For only three minutes yesterday, members of the media were able to engage President David Granger on matters of national Importance before being physically separated from him by his security staff.
Granger had just delivered the feature address at the opening of the Caribbean Information and Communications Technology (ICT) conference and roadshow being held at the Arthur Chung Conference Centre when media operatives were once again forced to scuttle behind a President who is otherwise inaccessible.
This has become the norm, Granger has held only two press conferences since assuming office in March 2015 and the semi-scripted, one-hour television show The Public Interest on which he appeared weekly has not been taped in over a year. The media must now pose important questions to the President in brief interludes on the sidelines of events such as yesterday, if his security allows.
Nazima Raghubir, President of the Guyana Press Association (GPA), yesterday confronted Granger with this reality and asked when he would make himself available for a more in-depth engagement. He did not provide a clear answer instead asking for tolerance.
“As soon as I have more time I’ll engage with the media… I am asking the media to be tolerant,” He responded.
According to Granger, who before entering politics was a journalist in his own right, though his “heart is in the right place” he has had a really difficult period of public engagement and overseas travel.
“This time last week I was in Montego Bay, the week before in Vietnam. It could be a very challenging period and as soon as I get the opportunity, I would engage with the press but I’ve been travelling quite a lot and I have to deal with domestic issues – the sugar industry, I have to deal with the petroleum industry, I have to deal with crime and security…last year I missed a few CARICOM appointments to stay at home to pay attention to domestic issues” he explained before abruptly walking away.
Raghubir continued to direct questions to the President’s back but received no acknowledgement.
An editorial in yesterday’s edition of the Stabroek News addressed the issue of Granger’s reluctance to engage the media noting that reason for President Granger’s disinclination to meet with the press on a regular basis is unknown but reflects disregard for the essential role that the media have in holding him and his government accountable.
“Whatever the reason, the President has a duty to the public to present himself for regular questioning and to relay his thought process on the pivotal issues facing citizens and the country,” it continued adding that while the Minister of State and other ministers hold press conferences these are no substitute for the prime decision maker holding his own and it begs the question that if ministers are being accountable to the media what about the President.
“There are many questions that the President should be answerable for in the full glare of the media: failure to institute constitutional reforms, breach of the promise for free collective bargaining, duplicity as it relates to the renegotiation of the Production Sharing Agreement with EEPGL, the promised multi-year wages package for teachers, the slumping economy, lack of job creation, crime, the substantive appointments of a Chancellor and Chief Justice and the list can go on and on. President Granger must hold regular briefings for the media corps. These are long overdue,” the editorial added.