The President lowered the bar at Port Mourant

There has been much parsing of President Jagdeo’s Babu John address this month as in the past his presentations at this hallowed site have set the scene for what is to follow both politically and in terms of policies at the national level. It was in Port Mourant at the launch of the 2006 campaign that the President attacked the founder of this newspaper, signalling an unrelenting attack on the lifeblood of this publication which continues five years later. It was also at Port Mourant that he infamously declared that a victory for the PNCR would see weapons being handed out to certain persons.

In a way his strident attacks on the candidates of the opposition parties could be seen as the opening salvo in the PPP’s 2011 campaign as the party bumbles along with its selection process, having been thoroughly eclipsed by the PNCR’s transparency and grass roots meetings. The caustic attacks by the President have further debased political discourse and set a very low bar for the upcoming elections campaign. One would hope that whoever is picked as the PPP’s nominee for the presidential candidacy that person would set about trying to maintain greater decorum in political discourse even within the feverish politicking and campaigning that is expected to come.

The question has already been raised as to why the President would taint a memorial to the Jagans with the attacks on the candidates and others. Is it that he is going to be the heavy-hitter for the party in this campaign? It would be most unfortunate as President Jagdeo has less and less reason to enter the political fray. He is not in the running for the presidency and he is not even the leader of the ruling party.

Given these circumstances it would be more appropriate for him to conduct himself as the President of the country in the coming months, as opposed to someone engaged in the political fight of their life. The role of dissecting the credentials of the opposition candidates is best left to the PPP’s candidate.

Aside from his attacks on Messrs Granger and Trotman, President Jagdeo engaged in a gratuitous attack on Mr Saisnarine Singh, the economic advisor to the Alliance For Change. He said among other things that Mr Singh wanted to be Minister of Finance but boasted a poor track record and that Mr Singh had made a mess of a single project when he worked for the government prior to the 2006 elections. The President continued: “He can’t run a cake shop, their economic guru… they think this thing is for show and want to get political power but they don’t have any commitment; the ideals that we believe in.”
If this was the tenor of political repartee that the President thought that Port Mourant should absorb and make decisions on, then so be it. It falls far below the standard of a rigorous examination of records which one would have expected, and reduced the President to engaging in cake shop banter.

Mr Singh had once had close ties to the PPP. That the President would choose to attack him publicly about a project from several years back and only after he had mounted an AFC platform does not put Mr Jagdeo in a favourable light at all. Indeed, if as President he was aware that Mr Singh had bungled a project – likely the IFAD-funded PRCCSP which was executed in association with the Ministry of Agriculture – then it behooved him and his government to publicly acknowledge and present this case to the public.

Nowhere has it been captured in the public domain that the President made it known that Mr Singh improperly discharged his duties on the PRCSSP.  And if this was case what does it say about the Ministry of Agriculture and its Minister Robert Persaud’s oversight of this project? Or is it that the President is admitting that once one is with the PPP he or she is immune from attack but that the minute the person shifts political allegiance the torpedoes are launched? If so, the President and his government are really attacking Mr Singh’s constitutionally guaranteed right of freedom of association.

The President also had a golden opportunity to raise the standard of debate, something he often blithely and unconvincingly speaks of. If Mr Singh’s work was so poor, surely as the economic advisor his Action Plan which he unveiled at the January launch of the AFC’s election campaign could have been picked apart by President Jagdeo. That would have been the mature manner and high road to argue his case at Port Mourant. There was nothing here. The President probably hadn’t read the Action Plan or wasn’t prepared to argue on it, so he sought recourse to a low blow.

There is a larger point that has to be made here. There is a special venom reserved by this government and the PPP for Indo-Guyanese who mount the platforms of other parties which is intended to ensure that their base is firmly held. It is the decades-old albatross of this country but all Guyanese must see through this and not allow it to be ventured by any party. In the case of the President and the ruling party it is even more potent, as they have a coterie of willing helpers to perpetuate their mudslinging campaigns, particularly in the state media.

Shortly after the attack on Mr Singh by the President, there appeared in the Guyana Chronicle a letter written by an F Ali mounting an all-out assault on Mr Singh as if it was a favour he was doing to the government. Suffice to say that if Mr Ali had been the target of such a letter – whether true or false – he would have mobilized his lawyers to engage the courts. In the Chronicle’s case it appeared not to be concerned at all that the letter could be inaccurate or that it should seek legal advice on it. Someone at the paper was quite obviously responding to political instructions and following the pattern set by the President.  It was for all of these reasons that Babu John was a signal for the revving up of negative campaigning which the Guyanese public should not have to endure in the coming months. The campaign trail won’t be a church service, but at least the President and other political leaders could make an effort to lift it from its descent into the gutter.

They should also pay careful heed to Professor Ghai’s Friday lecture in which he pointed to the penchant of politicians in the Kenyan arena to stir tensions along fault lines for their own gain. Our politicians must pledge to eschew this.

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