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Incoming British High Commissioner tells Stabroek News

He has a very hard double act to follow. First Edward Glover, now Chairman of the Iwokrama Board, who was once described as "the best British High Commissioner ever" and then Steve Hiscock, a Guyanophile to his fingertips.

But when the new British High Commissioner, Fraser Wheeler, arrives in Georgetown in late June, he will have to become his own man and do so quickly. Elections in Guyana and all they imply are not far away. Just appointed, he gave his first interview exclusively to the Stabroek News in England.

Mr Wheeler may not yet be in Guyana but he is well aware of the history and influence of the politics of separation, racial and otherwise, there. His analysis is clear: "There are two fundamental issues that will determine Guyana's future. The first is that Guyana can either find ways for all its diverse communities to work together for the overall benefit of the country, or it can remain divided and fail to prosper. The stakes are high now because the world is more competitive than ever, and in this sense I think Guyana has now reached a watershed."

He continued: "The second issue is that Guyana needs to take a pro-active and constructive role within the Caribbean region. Most of the opportunities and problems facing Guyana, and indeed other countries in the region, require regional solutions, and that means strengthening regional mechanisms to develop such solutions."

The biggest immediate challenge, he feels, will come with the general election whenever that occurs after August 30. Like all before him, his prescription for the conduct of that is crystal clear: "The key point is to have a free and fair election. Impartial outside observers will be a key element in judging whether this has been achieved."

Free and fair and he is looking forward to the event itself: "I know the election date has still to be finalised, but when it does happen it will be a time of enormous importance for Guyana, and I will be delighted to be there for it. I know there has been some trouble on the streets following previous elections, but such behaviour has never helped anyone. For example it deters outside investment, meaning fewer jobs."

Before this posting, his knowledge of the country has been, to date, shall we say, limited: "I knew it produced outstanding cricketers, and some memorable candidates for Miss World! And that there is an incredible forest, with many rivers and waterfalls."

That was the sum total of his knowledge until recently. Since then, he has been swotting up his briefs ready for arrival in late June. "I wanted to go somewhere where I thought I could make a difference. Guyana, I know, has enormous potential. I am excited at the prospect of helping to unlock that potential, which is in all our interests. I also know that the country is very beautiful, and the people are very friendly and welcoming," he said.

This May, the Republic of Guyana celebrates its 40th Anniversary of Independence from the UK. In that time, Britain has had to slip into a post imperial role in Georgetown and elsewhere worldwide. Yet, despite the increasing presence of Uncle Sam, the Olde Country still has a part to play on the Guyanese stage.

"As a pivotal member of the international community, and a country with close and warm ties to Guyana, I think the UK has an important role to play in supporting and encouraging Guyana's development. It remains very much in the UK's interests that Guyana prospers, and we are working with other international donors to try to make that happen. For example the proper use of EU funding over the next few years will depend on the communities coming together to work out a plan that will benefit all, and for the plan to include a regional perspective," was his warning.

But he is still optimistic. "The potential is I think very considerable. It is a question of that potential being realised;" a man with high hopes as he commences his first tour of duty. But is it a case of out of the fire into the frying pan? What is his recent experience? "I spent the last year in Iraq," he said.

Finally, just who is Fraser Wheeler? "I am 49 years old; and I am married to Sarah, and I have a daughter Francesca, 15, and son William, 12. We are a very close family. We live in a beautiful village on the South Downs near the southern coast of England. Sarah used to be a British diplomat too, but has since ventured into business planning, interior design and project management. We met in Geneva. Since then we have been on postings together in Russia and Canada."

Stabroek News