Holding only his third press conference since his governing coalition won the General and Regional Elections in 2015, President David Granger on Friday said that it has always been his intention to have more frequent meetings with the media but this has been thwarted because of his duties as Head of State.
“As Leader of the Opposition, I had more frequent engagements with the media. And I would like to have more frequent engagements with the media now but one of the problems that face me now is scheduling. And I’m not trying to kick the ball down the road, but it is sometimes very, very difficult to schedule press conferences as frequently as I like,” Granger said when asked about the issue on Friday.
Granger has faced growing criticism over his lack of meaningful engagement with the media and several veteran journalists have said that a persistent lobby is needed to ensure there is accountability.
The journalists, canvassed by this newspaper, had pointed out that presidential press conferences are a traditional feature of the Guyanese media landscape that should not be underestimated or undermined.
The Guyana Press Association has also on several occasions urged that there be more frequent engagements with the Head of State.
The President was referred to the stark contrast of his meetings with the press when he was Leader of the Opposition, where sometimes three times per week he would have different engagements, to the present situation where those meetings seem annual, and asked if he believes the public deserves hearing more frequently from their leader.
He replied, “Certainly, when as Leader of the Opposition, I would engage the press maybe three times a week— I’d have a radio broadcast, I’d have a face to face meeting like this, and I would have some other interviews but that simply is not possible now with my schedule. I have to make certain overseas trips which I have been trying to reduce; I have to go to different parts of the country, and it’s a big country; I have to engage in some official duties as I did yesterday and I am also Leader of a political party, the People’s National Congress (Reform); I will be going into the local government elections; I have, as a member of my party- a member of the APNU, to go out and campaign.”
“So, I wouldn’t compare the duties that I performed as Leader of the Opposition with my duties as President… The duties of a President are much more burdensome and there are many, many more clashes and I tried as best I could…,” he added.
Critics have said that several of the President’s overseas trips are of dubious value and a large number of his local engagements are ceremonial in nature and so that there is ample opportunity for him to have regular engagements with the media.
Granger promised that he will endeavour to have more frequent meetings, “I will continue to try to have more frequent engagements. I am guided by your advice.”
Minister of State Joseph Harmon has also said that the President’s work schedule was the primary reason that he could not hold as many press conferences as he would want but pointed out that reporters hear the President’s and Cabinet’s views through weekly post-cabinet press conferences.
Harmon said that the president also uses the opportunity at public engagements to update the media on issues that are of national importance. He said further said that while there is no formal press conference-like setting where questions can be taken from everyone, he believes that on every occasion that Granger is questioned by the media, “he has dealt with them”.
When Friday’s press conference was over, the president before exiting the room again explained that he could not meet as often as he wished but that he has listened to the criticisms of his not doing so and will be working with his public relations department to determine a schedule for when the next meeting will be held.