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I am writing to neither praise nor bury President David Granger.
Many harsh things have been said about our former president who could not have envisaged or believed that he deserved the level of opprobrium that has been heaped upon him for five years and especially since the March 2nd 2020 General and Regional elections in Guyana.
In five years, the Coalition never restricted, controlled or tried to kill members of an increasingly hostile press or the social media. While it is disappointing to lose what seemed like a winnable election, the ruthlessness, political acumen and desperation of a well-oiled opposition might have been underestimated. The simplicity of disregarding decency and fairness, by edict, by those who consider our resources their strategic reserves, blindsided a major effort to reformat Guyana for the next decade.
Apart from building and rebuilding arches on the main approaches to the city and the roundabout that Freddie Kissoon said would be a disaster; making Carifesta Avenue safer; improving roads in Lethem and Mahdia and digging wells in the Rupununi, there were major difficulties that were overcome and major initiatives undertaken in the five years of the APNU+AFC coalition government.
Within the first two months of the coalition being in office in 2015, they were faced with several crises created by the PPP. The PETRO Caribe facility of cheap oil in exchange for better priced rice was quickly terminated by Venezuela, creating immediate issues of electricity supplies and finding new markets for our rice farmers. The President was forced to start new regional initiatives to secure oil and to send out teams to several countries to find markets for our rice. Today, rice farmers enjoy higher levels of production in firmer markets than 5 years ago. Rice is doing well in the Rupununi and coffee is being grown once again in the Hinterland Region.
Within the first month of the APNU+AFC’s term in office, the PPP announced that the central government had to pay sugar workers’ salaries and find billions of dollars since the Guyana Sugar Corporation (Guysuco) had no funds to meet its expenses. This lack of liquidity, where expenses heavily overwhelmed revenue and caused the PPP to close four sugar estates, continued until further rationalization led to the closure of even more estates by the coalition. The heavy capital burden and repayment on the Skeldon Estate factory still require resolution.
The capital city was in a filthy state requiring immediate efforts to clean the drains, parapets and canals. The neglect of the capital city by the PPP was a cardinal sin and even today the municipal markets and City Hall are not fully rehabilitated. Nor is the horrible state of police and army accommodation. Sloppy construction of roads and schools saw major remedial works and unnecessary expenditure.
Another major remedial project was dismantling the underground economy with the introduction into Guyana of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), for years resisted by the PPP. The almost total elimination of illegal smuggling of gold and cocaine, with the resultant money laundering that created housing and entertainment opportunities, caused the economy to falter. These funds were not replaced by equivalent Foreign Direct Investment, which would have created jobs and growth. Similarly, discontinuing the corrupt and wild construction of the hydropower and specialty hospital facilities was not replaced by equivalent investment projects. Plans were reportedly in train for new environmentally sustainable power supplies and modern health care facilities.
The completion and administration of the onerous Anti Money Laundering legislation was a necessary nuisance but gave Guyana high marks for financial transaction transparency. While the reduction of the Value Added Tax was important, the increase in tax compliance measures was an important step in preparation for the oil economy.
Granger introduced several security initiatives and there was a major reduction in the killings, kidnappings and there were no assassinations of government officials (even a minister and his family), media operatives and gang executions that had characterized years of government sponsored and supported gun violence across the country.
Youths were given extensive training in entrepreneurship and incubators established to nurture initial efforts. Local specialist banks to facilitate investment in housing, agriculture and manufacturing were presented in the APNU+AFC Manifesto reportedly to be established.
David Granger had a vision for the country that was not partisan or for short term benefit. He installed structural changes that will, hopefully, last for a long time. He believed that all regions of the country needed to be developed equally. He not only followed the constitutionally required Local Government elections (staging two in five years where the PPP held only one in 20 years) but devolved budget power to the local organs; and decentralized court, passport and other services to the regions, rather than have residents travel to the capital or wait long periods for important processes. He also created four towns with the view to localizing better municipal development and decision making. The PPP preferred unaccountable Interim Management Committees and executive officers by fiat, instead of holding mandated elections.
One of his other fundamental initiatives was to take the albatross of the territorial claims by Venezuela to the International Court of Justice (ICJ), a major move to permit Guyana to fully exploit our resource-rich Essequibo ‘county’. Earlier bilateral attempts by the leadership of the PPP with Venezuela might have cost Guyana control of its oil resources offshore. It is difficult to not to appreciate the resolution of this nearly 60 year old impasse. The case is before the ICJ and the PPP is expected to see it through to a successful and final legal outcome.
Brigadier Granger saw education as the vital link to better long term development of Guyana. He focused not only on examination results (which improved significantly) but on the fundamentals of the problem for all the regions – getting to school, obtaining a healthy meal and paying teachers better. The 5 Bs program was born – buses, books, boats, bicycles and breakfast, provided mainly by donations from the public. Higher funding was given to the university and the announcement was made that tertiary education would have been made free.
Although management of the oil negotiations with the Exxon oil giant was criticized, there were firm and transparent steps to install comprehensive legislation; local content rules; sale of our oil allocation; environmental safeguards and more advantageous future revenue shares from our oil resources. A Resource Fund has been established into which oil revenues are already been paid.
One of President Granger’s personal achievements was keeping a coalition of disparate ideas, multiple objectives and several leaders of small parties together. Not an easy task politically, especially where seat allocations and ministries were negotiated before taking office. Even while recovering from ill health, President Granger waged an energetic campaign across the country inspiring supporters and opponents alike with his integrity and honesty. He has been statesman-like in the post-election haggling and has overseen a transition in a situation where the legal challenges have been exhausted, notwithstanding overwhelming evidence of systemic fraud.
President Granger can go out of office satisfied that he achieved much, amidst a hostile and volatile local and regional atmosphere.