It almost reads like the tale of two cities except we started the year in the worst of times, in the age of foolishness, in the epoch of incredulity, and had nothing before us except an extraordinarily heightened anticipation to eject the government piloted by the People’s Progressive Party whose ideology was to reward those loyal to them, only.
Like their financial statements, the PPP had over inflated voter sentiment in their favor but lost, once the electorate had the opportunity to go to the polls to elect the government they felt could take them in to the future.
So in came this new government- half one party and half the other; an amalgam of ideology, a hybrid of race, sharing, melding ideas on how to move the country forward.
It is at this point that we will start 2015 in review- deliberately excluding the first four months of governance because we’re still repulsed by any recall of the twenty three years of malignant and malicious PPP rule by calculated subversion and systemic exclusion.
We’ll also forego mention of the historic swearing in of President David Granger and Vice President Moses Nagamootoo and the almost immediate announcements of malfeasance, phantom accounts and fictitious transactions, with the due threat of prosecution to the full extent of the law for all perpetrators.
Euphoria and anticipation have shelf life, so these sentiments, which were effervescing for the past seven months have now fizzled out and are lying with the moribund embers of the former government.
We’ll simply review the year through the lens of the citizens which is how it should be done; especially because they are the employer of the government and the opposition and should be afforded the same opportunity as other business owners to take annual stock of their staff.
And this review won’t be a chronological recount or a balance of good and bad because good is a fundamental expectation and is the baseline of any administration’s productivity. The Manifesto, too, will be used as a yardstick, particularly because its promises drove many to the polls and especially because it is a sunset agreement which starts its dusk after three years – one of which is almost completed.
We’re, also, looking at this Coalition as two parties that have been watching, rather, scrutinizing the deleterious performance of the PPP government for a number of years. And though we are not suggesting that Coalition members who were once key figures in the previous administration share the operational secrets of their former allegiance, we are concluding , intelligently, that there was perceived benefit in deciding to marry the variant politics by coalition.
So, here we go.
There was right pandemonium when the Government declared itself eligible for a pay hike after a mere six weeks in office and near bedlam when Minister Harmon bulldozed his way through an indignant declaration of it being fair and reasonable compensation …then, his subsequent mea culpa through an apology which extended a decided lack of political finesse and triggered some tremors amongst those who expected a more genteel approach from this administration which had just subverted an unofficial dictatorship.
After an explanation of it being an attempt to fix “abnormalities” in the pay scale of the “ministerial bureaucracy”, by Prime Minister Nagamootoo, “as necessary to ensure that the best work of the cabinet would continue, and as ” an investment in the quality of governance by the Administration” by President Granger, we saw Minister Harmon take to the public stage donating his salary increase to projects that should be the domain of general and local governments, in a show of politicking that invokes more bewilderment than appeasement.
Could it be that the pay hikes were so excessive that the salaries that tax payers have now been forced to absorb have provided enough largess for politicians to play philanthropist with tax payers’ money? And is it within the scope of political ethics for politicians, while holding public office, to make donations for public services to selected geopolitical areas without causing voter bias?
The intersection of philanthropy and politics is a dangerous one, especially since there will always be communities that remain in need. And in Guyana, where the politics of race remains very palpable, it would be an optical blow if donating one’s salary increase were refused by a community that doesn’t quite accept the Coalition…though donations haven’t reached those places yet, causing us to wonder how random is the selection of recipients of this Minister’s largess.
And, since the Opposition is an integral part of government, we would be remiss, be guilty of journalistic bias, if we were to fail to spotlight the role they have played in this unpopular salary increase for Ministers.
We can’t help but remember the raucous refusals to take the higher compensation by Charles Ramson Jr. and the other PPP Ministers, who took the Government’s proposal for the pay increase as an opportunity to underscore the Coalition’s mismanagement and fiscal ineptitude. Clement Rohee felt that the Granger Administration should have been held criminally responsible and “charged with abuse of public trust and State resources consistent with the convention of collective Cabinet responsibility” ,while, Opposition Leader Jagdeo said the raise was “unconscionable” and that he “publicly denounced it”.
In the interest of remaining neutral, we will not say that these men, particularly Rohee and Jagdeo, could never bear any message about fiscal propriety or political ethics and morality that we will listen to without scoffing and dismissing as an another installment of organized cantankerous, obstructive, duplicitous, barefacedness, especially since their pay hikes were never a matter of official record but were reflected in their overt opulence and acquisition of real property.
What we will say is that after some obstreperous behavior that was purely for public consumption, they stayed in character and took the money, publicly announcing that they would donate it to charity but less flamboyantly deciding that the charity would be their own political party to which they would donate through an escrow account.
Opposition leader Jagdeo, in a show of his brand of nationalism, shunned his Member of Parliament salary for his Presidential Pension which is several hundred percent higher. The escrow donor account, though funded by tax payers dollars, remains a party secret and we are not surprised because the party is still the stomping ground for arch villains that this Administration is yet to indict.
Our tourist industry which Christopher Nascimento, former President of Tourism and Hospitality Association of Guyana, said was losing business to neighboring countries and islands because of its lack of tourist accommodation, burst on to the tourism charts with the opening of two, grand, multiple star hotels in 2015.
However, as the tourists enjoy the Marriott Guyana, Guyanese will be left to mull over lots of what was involved in this fifty eight million construction – the least of which was the preference of Chinese labour over that of Guyanese and the greatest of which is the blocking the light beam from the north side of the one hundred and three foot iconic, historic, Light House rendering this maritime guide deficient to the vessels that depend upon it and retiring it as functionally obsolete.
Clearly, the construction of the behemoth that is the Marriot was done with total disregard for this artifact. Was the public consulted when the decision to diminish the value of the national treasure, the Light House, was made? Was there any thought given to why the Hotel Pegasus may have been built along that specific grid reference to the position of the Light House? Who was on the planning committee – apart from the Chinese who seem to have been given unusual rein in our country by the government of People’s Progressive Party -deforesting and constructing without full disclosure to the people of Guyana, denying Guyanese employment on Chinese, not Guyanese, controlled construction and deforestation sites?
And while many Guyanese are wondering how they allowed an elected government, the People’s Progressive Party, to show such dereliction for the preservation of so many of the nation’s historic points – Town Hall, Victoria Law Court, Promenade Gardens – they may be even more perplexed by the recent opening of the GYD 15 billion, USD 75 million, Aruwai White H20 Resort, constructed by visionary ‘Vulture’ Chunilall Baboolall, to the rave reviews of many government officials.
We recall that the 2015 budget speech by the Finance Minister Jordan, under heading “Creating a Must See Tourist Destination”, paragraph 4:33. The paragraph also refers to the creation of 1500 jobs over the next five years. This is the government’s vision which seems apace with its population and its budget.
We, also, remember the Minister of Tourism saying that Guyana was poised to offer a tourist experience that was not the typical white sand and blue water venture. We loved it because we know that, in as much as we are white sand and blue water deprived, we have all of the requirements to create an industry with significant difference.
But we got Aruwai White H20 Resort, white sand and blue water esque in appearance, boasting all of the attractions our Tourist Ministry said would not be its typical focus.
There is something incongruent, politically askew, about a resort that costs 15 billion dollars in country whose budget for its military is a mere 9.1 billion, its Guyana Police Force, the Guyana Prison Service, Guyana Fire Service, Customs Anti Narcotics Unit (CANU) a paltry $11.9 billion and the sewerage system a meager 753 million.
Flashes of The Villa Créole in Pétionville in Haiti rush to mind; opulence and poverty; the perfect mismatch.
Tourism thrives in an environment of political stability, unquestionable security and socioeconomic progress. Indeed, this resort was commissioned by the PPP government which was never altruistic, constantly at odds with social good and ran Guyana more like its private business than a country with a socioeconomic obligation to its people.
For a country that remains one of the poorest in the Western Hemisphere, that is still ravaged by diseases like malaria which should no longer be endemic, that has lost its literacy ranking, has a high per capita level of poverty, homelessness and mental illness victims, it is almost immoral to celebrate the construction of an island paradise, when homes, shelters schools and medicine are in desperate need.
That’s why we felt some apprehension, even revulsion, when we saw government Ministers participating in the opening ceremony of this structure that was commissioned by an errant government whose compass remains due south of greater good and celebrating the owner of this resort, which, like those in the Haiti’s and Dominican Republic’s of the world, excludes the ordinary citizen because USD 400 dollars per night may be equivalent to an annual salary. Unlike those Ministers, we will reserve the designation ‘Developer’ for visionaries with a more national interest.
We get that Chunilall “Vulture” Baboolall has the right to invest his money as he sees fit but what if the last government had exercised a modicum of moral rectitude and asked him to think of investing in a more realistic, less ostentatious, venture that would have served the country in a way that would have looked less gaudy – like building hospitals and clinics in outlying areas, or replacing the roofs on schools in the country, even building schools – which would have given him, ‘Vulture’, a more commendable legacy?
It’s all about that moral compass.
And if anyone has the answer, please let us know if ‘Vulture’ has bought or has leased the state land we knew as Bucktrack Island for his H20 venture.
Now, on we move to our crime situation report.
After a literal reign of terror, Operation Dragnet, the joint anti crime effort to stem the wanton crime sprees that have become a part of the social landscape, reports a drop in crime and a pipeline that warns officials of potential robberies and criminal acts of violence.
We unreservedly commend the actions of this government to institute the use of its military to buffer the police force which was a compromised inheritance from the previous administration.
There are many who are still seething at the choice of Seelall Persaud as Commissioner, because he headed the Anti Narcotics Unit for ten years and served as the Crime Chief for seven years when the country’s moral decay was spiraling to the pit, aided and abetted by an errant government which promoted Seelall for accomplishments yet to be determined.
Never the less, we congratulate the Administration for bringing all of its resources together to contain what was tantamount to terrorist acts against citizens by criminal activity that was never properly arrested.
We will say without restraint and without regard for political correctness that we hope this is not just an activity that precedes the country’s celebration of it fiftieth anniversary of independence from colonization but will remain an ongoing measure to keep all of the country’s residents safe – visitors, tourists and inhabitants.
Next up scandals. They seem to have no containment.
The Guyana Power and Light Company remains the most embattled agency since the change of government and remains at the epicenter of corruption.
For those who may not remember, this was the entity that paid its CEO Bharrat Dindyal a staggering $74 million annually – a composite of salary and perks – and at which Aeshwar Deonarine wrote himself a 27 million check as a raise he felt he deserved. Petty thief Carvil Duncan, also, paid himself $900,000 but this makes him more cheap than honest.
These men have all been justly relieved of their duties but the recently Appointed CEO, Colin Welch, has since become an embarrassment to the current Administration and his failure to be sent on, at least, administrative leave pending investigation of allegations of wrong doing, leave many perplexed.
Welch is reportedly captured on text and voicemail actively engaging in tampering with a tender process that involved the purchase of 28000 prepaid meters to the tune of USD 4.2 million.
Welch denies it’s his voice or his fingers that created those texts and has, apparently, been so convincing that Minister Patterson has decided that, perhaps, voice analogy and finger prints on keyboards are needed to relieve Welch of his position of CEO pending investigation… vastly reducing the executive capital he, Patterson, earned after he dismissed Dindiyal, pursuant to “thoroughly examining pertinent facts”.
That the allegations against Lynch have halted the tender process of 28000 prepaid meters, aggravating the poor service dispensation that remains the signature of the GPL, is enough to conclude that Welch is functioning well below expected capacity and should be relieved of duties, pending investigation. We expected Minister Patterson to connect these very elementary dots.
And while he, Lynch, is being investigated, the decision to have consumers, clear their outstanding bill, pay a GYD 3,200 re-connection fee and a security deposit of six times an average monthly bill should be revisited….if only to determine an exact figure for the six month security deposit which seems inherently inaccurate if bills are estimated and the reliability of the prepaid meter system is still questionable.
On to the New Year Message.
The reassignment of some Ministers and renaming of some ministries both pose and answer questions of the Administration’s appointments that were on the lips of many since day one.
Ministry of Governance and Protection of the National Patrimony was very Stalinist in nomenclature and never quite conveyed its purpose by name. Ministry of Natural resources restores a simplicity that could easily be grasped by all.
Not so simple, Simona Broomes, who seems to be the challenge that the Administration will have to grapple with every six months, even if President Granger packages her constant fights as “tremendous energy and skill”.
We were introduced to Minister Broomes’ political baton when Anne Green, Head of the Guyana Child Care and Protection Agency, was sent on thirty six days leave after asking Broomes how she felt about having to be a part of an agency she once said was so bad, that the only good things about it were its paint and its building.
Now, Broomes, whose feistiness has sometimes been seen as crass and tactless, has offended her boss, Minister Volda Lawrence, who showed poor taste when she defended the Bromes tirade against Anne Greene.
President Granger has now made the adjustment, maybe, to stem the disunity and we understand that letting Broomes go so early in the game will suggest that she was a bad pick from the inception.
But the Public Relations/Communications team still fumbles through these public explanations. Tremendous energy and skill is not a prerequisite for Ministry of Lands and Mines. Last we checked this ministry had responsibility for forestry, mining, environmental management, wildlife, protected areas land use planning and coordination, climate change, none of which Ms.Broomes is known to be qualified in.
But we understand that the president has to find that she is some kind of asset outside of doing her job as a one woman tour de force, without much delegation to her team which should do the foot soldiering she seems to relish in, especially when cameras are rolling.
After all he picked her.
We’ll check to see where she is in the next six months as she acclimates to her new Ministry.
Now, having watched all that for the past seven months, we do have a few wishes for this New Year.
We hope to have a Prime Minister who is less muzzled and far more assertive, assuring us that he is more of a force than face within this Coalition. We would love to get the significant reduction in the Berbice Bridge toll which has already been established as usurious. The raise in Old Age pensions with a simultaneous cut in utility subsidy for this bracket must be revisited to correct the zero net sum resulting from this effort. We hope to see the establishment of key offices in the newly named towns so that residents could conduct business involving passports, birth certificates and voter records right where they live. We hope to have measurable results in the efforts directed towards domestic abuse and battery, economic and academic resources directed towards the equipping of women and girls to survive in society. We hope to have Constitution reform, especially as it pertains to the Director of Public Prosecution, who, because of constitutional intricacies, remains an entity onto herself. We hope to have an evaluation of Ministries like Social Cohesion and Social Protection to ensure that they are meeting their objectives to fulfill goals. We see this Administration’s establishment of a working relationship with the Agriculture workers as vital and one that should be given priority. We hope to be get frequent and substantial reports from our Minister of Foreign Affairs on our ongoing border controversies.
And we’re not done.
We hope to have a robust engagement of the Guyanese Diaspora by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs – an effort that remains flaccid at best, with lots of hollow proposals to engage Diaspora, many of whom are willing to volunteer if not work for pittance.
Even as Guyana is on its way out of the quagmire after twenty three years of designed destruction, the effects of crony capitalism and massive institutionalized corruption has taken a huge toll on the socio economic sector and will take years to restore. It requires the effort of every Guyanese to redirect this trajectory of doom and it is up to this Administration to establish that connection with those who live outside of the country; many of whom have skills needed to rebuild roads, redesign parks, redesign traffic flow, reshape public spaces and gardens, lend medical assistance, offer pharmaceutical guidance, assist with Information Technology advancement, assist in the establishment of the Tourist Industry, enhance communications and public relations. Guyana has to follow the lead of so many countries that were in the political and economic plight that Guyana is in right now and used its their Diaspora to put them on the road to recovery – Peru, Philippines, Dominica, Ethiopia to name a few.
In closing, we will extend tumultuous congratulations to the Granger Administration for placing national emphasis on the restoration of significant artifacts of history. We are infinitely proud of the Independence Arch which has been reinstated to the prominence that should always attend this structure and stand in support of the national pride this administration continues to promote.
We applaud the efforts to clean up Georgetown and its environs and hope to see the same coordinated endeavors extended to other towns and their surrounding areas. This does not only offer an enhanced quality of life but garbage free living spaces reduce the opportunities for the spread of communal diseases.
We await the establishment of the Public Service Staff College and encourage orientation of public service staff in simple telephone etiquette, in the interim.
And, we know that there is need to offer employment but there is much to be gained if the clumsy methods now used to gain entrance to key facilities are replaced by the more efficient computer coordinated method to facilitate ease for both visitors and gate personnel.
No need to mention that the entrances to key facilities, especially those in the local and national security business, of necessity, must have telephones and that walkie talkies have no place there. We have a sense that this administration will take more pride in providing efficient security and will ensure that proficiency starts at the gates of their compounds.
The purpose of this review is more to assist in sharing with the Administration where public opinion lies, than it is to assign a grade. We are aware that there is no immediate viable alternative to he current government but would remind those who are now in charge that local government elections are a few weeks away and the sunset coalition agreement has but two more years to commence its impending journey to dusk.
In short, and especially because of the tremendous support and expansive pool of expertise available to this Administration, misstepping is not an option.
We’ll do this again in six months since much is already on the horizon.