Jagdeo’s trip to Ghana was an opportunity lost 

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Dear Editor
Bharrat Jagdeo visited Ghana recently and there he made an appearance on Asaase Radio 99.5 on Sunday October 17, 2021.  The interview was perhaps Jagdeo’s boldest attempt at historical revisionism to date. Had Mr. Jagdeo travelled to Ghana as a private citizen, one could perhaps forgive his errant ways, but he travelled there as a representative of the people of Guyana, on our taxpayer’s money. His comments are therefore subject to our scrutiny.

First, in setting the historical context for the discourse, Jagdeo studiously glazed over the twenty-three years of his PPP/C government, and in particular the twelve years during which he was at the helm from 1999. To hear Jagdeo speak would be to believe that the massive brain-drain, the endemic corruption which resulted in Guyana being blacklisted by the EU and the Commonwealth for money laundering, spiraling crime, Guyana’s rise to infamy as a narco-state, the “dark years” which saw the extra-judicial killing of tens of hundreds of Afro-Guyanese men and the failure of the sugar industry, did not happen under his watch.

As it relates to brain-drain, for example, the CIA Factbook projected that in 2011, which was at the tail end of Jagdeo’s second term, Guyanese were leaving our shores at a rate of approximately 10,024 per year or 27 citizens per day. That number comprised 82% percent of our university graduates as well as our trained teachers, nurses, electricians and other skilled tradesmen.

The years 2015 to 2020 under the APNU+AFC Coalition were a reprieve for Guyanese. With Jagdeo back and for all intents and purposes serving his third term since August 2020, it is like he never left. Guyana is rapidly regressing to the traumatic pre-2015 years, made worse this time by the catastrophic socio-economic fallout from the COVID-19 Pandemic and the nightmarish realisation that despite the example of other countries before us, Guyana just might not be able to avoid the ravages of the dreaded Dutch Disease.

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The PPP likes to parade itself as a party which “knows how to run a country,” attempting to fool Guyanese into thinking that the PPP will be able to effectively guide the country into a prosperous future as an                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             oil and gas economy. However, Jagdeo could not adumbrate a clear developmental policy especially as regards our industrial development. In fact, to date the PPP has failed to present a cohesive, time-bound plan for Guyana’s economic development. Guyanese are left to imagine a hypothetical better future while no tangible improvements are to be found anywhere. At the time of writing, there were three extended power outages within a twelve-hour period, affecting 90% of the population.

On the issue of environmental concerns running parallel to oil extraction and the development of Guyana’s industrial base, his comments about striking a balance ring very hollow.  Jagdeo’s first course of action was to strip the Environmental Protection Agency of the most qualified Head it has ever had and reappoint the very management that had run the organisation into the ground. Guyanese cannot forget the wanton destruction of over 48 acres of mangroves in a community most vulnerable to the rising sea levels and the nonchalant response of the Minister of Public Works to the public outrage. Key projects, with massive environmental implications e.g. the new Demerara River Crossing are being allowed to proceed without the necessary Environmental Impact Assessment, an important mechanism for evaluating the likely environmental impacts of the proposed project and which takes into account the inter-related socio-economic, cultural and human-health impacts.

These actions of the PPP/C regime are a clear indication that they do not intend to strike the balance between environmental protection and industrial development.
When pressed on how the country intends to combat the inevitable challenges that come from the economic benefits of oil being concentrated in the hands of a fortunate few, Jagdeo had little to say. Inflation is spiraling out of control in Guyana, while the country rakes in profits from the elevated price of oil.  No tangible relief has been provided to working class Guyanese despite the passage of two national budgets, including one which was touted as the largest in Guyana’s history. The sad reality is that Guyanese are desperately trying to make ends meet. Hunger is on the increase and the average working-class Guyanese is now struggling to find one meal per day.

Jagdeo has used the lack of local capacity to justify the importation of foreign companies to execute the country’s infrastructure development projects, leaving established local contracting firms which have been in existence for decades are now bitterly complaining of being marginalized. The utter corruption of the Procurement Act and the procurement process by the National Procurement and Tender Administration Board (NPTAB) means that now, the proverbial ring has to be kissed if these firms hope to be able to remain viable. The NPTAB clearly only pays lip service to the requirement of set asides for small businesses which is enshrined in the law and there appears to be no initiative on the horizon to promote the involvement of women, our Indigenous Peoples and Afro-Guyanese, groups which historically have been underrepresented, in Guyana’s business sector.

In any event, a useful barometer of the regard that the PPP/C has for transparency in public procurement is the fact that the PPP regime has appointed the head of the Public Sector Improvement Programme (PSIP) at the Ministry of Finance, as the Chairman of the NPTAB.  Just to be clear, the PSIP is the government’s infrastructure programme. So, the man who determines the Government’s infrastructure priorities, is the same man who heads the procurement mechanism which determines who gets to execute the infrastructure projects- a colossal conflict of interest.

Jagdeo’s lament that Guyana is a small population with a small labour force is hypocrisy at its best. Are Guyanese expected to ignore the fact that within the last year the PPP/C fired thousands of public servants, the majority of which happen to be Afro-Guyanese?  A considerable amount of these persons, if not the majority, remain unemployed. So much for the 50,000 jobs for Guyanese promised by the PPP/C regime.

On the issue of institutional reforms which Jagdeo claims to take great pride in. He states that he instituted presidential term limits but refuses to acknowledge that through engineered legal proceedings he sought to have it struck down, and now in 2021 continues to violate the spirit, if not the letter of that legal provision. He also failed to mention that the High Court of Guyana recently struck down legislation which sought to remove the financial autonomy of Constitutional Agencies, which the PPP forced down the throats of Guyanese using their one seat majority.

All in all, the Vice President’s trip to Ghana was an opportunity lost. He had the golden opportunity to set out a vision for Guyana’s development and lay out in clear terms the avenues for partnership with Ghana, a country with deeply significant ties to ours.  It was an opportunity for Jagdeo to go to represent Guyana in a positive way. Instead, through his attempt at revisionist history, he ended up marginalising fifty percent of the Guyanese population. So much for Irfaan Ali’s “One Guyana”.

Regards  
Amanza Walton Desir  
APNU+AFC Opposition Parliamentary Spokesperson on Foreign Affairs 



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