When I put forward my suggestions for an AFC-APNU coalition cabinet, the person I listed for the position of Minister of Foreign Affairs was Elisabeth Harper. My reasoning was simple – she was a decent public servant that served the country with dignity at a high level for decades. I believed that it was a travesty that she was not appointed Minister both in 2006 and much more so in 2011, with the PPP passing her over for far less competent party apparatchiks like Clement Rohee and Carolyn Rodrigues. I see now that the PPP has now decided that while she was not worth appointing as Foreign Minister, she is suddenly fit to be Ramotar’s Prime Ministerial running mate.
I find it disappointing that commentary so far labeled this move surprising or revolutionary. The reality is that it was inevitable, considering that the party has become so bankrupt of both credibility and capacity that it could not look internally for a PM candidate. Additionally, its Civic coalition partner of 1992 has long since disappeared, subsumed into the PPP, and – contrary to what was stated at the press conference – had no decision in selecting Ms. Harper simply because it does not exist.
Crippled by a crisis of credibility, the PPP desperately needed someone well respected, competent, with saleable experience, and yet compliant enough to step over the line of professionalism for political expedience – when Ms. Harper, Guyana’s lead diplomat and effectively a permanent secretary, took part in the budget cut protests of 2012, she demonstrated the latter qualification.
David Granger has
stated that he is disappointed in Ms. Harper’s choice to join the PPP slate. It is a disappointment that will no doubt be shared by many. Her protest gaffe notwithstanding, she has continued up to this point to command respect. It should perhaps be considered that refusing such a request by a government that specializes in vindictiveness against those who deny them might not have been as much as an option as one might like to believe. The recent assaults on Amerindian dissidents and community leaders at a time when the PPP is reportedly courting the Indigenous vote is indicative of what it does to those that dare resist it. At the press conference, Ms. Harper’s discomfort was clear, as she sat literally tight-lipped throughout the entire event, barely managing to crack an uncomfortable smile.
Predictably, the PPP is hailing the appointment as historical considering Harper’s gender, in addition to harping on her hitherto only slightly tainted professionalism. There are two critical problems however with its execution of the debut of what has clearly been a last minute choice. The first is that in so far as she has not resigned her post as Director-General, she has grievously breached public service protocol by mounting a political platform, an incredible blunder for a professional whose stock-in-trade is strict adherence to professional protocol.
More important however is the fact that even as the focus has been promoting her as a strong, professional woman, second in command, her political debut was marked by absolute silence from Ms. Harper, with the President and Clement Rohee speaking primarily on her behalf. In fact, Stabroek News’ coverage of this fiasco sums it up neatly in one line:
“Harper was present alongside both Rohee and her running mate President Donald Ramotar at the news conference but no questions were allowed about the announcement and while both men spoke about her selection, she said nothing.”
It has not been lost upon me that Ramotar preceded Harper’s announcement with the announcement the day before of Jagdeo heading a supposed high level National Economic Forum, albeit one without an actual body. In fact, very little was said, beyond the platitudes regarding her experience and the energy she will supposedly bring to the campaign, even as she sat there silently letting them speak on her behalf. In essence, the real PM announcement in terms of real (though not constitutional) function was made on Friday.
In the upcoming months, I hope that Ms. Harper does find her voice. The PPP will need all the help it can get in trying to defend its record on corruption, discrimination, police brutality, abuse of the state media, collusion with the narco-trade, and a litany of other blatant wrongs. Indeed, considering that she has full knowledge of the substance of many of the international treaties the government has in effect violated, she can and should be challenged on why it is the party she has joined with is so tolerant of said violations, for example Cabinet’s failure to block the promotion of the officers involved in the torture of a teenager.
In closing, I believe this is actually a boon to the AFC-APNU coalition. Both Granger and Nagamootoo have committed to including reputable persons from the PPP slate in their government; finally, in Harper, they have one. I would still recommend her for the post of Foreign Minister, not in the token way in which she has been placed on the PPP slate but because that is the job for which she is most eminently qualified. I wish Ambassador Harper well.