At his press conference on March 31, Head of the Presidential Secretariat , Dr Roger Luncheon accused Stabroek News of “reckless hostility” towards the One Laptop Per Family project. He said “The denigration of this initiative of the (OLPF) project by Stabroek News and others is suggestive of reckless hostility.” He added that “in its most recent diatribe, Stabroek News seeks to revisit matters fully ventilated and pronounced on by the administration in an uncharitable way.”
That was not the end; he added, “the administration feels that Stabroek News’ attempt to discredit the initiative and to generate doubt about its motive and objectives will not deter Guyanese nor the administration from supporting the successful implementation of the initiative.” And as a final flourish he added, “it has exposed [Stabroek News] to the criticism for their entrenched and increasingly noticeable hostility to this PPP/C administration and criticism for their insensitivity to class interests.”
Dr Luncheon is trying to defend the indefensible. Perhaps Dr Luncheon can present a magisterial defence of why months after the launch of the OLPF project there is still no comprehensive project document setting out the rationale for the massive expenditure and the pertinent details worthy of something of this scale.
Perhaps Dr Luncheon could explain why a volunteer with the US Peace Corps, Mr Jud Lohmeyer, was parachuted into the job of running the project and offered the princely sum of US$100,000 per annum which left even him gobsmacked. Perhaps this was the class interest Dr Luncheon so enigmatically referred to on Thursday – the cocooning of the millions being doled out by the Office of the President to an array of persons on contract or otherwise.
Perhaps Dr Luncheon could clarify the utter confusion that the project was left in, according to Mr Lohmeyer, and the chopping and changing that is occurring. Perhaps Dr Luncheon can explain finally whether netbooks can indeed serve the educational purposes of this extravagantly conceived project. Perhaps Dr Luncheon can dispense pearls of wisdom relevant to the question of the likely cost of the netbooks, ownership of the equipment, the contract to be signed and service issues. He may even want to posit a theory as to how the government will go about selecting needy families from Charity to Paramakatoi, and why there are so many families in desperate straits.
Further, the HPS could broach the embarrassing subject of a huge Chinese company being single-sourced for the fibre-optic cable project without adequate grounds for such a decision and then have the company turn around and gift US$50,000 in cash to the government to purchase computers.
While he is at it he can explain whose decision it was to allocate those monies to the OLPF project instead of blowing the sum on high-cost computers. Maybe Dr Luncheon may also hazard a guess as to why President Jagdeo failed to disclose at the OLPF launching that the computers being handed out were purchased with money that had been provided as a gift by Huawei.
Dr Luncheon will unfortunately be unable to answer any of these questions. As long as taxpayers’ money is involved and as long as the governance reputation of the country is at stake, Stabroek News will persevere with its questioning of this project unceasingly. Nothing of the likes of Dr Luncheon’s criticism will dissuade this newspaper from discharging its public duty. It has survived a five-year assault on its finances at the hands of the Jagdeo administration and is prepared for any challenge that comes its way. Its voice shall remain sonorous and unyielding for the right of the public to know.
At the very press conference, Dr Luncheon was also drawn out on the issue of the shocking passage of a container carrying drugs from a local port all the way to Jamaica and the mind-boggling laxity of the agencies involved. Dr Luncheon would only say that the incident betrayed across-the-board weaknesses that need to be “attended to.” Dr Luncheon would have been quite right if, as in the case of the OLPF project, he had complained that Stabroek News was revisiting “matters fully ventilated and pronounced on by the administration in an uncharitable way.” Indeed, the matter of drugs exiting this country in all manner of forms has bedevilled this administration and 19 years on it is at sea over what is transpiring in the drug trade or worse, complicit in turning a blind eye to it. This is one matter that Dr Luncheon should expound on as it clearly exposes this administration as incompetent and lacking in strategic thinking.
The container fiasco and the OLPF haze are very good reasons for all right-thinking citizens to reject Dr Luncheon’s desire for a pliant press.