There is a feeling of unease in the political firmament.
Bharat Jagdeo has been elected General Secretary of the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) and simultaneously confirmed what had been speculated for months – there will be a consolidation of his party’s leadership with that of his leadership of the Political Opposition…confirming that his Opposition will be operating more from a position of partisan ideology than national well being.
There is just cause for concern here.
It was under him that corruption became an industry, to the extent that thugs became payroll bankers and politicians became fabulously rich – not from inheritance or work with compensatory remuneration. He was at the helm when Guyana was assigned a solid rank on the corruption perception index, hitting all the high points of socio economic decomposition and he was there,too, when the job force had the lowest Afro Guyanese percentage in decades.
By then, the poverty level stood still at 43% (Borgen Project), and the country was forced to meet United Nations established Millennium Development Goals, because it was failing at the humanitarian level to qualify for the aid it was receiving to avert that failure. By every metric, Guyana had become a failed state and part of its corrosive corruption lay in the deals it was cutting with other countries to sell Guyana’s natural resources.
So, when Norway pledged USD $250 million through Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) in an attempt to keep Guyana from depleting its rain forest -part of the lungs of the world – by its indiscriminate logging, there was due concern by many Guyanese because patrimony and its preservation were demonstrably of high priority to the PPP government only to the extent that it could be used as a siphon for the redistribution of money to everywhere but the national treasury.
When Jagdeo committed to ending rain forest logging for Norway’s $250 million, he was in ongoing contract with logging companies Barama from Indonesia, Vitarna from India and Bai Shan Lin from China – conglomerates to whom he had given virtual sovereign rights to log under terms that they flagrantly disregarded. There are documented incidents of these companies denying local residents the use of roads and geographic areas, claiming ownership of pockets of natural resources, treating Guyanese like subjects in their own land; often with no response or very little representation from the PPP government – a degree of business latitude that worked more like a predatory alliance by a political oligarchy than an investment for national benefit.
The REDD project was, therefore, seen as another opportunity for the Politicians in the PPP to enrich themselves in the name of economic development.
And the skepticism was not unwarranted.
There is an abundance of records and articles of condemnation on how, then, Finance Minister Ashni Singh used these future funds, non-disbursed funds, as promissory notes; borrowing from the tax payer against these futures to fund public works projects and a list of other sundries and miscellanies that were neither completed in time, within budget or completed at all. Singh created an accounts receivable side of the ledger that credited upwards of $32 million to the Alexei Ramotar column, for being the principal failure in the fiber optic Brazil /Guyana project which was disbanded, essentially, for malfeasance. Other borrowed funds include the $10.7 million supposedly used to complete Amerindian Land Titling projects. The Amerindians dispute the completion, as reported by the PPP.
But the most protruding irregularity is the fact that Finance Minister, Ashni Singh’s dodgy accounting was being over seen by Gitanjali Singh, the Director of the Audit Office (Auditor General) who was none other than his wife.
That there was a thriving culture of corruption during the governance of Mr. Jagdeo is hardly disputable. His Administration was comprised of many public officials whose names have been linked both tangentially and decidedly to corruption by use of public office. The politics of patronage had become one of the economy’s fuel injectors creating a political ruling class that sought to cement its position through racial division and partisan supremacy.
And all this culminated into palpable feelings of fear by local and emigrant Guyanese who felt that the dynastic ambitions of Bharrat Jagdeo were not dead; that he was actually the president behind the presidency of Donald Ramotar.
There was a error in the Constitution that bothered them; one that justified their fears.
In 1999, the PPP and the Opposition testified to a Constitutional Reform Commission(CRC) that it was their position that “A person shall hold the office of President for a maximum of two (2) terms and those terms shall be consecutive”. The testimony was delivered to the National Assembly and an Oversight Committee was established to draft legislation to reflect this constitution amendment.
Now, this is where it gets some Abracadabra.
Even though the report of the CRC bill was accepted with all of its wording, in its entirety, the bill that was actually prepared by the Oversight Committee did not read: “A person shall hold the office of President for a maximum of two (2) terms and those terms shall be consecutive”. It read, instead: “A person elected as President after the year 2000 is eligible for re-election only once.”
For reasons that remain unexplained, this wording was accepted by the People’s National Congress, the Opposition at the time and the bill was passed, unanimously, giving effect to this Constitutional amendment– Government and Opposition approving.
Bharaat Jagdeo was the sitting President at the time that this language deviated so curiously from what was agreed upon previously… not that it was his fault but just strangely coincidental that he was President who was accused of delaying elections repeatedly, previously, at the time of this fortuitous mishap.
Hmmm…perception is everything.
Before the Coalition took office, Exxon confirmed that there were billions of dollars to be made from oil reserves in Guyana that hold, conservatively, 1.4 billion barrels of oil. The election of the new government meant that the continued exploration into production and would have been under the oversight of the Coalition Government.
So, it came as no surprise when random citizen, Cedric Richardson (represented by attorneys), revisited Act 17 of 2001 of the Constitution that upheld that “A person elected as President after the year 2000, is eligible for re-election only once”. Richardson, apparently, wanted to vote for Jagdeo, at least one more time, so he took his case to the High Court. After some re -visitation to what was originally written, some investigation in to what was intended by the CRC and some legal dissection, Chief Justice Ian Chang did not disappoint. He found that Bharaat Jagdeo could contest for President one more time.
The hopes and aspirations that ejected the Jagdeo/Ramotar rulership must be satisfied, at least, in part, if this new form of governance is to rise above disappointment and recrimination which may shatter the hopes of those who go with, almost, innate apprehension to the polls.
It was the aggrieved who went to the polls in May 2015 for representation by their elected officials. Part of what they voted for was Constitution reform because they realized how skewed away from their favor, too many parts of it were. Committees have attested to completing some reform which Prime Minister Nagamootoo has said will begin with Constitutional Consultative Commission and a secretariat “to drive the process” in 2017.
What reforms were actually made remains a mystery to those who voted for said reformation.
The political ecosystem is comprised of an electorate that is looking for relief and politicians who promise to cure the ills and aggravations of society. Bold declarations of what’s wrong and how it can be fixed for the benefit of the nation enchant those looking for change and steer them towards a particular candidate.
However, when the winner substitutes campaign audacity with legislative timidity and incomprehensible delay of relatively fundamental changes, there is a feeling of betrayal by those who voted for him, especially when that timidity is accompanied by the appearance of arrogance, dismisiveness and unearned swagger.
There is a political price to pay for continual procrastination and deprioritization of the people’s to -do list.
As this Coalition Government remains suspended in transition, crises like the possible fourth term of a President who has already served two extended terms and a third term by proxy will be a legacy this Coalition may have to defend.
Meanwhile, Jagdeo is positioning himself for the spoils of oil as elections and a disgruntled electorate greet 2020.