President David Granger’s visit on Friday to Rose Hall in the East Berbice has raised at least two serious concerns about the political culture in the country.
The first is that the incumbent at election time continues to abuse the resources of the state to shamelessly advance their electoral prospects. Based on the report that was issued on Friday by the Department of Public Information (DPI), the President addressed a “community” meeting at Rose Hall. Whatever its form, the bottom line is that it constituted a campaign forum intended to promote the candidates of A Partnership for National Unity (APNU). Were all the expenses for this meeting borne by APNU it wouldn’t have been a problem aside from the fact that DPI should not have been in attendance. What made the forum completely unacceptable was its use by the President to hand out bicycles to Rose Hall children.
The President’s `Boats, Buses and Bicycles plus Breakfast and Books’ (‘Five Bs’) programme for schoolchildren which has apparently been restyled as the Public Education Transport Service (PETS) is a commendable one. However, it must not be exploited by the main component of the governing coalition to boost its fortunes at the upcoming Local Government Elections (LGE). During the community meeting on Friday, 30 bikes were presented to children and the APNU candidates for Rose Hall who were introduced at the same event were standing next to the bikes. The messages transmitted are unmistakable: these bikes have been made available because of APNU and if you elect APNU more bikes will come your way. The commingling of the introduction of the APNU candidates and the presentation of the state-funded bikes is a travesty.
Model democracies are bound by rules as it relates to the use of state resources and projects during campaign periods so as to not confer an undue advantage on the incumbent. The distribution of the bikes at this meeting would run afoul of these rules. The handing over could easily have been done by public servants at another forum. It did not require the presence of the President nor did it have to be at a community meeting-cum-campaign rally. The government must have a sense of decorum about its public behaviour particularly in the light of the concerns that the PNCR/APNU is aggressively asserting itself cloaked in the garb of the government. With the AFC cast off on its own for the LGE, this image of the PNCR/APNU is even more potent.
The second point of great interest from this meeting related to an exhortation by President Granger to citizens to eschew party loyalty in making electoral choices at the LGE.
The President said: “What is good for Rose Hall is good for Guyana. So do not put lazy people there, do not put people who come from your party, your cousin or your aunty but put people who are concerned with the economic development of Rose Hall Town. We take Local Government Elections seriously because we know the importance of democracy and if you put six or eight persons from the same party, there will never be discussions…”
This is hypocrisy in overdrive as the President’s own party, the PNCR as part of its coalition, APNU has fielded candidates in nearly every local authority that will be contested in the November 12 LGE. APNU’s coalition partner, the AFC is also participating in the LGE. So isn’t the President and his party/coalition urging that residents who vote in these areas show loyalty to their party? If not this would be the most remarkable inversion of the functioning of a political party. It is more likely the case that since he was in a stronghold of the opposition the President was trying to cajole the residents to vote against their party by using an argument that nails his own coalition.
He made this clear when he referred to the PPP’s headquarters at Freedom House.
“…We have to look at the municipality to harness the energy of all of these organisations and institutions [within the town] so that they can make the town prosperous and make the people richer…We don’t want a lackadaisical municipality, we don’t want a municipality that will have to call Freedom House to do one thing or the other, we want a democratic municipality,” Granger stressed.
That was a clear attack at the “community meeting” on the PPP and an example of partisanship meant to encourage those present to vote APNU. What advice would President Granger offer to the residents of Georgetown given the poor performance by the APNU-led city council? Would the President repeat the advice he gave in Rose Hall? After all, he said “What is good for Rose Hall is good for Guyana”. The APNU-led city council has had its councillors exposed for voting along party lines on the majority of issues and not showing independence of thought. They have also enmeshed the city in one of the most opaque, secretive and dangerous agreements in the recent history of the country namely the parking meters deal.
Breaking the bonds of party loyalty at LGE is an important objective but the President is not credible in his argument when one considers that the party aims to dominate at LGE on November 12. The erasure of the party brand at these elections is vital if the people are to have a real chance at running their affairs at the local level.