The three key elements in Greek tragedy were “hubris, nemesis and catharsis” and it appears Guyana is about to unfold its own tragedy after the hubris displayed by the PNC-led Government’s leadership at Red House last Friday. Earlier this month, one research into hubristic leadership warned: “Hubris is a potentially dangerous cocktail of over-confidence, over-ambition, arrogance and pride. It is the malaise of the powerful which, when allied to contempt for the advice and criticisms of others, causes leaders to over-reach themselves significantly. As a consequence…if left unchecked, hubristic leadership undermine institutions, threaten society’s wellbeing and destabilises global security.”
The tragedy, as they tend to do, began rather innocuously. Sometime in 1999 the Cheddi Jagan Research Centre (CJRC) was formed to house the papers of the leader of the PPP and former Premier and President of Guyana, Dr Cheddi Jagan. It was to be institutionalised at the state-owned “Red House”, where Jagan lived as Premier in the 1960s and run by an executive drawn from the PPP’s hierarchy. A 99-year lease was executed at a nominal rate of 00/monthly.
In August 2015, during the Budget debate for that year, Attorney General Basil Williams claimed the PPP had “privatised” Red House. A month later, the newly-formed “State Assets Recovery Agency” (SARA) under Dr Clive Thomas, signalled that the “peppercorn” lease by the previous Administration to the private group was vitiated because it did not reflect “market rates”. They indicated the Government should challenge the lease in the courts. The Government, through the Minister of the Presidency Joseph Harmon concurred.
Towards the end of October 2015, the AG took an even more confrontational tact and insisted the Red House lease arrangement was illegal and amounted to the theft of Government property. “It’s misconduct in public office for the criminal office side and misfeasance in public office on the civil side.” He revealed that negotiations had been initiated between officials of the CJRC and himself, representing the Government. He had met two directors of the Institute: they suggested renegotiation of the terms of the lease and its consideration and he proposed that its mandate be altered to accommodate the papers of all past presidents.
After this suggestion was rejected, the AG never got back to the CJRC representatives as he had promised, but in March of this year, reiterated his Government’s position on the lease. Rather curiously, he denied meeting representatives of the CJRC.
And there the matter stood until a letter from the President to his Minister of State on December 30, 2016, ordered that the CJRC must vacate the premises the very next day, December 31, to make way for the occupancy by the Secretariat of the National Trust.
Previously the Ministry of the Presidency (MoP) had identified the building that housed the National Trust as being earmarked for its own expansion. But the thunderbolt on the summary eviction, which most pertinently involved the records of the man universally acclaimed as one of the leading pioneers of the independence movement, and housed on three floors of Red House, was evidently not hubristic enough.
When the legal representative of the CJRC immediately rushed to file a conservatory for staying the eviction, even as the Chief Justice was listening to arguments from both sides, employees from the MoP refused to listen to the objections of a director of the Centre, broke down a sign with its name and installed a new lock on the gate of the fence. It is now clear from the timelines of the actions, that the AG had sought to mislead the CJ by informing her that the MoP was already in occupancy of Red House.
It is clear that the hubristic behaviour of the Government will inevitably invoke its nemesis that will eventually destroy it – even as it did its predecessor regime. The PPP matches the coalition in popular support and the disagreement should have been handled more sensitively.
The problem is, the catharsis will only come after our country would have suffered.