Mr Jagdeo and the ‘killing’ of Amaila

Former president Jagdeo’s voice has not been heard much since he demitted office, except intermittently in relation to his international commitments on the environment. However, this has not served to prevent rumours that he is the power behind the throne, speculation which has gained traction by virtue of the fact that President Ramotar’s style of government falls within the same tradition, in addition to which the current head of state has not yet succeeded in putting his own stamp on his administration.

On Thursday, however, Mr Jagdeo emerged from the shadows to make brief remarks at the closing of the National Economic Forum held at the International Conference Centre. Brief though these may have been, they were delivered in his customary intemperate fashion, since as reported by Gina he accused three analysts of ‘killing’ the Amaila Hydropower Project, among other things.

The Amaila project was, of course, very much associated with Mr Jagdeo himself, and Sithe’s withdrawal from it would therefore be seen by him as a personal setback as much as the loss to the country which he claimed. Rounding on the critics, in this instance Messrs Christopher Ram and Ramon Gaskin together with Professor Clive Thomas, he accused them of “charlatan economics.” Leaving aside the impropriety of the remarks – serious financial analysts and academic economists might theoretically be wrong about a given topic, but that is a long way from being purveyors of ‘charlatan economics’ – they reflect Mr Jagdeo’s approach to Amaila from the outset. Without going into a recitation of the access road fiasco, and all the other problematic issues which had been raised in relation to the project under his watch and which he swept brusquely aside, Mr Jagdeo and his government – and by extension President Ramotar and his government too – have to accept most of the responsibility for what has happened.

While the government now might be touting Amaila as a “national” project, from the beginning it has operated in quite the opposite way. Of course, when Mr Jagdeo was in office the PPP/C had a handsome majority, and it is clear that neither he nor the party envisaged being a minority administration from 2011 onwards. As such, open contempt was displayed for those who asked questions, and no information of any significance was released on Amaila, least of all to the parliamentary opposition. As APNU said in a press release on Monday, no comprehensive document has ever been presented in the National Assembly “for scrutiny and debate.”  It might be added, as several commentators have, that no individual documents relating to Amaila have ever been tabled either.

It has taken the PPP a long time to grasp that Mr Jagdeo’s methods are counter-productive in the current circumstances, never mind in the long term. After taking the cue from his predecessor, and firing off an unseemly salvo against the opposition at Congress, President Ramotar has suddenly ‒ and belatedly ‒ discovered that he needs APNU. Adopting his more natural avuncular posture, he has appealed to Opposition Leader David Granger to help salvage the Amaila project, although the aspects he has elected to discuss with him are narrow, and just why he should believe Sithe Global would return has not been made clear.

In the meantime, while President Ramotar is attempting to be conciliatory, there is Mr Jagdeo at the National Economic Forum operating in quite the opposite fashion, thereby undermining the current head of state’s credibility in terms of his declared willingness to discuss with the main opposition. Either the former president considers it a pointless waste of time to try and talk to APNU, or he still has not emerged from his pre-2011authoritarian chrysalis. Up until 2006, party supporters reacted well to Mr Jagdeo’s raw style and crude castigation of the opposition and variegated critics, but as the 2011 election results arguably showed, that unrelenting confrontational approach no longer has the resonance it once had among PPP supporters. If that is so, then it means that Mr Jagdeo’s imperious style may also sit less well with the PPP constituency than it used to, and that they are expecting what other voters are expecting, namely greater openness and co-operation between the parties in the National Assembly.

If APNU has done this nation any favours at all in the last year and nine months, then the one which stands out above all else was the party’s decision to withhold its support from the Amaila project; it is a case that just too many critical questions remain unanswered. Having said that, had Mr Jagdeo taken a different approach when he was in office, and had genuinely made hydropower a national issue with input from the parliamentary opposition and others from outside the cloistered ranks of the PPP and in particular from independent experts, we might well have had a hydro project under way today. It would not have looked quite like the one that Sithe Global has walked out from; it is fairly certain it would have been better and cheaper. Among many other things, potentially it perhaps could have been funded by the World Bank – an avenue which the PPP did not venture down for reasons best known to itself.

What has transpired does not of course end the possibility of hydropower in this country, but it is a lesson to those who govern us (if any were needed), that unilateralism and absolutism are not the recommended paths to an acceptable future for this nation, and that if they persist in going in this direction, they can potentially ‘kill’ their pet projects. In other words, it is not the critics who ‘killed’Amaila – although if they had done so, they would have performed a service for this nation – it was Mr Jagdeo (and Mr Ramotar) and his government’s obsession with the exercise of power and the excluding of outside opinions which sounded the death knell of the project in its present form.

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