Every time a new leader takes over in Guyana, pressure mounts on that person to immediately distance himself from the previous leader. He is told to be his own man, to do things his own way and more importantly to make sweeping changes.
This call in part reflects the frustration of some within our society at the pace of progress and the association of the need to hasten that pace with the need for change.
The new leader is told that he needs to break with his predecessor. Hoyte was told this; Cheddi Jagan was told this and Jagdeo was no doubt told the same. Already, also, people are saying that the new president is not doing anything. What they really mean is that he is not firing the members of the old government.
What the “change” chorus wants is not just any break from the past but a break that benefits them. They see a new president as representing an opportunity for them to feather their nests and they are not pleased with the status quo in terms of the main political players remaining unchanged under a new President.
Unfortunately, if every president was to break immediately with his or her predecessor, then there would be very little continuity. In reality, it is never practical for sweeping changes to take place immediately unless of course the president is courting political failure.
There is always a period of political consolidation when the new president seeks to ensure his own political survival and to establish his political base. This happened with Hoyte and it is happening with Ramotar.
When Hoyte first took over there were many, especially the Americans, who were hoping that he would immediately banish the old Burnhamite guard. This, however, did not happen until very late in his presidency.
In fact for the first years of his presidency, Hoyte surrounded himself with powerful figures from the old Burnham regime, including the wife of Burnham who was promoted to a Vice-President immediately upon Burnham’s death.
This move was intended to assure the party leadership that he, Hoyte, would ensure continuity and that they need not feel threatened by him. It gave him the breathing space he needed to entrench himself and build his power base within the party and government so that when he was ready to rout the Burnham guard, very few persons were able to stand in his way.
Over time, Hoyte effectively dismantled the Burnhamite guard from within the government, but it took many years for this to happen.
There is another reason why it is not practical for a new leader to make sweeping changes upon assuming the presidency. That has to do with the need to ensure continuity. Every president respects benefits from the rebound of projects that his predecessor would have implemented.
Hoyte was credited with changing the course of the economy and for its liberalization. But those who are familiar with the behind-the-scenes workings of the government would relate that the groundwork for most of the changes that Hoyte was credited with actually began under Burnham.
The invitation of foreign investors in the mining and forestry sectors began under Burnham. The introduction of television began with Burnham. And the move towards the IMF and World Bank did not at all start with Hoyte. Since 1983, Burnham had been sending teams to the World Bank and IMF seeking a funding programme.
Hoyte should not, however, be deprived of the honor of being credited with the changes that were made under his rule even if those changes took root under Burnham. Every leader inherits something from his predecessor and Hoyte was not the only one to do so. It is no use trying to argue as to who should be given credit. The incumbent takes the credit for what is achieved under his watch and takes the blame for what goes wrong.
It takes about three years to negotiate a new loan and longer to conceive and plan a major public project. To therefore simply dismiss everything that went before would be crazy because the country would end up being at a standstill.
This is something that the group of middle class players within our society who wish to control the presidency through exerting influence need to understand. They see themselves as kingmakers. Their main strategy is to apply pressure on the incumbent to break with the past because breaking with the past means that the incumbent will be forced to rely on them for support. In this way, they will wield greater political influence.
When Jagdeo was president there was a group that he publicly stated wanted him to break with Janet Jagan. He did not do so immediately. In fact it was not until after his second electoral victory that he labeled her a private citizen.
The same thing is happening today. There are persons out there who want to see change but the only change they can envisage is the dumping of Jagdeo and everything that concerns him.
Unfortunately change goes beyond personalities. Those who are plugging for change must state exactly what specific things they would like to be done differently apart from the president firing his entire Cabinet and everyone from Freedom House who is associated with the government or having nothing to do with the man from whom he took over the presidency.
It would be impractical and unwise for any new leader to do these things immediately just as it would be foolish of him to simply do away with all the plans which he inherited from the previous administration. Those who want change must come better; they must state what changes they want to see and why.
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