Almost ten years ago, on August 8, 1999, to be exact, Mr Bharrat Jagdeo took over the Guyana presidency from Mrs Janet Jagan, who served from December 1997 after successfully leading her party’s A-Team comprising herself, Mr Jagdeo and Prime Minister Samuel Hinds, in a tensely waged election fight against the PNC.
Thirty-five years old at the time, Mr Jagdeo became the youngest President in Guyana after receiving a scholarship to study economics at the Patrice Lumumba University in the former Soviet Union, and returning home upon graduation to take up a job with the State Planning Secretariat under the PNC government, then being named a Junior and Senior Finance Minister under the PPP government.
His selection to replace Mrs Jagan was already worked out by the PPP before the 1997 election, which meant that the PPP had already settled on putting Mr Jagdeo in charge of the country when he was still thirty-three years old and never being asked to share with the nation his broad-based vision for Guyana’s economic recovery and development or racial healing and harmony.
While ‘youth’ was the key word the PPP used to explain its selection of Mr Jagdeo, ‘experience’ probably was the farthest thing from the minds of his selectors, because while ‘youth’ represented the energy needed for the Herculean task at hand, the task at hand also demanded someone either with some kind of experience turning around a major entity or with a compelling vision for turning around the country by rallying the people behind that vision. (On this latter point, think Barack Obama!)
It is now obvious to all that, despite all the running around, the constant taking off to distant places and much speechifying to probably make up for delivering the goods given Guyana’s potential, Mr Jagdeo did not come into the presidency with a viable vision or a pragmatic plan that catered for medium to long-term recovery and development.
And this glaring lack may be based on the fact he was merely selected by the PPP and not based on him running for the presidency by selling his vision and plan to the electorate. In fact, he may well have been continuing the pattern established by the PPP, which did not come back to power in 1992 with a five or 10-year economic recovery plan.
When Dr Cheddi Jagan died suddenly in 1997, he obviously did not leave behind any economic blueprint for Mrs Jagan and her successor to continue. I also don’t ever recall the American-born Mrs Jagan inviting and hosting American or Guyanese-American investors in Guyana during her two-year tenure.
Frankly, Dr Jagan did not even have a succession plan at the time of his death, opting instead to hand Mrs Jagan a hand-written note telling her to ‘take over.’ But while this is another topic for another time, it is imperative for us to understand the thinking of the PPP when it comes to respecting the intelligence and rights of Guyanese. While Mrs Jagan did reveal who her successor would be, the party made it clear last year when observers were asking who will be the party’s 2011 candidate, that such a matter is internal to the party and members of the public should basically mind their own business.
After all the party’s shenanigans for the past 16 years that resulted in the country still struggling economically, especially on the grass-roots level, aren’t Guyanese entitled to know who their next potential President might be? Where does he or she stand on several hot button issues affecting the nation, but which issues the party prefers to treat as though they are internal to the party alone?
Most of us thought that Mr Jagdeo couldn’t do any worse than his predecessors, and blindly accepted him as President when Mrs Jagan stepped down. Unfortunately, many of us − at home and abroad − are disappointed in both Mr Jagdeo and the PPP, and shudder to think the PPP might again put its hand in its magic hat and pull out a turtle rather than a rabbit in 2011.
Some may sing Mr Jagdeo’s praises, especially in his new found role as a global champion of climate change, but a cursory review of his report card in his ten years at the helm highlights some disturbing factors. Among them:
1) The government’s failure to attract overseas-based Guyanese, but especially those of its perceived support base, and those with wealth or access to finances to go home with the professional experience and technical expertise and resources to help rebuild Guyana.
2) The governemnt’s failure to obtain foreign help when local law enforcers did absolutely nothing to stop the roaring criminal tsunami of 2002 – 2004.
3) The government’s Nelson’s eye to the Phantom Squad in extra-judicial killings of criminals, suspects and ‘soft targets,’ and the emergence of Roger Khan as a notoriously key figure in both the drug trade and extra-judicial killings.
4) The questionable purchase of two pre-owned copters to help fight gun-related criminals, but the failure to use the copters in detecting or preventing drug smuggling in Guyana’s hinterland.
5) The government’s failure to pull off major drug busts in Guyana even as Guyanese keep getting caught overseas smuggling drugs.
6) The government’s failure to arrest and prosecute a single money launderer even though money laundering, like foreign remittances, is a major part of Guyana’s economic life.
7) The government’s failure to properly account for hundreds of millions of dollars according to the Auditor-General’s report for 2007.
8) The government’s failure to prevent Guysuco losing $3B in 2008 due to strikes and problems with the Skeldon Modernization Plan that resulted in Guyana importing sugar from Guatemala.
9) The government’s failure to have the Insurance Commissioner prevent CLICO (Guyana) from endangering $6.9B that belonged to the people of Guyana. The government still hasn’t said where it will source that replenishment.
Of course I can go on, but I want to stop here and say specifically to those who argue that the PPP government inherited and then reduced a huge foreign debt from the PNC government, that such an argument no longer holds water because in the 16 years that the PPP has been in power, it has been borrowing heavily.
Given Guyana’s untapped resources, the wiser thing would have been to spend the last 16 years mixing borrowing with attracting big money investors to create jobs and generate revenue for the government and income for the country’s workers.
Brazil is doing just that right now even as it holds a third of the world’s rain forest. Its President is not obsessing himself over climate change by running all over the globe trying to rake in big money, yet one report out this past week says the World Bank has offered Brazil US$1.5B towards its environment. Guyana may yet get its share, but that should have been in addition to revenue generating projects funded by foreign direct investments. The global economic meltdown notwithstanding, private investments are still needed for growth to take place. Government alone cannot grow an economy!
In closing, I must say that maybe many of us expected too much of Mr Jagdeo given what was at stake after he took office, and while the Berbice Bridge so far may yet be his biggest achievement, it is his arrogant attitude as President that will be remembered most.
One thing I know for sure is that corruption is almost synonymous with governance, but when it happens inside the President’s office, that’s a powerful indictment! The multi-million dollar dolphin scandal inside the Office of the President is a specific incident that would never have happened there while Cheddi Bharrat Jagan was running the government! Never!