Last week, one headline grabbed my attention. It proclaimed that President Bharrat Jagdeo had entered into agreements that had hogtied the current president. In short, the article proclaimed that the agreements should not have been taken to their finality; that President Donald Ramotar should have been given an opportunity to review them and to make changes if he saw fit.
I was aware that in the run-up to the November 28 elections, the work of the government had to continue; that nothing was static and that there is always a government. I was also aware of a convention that an outgoing government should not enter into new agreements.
There are reasons for this. A new government may have a different focus. What the old government might consider priority may not be a priority for the new government. In the case of Guyana just before November 28, this was not the case. I learnt that President Ramotar campaigned on a platform of continuity. He won the polls, so the agreements signed before his accession to office may not have posed any problems for him.
But suppose he had lost and a new government headed by someone else had acceded to office? That government would have been saddled with the commitments given by the previous administrations.
I raised this question with Cabinet Secretary Dr Roger Luncheon, and he spoke of the near impossibility of reversing some of the agreements entered into before November 28. He directed me to the situation in neighbouring Trinidad and Tobago where Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissesar sought to reverse an agreement that former Prime Minister Patrick Manning had endorsed.
The agreement was for equipment for the security sector. Kamla Persad-Bissesar did not think that these were necessary. Perhaps she had a problem with the price.
Whatever the case, she put a halt to it, but ended up saddling the people of Trinidad with a huge debt. That is money being spent for nothing, because nothing would be had to show for the expenditure.
There are people in Guyana who feel that some of the agreements will saddle Guyana with an unreasonable debt. I have heard arguments that people should not try to dictate for the government. However, the government represents the people and should heed what the people say.
For example, there is the cost of the hydroelectric project. It started off at one price and today the price is some US$250 million more. There is a reason for the high cost and that reason is the project insurance. But do we need project insurance? Could we have used that US$250 million for other needed projects?
Doctors and just about every public servant complain about low wages and salaries. Things have reached the stage where the people scarcely work for the money they receive. I had cause to comment on the situation at the Georgetown Public Hospital.
A woman was all but ignored before she could have been diagnosed. Someone could not find the doctor on call. In the end, the woman died of a condition that should have been treated, and there was ample time to treat her.
The hospital says that there is going to be an investigation but from experience, unless the media press real hard the issue would simply die, and no one would be any the wiser.
There is a contract for the Marriott Hotel. The project promises a lot, but is it needed given the number of hotels that are around? Trinidad built the Hyatt, a real jewel, but that place is hardly ever occupied unless the country hosts international events.
We know that the international community has poured money into Guyana, and once here the money has to be spent, because it goes back. Did we do too much in the wrong direction? The Chinese have told the Foreign Ministry that Guyana needs to identify even more projects, because China is interested in investing in Guyana.
There is one point of note. Many of these projects were never made known to the Guyanese people until after the agreement was signed. There was the airport expansion project that was only made known after the signing had been completed in Jamaica. And to crown it all, the spokesperson for the Jamaica leg of the contractor actually said that she got into hot water for talking to the Guyanese media. This should not have been.
There are those among us who feel that something was not right, because whenever the government does something without informing the public, people conclude that there is something shady about the arrangement.
There may be nothing shady; the government may simply be capitalizing on a situation before it disappears, and may therefore be seeking to avoid having to answer all manner of questions and in so doing, delay the execution of the project.
But there have been too many of such secret signings. There was the visit to China to finalise money for the Amaila project. The nation learnt from a foreign media. There was the sale of land to an Indian group and again, the nation learnt from a publication in the Times of India.
Suffice it to say that these are done deals, but the suspicion lurks. Questions are going to be asked, and there will be many angry people at the end of the day.
Pres. Ali putting water meters on the citizens in Berbice, and not meters on Exxon oil pumps.
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