It was like a cheap magician’s trick on a Music Hall stage: now you see it, now you don’t. First there were the Cheddi Jagan centennial stamps, whose first day covers were intended to coincide with March 22, the actual date of Jagan’s birth anniversary, and then the stamps disappeared because the Ministry of the Presidency jettisoned them. So much for all the meaningless talk about inclusiveness.

Why the Ministry of the Presidency – presumably President David Granger himself in this instance – waited so long before discarding the stamps has not been explained; they waited until the anniversary had passed and everyone noticed that the stamps had not appeared before issuing a statement. This delay cannot have been deliberate; it would have been totally counter-productive for the government had it been so.

It was on February 12 that Minister Catherine Hughes of the Ministry of Public Telecommunications first announced that the Guyana Post Office Corporation (GPOC) would be issuing commemorative stamps to celebrate Jagan’s 100th birth anniversary, after an arrangement had been reached with the Cheddi Jagan Research Centre (CJRC). As we reported yesterday, she said at that time that the stamps would be designed and produced by the Inter-Governmental Philatelic Corporation of New Jersey, an organization, she said, which had had a “longstanding” relationship with the GPOC, and had produced other stamps for the country over the years.

So what happened? Did Minister Hughes not bring the matter to Cabinet’s attention? If she did not, does no one in the Ministry of the Presidency actually read government’s press releases or announcements? Or if they did in this instance, did they not think it worthy of alerting the Head of State about it at the time? Under normal circumstances, had they done so one would have imagined he would have expressed his approval of the idea. That he was not happy, however, is indicated by a Ministry of the Presidency press release which references him:

“President David Granger said that the Cabinet has taken a decision that commemorative stamps, which are national symbols, must adhere to national criteria,” it read. “He added that such symbols must not be used for private, partisan or political messages, but ought to be used for national purposes.”

As we reported yesterday, the release went on to say that the President had made these comments in the light of press statements issued by the CJRC and Mr Juan Edghill, about the stamps, which were proposed by the PPP/C. The essence of the President’s public concern, it appears, was that there should be “equity” in the printing of such commemorative stamps, which are national symbols. Mr Granger was quoted as saying there was no objection to honouring the life and legacy of Dr Jagan, who was described as “one of the founders of the Guyanese nation.”

Privately, one imagines, however, he was irked by what he saw as the propaganda emanating from the CJRC and more particularly, Mr Edghill, a gentleman not entirely devoid of political baggage, who is remembered as a less than stellar former GPOC Chairman. However, it might be remarked that a government can create all the national criteria it wants, and on that basis approve a national figure for a stamp, and some opposition entity will still spout propaganda in relation to the figure chosen which could sorely aggravate a head of state.

It would seem that the Ministry of the Presidency has a kind of Noah’s Ark approach to these things: everything goes in two by two. The nation was told that the government would shortly announce “national symbols to celebrate the life and work” of former Presidents Arthur Chung and Dr Cheddi Jagan “within the context of set criteria for honouring eminent Guyanese.” It drew attention to the fact that this year marked the birth centernary of both former heads of state. The first thing to be observed is that Arthur Chung’s anniversary was in January of this year, and it passed by without anyone in government commenting on it. A stamp now, therefore, would seem like an afterthought, although that in and of itself is no reason, one supposes, for him not to get one.

The second thing is that Chung is not the equivalent of Jagan; whatever one’s assessment of the latter, for good or bad or both, he is a major historical figure bestriding the political scene from 1946 until his death. Chung in contrast was at best a ceremonial president, and even that, for only a decade between 1970 and 1980. Prior to that he was a member of the judiciary, who, it is true, presided over some important cases, such as the trial of the men accused of involvement in the Rupununi Uprising. But there have been a lot of judges who have presided over important cases in the past. So when the Ministry of the Presidency says the government wants “equity”, it can only mean that in the narrowest and most superficial of political terms, ie that Chung was appointed during the period when the PNC was in office.

The third thing is that the Post Office has over the years produced innumerable new stamps, the first day covers of which were intended to bring in foreign exchange during the hard days. Going back to the earliest days, there were always criteria in existence for the selection of images. What has happened to those? That said, it would be perfectly legitimate, in fact desirable, for the government to take what exists and update it – but start from scratch?

One hopes that the GPOC has on file all the paperwork in relation to newly designed stamps, as well as copies of the first day covers. However, before the Ministry of the Presidency plunges into reproducing any prominent Guyanese, such as Arthur Chung, for example, they should check to ensure that he has not gone on a stamp already. In some countries leaders will appear more than once over a period of years, and given his stature, Cheddi Jagan could no doubt justify that. Former President Arthur Chung’s case in that regard, however, would be harder to argue.

As it is, all that the Ministry of the Presidency has succeeded in doing is coming across as petty and small-minded. Minister Hughes’s arrangement was appropriate and broad-minded, and should not have been overruled by our increasingly pettifogging Cabinet. Why is the government wasting its time with social cohesion and inclusiveness if this is the quality of its decision-making in those areas?

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