When then US presidential candidate, Senator John McCain, picked Alaska
Governor, Sarah Palin, as his vice presidential running mate in August 2008, it was received with mixed reviews in America. Palin was a virtual unknown political quantity, which was a negative since no one knew whether she was capable of helping the ticket win. The positive, besides the gender impact, was that she was relatively clean with no baggage that opponents or media houses could dig up to hurt her and the ticket. She was also a proven elected leader and a supposed ‘fiscal conservative with conservative social values’. As it turned out, Palin proved to be more of a liability than an asset to McCain. Without rehashing every single blunder, the one that easily stands out because of the humour it invoked, was her interview with CBS, where, in response to a foreign affairs question from news anchor Katie Couric, about any insight into Russia, Palin actually said she can stand in Alaska and see Russia. I said all of that to say that in national elections, the person at the top of the ticket is always as important as the person holding the number two spot, because the role of the number two is to bring knowledge and experience that the number one lacks. Strangely, in Guyana, the PPP’s presidential candidate, Donald Ramotar, has proven to be so woefully lacking in multiple areas of top flight leadership that the number two has her work cut out if she was ever going to help make up for his lack. Sadly, the PPP makes decisions based on collective thinking, so that Elisabeth Harper’s role as Ramotar’s running mate could be construed as mere window dressing. I truly wish I could join others in congratulating her, if only because of the seemingly distinguished legacy she nurtured over the decades at Foreign Affairs. But, in my opinion, and no disrespect to Harper, her selection to be Ramotar’s running mate is a step down, especially because of the political implications at this critical juncture of the fast fading PPP that is desperate for anything or anyone that can help it hold on to power. While the PPP’s decision to pick Harper has surprised the nation, with some saying it was a brilliant master stroke and others describing it as an act of desperation, editorials, analysts, commentators and letter writers will definitely be having a field day going forward scrutinizing this move, not to demean Harper, but to evaluate the decision in the context of rough and tumble partisan politics. After all, Harper will be campaigning with the PPP and will have to make statements either promoting the PPP or denouncing the alliance. In short, she will become fair game for criticisms and praise based on her performance on the campaign trail. But unless the PPP announces plans to allow her to become eligible for the presidency, as letter writer/blogger Mike Persaud has advocated, Harper is likely to be the female version of Sam Hinds: an African Guyanese political token whose loyalty is to the Jagdeo-Ramotar cabal and with no real effect on decision-making. For the record,
Harper was never known to have any political affiliation, which may well be
advantageous to her as a neutral person, but the moment she starts talking on a partisan ticket, her politics immediately comes into focus by the media, the public and political opponents/critics. She also has no known political views – whether as a guest commentator, analyst, letter writer or guest speaker at any forum – on current issues affecting Guyanese. So what exactly is she bringing to the table of political power that can help the PPP, which itself is not in this game to help the people of Guyana, as much as it is to help itself? Harper reportedly joined the Foreign Affairs Ministry in 1976 as a clerk and rose through the ranks to Director-General. She can easily be described as a person with tremendous institutional knowledge.
Unfortunately, it took the Bharrat Jagdeo-Fredrick Kissoon racial discrimination libel case to expose what would become known as a deliberate act of racial discrimination in the Foreign Affairs Ministry, where Harper served as Director-General. According to Kaieteur News, “Luncheon grilled on government contracts, postings, policies and land awards – Freddie vs Jagdeo libel case…” (August 25, 2011), HPS, Roger Luncheon, appearing as a witness for plaintiff Jagdeo, confirmed that, on the diplomatic front, Elisabeth Harper was the only Guyanese of African descent who held the position of ambassador (to Caricom, simultaneous to being DG at Foreign Affairs). When asked further if there was any other African Guyanese who was qualified to get an overseas posting, Luncheon said there was none. That revealing testimony so shocked the nation and embarrassed the PPP regime that in January 2012, Foreign Affairs Minister Rodrigues-Birkett announced some diplomatic and Foreign Affairs Ministry appointments, including that of some African Guyanese. I raised this sensitive issue to highlight the fact that Harper was the DG at Foreign Affairs when the PPP refused to appoint African Guyanese to open diplomatic posts. Was her silence back then her agreement with the discriminating cabal or was she simply playing see-no-evil, hear-no-evil? That libel case has exposed a lot of racial discrimination under the Jagdeo regime, including at the office of the DPP where two qualified African Guyanese with more years of experience were bypassed in favour of two Indian Guyanese for top spots. But while I would like to hear Harper’s take on that once hot mess at Foreign Affairs, I wish to remain respectful of her seemingly distinguished career at Foreign Affairs, because if there was a truly suitable candidate for Foreign Affairs Minister in 2008, it was her and not Rodrigues-Birkett. I would even go out on a limb and say that if the PPP could have chosen Clement Rohee as Foreign Affairs Minister (later as Foreign Trade Minister), then Harper was literally overlooked for the 2008 appointment, and we all should know by now the reason why. It remains to be seen how DG Harper will morph into PM candidate Harper and what difference she will make, if any, for the beleaguered PPP.