there. I have use of the washing machines and the domestic staff do help me with anything I ask them to do.
I spend most of my time in office because I felt the President was irritated by my presence, and didn't want me around. Also there I have access to resources not available at home.
I would be in my office, put on a dvd to keep me company and do my administration, follow up on my work and then when I feel tired or decide to go home I do so to sleep and then start again the next day.
I am not mentioning this for sympathy but I have not done nor could I do, anything which warrants this disrespect and contempt that I have been shown.
Although my personal life was dysfunctional and non-existent, my official or professional life was very productive and compensated to an extent for what was lacking in other areas.
After close to 2 years of being locked out and denied access to my room, I discovered an empty guest bedroom on the opposite side of the house that didn't require going into the President's apartment. That way I could always access it, so I moved my things over and have been residing there peacefully until recently.
I received no payment or allowance for my work. On I believe 4 occasions only did I receive any stipend for travels overseas. Once on my only state visit to China and the other times from the Ministry of Health for medical outreach to USA and India .
Every time there was a First Lady's conference I was never allowed to attend and the one time it looked possible the conference in Peru was cancelled due to political unrest.
When I would go overseas to do Kids First work the Guyana Officials there would be told by Office of the President that my trip was not official, Kids First was my hobby and not to afford me the “official” courtesies one might expect anywhere else in the world. Sometimes I was “officially” First Lady other times I was not according to Office of the President.
I went to NY to attend the Bollywood awards in 2002, I was given an award for Humanitarian Service.. The 2 recipients before me were Michael Jackson and Steven Segal. It was an honour for Guyana and I accepted it on behalf of the country and had a chance to mention Kids First as well.
I asked our President for money to buy a suitable outfit and 2 new suits and he would only spare US$200, it wasn't enough. I had to borrow money from the Consulate in NY and the Office of the President had to repay him when I returned. This was because our President did not approve of the award and was being his usual spiteful self.
I had the opportunity to address 400 doctors at the Vanderbilt University Medical Centre, in Nashville Tennessee , USA . They would be willing to come to Guyana and perform free surgery and clinics. Our President objected and my travel which had been booked and approved was stopped. Much preparation had been made for this visit by Vanderbilt and this was another embarrassing situation to be in. We lost out tremendously on having all those willing and highly qualified human resources help us free.
In November 2007, I returned from my trip to India having taken 9 children and 1 adult for open heart surgery to find the vehicle I was using had been taken away without any explanation.
In April 2008 as the Chairperson of the National Commission on the Rights of the Child I was part of a delegation going to a special session on Children at the UN. I was given my ticket by UNICEF and would stay with my relatives. The day before I was due to leave, my name was mysteriously removed from the list of delegates.
Upon enquiry I was directed to Office of the President but could get no comment. By not being on the list of delegates I would not be able to access the sessions at the UN and that was the whole purpose of going. I could not attend.
Everything I am involved in NCRC and the National Steering Committee against child labour gets disrespected either because we work too well and the officials feel we are showing them up or because I am involved. Being genuine, proactive, conscientious and professional are qualities that are not appreciated.
NCRC has by all accounts ceased to exist. Although a Cabinet appointed National Commission, we have not officially been informed, we had to hear it though the grapevine. The National Steering Committee Against Child Labour has been blocked because we are not allowed to work as we see fit. I chair both and I think this is why they have been squashed, although we will be told some other excuse.
Every time I have gone overseas to do fundraising or represent Guyana I have done so without any financial resources, just my ticket alone. I stay with my relatives and they take care of accommodation, transport and food.
I have been deprived of the basics for many years, my food is taken care of by my Aunt who has a shop. My clothing, money and every thing else is from my parents and family.
I had to turn down invitations to events because I did not have proper attire, and no money to buy anything new. I have to think what I wore the last time I went out because I don't have an extensive wardrobe. I dress casually partly because it's my personality and because I can't afford to wear formal clothing to my office. I am just washing and wearing clothing I have had for many years.
The best and only resources that I have access to are my rent free room at State House and in recent years, the use of 2 government vehicles and they were taken away last November. A vehicle is the bloodline of the charity and my office.
We need it to do almost everything, from picking up the volunteers, one of which is using crutches and is a cancer survivor that we helped, to doing errands, going to the bank, taking patients to doctors/to labs and dropping them to the park, visiting patients at home, dropping off wheelchairs, medication, delivering mails, collecting donations, arranging activities, going to meetings, attending functions, shopping and visiting my family, in particular my elderly father who lives in Enmore.
My work has been impeded severely since the vehicle was taken and due to the kindness of complete strangers I have been able to borrow vehicles to use. It's not a position I like being in, but efforts to get a duty free concession have been squashed. The President told me I am not entitled to one.
He has decided I am entitled to nothing outside of what he wants to give. He makes and breaks the rules where I am concerned.
I have people coming to me in the hope of financial assistance not knowing that I am in a lot of ways worse off than them. People come to me for solutions to their problems; they do not know that every time I advocate and put pen to paper, it costs me personally one way or another.
I have survived the past decade by refusing to give up and keep going against the odds to achieve the required results and somehow the work always gets done. I could be much more productive if I had a vehicle, an income, a place to live and co-operation from the President. If co-operation is too much to expect then no interference would be preferable.
Kids First Fund is one of many amazing organisations in Guyana and has helped many people as has the Citizen's Advice Bureau, NCRC, the National Steering Committee Against Child Labour and deserves to be protected and honoured. I say this not because I am part of them but because of the good work they do and the positive impact they have on ordinary people's lives.
Ordinary people who don't have connections are falling through the ever widening cracks in the ministries bureaucracy. We have officials who need to work much harder than they have been and should remember they are the servants of the people, not the other way around. Every country in the world has NGO's working in harmony with government to help the nation.
Other Heads of State and even Royal Family's have had failed marriages and are able to behave in a civil manner and not misuse their position to disadvantage their previous partner.
Stamp out child abuse, gender abuse, domestic violence, corruption, abuse of alcohol, drugs, and most importantly abuse of power. Not something that is uniting people all over the world and helping people in need and sick children in our country. Where is the sense in that?
I have been without during my entire marriage and at one point just wanted to get out and move away without anything from the President. I made steps to start a business and to get a job but found that anything I do, would somehow eventually need his approval on the business front. On the job front, I was told that no one would employ me for fear of backlash from our President.
I then considered that I had worked free giving my full commitment and energy and I should be entitled to at least what I was owed during marriage. I had hoped that once the marriage came to an end, the President would do the right thing and give me a proper settlement. He has not and is not willing to give more than he offered.
Our President earns GY$200,000 pm of which I have not seen a dollar for most of my married life. He recently built a house which I understand is being rented and now he has GY$10 million left. He is willing to give me GY$5 million. That won't buy even a suitable vehicle, considering the cost of a second hand one to be US$15,000 and the duty US$30,0000.
I have been taking children to India since 2005 for open heart surgery and spent thousands of USD which the MOH until last year used to contribute towards. There are many children and adults needing surgery and can't get it because it's expensive.
My experience with Minister Ramsammy in 2007 left me disappointed with him and our President. The Minister told me the applications were turned down at the Cabinet level and the President instructed him not to help me or Kids first Fund.
In fact the request for help came from the parents of heart patients. By not helping all they did was force me to go out to beg for money to do their job to help save the lives of Guyanese children.
I did not know our health policy was guided by the egos of our leaders.
If they feel like it they will help, if not you are stuck and left to die.
I was foolishly under the misconception, that timely access to healthcare, is a constitutional right; especially for children, according to the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
I thought it depends on availability of funds and facilities, Not the whims and fancies of individuals elected to serve.
That experience moved forward a plan I have had for a number of years to build a state of the art hospital. A charitable children's hospital at a place called Morakai which would have a cardiac facility, neurosurgery, eye surgery, bone and chemotherapy. We will bring the expertise to Guyana so that more people can access the care and therefore save thousands of dollars and time travelling around the world to save lives.
I applied for the land at Moarakai 31.4 acres to do several things and the application is in the system awaiting the President's signature also EPA and other approval.
The hospital is important for Guyana because of the benefit to poor people needing specialised treatment and the financial savings we would make. Also we would be a centre of excellence in something and attract patients from our neighbouring countries. Also I would have a paid job.
We will have approximately 100 beds, with various specialties, full diagnostics, dialysis, tele medicine, physiotherapy, swimming pool, alternate medicine; acupuncture/massage, lab facilities, counselling etc computer lab & research facilities, class rooms for lectures etc it will be a teaching hospital. A&E etc It's a kid friendly and people friendly hospital. Overseas medical students could do electives and voluntary work with us.
The complex will also have:-
kids first fund's office, a hostels for the vulnerable, nature trails and adventure park , camping site, bird watching facility accommodation for local and overseas doctors/staff, a skills training centre, guest house, supermarket, gas station/vulcanising/work shop, multi faith place of worship, children's play park and an Ayurvedic health spa.
I also intend to establish cottage industries, after training people in the surrounding communities to do farming, craft making, cooking, dress making and various other micro-enterprise initiatives, to develop and improve the lives of those living in the immediate communities.
I have a plan to raise the money to build from investors and selling bricks for US$1000 to corporate sponsors. There are at least 500 waiting for us to launch our hospital website so they can start buying.
We can't launch until we have the land. We offered to buy it from the Government but I was told by the President he can't sell state land. We asked for a 99 year lease, but he said he can only give 25 year lease.
The President told me that if I don't agree to his settlement figure of GY$5million, he and his government would not deal with me and the hospital project will not happen.
I received GY$1million dollars in 2007 from our President, he said that money was to pay my rent for a year and to buy a middle income house lot which cost $500,000 GY. I paid for the lot but could not find anywhere to rent for that budget. In the end I had to use the rest of the money to buy tickets to travel to the UK to fundraise to pay off the March 07 hospital bill for Kids First.
Early in 2008 I went to the UK and Canada where we raised US$10,000 to pay off the Oct 07 bill. It was very hard work and created a lot of good will amongst the diaspora and people genuinely interested in the well being of children.
I was informed in August 2008 just before I went overseas, that I have to vacate my room at State House because the President needs it back to house his guests for his university reunion in September. Also since we are no longer married I should leave State House.
I have nowhere to move to and I don't intend to run back to my father's home when I was married to someone who has I believe an obligation to provide for me.
In August 2008, I went to the UK and USA to fundraise for the next trip to India which was planned for October 2008, but due to insufficient funds we have postponed the trip.. We need to raise US$120,000 to pay for surgery and air fares. There I was able to raise US$22,306. In November I went to Canada and raised CAN$10,000. Achieving our goal could be easier with co-operation from our President, but the opposite happened.
In September 2008K we planned to hold a food fair fundraiser at the Guyana High Commission which would have raised ₤5,000-₤6,000 it was stopped because the High Commissioner received a letter from the Director General, which stated on the instruction of the President, Kids First Fund is no longer to have access or use of the building.
Quite amazing when other organisations in the UK have full use of the building to keep meetings and host social activities. Kids First uses it to raise money to save lives and to store our stocks of souvenirs and craft in a basement office that is used for storage and filing. Also we have stayed there with the patients there to save paying hotel bills.
I was advised by our President that he has no responsibility to make any further settlement as we were not living as married people. I must not use the title First Lady and I am not entitled to have diplomatic status or a duty free concession to buy a vehicle.
Our President says he is willing to let a judge decide what he must pay. Which Judge would be willing to hear the case and be impartial, when the most powerful and vindictive man in the country is involved? I do not feel that I could get a fair judgement. Also the President can not be taken to court whilst in or out of office. Even if a Judge makes a ruling how do you enforce it on someone who is immune from the constraints of law?
Our President's advice when I said I need money to build a house, set up a business and buy a vehicle was that I should go overseas and get a job save up and come back. When I reminded him of dedicating 10 years of my life to help poor people, he said I could have left at any time.
The Mayor and Opposition parties called for the vehicle to be returned, yet the President is claiming to be following the rules, whose? Where does it say that I must relinquish the vehicle? Where doe it say anything about me? The President claims I have no right to government resources paid for by tax payers money. Yet tax payer's money is being splurged to pay for resources for his employees when they crash state cars, or need anything etc
When I was the First Lady he contributed nothing to my upkeep, now I am no longer the First Lady, he still won't do the right thing.
I feel very disappointed and frustrated that I am being penalised because of a bad relationship with our President and that I am being disrespected as a woman, wife and First Lady of this country and no-one is able or willing to help me.
I am asking for :
- Our President to reverse his current policy and please stop persecuting me, Kids First Fund and it's supporters. Let people have the freedom to associate and support us since you won't.
- Our President and his agents to stop warning off people not to help and threatening to give people a hard time/remove GOG funding etc I am not your enemy, I don't want your job, I just want to serve my country without you and your staff/agents stamping on my efforts. I have proved my dedication why else do you think I am still here without any money or support.
- Stop disrespecting everything I am involved in and instructing your Ministers to give me and my colleagues a hard time. I am going to resign as Chairperson of the National Steering Committee Against Child Labour, you've already snuffed out the NCRC.
- I wish to retain all courtesies and use of overseas missions to carry out our fundraisers etc In particular the UK where you promised my sister Kieran we can still continue our work undisturbed and to keep hold of the keys. The High Commissioner in the UK has no problem with us using the building in any capacity and is following your instructions.
- Use of the mission was not subject to me being First Lady when other organisations use it for their socials and meetings. Our stock is stored in a disused office in the basement. We bring together more Guyanese at our activities than anyone else could get with free rum.
- Full duty free concession on a personal vehicle and one for Kids First.
- The land for the hospital at Morakai be given to Kids First or sold to us for a reasonable amount. We would like full co-operation at the government level. We don't need your money we just don't want you to obstruct me or the project.
- The land cruiser I was using, PGG 1108 be returned to me and gas and maintenance provided by the Office of the President until I retire.
- I would like re-migrant status backdated to 1997 – duty and VAT free on my building materials for my home and the hospital
- I wish to keep my Diplomatic status and passport.
- I was told there was a First Lady's allowance which the President stopped when he assumed office. I would like every allowance that I was entitled to on every trip I made but did not get.
- A proper settlement so I can build a home, buy a vehicle, live peacefully and earn a living. The President paid nothing towards my existence for the past 10 years.
I have suffered for the past decade and I want to move on but I don't have the resources or co-operation to do so.
Finally, on the 5 January 2009 I received a letter from our President's lawyer dated 2 January requesting that I vacate State House within 48 hours or I will be denied access to it. I responded with a letter requesting more time.
I have asked to keep my room until I return from overseas fundraising activities on 1 April, after which I will move out before I take my last batch of children to India for surgery for a while.
On the 19 January when I returned to State House I was denied access on the President's instructions. I have no clothing apart from what you see me wearing here.
I have no choice but to close my office and move back to UK for a while to earn a living to support my charitable work. This is not what I want to do, as Guyana is my home and I have a right to live and work here. Due to the unfair discrimination I am suffering at the hands of our President and his agents, I have no choice.
Someone once said “PT revolution is not enough” I am a Full time patriot and nothing will ever change that. If you, Mr President, had dedicated a fraction of the energy you expend in making my life difficult to actually working with me, we would have achieved much more for Guyana .
It was not an easy choice to make this statement, everything I have said is true.
My humble apology my parents, to this great nation and to my family and friends for any embarrassment this has caused, but I was given no other choice.
Citizen of Guyana