There has been much criticism and editorializing on the performance of the APNU+AFC coalition government since the year started. With brouhaha upon brouhaha, the administration has been literally creating its own crises, repeatedly shooting itself in the foot with an unerring aim that it seems unable to direct away from itself.
One of the more recent mini-storms occurred in relation to the procurement controversy involving the new Minister of Public Health, Volda Lawrence, who felt “compelled in the interest of the health of the people” to single-source $605 million in pharmaceutical supplies from ANSA McAL for the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation because of a crisis level shortage of drugs.
While the public was still reeling from this information and trying to digest the Minister’s explanation, there appeared in the news reports of certain ill-advised comments allegedly coming from the lips of no less a personage than the Minister of Legal Affairs, Basil Williams, and aimed at a sitting judge who responded by walking off the bench without first adjourning the proceedings.
With the damage control regarding the actions of the Minister of Public Health still underway, the APNU+AFC administration must now channel its damage control efforts towards the actions of the Minister of Legal Affairs, as described by Justice Franklin Holder.
In the midst of all these contretemps, debacles, and quite inexplicable occurrences, the opposition PPP is able to escape scrutiny, and hitch rides on the bandwagon of its choice, be it the Ministry of Public Health’s ‘Bondgate,’ the parking meter flip-flopping of the Ministry of Communities, the Ministry of Finance’s VAT on private school fees, or any of the latest unforced errors emanating from the administration of President Brigadier (ret’d) David A Granger.
As we have posited before, the President only seems comfortable to appear from time to time to try to effect damage control for his Ministers, squandering the excess of valuable political capital and popularity upon which he rode into office.
Amidst all of the seemingly negative backdrop of warranted criticism, if anything good can be said for this administration is that it has so far been relatively tolerant of the criticisms levelled at it, barring a few attempts at bluster and the Attorney General’s recently repeated threat of litigation against media houses he has deemed to be sullying his name.
At least when compared with the previous PPP/C administrations, it can be said that the environment that exists currently is more favourable towards press freedom and the ability of the people to gather for legitimate protest actions. This is evidenced by the many protests that have occurred under the APNU+AFC administration without any reports of excessive police action in putting them down; neither has the government made any moves to influence the way the media operates, as occurred with the withdrawal of state advertisements from Stabroek News under the Jagdeo regime.
So despite the entire rumpus that the current administration has wrapped itself in, fairness and balance must demand that the PPP/C not escape scrutiny for their performance as the lone opposition party in the Parliament, and there must be a contrasting of their own actions whilst in government to give context to their current pronouncements.
For instance, Mohabir Anil Nandlall cannot be given a free pass to comment on the however ill-advised and mind boggling public comments of Attorney General Basil Williams, without contrasting this with his own (intended secret) conversation with a member of the press. The PPP may well chuckle and make stinging remarks over the single sourcing activity of Minister of Health, but they certainly cannot bring any moral outrage to the table. Single sourcing and bypassing the NPTAB was par for the course during the administration of the PPP/C in government.
When members of the former PPP/C administration and others were caused to appear before SOCU as part of a criminal investigation the sale of lands in the controversial ‘Pradoville 2’ housing scheme, there was clear explanation of the core contention: that the beneficiaries were gifted prime real property at below the asking rate which applied to other regular beneficiaries of government’s land distribution programme.
Indeed, former president Bharat Jagdeo sought to invoke his presidential immunity in order to avoid answering questions, and, at least on the face of it, this only serves to leave more grey areas and uncertainty in the eyes of the public with respect to the matter. Former minister of agriculture Robert Persaud did show a more pragmatic approach, offering to pay any difference between the original price and the valuation arrived at by SOCU.
The Opposition Leader and the President, with their respective legal advisors – familiar combatants Nandlall and Williams – remain locked in public uncertainty surrounding the selection of a Chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission, although it was announced yesterday that Mr Jagdeo is to submit a second list from 14 names received from stakeholders.
In short, the time has come in Guyana to hold our politicians accountable for their actions and not give them a free pass whether they are in power or in opposition.