It is not often that the political cognoscenti of this land are mystified; after all, that which is outrageous has become so commonplace in our little universe that the term ‘bizarre’ is fast losing its meaning. But the President of the Co-operative Republic succeeded in catching the pundits and just about everyone else off balance not once, but twice last week. The news from the second occasion, of course, has everyone a-twitter, since the PPP has named a complete political unknown as its prime ministerial candidate, to wit, the Director-General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Mrs Elizabeth Harper. The drama of that disclosure completely obscured an earlier announcement which concerned none other than the former president, Mr Bharrat Jagdeo.
On Friday media houses clicked on their inboxes to discover that President Donald Ramotar had decided to establish a National Economic Council “to bring greater support to my government in enhancing and accelerating our transformation and modernization agenda.” This thunderbolt was preceded by the statement: “While I am proud of the progress made so far, I believe greater focus and attention can lead to enhanced performance in many crucial areas.”
Inevitably, this had everyone nonplussed, since how can a government set up an Economic Council to ‘enhance performance in many crucial areas’ only two months or so before an election – unless, of course, they don’t intend to hold an election when they say they will. While it is true the President has not as yet dissolved Parliament, since the PPP has now named its prime ministerial candidate one must presume the government is serious about the date of May 11.
Since the council is to “assist in [the] conceptualizing and crafting of economic strategies and initiatives as well as support in the oversight in the implementation of various projects and strategic interventions,” just why was it not set up in 2012, or even 2013? Surely the President does not expect anyone to take him seriously that economic miracles can be accomplished in the space of two-and-a-half months, more especially in the absence of Parliament? It may be, of course, that the ruling party thinks it has the monopoly on an outsize crystal ball, and they know from their readings that this new council will be functioning under a PPP government post-May 11. If so, their behaviour in other arenas does not convey the same sense of overweening confidence; the intimidation which is going on in Region 9, for example, might seem to give quite the contrary impression.
One suspects, however, that this exercise has nothing to do with transforming the economy in two-and-a-half months so much as supplying an avenue for Mr Jagdeo to take a full, if not a prominent part in the election campaign. He has been named the Chairman of the council, since he “has much to offer,” and “his growing international profile and work can be useful for this effort.” Before questions are raised about his earnings, the Head of State added that Mr Jagdeo’s services would be on a pro bono basis.
As for the final sentence of the “Announcement” it appears to bear no relationship to the statements that precede it, since it informs the public that the former President would be assisting in crafting the PPP/C Manifesto.
This again is very strange. Is the party nowadays so lacking in drafting skills that it has to call on the services of a former president to help it out? Or is this another way of justifying to the public the fact that Mr Jagdeo will be at the heart of the campaign? As was said in the report in our edition yesterday, when Mr Ramotar was chosen to succeed Mr Jagdeo prior to the 2011 general election, a special advisory post was created for him. Is this a case of quid pro quo?
In this instance, of course, as the President said, his predecessor has made clear his non-interest in any constitutional post. For all of that court cases which impact on Mr Jagdeo appear to be mushrooming. The first of these, a motion, challenged presidential term limits which the petitioner, a Mr Cedrick Richardson, said were unconstitutional. The former president indicated to SN that he had nothing to do with it and had no interest in a third term.
As we reported yesterday, the most recent case lodged only last week is seeking a number of declarations to protect the benefits of former president Jagdeo. The benefits enumerated in the Former Presidents (Benefits and Other Facilities) Act 2009 had encountered severe criticism owing to their exorbitance, but the Bill had been passed because at that time the PPP/C enjoyed an overall majority in the National Assembly. While the opposition in the Tenth Parliament did pass an Amendment to reduce the benefits, President Ramotar never signed it into law.
In our report yesterday it was said that among the orders the petitioner, a Mr Colin Pilgrim, was seeking, was one for the issuing of the requisite regulations under the Act to permit Mr Jagdeo to access various benefits. This might suggest, the report went on to say, that the former president had not in fact accessed all the benefits listed under the Act.
The view in some quarters, we reported, was that the last-named motion was intended to insulate leading members of the incumbent government should they be voted out of office in May. It might be remarked in passing that were that to happen, Mr Ramotar’s benefits, and not just those of Mr Jagdeo could be affected should the Act be revisited. As for the first motion mentioned above, it is difficult to see how that could have been brought without the former president at least being made aware of it. Mr Ramkaran holds the view that Mr Jagdeo certainly knew of it, as is evident from his column last week. Mr Ramkarran also expressed the opinion that the motion was constitutionally-speaking, a non-starter.
So what is going on? Assuming that Mr Jagdeo does not expect to secure a third term (although he presumably might not be averse to the petitioner trying), and since – at least for this election – he will not be the prime ministerial candidate, it looks as if he might be the one unofficially, at least, running the PPP campaign, and perhaps even taking a high profile doing so. It might be remarked that we’ve been down this road before in 2011, when Mr Jagdeo to the public mind was more in evidence than was the presidential candidate. For all of that it did not produce the results which the ruling party had anticipated.
As it is, we may begin to find out the shape of things to come at the annual Babu Jaan commemoration – if not before then.