Whatever happened to ‘lean and clean’?

- accounting and defending

This offering, which threatens to be my most brief in months, attempts to provoke thought about two central issues in the news as they relate to the “character” of government and governance here these days.

Cheddi Jagan, Julius Nyrere, even Desmond Hoyte could be said to have been relatively modest, even frugal in their personal lifestyle as Third World leaders. This trait would often carry over to their outlook – sometimes policies – in terms of the character of their governments and governance. That’s whenever it was practicable, useful, or necessary. Realities and expectations of the masses, the governmental colleagues, national outlook – and international relationships, often render personal modesty impossible, I daresay.

In our own big, beautiful, blighted Guyana, just after Cheddi Jagan’s long-denied “New Era” dawned, he actually promised, promulgated (?) A “lean and clean” government. Cheddi, it could be said confidently, was himself the epitome of modesty, “lean-and-clean” in his personal, political, governmental doings. Even as colleagues and subordinates of/in his October 1992 administration might have already exhibited yearnings for much more extravagance, early on. But no hint of lot stashed away in foreign accounts, with respect to Cheddi, unlike what even some of his cherished Communist/Socialist “people’s leaders” were doing.

Frankly speaking, I always felt that Jagan’s accumulation of any wealth would be, and had been towards his lifelong cause – the achievement of some socialist ideal.

Two anecdotes, in this regards, always tickle me still: Cheddi, reportedly, wanted to know why his new Finance Minister Asgar Ali, needed either two houses or two cars. And Henry Jeffrey observed his new leader, Cheddi, darning his not-so-new socks one evening in Bartica! (Cheddi had learnt carpentry and sewing decades before in the Mazaruni Prison.)

Cheddi’s personal preferences apart, I often wonder about the obviously-abandoned concept of “lean-and-clean” government and national style, when I read today’s reports, analyses, and opinions, regarding his inheritors – and the seemingly pervasive corruption, extravagance, favouritism and kleptomania which now abound.

Planned extravagance, squandermania…

The question has been posed in this newspaper already: would Cheddi have sold or purchased multi-million homes? (Why was that first one built, in the first place, anyway?)

To me, the question has more to do with how those homes are being acquired. This modern age apparently dictates extravagant, “playboy” living. Just don’t do it with the people’s money! Leaders have their styles and choices, as we all do. But it is when they use office, corruption, nepotism and subterfuge to sustain themselves, that society experiences the bitter fruits of “governance.”

For even lean-and-clean Cheddi Jagan would have known that his members of Parliament loved their Parliamentary status for the benefits and privileges of gun licences, American visa, VIP passes, and overseas medical attention and education. It has to be accepted, frankly speaking, that our elected/appointed MPs represent their families and future, as much as they represent “the people”.

So don’t even cry for “lean-and-clean.” “Dollar-A-Day” was buried with Dr J too. Today, my friends, “mean” has replaced “lean and clean”.

Accounting and defending

Just a brief comment on the issue of accountability and defence of stewardship and responsibility in government. (And you know my “analyses” and conclusions are fundamental, if not simplistic.)

Transparency and accountability should, to me be buttressed by constitutional, legal and procedural safeguards and regulations. Whether in clubs, churches or ministries, there must be responsible officials and written-down (statutory sometimes) procedures, as public “watchdogs” to monitor transparency and adherence to legality. The breakdown, of course, comes when procedures are honoured/observed in the breach, or totally ignored by supervisors and/or scheming subordinates.

Over the past days recall and observe how “passionately” senior government folks have been defending their roles, their turf. The Guyana Forestry Commission boss points out his agency’s role in log exportation, as against the GRA boss’ claims. The Crime Chief (GPF) spells out his responsibilities frequently and how much he could make public. The head of the General Registrar’s Office clarifies her record (and records) as opposed to what the Gecom Chairman and opposition political parties are claiming.

See and hear too, the CEO of the Georgetown Public Hospital defending his staff zealously in the face of weekly assaults on their performance. The Georgetown Mayor and the Local Government Minister telling us why the city floods during and after rainfall. I suppose these “Heads” are duty- (and morally?) bound to defend; to explain; to illustrate division of labour and responsibility. To me it’s boring, disgusting. Especially when our children and grannies continue to suffer. Stressed out partly, by official “accountability-and-defence” rhetoric. Discuss.

Ponder…

1)  Which government will oversee the two new gold production mines: the manganese resurgence; the delayed Norway rewards; the new Indian high-end hospital; the oil find and the Brazil-Guyana highway? Which new government!?

2)  Name five high profile court cases – some involving media accused, military accused and “education accused” that we no longer hear about.

3)  At last one newspaper wonders about the massive High and Princes streets building mystery. Now do more than wonder…

4)  Today is the day for fools, so be careful!

’Til next week!

(Comments? allanfenty@yahoo.com)