An objective assessment of the ten-year presidency of Bharrat Jagdeo is required. This column has commissioned a ten-part series that intends to examine the accomplishments of the world’s youngest ever Head of State.
This assessment of President Jagdeo’s ten years in office will be stretched over the next three months so as to cater for other contributions that deal with the more topical issues.
Much has already been written about the President: the perceptions of his ability, style of governing and his accomplishments or lack of accomplishments.
A great deal of what has been written has can be divided into two camps, both at extreme ends of a straight line. One gives little or no credit at all to President Jagdeo. The other overextends itself through flattery. This ten-part series, beginning today, intends to address these defects.
It begins by locating President Jagdeo’s rise to the Presidency amidst internal turmoil occasioned by two separate but not unrelated events.
The first of these was the post-1997 elections protests which almost brought this country to its knees and which resulted in acts of violence from which this country has never fully recovered.
The outcome of these elections also led to public demonstrations in the streets in which a woman who had dedicated most of her life to the independence and freedom of this country was demonized. Horrifyingly, there was resort to an alliance with witchcraft and other dark forces in order to force her to step down.
This was followed by an extended public service strike which equally saw dubious alliances being formed. The strike ended in a highly controversial manner with union leaders being besieged by their workers and other forces which had coalesced in supporting the industrial action. This period also saw inflammatory rhetoric being pedalled by certain talk show hosts against the police force.
The protracted protests which at times led to unfortunate incidents, along with the constant rabble against the Guyana Police Force, led to an undermining of confidence in the State, the government and in the Guyana Police Force, a situation that would later lead to problems after the 2001 elections. Also the government and particularly the then Finance Minister’s unyielding positions in relation to wages demanded by the union representing public servants, led to a great deal of bitterness.
President Jagdeo as Minister of Finance seemed more concerned at the time with ensuring compliance with the agreements he had negotiated with international organizations. This was reflected in the government’s insistence during the early stages of negotiations that any wages agreement must reflect the country’s international obligations.
The failure of the government to compromise earlier on this point led to problems and the strike may have been ended had the government adopted a more flexible approach to the situation.
It is against these troubling and unsettling developments that Mr. Bharrat Jagdeo surprisingly assumed the Presidency of Guyana. There was some controversy also about the manner in which the Prime Minister, Mr. Samuel Hinds was bypassed for the job but many persons welcomed the idea of youth in the highest office in the land.
Given the background against which he assumed the Presidency, it was logical to assume that his immediate priorities would have been to heal the political divisions within the society and repair the fractured relationship between the government and the Guyana Public Service.
Interestingly enough, President Jagdeo did the very opposite to what was expected. There was little political compromise of note, except in relation to those elements of the Herdmanston Accord which were implemented. In the case of the Guyana Public Service Union, relations never improved and in fact the union has been so seriously weakened by post-strike developments that they pose no threat to the government.
These early years were years of consolidation, in which President Jagdeo demonstrated a firm and steady hand in dealing with his political rival, adopting positions and postures which clearly showed that he was not prepared to yield under pressure or intimidation. He showed resolve and courage, even though compromise may have avoided much of the difficulties that he faced then and much later.
Jagdeo also showed that he was someone committed to moving things along and not prepared to be sidetracked or delayed. This was evident in the handling of the National Development Strategy (NDS). During this period there were attempts by the opposition to frustrate the acceptance of a National Development Strategy.
In order to broker a compromise, the Carter Center effectively killed its own initiative by asking someone more amenable to the main opposition to review the original document. By the time the revised process was completed the NDS was effectively superseded by a new development plan developed by the donor community and which was supposed to incorporate the recommendations of the NDS.
During these first two years also, President Jagdeo developed a relationship with the masses that would have been the envy of many a political leader. He became highly popular because of his tendency to reach down to the people, relate to their problems and to find solutions on the spot.
Thus by the time he faced the polls in 2001, certain features of a style of President Jagdeo were becoming cemented. Here was a President with a practical, “hands on” approach. Here was a President with a knack for getting things done and getting them done quickly; here was someone impatient with the slow pace of development and who was prepared to intervene to ensure things moved along.
But here also was a President concerned more with economic issues than with political accommodation and compromise. Here was a president who while attending to the economy was allowing his party, in this period of consolidation, to direct the political engagements with the opposition.
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