The interest of the nation is on money matters
The general public is being exposed to a host of issues that would normally have been one day reports in the media. They are being exposed to the issue of the National Industrial and Commercial Investments Limited (NICIL); they are asked to decide whether the benefits accruing to past presidents are exorbitant; whether the government has a right to fund the operations of the state-owned radio station and television station; whether Parliament as constituted is operating in the best interest of the people of Guyana.
The public was never asked to consider these things because a parliamentary majority always conspired to make every issue look like nothing more than an attack against the government, or a case of disgruntled people finding non-issues to criticize.
Sometimes motions to entertain such discussions in Parliament were not entertained. The result is that more often than not, the issue at hand was never ventilated. Sometimes, depending on how interested the government was in getting something highlighted, there would be the initial press release. Then there would be the panel discussions, a few more press releases and perhaps the parliamentary debate. In short, the government controlled the extent to which an issue became of national interest.
Examples that come readily to mind were the Bills that dealt with sexual preferences and one dealing with abortion. There were rarely debates on issues that placed the government at the centre of any controversy. For example, it has been more than a decade since the nation has had an Ombudsman. Try as it might, the parliamentary opposition or even the political opposition parties have not been able to get this issue before the public eye.
For three years, the public heard that there could be no promotions in the police and public service because there were no service commissions. The only times the nation became aware that promotions were halted at a certain level was when someone who should have been promoted was forced to retire without being promoted. And this only came to the fore when the person made hue and cry in the public media.
A few years before the elections the media became the prime crusaders against the inefficiencies and the patently dishonest acts that were being perpetrated in the various sections of Government, not least among contractors who were expected to fashion certain facilities with funds from the public treasury. This was a different story. The issue was money and money was what affected people’s lives.
Queries of the government for the failure to declare the extent of monies received and paid out to people affected by the floods of 2005 grabbed the attention. The public wanted to know where the money went. Today, there is a new dispensation. Both the government and the parliamentary opposition are seeking the attention of the public to protest certain interventions.
One of these interventions has to do with the new dispensation as it regards the seats on the various parliamentary committees. That issue has not been as commanding as the NICIL issue because the wider society really does not care much about those things. Such things do not put food on the table or provide shelter. Money does.
Similarly, they have not paid any attention to the failure of President Bharrat Jagdeo to sign the Access to Information Bill thus making it an Act. But they are paying keen attention to the monies that should be in NICIL. In the same way they paid close attention to monies spent on the Skeldon Modernisation Programme, on the Enmore Packaging Plant that appears to cost more than it should, the various road and koker contracts and now the NICIL situation.
For a while they actually believed the report that the staff of the National Communication and the Government Information Agency would lose jobs. That was something with which they could empathise. But event that seems to have passed without a whimper.
Not so the NICIL issue. Of course this involves more money than should have been in any one place outside the public treasury; it also has people thinking about strange things that have happened in the past.
They think about mansions that once poor people constructed and they think about rampant corruption that has been brought to the fore. That is why ordinary people are so engrossed in the NICIL affair.