Gov’t disappointed in coverage of President’s press conference –GINA

In a GINA release on Friday, the Government of Guyana said it was disappointed with what it said appeared to be “deliberate attempts” to misrepresent aspects of a press conference held by President Bharrat Jagdeo on matters related to the financial sector.

The release cited articles in Stabroek News (SN) and the Guyana Times. In relation to SN, the release referred to  a news item on page 10 of the February 27 edition entitled `PNCR, AFC call for finance minister, insurance commissioner to resign’ and referred to a statement made by the AFC that the move to the courts for judicial management of Clico (Guyana) came in the wake of statements by the President that the Guyana economy was sufficiently insulated  from the effect of the global  financial crisis and that Clico (Guyana) would not be affected by problems in the Clico group.

GINA asserted “This is a blatant distortion of all previous pronouncements made by the President on the matter. Indeed, the President has been widely quoted as explaining the potential for mismatch between asset and liability maturities in the event of a run on any financial institution, including Clico, at the press conference he hosted immediately after returning from his official visit to the Middle East. The same today’s Stabroek News on page 11 states that the President had at his earlier press conference `added that the only problem he could envisage in the short term is a mismatch between liabilities and assets in the event of significant changes of the company’s investments abroad’. In fact, the developments of earlier this week in The Bahamas constituted exactly that, a significant change in the status of the company’s investments abroad. By no stretch of the imagination, therefore, could any of the President’s earlier statements be interpreted as suggesting that Guyana was fully insulated.”

Stabroek News Editor-in-Chief Anand Persaud in response said it was unclear why GINA would raise this as the President’s statement was clear that he did not see a greater danger than a short-term mismatch between assets and liabilities. Persaud said what has since occurred as a result of the liquidation of Clico (Bahamas) can hardly be described as a mismatch.

GINA also referred to the page 11 report in the same edition entitled `President defends handling of Clico crisis’ where the reporter had described the President as being “clearly irate” when asked whether the government had deceived the public by its reluctance to reveal the true state of Clico (Guyana).

GINA said: “It would be eminently obvious to anyone viewing a recording of the press conference that any hint of exasperation or impatience in the President’s responses was the result of redundant, repetitive, and clearly uninformed questions being asked by certain reporters, including the reporter from Stabroek News. Indeed, in at least one instance during the press conference, a reporter repeated a question that the President had just answered, resulting in the President responding by indicating that he would give the same answer that he had just already given.”
In response, Persaud said he was satisfied that the question posed by the SN reporter was an appropriate one.

GINA also said “In addition, at no time did the President suggest the avoidance of `unnecessary unease among the populace’ as a reason why Government did not indicate to the public earlier the likely financial difficulties faced by Clico Guyana. Instead, the President explained that no responsible Government or regulator would make premature statements which, simply by virtue of being made, could precipitate the demise of a functioning financial institution. Indeed, this is evidenced and corroborated in all of the countries where action was taken in relation to Clico. Neither in Trinidad nor The Bahamas did the Government pre-empt regulatory intervention by making irresponsible statements to cast doubt on the strength of the institutions. In both countries, the first pronouncement by the authorities was the announcement of regulatory action or intervention.”

GINA also complained that in the same page 11 article the writer stated “that the President indicated that, if the NIS were to lose its investment of $6 billion, the Government would not be bound to provide the lost sum of money. In the first place, this discussion did not take place during the press conference but during a post-press conference informal chat with some of the journalists who remained in the room. In the second place, the President never made such a statement. When asked by a reporter if the law requires that the Government cover losses on NIS investments, the President indicated that he did not think so.

He went on to explain that if there are financial shortfalls at the NIS, such as might be indicated by an actuarial review, the Scheme would normally be required to reverse this deficit either by increasing its investment returns or raising its contribution rates. At no point in time did the President indicate a departure from the commitment given during the press conference that steps will be taken to protect the pensions of those who have saved and invested in the institutions affected by these recent events, including NIS.”

In response Persaud said that SN acknowledges an incorrect conflation of the issue related to where the NIS places its investments and what happens if there is a shortfall in the ability of the scheme to meet its benefit obligations. It was in that respect that the President said such a shortfall would have to be made up by boosting the returns from its investments or raising contribution rates. Persaud said that SN regretted this error.

GINA also complained about another report on page 3 of the same edition entitled `President to check report Guyana cut from Canada bilateral aid list’. GINA said “During the press conference, a Stabroek News reporter asked about an alleged release that Guyana had been dropped from the list of countries to receive aid from Canada. Several reporters present at the press conference immediately turned to the Stabroek News reporter and advised him that there was no such report, and that they had already checked the matter with the Canadian authorities. The President likewise indicated that he was not aware of any such release. Instead of clarifying the fact that there was no such release and that previous reports to this effect were inaccurate, the page 3 story attempts to suggest that the President undertook to check whether there was such a release. In fact, there was no such release, and this was made clear at the press conference, including by other reporters to the Stabroek News reporter.”

In response, Persaud said he was unaware that SN should be influenced by the antics of other reporters at the briefing who appeared to be doing the government’s bidding. Persaud said he was gratified that the question was asked and the report that was subsequently carried in SN was based on an official release from the Canadian International Development Agency. Further, contrary to the GINA release, President Jagdeo had committed to checking the report as conveyed in the SN report. Persaud said a transcript of the press conference revealed the President as saying as follows: “Okay, I’m going to check what CIDA’s statement… I’m gonna check on the statement. Let’s get a copy of the statement.”

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