Coalition govt performance disappointing – political commentators

After one year in office

On May 11, 2015, Guyanese went to the polls to elect a new Government for the next five years and those elections were seen as historic; as for the first time in 23 years, there was a change of Government. The change of Government brought with it, high expectations, since the coalition on the campaign trail promised, “A better life for all”. Today, May 16, one year after David Granger was sworn in as President Guyana Times takes a look at the coalition’s performance during its first year in office.

Clean up

Economist Raymond Gaskin
Economist Raymond Gaskin

The Government mere days after it was elected, kicked into top gear and in partnership with “private contractors”, commenced a massive clean-up and restoration of Georgetown. While the clean up at that time was ahead of the planned inauguration of the President and his Cabinet, it was extended and is continuing.

President David Granger
President David Granger

There is no doubt; the Government has achieved much success in this area, as the city now boasts a completely different aesthetic.
The Government also fulfilled several of the 21 promises made for completion within 100 days. Most noteworthy was the early holding of Local Government Elections. After a 22-year delay, those elections were held on March 18, 2016, less than one year after the A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC) took office.
The amending of the Anti-Money Laundering and Countering the Financing of Terrorism (AML/CFT) Act 2009, in keeping with the recommendations of the Caribbean Financial Action Task Force (CFATF) or the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) was another.
Then, the coalition Government reduced the tolls to cross the Berbice River Bridge. After lengthy debates between the Berbice Bridge Company Inc (BBCI) and Government, a deal was inked and a small reduction was effected through a subsidy from the Consolidated Funds.
The Government also lived up to a promise to declare Mabaruma, Lethem and Bartica towns. Mahdia in Region Eight (Potaro-Siparuni) was the other village slated to be a town; however, it was not gazetted.
Among other areas of success for the coalition are the efforts to decentralise passport, birth certificate and Licensing services and the fulfilment of a promise to return the community-owned television station to Linden. Value Added Tax (VAT) was also reduced on several new items while a significant increase was given on old age pensions.
The liberalisation of the telecommunications and Information and Communication Technology (ICT) sector was advanced with the introduction of 4G mobile communications technology.
The following are some evaluations in several areas of national endeavour:
Economic. The greatest disappointment in the new Government has been its performance on the economic front.
In fact, concerns have been raised about the Government’s misplaced priorities and the spending of exorbitant sums on monies on celebratory activities, such as the President’s inauguration ceremony and Independence activities. A stimulus is obviously needed to give the economy a jump-start. The President conceded that the “six sisters” of the Guyanese economy – sugar, rice, bauxite, gold, forestry, and demand – were anaemic.
The collapse of the lucrative PetroCaribe rice deal between Guyana and Venezuela also occurred under the new Government, plunging thousands of rice farmers into economic straits. The Administration declared that rice was not Government’s business. Sugar workers also received a jolt after Government hastily announced the imminent closure of the Wales (West Bank Demerara) and the La Bonne Intention (East Coast Demerara) estates, despite recommendations from the Commission of Inquiry report which advised against those actions. More than 2000 workers would be out of work.
Government also continued its opposition to the Amaila Fall Hydropower Project (AFHEP) even though the President now concedes that one of the major obstacles to generating new jobs in value added manufacturing activities is the provision of cheap energy.
The Government has instead mentioned solar and wind power generation that are not nearly as set for early delivery as the Amaila Falls hydroelectric Project (AFHEP) – one project in this area is the Wind Farm Project which was given to a company controlled by AFC financier Lloyd Singh. Singh built the AFC headquarters and was described by minister Trotman as a “political investor” who would expect “returns”.
Political. While President Granger reiterated his commitment to a “unity government” and Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo promised to cooperate with the Government, there has been no subsequent movement in this direction.
Following up with its claims while in opposition that the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) was “corruption”, the Granger-led Administration instituted over 30 Commissions of Inquiries (CoI) and forensic audits of State agencies. Yet after spending more than $300 million, nothing illegal was found and no one has been charged, even though most top officials were fired and replaced by party officials, such as Director of the Government Information Agency (GINA) Beverly Alert who is an AFC candidate; Richard Van West-Charles who is former President Forbes Burnham’s son-in-law as head of the Guyana Water Inc; Robert Badal, an AFC financier as the Chairman on the Guyana Power and Light Board; several Regional Executive Officers (REO) among countless others.
Upon assumption to office, Government embarked on a series of personnel changes that were dubbed “ethnic cleansing” by the PPP/Civic Opposition, since long serving public servants were arbitrarily fired. This campaign included the firing of close to 2000 Community Support Officers (CSOs) from various Amerindian communities.
While Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo’s powers as promised in the Cummingsburg Accord were completely degutted, he was allowed four well compensated “Prime Ministerial Representatives” to be his “eyes and ears” in the various regions. More pertinently, these representatives have the potential to subvert the local government system.
Government then proceeded to award 27 senior and junior Ministers and other top officials 50 per cent salary increases, just four months in office, upon the request of Prime Minister Nagamootoo, who insisted that the Attorney General and Legal Affairs Minister Basil Williams should not be earning more money than he was. On the other hand, Government workers were told that their promised “significant salary increases” could not be accommodated.
Moreover, the performance of several Government Ministers came under review, with calls already being made for Social Protection Minister Volda Lawrence, Agriculture Minister Noel Holder and Public Security Minister Ramjattan to be fired over their inability to effectively manage their portfolios.
Social. While the new Government promised to curb crime, Public Security Minister Khemraj Ramjattan appeared to be out of his league.

He persuaded the APNU/AFC coalition that the implementation of the 2:00 am curfew on bar closures was going to bring down crime rates. The Private Sector Commission (PSC) challenged him to provide the statistics which he could not.
Also, Guyana made worldwide news when 17 inmates perished during three days of prison unrest, which occurred under the watch of the current Administration.
Prime Minister Nagamootoo was also cited for his attempts to censor and control the State media, and this was reported by the 2015 US Department of State Human Rights Report.
The Administration also received severe criticisms over its decision to arbitrarily award the contract for the India-funded Specialty Hospital project to Fedders Lloyd, a client of Minister Khemraj Ramjattan, who is also an Attorney.
Additionally, instead of reducing Valus Added Tax (VAT) as promised, Government significantly increased the taxes and licence fees, adding to the burdens of families across Guyana. The Government also removed the old age water and electricity subsidies, quashed the ‘Because we care’ cash grant and announced the ban on used tyres and old vehicles; all of which are labelled anti-poor initiatives.

What commentators say
Political Commentator and former Government Minister, Dr Henry Jeffrey said like most persons, he is disappointed with the performance of the coalition Government thus far, singling out some of the actions of the Government, which he said, run contrary to their campaign promises.
“Most people would say that they are somewhat disappointed. I feel that way. One expected when one was calling for some kind of change. Let me make it quite clear that the PPP was there for 23 years and they had to go, they had to have a change, but that does not mean that you think the change is centrally as what you wanted, starting from the issues of salary increases, etc,” Jeffrey stated.
He added that from the unset, the coalition Government started off on the wrong footing and thus far, continues to operate in a haphazard manner.
“It started from the first day in numerous cases, with the many Ministers, we have about 28; the issue with Harmon; they promised to deal with the AFC in a particular way and Nagamootoo and all that. It all seems much jumbled and as if they are just administering things day to day and doing things in an opportunistic way. So yeah, I have been disappointed. I don’t think there are many people, even their core supporters that are not disappointed in their first year in Government,” he stated.

The Govt failed
Meanwhile, prominent Economist, Ramon gaskin declared, “the Government has failed.”
“It has failed to stimulate the economy, to get the economy moving. It has failed to deal with the problems of [Guyana Sugar Corporation] GuySuCo, failed to come up with a plan to deal with the people at Wales, it has failed to deal with the problem of public service wages and they said they are waiting on some report from Lutchman and GuySuCo, they are also waiting some report on diversifications, they waiting and waiting. They failed to deal with prison reform and they are waiting on a report from the CoI on the prison. They are always waiting on something rather than getting on with the business,” Gaskin declared.
He explained that the David Granger Administration had a year to deal with GuySuCo and yet the Corporation lost between $10 billion and $12 billion this year, adding that the Government seems not to be doing anything to address this loss. “They don’t know what to do with these problems. Sugar production is a total disaster this year. We’re down 23,000 tonnes from the target and in the next year or two, Guyana will be importing sugar. Write that in your paper! If we continue how we’re going, in a year or two, Guyana will have to import sugar to meet its international or domestic commitments. Simple as that and they don’t know what to do,” he declared.
The respected economist said that for the first 12 months in office, the coalition Government failed to tackle a single problem; instead they have been involved in cosmetology. He said the renaming of the Ogle International Airport is purely cosmetic, while the “big spending” at Durban Park, will only yield “more sporting, and enjoyment and merrymaking.”
“No production! Nothing! My overall assessment is that (Winston) Jordan (Finance Minister) doesn’t know what he is doing to stimulate this economy to get it going. There is no job creation at all, so that’s what you got. Nothing, nothing at all, just cosmetics. A lot of noise and no production,” he stated.
Gaskin noted that while many persons are talking about the cleaning of the city, he does not see this as something to gloat about since City Hall failed to clean the city for 20 years.
“City Hall hasn’t had an audit done in over 12 years; the Auditor General has not done an audit into City Hall for over 12 years,” he remarked.
In concluding, Gaskin said ”they are very good at putting on a big sport, big music set, big noise! Dancehall music, you bring in all the artistes from outside, but no production! It’s a country without production! But we are good at that; we are good at bringing in all these artistes from outside to jump up at the National Park. They are very good at that.”