This is a contradictory government. President David Granger goes to the United Nations and delivers an impressive address, once again putting the case to the world body as to why the commitment given by former Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and subsequently the present incumbent of that office, António Guterres, should be adhered to. What this means is that if by the end of this year significant progress has not been made towards arriving at a full agreement for the settlement of the border controversy with Venezuela, then as is provided for under the Geneva Agreement, the controversy should be referred to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) as the next means of peaceful settlement.
Venezuela, of course, if not in a state of anarchy, is at least in a state of crisis, and has hitherto been unwilling to go to the ICJ, preferring to retain the Good Officer process, a means of settlement which has produced no results – but then Caracas never intended that it should – in more than twenty years. In lucid and measured language President Granger appealed to the international community “to ensure that Venezuela is not allowed to thwart the processes of judicial settlement.” One can only observe that since the government of our western neighbour has been quite vocal in recent times about not referring the controversy to the ICJ, it would not have changed its stance now, and may in fact be exerting pressure on the Secretary General’s personal representative to recommend that given its current difficulties, this is not the time to go. Guyana’s Head of State, however, cogently argued for justice for this country, which a referral of the controversy to The Hague would represent.
So there was the President in New York, urbane, sophisticated, temperate, erudite, fluent, speaking to as many leaders on the subject of the border controversy as he could; in short, representing the country with credit. At some point, however, he will have to return to Guyana. And it is not just that Guyana is a different world, but that in this environment he gives the appearance of being a different man. At the UN all his best qualities are on display, and he comes across as being in control; in his homeland, in contrast, he does not convey the impression of being in command of the governmental ship, in addition to which he is in danger of being perceived as indecisive.
Where the latter is concerned, there is first and foremost the matter of the Gecom chairmanship. More than two years after the 2015 election, and following the submission of 18 names by the Leader of the Opposition so the President can select one of them for the post, we still do not have a chairperson. The President has not, of course, pronounced on the last six names, although he has had ample time to do so. What this means is that he plays directly into the hands of his unrelenting critics who allege either that he has someone particular in mind whom he wants to appoint, and if he does not receive a list with the right name on it he will make a unilateral appointment; or that he may not be averse to delaying the election to give a little extra time for the supposed oil boom to kick in – or both.
It may be that where domestic matters are concerned he leans towards a habit of procrastination, but not making a tricky decision is often worse than making the wrong decision. In any event, not selecting a name from the lists submitted soon, will cause endless problems with local government elections looming next year. And if he does make a unilateral appointment, he will inevitably be challenged by the opposition in the courts, precipitating another constitutional predicament, accompanied by electoral delays, no doubt.
And on the subject of the Local Government Commission, after all the clamour when APNU and the AFC were in opposition, it still has not been constituted. Where that is concerned the President and his government open themselves to the same charges which were levelled against the PPP/C when it was in government, viz, they want to control the local authorities. In this instance, of course, the present administration does not hold most of the local organs outside the urban areas, and they are simply not prepared to release their grip on all these opposition strongholds. For some reason, like their predecessors, they cannot see that it would actually be in their interest to do so. So much for local democracy and the rule of law which the President once promoted.
Of course, reams have been written about the sluggish state of the economy and Finance Minister Winston Jordan’s idiosyncratic approach to taxation. One of the subjects which has produced particularly vocal criticism is VAT on private education. It has been said unofficially that it will be lifted towards the end of the year, but why then, when it misses the September opening of school? If they had decided to retreat on that issue anyway, why was it not done earlier? What is the point of holding out until November, or whenever, other than petty pride? Could not the President have insisted that his Finance Minister back down at least where that one issue was concerned?
But of course, Mr Jordan’s management of the economy has been less than stellar on many more significant fronts. However, he is not the only ineffective – or in some cases, bumbling ‒ minister, and the President has shown no particular appetite for controlling them or for reshuffling some of them. In the first place, they are too numerous, of course, but that aside, they are careless with their public statements, including Minister Raphael Trotman, and most recently, Minister David Patterson (one of the better ministers) who could not be bothered to look at a map of oil exploration blocks before speaking out of turn publicly. Instead of him apologizing, Minister of State Joseph Harmon tried to cover him with an ‘explanation’, which just made things worse.
And then after all the APNU and AFC hyperbole about transparency and accountability prior to May 2015, no one has yet succeeded in getting Minister Trotman to open his fist and release the ExxonMobil contract for public viewing. As it is, his justifications for not doing so have fallen far short of corresponding to the facts. Is all this done with the President’s imprimatur, or to reiterate the point, is it that he is giving his ministers absolute latitude? Are we talking about a Head of State for whom the UN exercise plays to his academic instincts, but he is disinclined to deal with certain practical matters and leaves those to his officials to deal with unsupervised?
Amid innumerable other examples of snafus, miscommunications, misrepresentations, delays and outright incompetence (not excluding in the security area), there is of course the uncomfortable matter of irregularities, undeniable breaches of the law and corruption allegations. This government seems no more punctilious about adhering to the laws relating to public procurement than the last one was, and some of the cases are egregious. President Granger personally has a spotless reputation where that kind of thing is concerned, so one can only marvel at why he is tolerating it in his government, and will not purge officials who do not meet the requisite standards of integrity.
Where the Head of State does act with decisiveness, is in setting up commissions of inquiry, many of which are unnecessary and whose subject matter could be dealt with at a lower level of investigation. There is no government prior to this one which has come anywhere close to establishing so many CoIs, which, after all, are usually intended to inquire into major issues or incidents. Are they a way for the President to avoid dealing with some matters in particular cases, and in others, to provide him with a means to remove certain personnel or take a course of action which he might not have the liberty to do, or might not wish to do in a direct way? Given the benefit of time, those questions may be answered, but in the interim for some the President may remain something of an enigma.