From the Diaspora…MEETING WITH THE PRESIDENT AND”PRESIDENT TO BE”
By Ralph Seeram
It was an occasion I was looking forward to, an opportunity not only to meet President Bharrat Jagdeo but also the PPP presidential candidate, Donald Ramotar. To those in Guyana this may not be a “big deal” but to us in the Diaspora it is a rare event.
The last time I met President was some five years ago, prior to the last election, and here again just prior to this year’s election, yes the election will be held this year (more on this later).
Our prior meeting was at a small dinner. On that occasion the President invited questions. My questions were about crime, corruption and the Berbice River Bridge. The President made good on his promise on the Berbice Bridge. Our meeting this time would be a little different. I have been writing a weekly column for Kaieteur News, and in some of those articles I have been critical (constructively of course) of the President and the Government as a whole with respect to certain issues.
So as I waited with some trepidation for the arrival of President Jagdeo, Donald Ramotar and his entourage, I am wondering how would his reception be since I write for Kaieteur News. Would he hold that against me? (I mean you hear people accuse the guy of being vindictive). Well there was certainly no evidence of that, as on the arrival of the President and his entourage, I happened to be standing at the entrance and was the first to greet the President.
By way of disclosure I told him my name and reminded him that I do write a column for Kaieteur News. With a broad smile he took my questions and began answering immediately, to the displeasure of the other guests who were waiting to get a word in with the President.
I reserve my other questions for the moment to give others an opportunity. I can tell you that the President did not shy away from all the tough issues on the mind of those in the room. He paid attention to all who approached. His concern for the issues were genuine.
It is different to be thousands of miles away and be critical of someone than a face to face encounter. Mr. Jagdeo, by way of disclosure, made it clear to me than he does not read Kaieteur News. I jokingly told him that I think it is the first newspaper he reads in the morning.
He accused this newspaper of only carrying negatives news and of omitting the positive things the PPP Government has accomplished. He cited some U.S papers like the New York Times which he said are more balanced in their editorial content. In view of his concern of editorial balance this column today I will attempt to highlight the positive accomplishments of the PPP administration. (I know there are enough people in the Diaspora to blog on the negatives). I am sure that some, if not all of his accomplishments, will be hard to refute.
On the economy he reiterated that it is the most vibrant in the Caribbean. This has been confirmed by International Agencies. Only four per cent of revenues are devoted to debt repayment as compared to 92 per cent when the PPP took office. Personally, regardless of how much debt was forgiven it is still a great achievement.
On the fiscal side the PPP Government steered the country form no reserves in 1992 to US$1 billion in reserve. Very few can argue with this, this according to him, in an economy of US$3 billion.
There can be no question about the PPP housing policies; the party has virtually ended the housing shortage in Guyana. The construction boom in Guyana is unprecedented, creating major employment for Guyanese.
The roads are some of the best in the Caribbean from Timehri to Crabwood and other areas of the coastland.
Despite all the criticism, the Providence National Stadium is a reality. One can recall all the predictions were made that the stadium will never come to fruition. So is the Berbice River Bridge, which I addressed in previous articles.
I don’t care how ugly it is in some people’s imagination, this bridge is functional and very, very convenient for Berbicians. I have friends in the Diaspora who would normally visit Georgetown and tell me that they made a trip to the Corentyne especially the #63 Beach, because they can visit and return to the Capital in a few hours.
Education standards have been improved dramatically while despite some shortcomings the health care system has been vastly improved its condition over 19 years ago.
President Jagdeo was passionate about democracy in Guyana. He boasted that elections in Guyana are free and fair. Today people are not being bullied to vote for a particular party; freedom of the press is guaranteed and he pledged to defend the right of his critics to criticize.
Some in the past had argued that denying advertisements to certain sections of the media amounted to censorship. I don’t buy that argument. One may argue that the opposite may be true. A newspaper that depends on government advertisement can be influenced by the government. However the distribution of the advertisements should be fair.
On the important question of race, the President pointed out the PPP has always striven for racial unity; that his party has always been in the forefront fighting racialism, and has made tremendous gains in that area as evidenced by the PPP nearly 55 per cent of the voters in the last elections.
The numbers show that the PPP has crossed the racial divide. No other political party in Guyana, he emphasized to me, has been able to achieve that. He predicted that the PPP will win the coming elections precisely because of its appeal to all Guyanese.
While we are on the subject of elections I feel that the date for the elections will be announced shortly after the PPP elections manifesto comes out.
When the elections will be held? My prediction is November of this year. Of course crime and corruption were my main concern as they were five years ago. President Jagdeo acknowledged the crime situation, but suggested that we look at it in perspective. For instance, Guyana has one of the lowest crime rates in the Caribbean but one would not realize that from the way crime is reported and portrayed in the Guyanese media. Never the less, the Government will be implementing new strategies to combat the crime situation. An Intelligence apparatus is being established as another crime fighting tool. My view is that the Government is using the wrong reference point to compile its stats on crime. The average Guyanese really doesn’t care about what the crime stats is, in say Trinidad and Tobago. He or she might be more inclined to use a referral point of what the crime situation was like when the PPP came in power or maybe 12 years ago. The same can be said about corruption.
In foreign affairs, Mr. Jagdeo also drew attention to the fact that Guyana now has a face on the International scene, especially in the field of Conservation and representation in bodies such as UNASUR.
Of course no conversation achievements can be completed without discussion on the Amaila Falls Hydro Project which would be the PPP biggest undertaking. The president predicted a 40 per cent reduction in electricity bills while reducing 90 per cent of the fuel bill for electricity.
For the future he forecasts that the Guyanese economy will quadruple in the next few years with the implementation of the next phase of development. These include shifting trade and improving relationships with India and China, as well as UNASUR. There are untapped markets.
A deep water harbour in Berbice will be used by the Brazilians bringing another economic benefit to the country. Plans are also in the works to bring in large scale plantation type agricultural production.
Increased ecotourism, and biodiversity will also play a role. Internet in every home is the ultimate goal. He wants to make every one computer literate from baby to grandmother. There you have it, the positives of President Jagdeo and the PPP Government.
So what’s my impression of President Jagdeo based on our brief encounter? I feel the man is passionate about his country and is sincerely trying to move the country forward. I think he get frustrated with criticisms and showed that on a number of occasions.
And let me be honest Guyana is a much better place than it was 19 years ago, and please don’t remind me about the evils of the PPP. You will only be “preaching to the choir”
Next week my impressions on Mr. Donald Ramotar and the coming elections.
Ralph Seeram can be reached at email: firstname.lastname@example.org