The President’s address to the National Assembly was disappointing. The expectation was that he would use the occasion to announce the Government’s legislative agenda wrapped around policy initiatives for the next parliamentary year. There was a modicum of this. But on the whole it was a political speech, long on political partisanship and short on the solutions to the grave problems facing the nation, which was more appropriate to a political platform. Whoever caused the serious problems facing the Guyanese people, relating to the economy, crime, to name a few, the Government now has ownership of them. The Guyanese people are looking to the Government to solve them, not excuses as to why they cannot be solved. They are frustrated at the increasing hardship and impatience is rising.
There is no evidence that the Government has attached any importance to itself investing in Guyana’s economy or encouraging others to do so. The Government announced at the end of August that ‘almost nine months into the year, less that 50 percent of the 2016 National Budget has thus far been spent.’ No serious explanation was given for this ‘unfavourable’ and ‘embarrassing’ situation. Since it does not appear to have happened before, the question arises as to whether the trained and competent staff under the past administration that had responsibility are still in place or have been removed or hounded out or have left of their own accord. These are stories that are being heard all the time, with some evidence.
While Government investment is slowing down, the last Government left projects on the table about which little is now being heard, or have been abandoned, or postponed. The biggest was Amaila. In opposing Amaila when in opposition, the President promised two or three smaller hydro projects. After fifteen months we have not heard a word about them. The Specialty Hospital has been unceremoniously abandoned. India was also to assist is establishing a technology facility. There were many other projects being talked about. All may not have been feasible. All may not have received funding. There were great suspicions about the last two PPP/C Government’s track records as a result of Skeldon and allegations of corruption, but at least they understood the necessity for a continuous flow of investment into Guyana’s economy and President Jagdeo worked hard to ensure that projects were continually developed and funding sought or them. Over tremendous objection the country can now boast of a Berbice Bridge and a Marriott Hotel.
These issues have become more urgent because low commodity prices, serious problems in the sugar industry and reducing production in several sectors are creating severe problems. The Bank of Guyana reported some weeks ago that every sector of the economy has shown a decline except mining. The construction industry has slowed dramatically because houses are no longer being built. Negative factors, such as a return to the era of nationalization of personal property for the building of government offices will not help.
Some may conclude that the President stayed away from economic matters in order not to steal the Minister of Finance’s thunder when the latter presents his budget shortly. But such a conclusion would not be justified having regard to the President’s criticisms of the past Government’s management of the economy. This is par for the course, but we are now fifteen months away from the change in Government and the way in which this Government is spending money suggests that the coffers are overflowing. Take only two – the increase in ministerial salaries and the D’Urban Park development. Empty government coffers is not a legislative matter. It is political red meat.
The President threw another hunk of red meat to his political supporters by offering coroners’ inquests for the 400 persons allegedly killed during the PPP’s terms of offices. This is an issue that has frequently engaged the attention of many persons and organizations, which have accused the past PPP governments of atrocities ranging from genocide to murder to collusion in the killings, with efforts to make linkages with drug smuggling, Roger Khan and PPP/C Governments. At least a start could have been made on this in the fifteen months since the Government was elected. Laws already exist for this to happen and past PPP/C governments would no doubt be anxious to have them commence to ascertain whether there is any evidence of their culpability, which they deny. But instead of starting the process, the President used the opportunity of his address to the National Assembly to do some politicking.
It is commendable that the President has commenced the process of addressing the National Assembly at the beginning of every session. It should trigger advanced planning for a legislative agenda, the initiation of which the Parliamentary Management Committee had encouraged in times past, without much success. But the temptation must be resisted to use the occasion to score political points. There are numerous opportunities to do so. And in fact a legislative agenda itself is an opportunity to make political statements by the quality of the legislative plans advanced by the Government. For this the President can go high and still achieve a political objective.