Stabroek News Editorial. Sunday June 8, 2008
So now we know. The Office of the President is not in need of enlightenment – or more accurately “enlightenments” – from anyone outside the boundaries of the Co-operative Republic’s 83,000 square miles.
Or inside them either. The lamp of true knowledge and understanding burns so brightly in New Garden Street it appears, that it is ‘arrogance’ for anyone to volunteer suggestions as to how that light could be made even more incandescent. This particularly applies if the presumptious individuals seeking to “implant the noble ideas on us poor natives” (Dr Luncheon’s words) come from the Commonwealth. And as for those hapless Guyanese whose utterances happen to be in tune with what certain Common-wealth representatives have been saying recently, they are simply “acolytes” of the offending outsiders.
The words in double inverted commas come from a recent GINA release which was quoting an Office of the President statement. And if that kind of language with its strangely revealing undertone was not enough to make the average Guyanese splutter in their breakfast beverage, they must have been even more astounded to find that it had been triggered by something as supposedly innocuous as a call by visiting Commonwealth parliamentarians for the introduction of a Freedom of Information Act.
Now it just so happens that it wasn’t the Commonwealth parliamentarians at all who introduced the country to the notion of a Freedom of Information Act. The idea has been canvassed by various “acolytes,” including this newspaper and correspondents to this newspaper, among others, going back a few years. And then there is “acolyte” Mr Raphael Trotman who has had a draft bill on the subject sitting there since the last Parliament. We are still waiting for some official indication that it would in principle receive support from the government, but if the enlightened ones have decided they will entertain this particular draft at some future point in time, they certainly have allowed no intimation of that fact to leak out to the unenlightened public.
What Dr Luncheon was reported by GINA as saying was that Freedom of Information had never been rejected by the administration. True enough, technically speaking it hadn’t, but then the administration had done what it is so extraordinarily good at doing: it had not responded officially, which to all intents and purposes had the same consequences as a rejection. And now that it has deigned to speak on the subject, it has done so in the first instance in reaction to the Commonwealth parliamentarians, not to Guyanese like Mr Trotman.
Now we are being told that the relevant legislation will be enacted, although after dissecting the Luncheon-speak, it seems that this will only happen in the government’s own sweet time. Will that be before 2011? Who knows? One suspects, however, that the relevant measures will be rushed through with the same celerity as the lifting of the radio monopoly.
What all of this underlines is that the ruling party – even after fifteen-and-a-half years governing a polarized society and facing a whole litany of problems – is simply not prepared to reach out to those outside the magic ring for new ideas, or even for the purpose of holding genuine open-minded discussions.
It has the answers, it knows the truth and it sees the light. In another characteristic outburst last Saturday, this time against the Guyana Bar Association, the Office of the President said, among other things, that it (the association) had exposed itself once again to public ridicule. If the administration feels that such contumely will inhibit organizations like the bar association from commenting, it will probably be disappointed. In the same release, however, there was a nice touch of irony: “The administration is on record as recognizing the benefits of criticisms,” it read. In other words the Office of the President recognizes the benefit of it doing the criticizing, but not of someone or some entity criticizing it.
No one likes criticism of course, especially not governments, but administrations more attuned to the people and the spirit of the times know how to listen when it matters and adjust themselves accordingly.
But the particular formula adopted at the birth of the PPP had a Stalinist cast, and it has made the governing party resistant to listening to others, and by extension to being open to the kind of compromises necessary to give democracy meaningful life in our divided society. It has also imbued its members with a rigidity not suited to the conditions or the era; caused them to see every institution – including the judiciary – as being subsumed under the executive (the constitution notwithstanding); and more worryingly, persuaded them that the ends justify the means. Rules, therefore, can be ignored if they do not suit the purpose of the moment. Finally, as has often been observed before, they see their role as controlling every facet of life in this varied land. With such a mindset there is no way, with the best will in the world on the part of the government, that we can make genuine long-term progress in this society.
The spin-off from all of this is inappropriate official press releases and statements, and the cue has been taken from the very top. At the launch of the Guyana Times on Thursday, Demerara Distillers Chairman Yesu Persaud made reference to the tax concessions granted to Queens Atlantic Investment Inc and suggested these should be granted to others. In imperious mode President Jagdeo retorted that Mr Persaud was “falling into the trap of ignorant people,” and that he should attend a tax seminar he had asked Mr Winston Brassington to hold. It was not a presidential performance. A head of state represents his people, and should as far as possible stand above the fray and display a capacity for graciousness. And insulting a leading businessman in that manner and in that context is simply not acceptable.
Guyanese sit riveted in front of their TV screens and watch Mr Obama in the United States give voice to soaring rhetoric about the possibilities for America and its peoples. He appeals to something higher in the electorate; he offers them a vision and he offers them hope. But after viewing him those of us domiciled here in the Co-op Republic have to switch the channels and watch our leaders on the local news. So what is beamed into our living rooms?
No soaring rhetoric, that’s for sure. But worse, no vision and, we fear, little in the way of hope.