The editorial, “Challenging the President’s immunity,” ( Kaieteur News, July 14) was largely on target with the observations about the potency of the presidency under what I’d like to call the ‘Burnham Constitution’, and while we wait to see if Mr. Khemraj Ramjattan will file a defamation law suit, I wish to differ with your writer’s assertion in the editorial’s third paragraph from the bottom that said, President Jagdeo does not seem to abuse the protective power that resides in his presidency because he tempers his criticism.
I will not let this journalistic faux pas pass without correction, because what your editorial writer may view as tempering of criticisms others may view as tampering with characters. Not because the President does not name a person as part of his scathing criticisms, it means he cannot be accused of engaging in personal attacks, because there are several instances where it does appear the President not only got personal in his attacks, but over-stepped his boundary as the nation’s highest elected official and made unproven allegations.
The Ramjattan issue is only one of them, and I really hoped that many Guyanese read Mr. Ramjattan’s categorical response to the President accusation that he sold his duty free car, because without Mr. Ramjattan’s detailed defence, many would likely have moved on believing the President, simply because he is the President. But the President is just another human being like all of us, possessed of imperfection in his sayings and doings, so he is liable to make mistakes and has made several deliberate mistakes, perhaps because he feels the Constitution serves as a shield against him being prosecuted or sued. It is unfair for him to play the game by firing a punch and when his opponents fire back he seeks refuge in the Constitution; that’s a coward’s way out. He has to respect other people’s rights if he wants other people to respect his.
I vividly recall him telling the nation, at the height of the criminal uprising, that he had video tapes of PNC officials cavorting with so-called Buxton criminal elements and that he would release these as proof to the nation that the PNC was in bed with criminals. He never did, citing his refusal to compromise the safety of whistleblowers that produced the videotapes. Then following the Lindo Creek massacre, he did a 180 turn and, without providing any proof, compromised the safety of a person he literally named as the driver of the vehicle that took the alleged killers to Lindo Creek when he said the driver was still walking the streets of Georgetown without ever being arrested.
That was an accusation by supposedly the most powerful man in the country – the President – and based on his authority alone, what he said could have been construed by his supporters or any aggrieved relative of the deceased as a signal to take whatever action they felt was necessary, since the police did not do their job. The President was worried about the safety of his Buxton whistleblowers but not the safety of the alleged driver of the Lindo Creek killers, whom he named and made a walking target for those eager for revenge or street justice.
Street justice should never be facilitated by a President in a country that has a working criminal justice system, and because the President failed to produce proof, he jeopardized the man’s personal safety. Moreover, the President knew he was constitutionally protected against lawsuits, so just did not care whose rights he trampled on. But this pattern of presidential abuse of authority and power that has now extended to personal attacks actually started out with political attacks that were also unproven.
The President often accused PNC of being in bed with criminals without having the police arrest a single PNC official, and without providing incontrovertible proof that could stand up in a court of law. With the PNC rendered impotent because of a lack of visionary leadership to help it evolve from the ashes of its ignoble past, the President turned his attention to the little AFC by accusing it of receiving donations from an alleged drug smuggler.
Besides the comical irony of the President making such a link, what the President has done is to inadvertently give status to the little AFC and, in effect, has replaced the PNC as his new bull’s eye as he continually shoots wildly from loose lips but keeps shooting himself in the foot, which he then sticks, wounded and bleeding, into his mouth.
Why the AFC all of a sudden? Why Mr. Ramjattan, in particular? Is it that the President, realising the PPP has been hemorrhaging support among its base in the last 10 years and that Mr. Ramjattan, a former PPP executive, could take advantage of that slippage and help the AFC siphon off frustrated and angry traditional PPP supporters? The two problems associated with the personal attacks by the President are 1) given the state of our country, Guyanese really don’t have an appetite for them as much as they want solutions to problems and answers to questions pertinent to the economy, and 2) the personal and political attacks coming from the President do not only make him look cornered without viable solutions and answers, but they diminish the stature of the office he holds.
Though the Constitution protects the President against prosecution and lawsuits, the President has been an abject failure at protecting the Office of the President whose symbol of authority has been on a downward spiral in the last 10 years. Despite all his own personal and ideological flaws, the late Dr. Cheddi Jagan walked tall and proud and avoided the putrid scent of today’s political trash; but President Jagdeo, who never seemed to have expected to be given this job, continues to demonstrate that he knows how to slither and slide and spew vituperative venom from a small and insecure mind. He has no idea how to treat the job of President as a precious gift that allows him to humbly serve the people of Guyana rather than his own narrow personal and political interests and agenda. He does not even seem eager to learn about the finer traits of being a President.
In fact, I really don’t know if anyone in the PPP’s leadership who is aspiring to be President desires to learn the finer traits of being President, given that they are all on board with the PPP’s decision to retain the constitutional clause that protects the President against lawsuits and indictments. It is as though the PPP was sending a message to Guyanese that its future presidents will not stray far from the authoritarian presidency of the late Forbes Burnham, and if or when they do, they can easily fall back on the Constitution for protection. That’s a dictator’s mentality.
I conclude by repeating what I said in a previously published letter: If the President is determined to salvage his sagging legacy, the least he can do is to work during the remaining months of his lame duck tenure to restore public confidence in all three branches of Government – executive, legislative and judicial. Even if his belated signature climate change agenda does not bear significant fruit before he demits office, at least Guyanese must be able to say he gave them back their Government after 50 years of politically inspired ethnic divisiveness, rank partisanship, corruption, cronyism, nepotism and worse. And young people must be able to use his presidency as the Holy Grail to which they can aspire.
Otherwise, the legacy of his presidency will be marked as the biggest failure that had the most potential, given he was 35 years old when he became President and he had a large generation of youths on whose willing shoulders he could have stood and led the nation forward.
While it is unfortunate that all the signs today point to a boat that is already on its way down stream, heading for the falls, I want to remind him of the words of his former boss at State Planning, Deputy Prime Minister, Haslyn Parris: One of the signs of maturity is knowing when to call for help.
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