APNU column…President Donald Ramotar misses the mark
by Brigadier David Granger, Leader of the Opposition
President Donald Ramotar’s Address to the First Session of the Tenth Parliament of Guyana on Friday 10th February 2012 omitted much of what the common people had hoped to hear. Although the ceremonial opening of Parliament is, traditionally, a spectacular event marked by military pomp and ceremony, it has a more serious purpose. It should be the opportunity for the Head of Government to review the work of the previous session of Parliament and to present an outline of the priorities, policies and proposed legislation for the new session.
The text of the President’s Address, therefore, should have been a comprehensive document that had been carefully constructed by the entire Cabinet. It should embrace, seriously, the intentions of the 20 Ministers and the more than 15 Ministries of the government for the duration of the 10th Parliament.
It should inform the nation about what it can expect in every major sector of national development. The President’s address, on this occasion, was not the sort of comprehensive programme that the nation desired or deserved.
It was delivered during February when we were actually witnessing our annual floods in six coastal regions; when pirates were terrorising the crew of 15 boats off the Pomeroon River; when the Police were firing shots to disperse angry farmers at Black Bush Polder; when sugar and bauxite workers were restless over the conditions in those industries; when the University was in turmoil as staff, students and workers were protesting the unbearable conditions at Turkeyen Campus; when the sea defences at Wakenaam had collapsed and when parents were writing the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Amerindian Affairs about the shortage of teachers, food and water at the Aishalton Secondary School in the Rupununi.
These were the real-time, day-to-day difficulties which ordinary people were facing in February when the President was addressing the National Assembly.
To these should be added the burdensome cost-of-living, the gruesome growth of the horde of homeless and destitute people, the loathsome rise in violent crime and unemployment and the well-known defects and deficiencies in the criminal justice system, national health system, public transport system education system, local government system and other areas of government responsibility which continue to de-motivate nurses, teachers and public servants, to demoralise the public in general and to undermine the quality of life for everyone.
The President’s Address should have attempted to present the People’s Progressive Party Civic administration’s responses to these pressing problems. The people wanted to be informed about the legislative programme that the government would introduce to improve their quality of life.
The President’s nearly 4,000 word address, however, managed to ignore the major matters affecting our lives today. Those issues which were touched, ever so lightly, demanded more deliberate attention than was offered.
Foreign Affairs, for example, especially Guyana’s relations with its neighbours – in the Caribbean and on the Continent – will be hampered unless there are major changes in our missions and their staffs. The present corps of ambassadors and high commissioners has been in place too long to be expected to pioneer the new economic diplomacy this country needs to prosper in this competitive global environment in the 21st century.
Economic development will be advanced only after a serious reappraisal of the manner in which labour relations, especially with the unions in the traditional sectors of the economy – sugar and bauxite – and in the services – teaching, nursing, the public service and public utilities – are managed.
The regulatory environment for the important gold and diamond mining industry and the timber industry must be strengthened. Hinterland infrastructure – aerodromes, bridges, roads, stellings– and communications must be improved if we are to attract world-class investors.
The Guyanese people expected to hear what legislation will be introduced to make these things possible.
Education reform ought to be the top national priority. The large number of dropouts from our primary and secondary schools, the crisis at our University and the flight of qualified science teachers demand immediate attention. There must be a plan to create a cadre of scientists to lead mining, agriculture and engineering development in this millennium.
Public security and the performance of the Police Force have been perennial problems. ‘Banditry’ and ‘piracy’ have become household words but plans to counter them were all but absent from the President’s Address.
It is a fact that narco-trafficking has pumped violence into this country. The PPPC administration, however, abandoned three counter-narcotics strategies, several years ago but the ‘Address’ made no mention of a new plan to suppress the trade.
National unity, above all, cannot be built on airy calls for consensus, compromise and the quest for common ground. An institutional framework must be erected to foster cooperation and inclusionary democracy at the national, regional and neighbourhood levels. The voices of the trade unions and civil society must be heard.
The rights of our workers, women, youth, children and minorities must be respected in our policies for the 10th Parliament.
Ten weeks is a long time in politics and it took ten weeks for the President to deliver his ‘Address’ to the ceremonial opening of Parliament in February 2012 after his inauguration in December 2011. The Address, despite its long gestation, made short work of serious issues affecting our people.
The experiences of the past twenty years, the exigencies of current events and the expectations of the electorate should have exerted a greater influence on the preparation of the government’s policy for this 10th Parliament.
The President is free to return to the National Assembly as frequently as he likes in order to foster the dialogue between the executive and legislative branches. The next time, however, he should take the opportunity to promulgate the policies, plans and programmes that this country needs.
He must take the opportunity, also, to point to the way to solve the major problems that continue to inhibit national unity.
A Partnership for National Unity, therefore, did not support the motion in the National Assembly to approve the ‘Address.’ APNU felt that the President missed the opportunity to put forward an agenda that would provide solutions to this country’s problems.