Jagdeo Calls for Unity in Guyana

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Mr. Bharrat Jagdeo addresses Guyanese in Queens, New York.

By Dr. DHANPAUL NARINE

Mr. Bharrat Jagdeo is the Opposition Leader of Guyana. His presentation in Queens last week drew mixed reaction from a largely Indo-Guyanese crowd. One of the lessons was that the diaspora support should not be taken for granted. People want transparency, and now more than ever. Mr. Jagdeo’s recent meeting encountered calls for transparency and at times the going was tough. But he defended his position bravely and may have won some converts to his cause as well.

Mr. Bharrat Jagdeo is the Opposition Leader of Guyana. His presentation in Queens last week drew mixed reaction from a largely Indo-Guyanese crowd. One of the lessons was that the diaspora support should not be taken for granted. People want transparency, and now more than ever. Mr. Jagdeo’s recent meeting encountered calls for transparency and at times the going was tough. But he defended his position bravely and may have won some converts to his cause as well.

A section of the audience at the Fairfield Pavilion in Queens, New York.

The audience comprised the usual Queens rank and file. They were people from the previous generation, with their feet in America, but their hearts in Guyana. Their conversations too were predictable. There was the IPL cricket in India, the cold New York weather, Trump’s wall and the cost of living, among others. The Friday evening crowd was in the mood to hear about events back home and how Mr. Jagdeo would go about getting things right.

He said that Guyana is at a crossroads and that the social safety net has been dismantled by the current administration. The supporters of both of the major political parties have no recourse to get help from any source. An early question in the proceedings was ‘what is the present state of the economy?’

According to Mr. Jagdeo, the momentum of growth has been slowed to the point where the economy is in ruins. After four years of the APNU government tax collections have increased by $88 billion. This has sapped energy from the economy. In addition, APNU borrowed $900 million in four years and has spent $1.3 trillion in five budgets. Tax and borrow appears to be the economic philosophy of the government. The current government has put a 14 per cent tax on machinery and equipment.

In mining sector there is a repressive tax as well. These policies, says Mr. Jagdeo, have resulted in the loss of 30,000 jobs. He said that while there were criticisms that his government was corrupt the track record of APNU has left a lot to be desired. The investigations into corruption by the PPP have yielded nothing. The government set up the Special Organized Crime Unit (SOCU) to investigate corruption, but the reports have shown that SOCU is itself corrupt.

Mr. Jagdeo said, ‘I suggested to Mr. Granger three years ago, that he should trace all the assets of former government officials, as well as theirs, and release it to the public and he has refused to do that. We went to Parliament and took a motion to make a declaration to the Integrity Commission but this was voted down by the government.’ He said that a Minister gave her husband a contract in her Ministry to build houses while another Minister took an unsolicited bid for the Demerara Harbor Bridge but nothing has happened.

He stated further that the government ‘has not come up with a single new project since they have been in office.’ Mr. Jagdeo said that the government spent $100 million Guyana dollars to build a fence around State House when the previous fence could have done the job. There are 44 new vehicles that were bought by the government costing millions and the perks given to the ministers are enormous. This wastage does not auger well for the oil and gas sector.’ He added that a new government would put in place measures for transparency for oil and gas.

The closure of the sugar estates means that over 11,000 persons have lost their jobs with no alternative employment in sight. The results of the local government elections showed that the electorate firmly rejected the government. In dealing with the no-confidence motion, Mr. Jagdeo said that the Caribbean Court of Justice would be meeting in May 2019 to rule on the motion.

He said that the use of the term ‘absolute majority’ is importing language in the Constitution. The framers of the document meant a simple majority was needed. Mr. Jagdeo said that the next election would be different as, ‘we are training polling agents to go into the toughest areas so that there is no attempt to steal the votes. The US State Department issued a statement that they would support fair and free elections in Guyana and the US Ambassador in Guyana has said the same thing.’

Mr. Jagdeo called for inclusion and stated that his party will work hard to attract Afro-Guyanese to it ‘and then the PPP will become invincible.’ Question time proved to be most interesting. They ranged from dual citizenship to crime and security in Albouystown and racial tension in Guyana. One man in a long rambling speech called for a revolution in Guyana.

The place came alive when one questioner accused former PPP minister, Robert Persaud, of being corrupt and Raj Singh of destroying Guysuco. This statement was met with loud applause. Mr. Jagdeo did his best to explain the financial difficulties of Guysuco. He said that 11,000 families had food on the table because the PPP kept the estates open but international economic forces stifled the growth of the industry.

What about racism? Mr. Jagdeo said that race polarizes people at election time. But the PPP will fight it aggressively. Minister Volda Lawrence’s statement was unhelpful. There must be the language of inclusion, he said. When Volda Lawrence called for only PNC members to be employed it was a racist statement. The statement about giving jobs only to party people was not criticized by President Granger or Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo or any government officials. In fact, Minister Raphael Trotman praised it. In summing up, there were those who felt that Mr. Jagdeo handled himself well while others had a mixed reaction to the meeting.
A number of persons argued that his presentation was old wines in new bottles. They had heard it all before and had seen the same faces at the meetings. This is a different phase of the struggle, they said, and unless Guyanese politicians can deliver on their promises they should not be taken seriously. Raphael Trotman has recently talked about incorporating the diaspora in Guyana’s development, even at the level of overseas Guyanese sitting in Parliament. This is unworkable, as Guyana has no diaspora policy, when compared to Jamaica, India or Israel.

As far as Mr. Jagdeo is concerned, he has to bring in new talents in the party, reach out to the other ethnic groups and devise a formula to cross the ethnic divide, both in Guyana and in the diaspora. Irfaan Ali’s academic credentials could become a campaign issue; steps should be taken for him to present the certificates and transcripts for all to see.

Mr. Jagdeo cannot ignore the fact that many in the New York community supported candidates other than Irfaan Ali. This has caused some degree of uneasiness and lambasting those persons publicly may not have been the best strategy. Cheddi Jagan faced similar problems and he intervened through dialogue.

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