September 3, 2015 By
September 2, 2015 By
State Minister Joseph Harmon last Thursday hinted that the newly installed A Partnership for National Unity and Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC) coalition Government is drafting a media policy which would seek to regulate the media’s operations in Guyana with specific focus on State media.
Harmon said that while “it is early days yet”, that policy would “emerge” as he called on those covering governmental affairs to be “fair, objective and balanced” in the meantime.
There was a direct correlation between the brouhaha involving Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo upbraiding a young reporter of the State-owned Guyana Chronicle over the publication of a story under the headline: “Govt blunders on Budget Estimates”…and Government’s volte face on state media policy.
Pressed for answers by the independent media here on the matter, the Prime Minister after vacillating on the matter and giving conflicting responses, admittedthat he was “very disappointed with the headline” and that he had a ‘conversation’ with the reporter on the matter. Nagamootoo then expressed the startling view that the State media was owned by the Government and should toe the government’s line.
This is the same Prime Minister who told the extant 11th Parliament during its second sitting that the state newspaper had been transformed from a partisan, propagandistic rag into a bastion of public information. He had also informed journalists while in the Opposition benches back in May that “the AFC is opposed to the State or politicians legally regulating or controlling the press. Though we admit that standards ought to be raised…this should be done by self-regulation”.
He even said before becoming Prime Minister that he believed “the Government has a legal duty to protect press freedom, not to undermine it” or to “make laws that could muzzle it and turn it into a toothless poodle”.
Since making those statements, however, and after becoming Prime Minister, Nagamootoo and the Government in general have been severely criticised by the free media for failing to honour several promises made to the electorate and for the manner in which they have governed the affairs of the country since occupying Executive office.
The missteps by the new Government have also been exposed by the media and this newspaper in particular. On media issues, these have also included the installation of political cronies at the helm of the State-owned National Communications Network and Government Information News Agency and the publication of a politically infused piece from the pen of the Director of Public Information within the PM’s office (who is a public servant) in defence of the PM and the pursuit of a Cadillac lifestyle at the expense of the public purse.
Prime Minister Nagamootoo and this new Government have also failed to make all the “revolutionary changes” which they had bitterly complained about and lobbied against in the international community but instead have gone overboard in demanding the state media institute complete sycophantic coverage. They have imported several voluble and extremely letter writers who supported the opposition against the PPP government and installed them as columnists in the Chrinicle.
It is not hard, therefore, to believe that Nagamootoo, a self-proclaimed veteran Journalist, will go to extreme lengths to destroy objective, hardline criticism and media coverage of his and the government’s activities from the Guyanese press corps.
There can be no legislatively imposed media policy for operatives here without their involvement and without understandable cause. Media houses here are likely to oppose every attempt of this new Government to frustrate them from holding it accountable as the Government cannot realistically determine what is fair coverage, balance, and impartial journalism if it wants its own State media to favour its views and toe its line.
This newspaper too, which has suffered the brunt of disrespect and personal attacks, from the new Government, will resolutely oppose any form of politically motivated regulation as hindrance to the development of a modern, free press which is the sine qua non of a functioning democracy.
September 1, 2015 By
Initially it had been thought that Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo’s upbraiding of the reporter who wrote what became a headline story in the State owned Chronicle that the Government had “blundered” in its Budget presentation in the National Assembly, was done in a fit of personal pique. However, subsequent revelations and announcements indicate that it might have been the distillation of his Government’s policy towards the media.
Even though the Prime Minister afterwards insisted that he did not “upbraid” the reporter, but he was “disappointed… very disappointed” with the story and headline, it appeared to most objective observers as a distinction without a difference. This was emphasised when in an editorial the Chronicle quickly said, “Our newspaper is owned by the State, and is, therefore, expected to editorially support the general thrust of the Government of the day. The Government then has a right to set out the broad parameters within which the paper operates.” The inherent contradictions in conflating “State” and “Government” and their authoritarian implications have been noted by several commentators, including some who are very favourably disposed to the Government.
Within days of the above articulation, Minister of the State, Joseph Harmon announced that the Government was working on a “media policy”, noting pointedly that “the media, as the fourth eState, is an important element in the governance of a country and therefore it is not something you can touch or do as you want…. But what we are saying now is that the media must act responsibly and that if you are reporting on Government business, you must be fair balanced and objective.” It is noteworthy that when in Opposition, Nagamootoo was one of the most vociferous critics of governmental encroachment on what the media published. The challenge had always been who would decide what was “fair and balanced.”
In any country, when policies are articulated, policymakers cannot be oblivious to the history of the area of national life which the policies will impact. In the case of the media, Guyanese have experienced a very checkered history that would suggest extreme caution when seeking to “guide” the “fourth eState”. The Prime Minister’s outburst, the State newspaper’s defence and the Minister of State’s announcement all suggest that Guyana might be revisiting a particular view of the media that was first articulated in the 1970’s.
In 1974, Kit Nascimento, Minister of State responsible for “Information” announced, “as much as we may like, we cannot simply import the libertarian ideas of and concepts of press freedom first voiced by men like Descartes, Locke and Milton, into countries such as ours without examination.” The Government then announced the policy of “Development Support Communications” (DSC) that would guide the media in Guyana.
Prime Minister Forbes Burnham, who had just proclaimed the paramountcy of the party over the Government, and – by subsequent actions such as flying the People’s National Congress flag over the Appellate Court – over the State, said: The Government “has a right to own sections of the media and the Government has a right, as a final arbiter of things national, to formulate a policy for the media so that the media can play a much more important part that it has played in the part of mobilising the people for the development of the people.”
Burnham made the fine distinction that Government would not tell the media what not to print or broadcast but to “direct” the media as what to print and broadcast. To achieve this end, Guyanese journalists were to receive a two year subsidised course at University of Guyana in the finer points of the DSC. But whatever the presumably noble intentions to harness the media to the developmental thrust, Guyana’s experience with the DSC policy was tragic. It resulted in total governmental control of the media after the Government nationalised several entities and denied newsprint to others.
Government should proceed on this path with extreme caution.
August 31, 2015 By
When John Locke laid down the foundations of what is now the “liberal state”, he proposed that the right to “life, liberty and property” are sacrosanct against the depredations of the Leviathan when in control of men of narrow vision. Thomas Jefferson substituted “the pursuit of happiness” for “property” in the U.S. Declaration of Independence, not because he disagreed with Locke, but because he considered the two terms coterminous. How could one “pursue happiness” when mired in poverty?
From the 18th century to the present, if there has been one constant in the evolution of governance, it is this: when a government refuses to recognise the “right to property” as sacrosanct, that country will remain in the Hobbesian “state of nature where life is nasty, brutish and short”. The USSR and China both defined their governance structure as “communist” inspired, but the former is now a distant memory and the latter will become the largest economy on earth, because the latter gave due importance to the right to property.
The right to property is protected in the law of contracts – and for this reason, contracts have also become sacrosanct. One cannot breach the terms of a contract, without due process being applied in the courts that are mandated to be protect the rights of citizens and legal entities. In modern societies, the latter is epitomised by the “corporation” which is considered literally as a legal “body” with its own right and remedies. Because, usually there are a host of individuals and other entities that have interests in a particular corporation, a “Board of Directors” is constituted for every corporation to protect the former’s interest.
Boards are said to have “fiduciary responsibilities” to the shareholders and trustees of their corporations and failure to protect the latter’s interests can result in Directors being sued in their private capacities. The foregoing becomes relevant in light of the exchanges between the Directors of the Berbice Bridge Company Incorporated (BBCI) and the Government of Guyana (GoG) after the latter unilaterally announced a reduction of the tolls (property) of the Bridge the former entity operates.
Over a year ago, when the GoG was in Opposition but in control of the Assembly, they had passed a motion for such a reduction. But it appeared that good sense prevailed after they became the government when they quantified their reduction of tolls, announced it in their Budget, and engaged the Directors of the BBCI in negotiations. They then announced that they would subsidise the reduction of commuters’ lowered payments which would kick in as of tomorrow, Sept 1st. After extensive deliberations, the BBCI Board was forced to point out that they had never formally agreed to the government’s proposals which had repercussions of the stakeholders’ right to property that only they could approve.
And it is these repercussions that hark back to the sanctity of contracts and of property. The Berbice Bridge was built under the first Public Private Partnership (PPP) agreement in Guyana. The Government of Guyana (“Public”) entered into a contract with equity and debt investors (“Private”) that promised a cash flow from tolls to cover operational costs and debt servicing. It is to be noted that shareholders only receive dividends when there are profits generated and in the case of the Berbice Bridge these were never paid.
As pointed out by the BBCI Directors, the cash flow from tolls at the present level would plunge the Bridge into bankruptcy unless they were raised to the levels requested since 2014 but not approved because of the intervening general elections exigencies. The government has unfortunately ignored the BBCI Directors duty to consult with their principals before their property (payments of debt) is destroyed (bankruptcy) and labelled it “delaying manoeuvres”.
The government would do well to accept the fundamental values of “life, liberty and property” and accept that a campaign promise does not constitute “force majeure” that allows them to unilaterally breach the terms of a contract.
August 30, 2015 By
Every government acquires, through its actions, an image in the eyes of the populace that then defines it through the ages. The PNC government from 1964-1992, for instance, while articulating several noteworthy and forward looking policies failed horribly in their implementation. Very few Guyanese, excepting for some “true believers”, would disavow the contention that the PNC left the country much a worse off that when they found it and this would forever be their legacy. It is not intentions that matter in the end, but the consequences of actions.
This present government in its campaign speeches and its manifesto, outlined some very positive policies and projects. And for this they were able to secure both the Executive and control of the Legislature. However, while it is very early days to pronounce conclusively on the matter, their actions are not only generating negative outcomes due to the “principle of unintended consequences”, but in fact are a complete variance in several critical areas from what was promised. One line of action serves to define this government as one consumed by “witch hunting” rather than seeking to improve the lives of all Guyanese.
In the section of its Manifesto captioned, “Foundations of Governance”, the very first principle is on “National unity”. Which Guyanese would dispute the need for this goal? The Manifesto explained: “National Unity is the essence for the coming into being of the APNU+AFC Coalition. This spirit and imperative of unity, consultation and cooperation will inform all decision-making with respect to political, economic and social development issues. The practice of One Party Rule and Winner-takes-all is now history.”
But citizens have to be scratching their heads and asking where the “consultation and cooperation” is even between the two partners of the coalition, much less with the Opposition PPP and Civil Society. The “Cummingsburg Accord”, which defined the parameters of that internal process has been jettisoned completely. That the smaller AFC, which was courted assiduously to provide margin the victory margin, was denied two of the fundamental agreements – chairing of the Cabinet and oversight over Domestic Governance – is proof positive that the APNU is paramount “uber alles” and that “one party rule and winner-take-all” are alive and kicking vigorously.
But the government did not confine its actions to defensively solidifying its ranks by sanitising and neutering the AFC while keeping them within its fold. From day one it launched a programme of ferreting out and going after all officials suspected of “PPP leanings” and then summarily firing them. The paradigmatic case was of the veteran Clinton Collymore, who was not even offered the courtesy of a face to face meeting with the Minister of Communities, before being dismissed and losing all his benefits.
The PPP, in the form of the immediate past President Donald Ramotar, described the actions as “ethnic cleansing”, the term used by ex-PNC President Desmond Hoyte post-1992 for far lesser dismissals when the PPP took over following the first free and fair elections in 28 years. While some might have dismissed Mr Ramotar’s assertion as hyperbole, they could not say the same for the 1972 Amerindian Community Support Officers who were sent on the breadlines without any notice.
For a community that has always placed last on every measure of income and expenditure in this country to suffer such a blow to its collective solar plexus, the effects will be far reaching and long lasting. With the results of dozens of “audit” being conducted into a huge number of governments, the witch hunting and bloodletting has evidently only begun. Moving away from the government services, the coalition has now moved into the “autonomous” agencies.
The government often categorised its coming into office as a “revolution”. It should be aware that after revolutions destroy “outsiders” it inevitably turns on itself. AFC and other “partners”, be forewarned.
August 29, 2015 By
Guyana’s hospitality towards immigrants is renowned; the mere fact that we’re a cosmopolitan country of at least five different peoples, with the Amerindians who account for nine separate nations, allows us to cultivate and maintain friendly relations with others.
We have always promoted a flexible immigration policy to encourage not only South American and Caribbean travelers, but visitors from around the world. There is no need to further defend that Guyana needs foreign investments much like any other country, whether on an individual or corporate scale.
However, the reader would recall the then Opposition pitting of Guyanese against foreign investors in Guyana, in particular the Chinese and the Brazilians, many of whom have established businesses and are residing in the country. Resentment was sensed in particular from those in the diaspora who were led to believe that the country was being raped by the Chinese and the Brazilians at the grand detriment of local citizens.
It seems as though the anti-immigration sentiments of the APNU/AFC have found grounds on which to thrive with the coalition’s ascension to power. Citizenship Minister Winston Felix who secured a newly invented position which drastically reduces the mandate of Public Security (formerly Home Affairs) Minister Khemraj Ramjattan, incarnates the fear harboured of endangering Guyana’s relationship with its neighbours as well as our image in the international arena.
Earlier this month Minister Felix justified his refusal to grant entry to eight Indian nationals who had no visas and allegedly no return tickets as they entered Guyana on July 19, by stating that the Government was reviewing our “systems” and as such “deemed it necessary to disallow entry to the country at this time, both to be fair and non-partisan and to send a message to anyone who thinks that they will take advantage of our legendary hospitality.” Indeed, the image of eight foreigners on the CJIA tarmac does speak of our “legendary hospitality”, and so did the Minister’s disregard for consultation of the Indian High Commissioner.
To bring further embarrassment to Guyana in the face of observers, during the 2015 National Budget debate, Minister Felix displayed his ignorance of basic immigration policies and management. He declared to the House that the Granger-led administration was “not averse to visitors or to having investors” but that “Guyanese must have an equal play,”.
He went on to supposedly “prove” his point by demonstrating that applications for work permits for cooks and labourers are processed despite there being Guyanese available for such jobs and showed the House that in 2012, 1050 work permits were granted to 991 Brazilians and 24 Chinese respectively while in 2015 so far, 304 permits were issued of which 236 granted to Brazilians. While Felix did indicate that he didn’t “want a lopsided situation… where our own people do not have access to our lands to do what other people are doing,”, he should have pointed out that these numbers represent 0.14% and 0.04% of the Guyanese population for 2012 and 2015 respectively. How does this threaten Guyanese accessibility to the job market?
The importance of immigration is translated through the country’s dire need for foreign skill and expertise from which Guyanese can benefit, much like the Chinese did before they became a super power in the last decades. Also, deterring investors with both financial and human capital is a foolish move considering the nature of our emerging economy which needs to be become more attractive to foreign investments. We still have this luxury that many developed countries no longer have access to.
Finally, there is the case where Guyanese may not want to occupy positions readily taken up by immigrants, or do not have the skills necessary, especially in the building and construction industry. Those who readily criticise Chinese and Brazilian investors must be unaware of the fact that the center of international affairs is gravitating to include dynamic exchanges with a stoutly booming South South cooperation, spearheaded by BRICS, in which Guyana over the years has secured a place.
Should Minister Felix further attempt to jeopardise Guyana’s progress and foreign relations by turning away investors and instilling needless fear in the minds of Guyanese, Guyana will become a loser on the international market, and remain at the heels of those who have no other intention but to ensure we remain in the periphery.
August 28, 2015 By
The newly-elected A Partnership for National Unity and Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC) Government since it took office last May, has been making quite a number of unpopular decisions as it tries to get its feet firmer on the governance in this country. Almost every week, it’s another unpopular decision. One is therefore forced to ask if it’s a case of Government functionaries giving little or no thought as it relates to the policy direction of the administration, or is it a case that they just do not care about how these decisions will affect the populace now that they are at the helm of Government.
For example, amid the rising crime rate, not long after he was appointed Government’s point man on national security, Minister Khemraj Ramjattan took a decision to enforce a 2am curfew for bars and night clubs. This of course did not go down well with partygoers and sections of the business community.Ramjattan’sjustification for this move was that crime would be reduced.
We are all well aware that crime in Guyana has taken on new dimensions and hence, requires modern, strategic thinking and effective policy decisions matched by the necessary resources to confront it. Certainly closing bars at 2 am will definitely not solve the problem. To date, neither the Minister nor his Government have come up with a concrete plan to address the various forms of criminality affecting citizens of this country even though they had boasted on the campaign trail of having an effective national security plan.
Also, in preparation of the 2015 budget, the Government signaled its intention to discontinue the $10,000 voucher programme launched under the previous Government. It’s justification for this move was that this programme was designed by the PPP to win votes at the last elections. A promise was then made by the Government that instead of continuing theprogramme, it would increase the Uniform Voucher Allowance given to students. To the nation’s disappointment, when the budget was finally presented in the National Assembly, it was confirmed that a meager $500 was added to the $1500 uniform allowance that was already there, bringing the total sum to $2000. Every parent knows that $2000 cannot meet the basic uniform needs of a student.
It should be noted too that the Administration has managed to fire thousands of workers from the public service and within Government’s employ. Many of them coincidentally or not have been East Indians and Amerindians who supported the PPP/C. They have done so at a time when thousands of young persons are looking for employment across the country.
However, one of the most unpopular decisions thus far, is to imposeregional flags. The move to assign flags to every administrative region across the country has not settled well all of the regional leaders some of whom have already rejected the plan.
No other than former President and Leader of the Opposition Bharrat Jagdeo has slammed the move and pointed out that it could be dangerous for Guyana as it could put the country’s sovereignty at risk and reinforce Venezuela’s attempts to win over the Essequibo through encouraging secessionist tendencies.
There are countless other unpopular decisions made since the APNU/AFC government took office three months ago, but space in this column is not enough to detail them. What is even worse is that most, if not all of the decisions so far have been imposed on the population without any proper consultation being done.
In any democratic society, one expects the Government to consult with the citizenry, especially those aspects of the population that will be affected one way or another. The Government has not done so and as such, risks failing the people.
August 27, 2015 By
Now that the Government has completed its first 100 days in office, it may be opportune to look for possible trends in the new governance style promised by the APNU/AFC coalition during the campaign. The coalition did not leave this matter to chance, but spelled out its goals rather specifically in its Manifesto and the Cummingsburg Accord, which became an addendum.
One of the most noteworthy features was the promise of “inclusionary governance”. The Government to be formed after the election would include civil society members and even “members of the PPP”. Against the backdrop of prior cries of “exclusion and marginalisation”, this was a welcome promise and in fact, played a pivotal role in the Coalition eking out its razor thin majority. Unfortunately, the appointments to Governmental office was governed by the old imperative of “jobs for the boys”. In fact, reputable voices in the society, not aligned to the PPP, which can be assumed to be self-interested, pointed out the even more exclusive pool from which the new appointees were drawn – middle aged African Guyanese men. After this faux pas, the Government promised a review of appointments at the levels of Boards, but the Ministerial ones remain in their skewed state.
Another promise took its cue from the centralized, authoritarian nature of presidential power as adumbrated in the constitution even though there was some severe bi-partisan pruning in 2000. The powers of the Executive were going to be divvied up between the President and his Prime Minister, in a manner stated quite explicitly in the Cummingsburg Accord. This promised curtailment of presidential powers was also very persuasive to voters. The Accord stated that: “The Prime Minister shall have responsibility for: Domestic Affairs and Chairing the Cabinet; Recommending Ministerial appointments and providing the organizational structures of Ministries for the approval of the President; Appointing Heads of Agencies and non- constitutional commissions, subject to the required and agreed democratic mechanisms of consultation and appointment and Domestic Security.
Not even one of these powers was devolved to the Prime Minister, without any explanation to the Guyanese people save to claim that the “PM will chair Cabinet Meetings when the President was absent”. To date, there has been no record of the Prime Minister chairing any Cabinet meeting even though the President has set a very high bar when it comes to foreign travel, necessitating the PM filling in for him.
What these two chasms between the promise and the reality in terms of governance styles indicate is that the early expressed fears of an authoritarian, top-down leadership style appears quite prescient. Executive powers are still heavily centralized in the person of the president and is tightly deployed by a coterie of ex-military “advisors” or Ministers. It would appear that Moses Nagamootoo, the AFC nominated PM, has accepted the status quo where he has only been granted oversight over the Government media, which the Coalition had promised to open up. He has chosen not to exercise the procedures outlined in the Accord to rectify variances from the stipulated reallocation of power and has instead been very busy, ensuring that the appurtenances of his office are secured.
Of recent there has been an even more worrying development in the trajectory of governance style. Evidently taking its cue from former President Forbes Burnham, for whom the constitution was customized, the Executive in the person of the Prime Minister who represents the President in Parliament, has recently proclaimed one of the central tenets of Burnham’s “party paramountcy”. Vehemently objecting to a headline in the state-owned paper the Daily Chronicle, Nagamootoo flatly said that it was “the Government’s paper”.
Over the past three months, the record is now replete with other instances where exclusion rather than inclusion is the trend. None were more blatant when 1972 Amerindian Community Service Officers (CSO’s) were summarily dismissed. It is not too late for the Government to abandon the drive towards party paramountcy.
August 26, 2015 By
The newly-elected A Partnership for National Unity and Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC) coalition Government’s deadline for the implementation of its laudable 100-day plan expired at the break of dawn today.
Many of the promises contained within that plan, which was used to muster up political support ahead of the May 11, 2015 General and Regional Elections, remain unfulfilled.
Regardless of the “A” Grade that the new Government has given itself, it has failed miserably in the eyes of the populace as far as honouring these simple yet complex election goodies promises to the masses.
On Friday last, Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo attempted desperately with the support of several Government Members of Parliament to mislead the National Assembly by alleging that his Government has fulfilled the mandate and spirit of the 100-day plan.
Surely, the Prime Minister knows that a promise is not completed until it is actually done and fully implemented within the agreed upon or promised timeframe. Any fulfilment of promises outside of this agreed-upon timeframe means that the original promise was modified with the consent of those who should have benefited and the agreement was remodelled. This is not the case.
At the moment of the expiration of the 100 days, the Value Added Tax nor Berbice River Bridge tolls have not been reduced. The new Government while in Opposition campaigned heavily on these issues and they should have been effected within the first 100 days without any excuses.
There were no “significant” increases for public servants on the traditional payroll. What workers got, in fact, was a five per cent increase, while those below the minimum wage which account for less than 15 per cent of the entire public sector benefited from “moderate increases” as a result of the hike in the minimum wage. While Government gave Old Age Pensioners a meagre $4000 more, it removed their ability to benefit from millions of dollars in subsidies for water and electricity.
Linden still does not have its television station and there is no establishment of “passport and birth certificate licensing offices in Berbice, Essequibo and Linden”. A makeshift facility was put in place so persons could receive their documents but not process them.
No date for Local Government Elections has been set and the new Government seems confused as to when these elections could be practically held. This is the most criminal breach of the plan given the positions adopted by the Government when it was in Opposition. There is no procurement Commission nor was constitutional reform delivered. No conference for women was held in reality nor was there a national youth council meeting. There has been no liberalisation of the Telecommunications and Information Communication Technology Sectors. There is no long-term economic development plan put forward by the new Government for the full realisation of the country’s vast potential.
The Government has failed the people and must be held accountable for the non-implementation of this plan and the Cummingsburg Accord regardless of the recent publicity stunt pulled and led by Messrs Harmon and Nagamootoo.
While the Government has not managed to completely accomplish its 100-day plan, it has managed to fire thousands of workers from the public service and within Government’s employ. Many of them coincidentally or not have been East Indians and Amerindians who supported the PPP/C.
The Government over the first 100 days managed to pull out a birthday bash and inauguration for the new President which amounted to millions of dollars as well. Over this same period, it managed to purchase a $22 million vehicle for the new Prime Minister and pay for partially or entirely the trips of several of its Ministers abroad for political and other forms of business.
It has also failed to address the crime and security needs of the masses, as scores were murdered, robbed or died as a result of road accidents during its first 100 days. Ironically, the President’s, PM’s, and Vice Presidents’ security details were enhanced and extensive repairs were made to their roads and residence within that time frame.
Perhaps even more criminal was the Government’s hypocrisy in delivering a PPP-derived budget to the populace which featured butchered, cut and pasted policies within a questionable legislative and economic framework to the Parliament.
The next 100 days await the public and given the trend, no one should hold their breath hoping for a fresh approach or paradigm shift.
August 25, 2015 By