This is a different age of reporting – the one that clamors for frank, fearless journalism; strong analysis; advocacy; the removal of the fig leaf of conventional principles that frame journalists’ endeavors as a bland vanilla listing of occurrences that must conform to the pretense of conventional impartiality.
This forces the tradition of direct, impartial news gathering to the distant rear because today’s consumers – largely products of our digital age and fond users of its technology – are now in consumer majority.
Indeed, the academic principles of objectivity, impartiality, neutrality remain the backbone of journalism but there are many shifting vertebrae here, as digitization revolutionizes media.
For some, the commodification of prose and poetry has become a disturbing phenomenon but the reality is that many modern readers come less from the tradition of reading well wrought pieces, thoughts expressed in a poetic or ornate way. Prolific and Shakespearean are, generally, not what they look for.
The journalist, thus, faces the juxtaposition of protecting the integrity of the craft while delivering thoughts in a package that is universally pleasing.
And, as a cautionary note, journalism should never be confused with reporting.
Reporting delivers the facts that are available at that moment and is never colored by gratuitous adjectives. Journalism allows the reporter to offer an opinion, make an analysis, proffer a conclusion, promote an advocacy, adjectivize with wild abandon.
Enter Xpressblogg and its assessment of Guyana’s Government in an age of great expectations.
Really, the expectations are only great, relative to the organized mal- performance of the previous Administration which is recalled mostly for its roguery and flamboyant demonstrations of lack of moral turpitude at every level of government.
Political strangulation and social parasitism had driven Guyanese to the brink of their existence. Whispers of despotism became loud cries of ‘foul’ amongst the electorate – even amongst traditional PPP voters. People were tired of the politics of race and wanted change for them and their children.
The Manifesto of the current Administration, thus, came with a premium.
It addressed the sarcoma of PPP governance with unbridled candor. There were no intimations of corruption and suppositions of political malfeasance. It stated in clear and unadulterated language that Guyana is a country of unsolved crimes and non convicted criminals. With this encompassing, well-measured proclamation, this Coalition was pledging to change that.
It diagnosed the country as being in operational crisis because the PPP had disemboweled constitutional, political, economic, social and cultural principles from daily governance. This Coalition was pledging to reverse that.
It promised to confront crimes, arrest the spread of organized gangs and improve the nation’s safety and security. This Coalition was pledging to halt that.
These were not overstatements of leadership. There was no ducking and diving here. These statements created the framework of governance that Guyanese everywhere, who were not lobotomized by the scalpel of partisan ideology, saw as meet and right for redirecting the trajectory of third world failure that Guyana was charted on.
So, the country came together in a collective huddle. There was lots of individual strategy placed on the casting of individual ballots. People were motivated by partisan alignment but were concurrently desirous of a level of democracy that made them feel that they were whom the government works for. It was a dichotomy of logic that was as revolutionary as the Coalition. This Manifesto was multiple things but the primary one was that it spoke to everyone, individually, touching every grouse, promising the debridement of every scab, soothing wounds that continued to fester because of the political contagion of social strangulation and undue enrichment.
And the Cummingsburg Accord was not a mere shoo in.
It made its entrance amidst an abundance of apprehension and unabashed skepticism. It was analyzed, parsed and meticulously scrutinized by those outside of the political arena and one of its accepted positives was that it had a built a in thirty six month ‘Sundown’ clause which means, essentially, that the parties that have formed the government can decide to split and became their own entities, with this split commencing, however slowly, after the three year mark and completing its severance in five years.
Given that there was a three year floor, supporters were confident that major reforms would have had to begin with relative immediacy, so this prenuptial was in fact a perk for the electorate.
They voted for change and welcomed the new government.
Governance began with bold proclamations. Funds looted from the treasury were being traced. The spoils of lawlessness were being uncovered and recovered. It seemed like every day there was an announcement on the progress by this new Administration with the mandate to recover and reclaim what was rightfully citizens’ property and it was doing so with inherent ebullience and patriotic verve.
This is what people voted for…a government that works for them…one that would change the culture of kleptocracy, shatter the mystique of a politician’s invincibility, rip off the shield of impunity that gave the other team, the government of the previous twenty three years, blanket protection to subject the nation to calculated political malpractice.
Since then, since those early days of public notifications and progress reports, there has been a cascade of disappointments and circular announcements. Forensic audits, as brisk as they began, seem to have had no conclusive result. The tempered approach to pledged prosecution continues to be looped on political eight- track, with the President focusing on “the prevention of the re-occurrence of improprieties” as against the prosecution of those who remain the snug beneficiaries of ill- gotten gains. The podia that once stood in the public square where we once gathered to applaud the Coalition’s progress in bringing political miscreants to justice may have been eased back under the stands because we don’t see them anymore, like we don’t see politicians gingerly mounting them to give us progress reports.
We’re getting the sense that politicians are navigating political cross currents.
Foundation Five of the Manifesto – Constitution Reform- remains a project en route to another desk for perusal and sanction while the Director of Public Prosecutions remains entrenched in the position of judge and jury, determining what is prosecutable, in defiance of basic common sense. Government Ministers and employed assistants have been flagrantly flouting the code of decorum… all this as the President remains in a state of administrative inertia, in permanent defensive posture, serving up explanations that contravene his experience, his intelligence and his exposure.
And there’s the new shift in government talking points for the unemployed to leap into entrepreneurship. The parts of the Manifesto that addressed the importance of our youth and the immediate move to create jobs at every level are yet to be effected. Understandably, there is much to be done to train and educate the labor force which was maligned by racial exclusion and unquestionable nepotism for the twenty-three years of PPP dictatorship. But fifteen months into the Sunset Agreement hears the government suggesting that the job- less start their own business – even as there has been no legislated ease in the loan parameters or concomitant fundamental business training for the potential entrepreneurs.
We’re desensitized to these Commissions of Inquiry, too. They seem to have become the platform of justice by make-believe … the location for political respite to deal with scandal. The PPP administration used the Inquiry, copiously, as a default platform for the appearance of investigation, to deflect crisis, stave off critics. So the people are jaded with this process. Better was expected from an Administration that was seen as a bridge to the future.
Look. Let’s be blunt here.
Guyana wasn’t labeled a Narco State or drug hub by the United States Drug Enforcement Administration out of political frivolity. The country had degenerated to that level of organized lawlessness under extended People’s Progressive Party,PPP rule – complete with the gaudy opulence PPP officials and friends flaunted on salaries that were, reportedly, comparatively meager.
Drug Baron, Barry Dataram ,has been making claims of the complicity and compromise of the country’s Customs Anti Narcotic Unit (CANU) and other policing bodies since 2007. He has alluded to “high ranks” being on his payroll and has named the unit’s highest officer as the recipient of financial and other inducement. The Public finds veracity in Dataram’s statements but the Commission of Inquiry, which was conducted on behalf of the citizens of Guyana, remains “too sensitive” for the government to release to the public.
It maybe true that Guyanese are bound in their own political paradox; free to vote but only for the choices that are available through the dominant two party system which remains race driven and ideologically self serving.
But Guyanese are a vocal people. They express their disgruntlement and dissatisfaction, irrespective of political pressure.
Dataram’s claims about Customs and Narcotics Unit (CANU) remain in their line of fire. Public sentiment is that CANU is enjoying a kind of immunity because the father of the head of this agency is a retired Major General and one of the President’s men. It’s the same kind of cronyism and selective impunity that they despised under the past administration.
And even as the embers of the Dataram COI are still smoldering, the President is defending yet another scandal involving another one of his men.
Sole – sourcing of contracts by the previous PPP governments – the offering of contracts to single vendor – is best illustrated as the siphoning of the people’s money through a long spout with several holes – each hole depositing some of the loot into the pockets of corrupt players. As the Opposition, this current Administration engaged in bruising criticism of the 400 million state of the art, electronically secured, bond that the Ramotar Administration sole- sourced for construction. The bond was never used for its purpose so it was available during the time Minister Norton was, supposedly looking, feverishly, for adequate accommodation, certifying a comparative fowl coop for a staggering amount of monthly rent.
A few things are curious here.
The sole- source recipient, Larry Singh, enjoys a particularly sensitive relationship with the government. He is the procurer of arms and ammunition for the nation’s military and police forces.
That he is the nation’s ordnance body is unsettling, given that there is usually an elevated level of classification associated with these tiers of security but that doesn’t translate to a disqualification for him to lease bond space to the government at a rapacious rate.
What disqualifies him is the fact that there is a state of the art bond built on the backs of tax payers that sits as a monument to unsupervised spending in a country that is too poor to have 400 million sitting in the construction of an unused building without, even, an audit to trace the flow of the alleged spending.
What disqualifies him is the state of the space that was approved by the Minister of Health and the certifying agency to house pharmaceuticals, not for livestock but for human consumption.
And yes, what disqualifies him is the fact that he was the single contender for a 25 million contract to be paid out of the people’s money.
The Public Relations fall out of yet another scandal, in a short space of time, came with the expected obfuscation and meandering narrative. Minister Norton’s defense was protocol but otherwise irrelevant. He brought nothing substantial to the defense and the fiasco was just a looping of the other consequential incidents that have plagued this Administration in rapid succession.
President Granger has assembled – again – a committee to examine the payment of $25 million to Larry Singh, to rent, what his men have categorized as a pharmaceutical storage bond.
We understand that the committee thing is standard operational procedure but we are wondering at what point President Granger is really going to make an executive decision…revisit his line up and reshuffle this pack of immediate and extended players…Ministries and Agencies …
Let’s be real here.
The President has to know that Larry Singh’s bar is the preferred watering hole for many of the President’s men. He has to know that Larry Singh is bosom buddy to some on the committee investigating the sole-sourcing of the 25 million contract and that this could, potentially, affect the impartiality of findings. And above all, he has to know that any findings of impropriety could impact the credibility of the one man, the source, of arming his military and para military.
We understand the politics in political picks and know that some of the President’s men were thrust upon him. But we also know that he, President Granger, has a legendary background in Intelligence Operations and knowing the character traits of those who serve under him, especially in sensitive areas, would not be outside of his purview, as he mentally evaluates the propensity for performance and the potential for failure.
Indeed, every misdeed, all the misbehavior on or off the job, every reckless unilateral decision, every failure to perform, everything that is tantamount to poor governance, falls directly on him. We understand that the machinations of politics may delay the kind of immediacy of disciplinary action bad behavior or anything along the scale of dishonesty would warrant in the private sector but we expect more than the appearance of an investigation; especially when it never amounts to findings of fact.
We’re beginning to feel duped here.
There is too much of a variance in the promises of the Manifesto and the actual conduct of this government. There is too much similarity in the missteps of the Coalition’s Government Ministers and missteps of like personnel in the past government. President Granger must, surely, be making note of this.
Understandably, there is sustained angst, elevated anxiety, amongst Guyanese everywhere because of the parallels they see in this government and that of the past regime.
Unquestionably, President Granger stands taller on all fronts when compared to the leaders of the previous twenty-three years but what is height when the missteps are similar; when the malaise is the same and the doubts of the people are beginning to resemble those they harbored when the past regime was at its thieving best.
There are calls for resignation and firing by some but to us that’s hollow and symbolic. What we want is a government that works and a President who is willing to evaluate situations on their merit, outside of protocol and use the mandate of executive decision to revisit these occurrences that seem to, incessantly, blemish his tenure.
Guyana is unquestionably going through troubling aggregate failure of government departments and agencies. By linear extrapolation, the trend seems to be precipitated by the coexistence and concurrent operation of a flawed system of checks and balances and an inheritance of a culture of politics that operates like a privately owned salt goods shop at which every operative is the owner’s favorite child. These politicians seem to have ascended to office virtually deified, with an attitude that says it’s their turn now.
Don’t get me wrong. We’re not giving the PPP any points for calling the Granger Administration out on its misdeeds.
They wrote the book on this stuff and have nurtured it into an impregnable art form; so much so that the sitting opposition, inclusive of its leader, Bharaat Jagdeo, paradoxically, could enter parliament, the bowels of the country’s law making and do so to make more laws to prevent or indefinitely suspend their prosecution for misdirecting or misappropriating public funds, when it was their turn…
We remain perplexed but remember that this government ran on a platform of being a ‘Change Agent’ and included that in its Manifesto. When a country is being threatened – not out of political instability- when leadership is being maligned by officials whose integrity continue to register on the side of the meter that reads ‘Decay’, we expect the President to remember that he is the employee of the people who elected him and not the defense lawyer of those selectees who continue to disappoint him.
We expect him to be more forward thinking, less stymied by the culture of politics, show a clear intention of re-positioning himself in unequivocal manner, with the express aim of arresting the general failure of his administration. We saw a bit of this earlier on, when two ministers were re-appointed.
What has happened since then continues to befuddle us.
It’s getting late. Sunset will soon be upon us. We’re almost eighteen months into its onset. The term government leaders has returned to an anachronism. We don’t know why but we won’t allow the legendary impeccability of President Granger’s character, his enviable résumé to eclipse our sense of inquisition or bridle our admonition on how the business of government is being conducted.
We flogged the previous administration when we felt that theirs was a group of individual actors pursuing their individual interests while establishing a socioeconomic desert for the people of Guyana to thrive in. We talked about the undue enrichment of many of their ministers and extended associates and called for an accounting. We scorched ministers who gave the appearance of working but clocked more field than desk hours. We talked about cronyism, nepotism and systemic expropriation.
And we called for change.
The Coalition came in on a ticket of ‘Change Agent’ and we supported that.
But there is an existential threat to this government, not borne out of political instability but out of politics as usual. Ministers fail to perform huge chunks of their jobs and this seems to go unaddressed. The classic example here is the Department of Diaspora which should fall under the purview of Minister Carl Greenidge but we’re not sure that he knows that. We’re not sure that there is a monitoring at senior Ministerial level to assess the progress of duties assigned to Ministers because there is a yawning variance between the campaign and manifesto pledges to create a department of Diaspora and the flimsy outline of the department’s objectives…not to mention that Minister Greenidge seems too swamped by matters of Foreign Affairs to host a healthy, open discourse with solid numbers of the Diaspora, when he is attending to Foreign Affairs matters where they live.
The government machine is an inheritance but there is sustained alarm amongst Guyanese at the chronic decline in the political system’s capacity for self-organization. Why is not a question that will be answered readily and we wonder if it is because there has been a weakening in this body that once held the other side accountable and exposed them when they pursued naked self- interest.
We don’t like that chaos has become the new normal for this Coalition so early in its tenure and we don’t like that the investigative bodies are self-policing, potentially prone to conflict of interest and typically find nothing harmful enough to warrant discipline of these people who use political office to behave badly.
The President contends that he is investigating the reports of the corruption. That is a Constitutional regulation.
But should we be impressed?
To hold this Coalition to a lesser standard by rewarding them simply for obeying the Constitution would be signaling that we have very low expectations of our government.
I dare say we aren’t.
Trust has waned with relative rapidity and continues to be replaced by mounting skepticism with every Commisssion of Inquiry, and every press conference intended to blunt the query into the misdeeds of government officials, deflect demands for discipline.
We were faced with the choice of choosing one of two Parties to move us beyond the morass in which we were drowning.
One choice was very clear because we had struggled through twenty three years of its economic marginalization and political strangulation.
The other offered hope – with its marrying of political ideologies and ethnicities to move the country into a state of civility and international credibility.
We made the choice.
But it can’t stop there.
We are a Democracy.
As Guyanese, we have the right to be a part of the public and legislative arena. As patriots, we have the responsibility to be involved.
With all of its flaws, this Administration is the best thing that has happened to Guyana in decades, even if best is relative to circumstances. We see no point in supporting those who are promoting a call for recall or referendum. These calls, we feel, are symbolic only and have no practical application to the issues at hand.
What we will do, what is of practical benefit, is expand the leverage of our vote and support by actively highlighting how the Administration continues to break its promises. Yes, we know that those promises did not create a legally binding contract but elections are fueled by memory and emotions. This last election shows that ethnicity traded at a discount – a positive indicator that people are voting more for patriotism than partisanship. That’s the only way Guyana can move forward.
We feel, too, that the legacy of being the catalyst to this new way of thinking is important to this Administration. We feel that this historic marker is an achievement they would want to solidify for future reference; for our history books.
We have at least twenty one more months to keep the spotlight on how this Administration is living up to its Manifesto.
There may not be enough institutional checks in place but they can definitely count on us to keep them on track.