Jun 18, 2021 Editorial
Kaieteur News – A little over a year ago, veteran journalist Mondale Smith presided over the sending away ceremony of young and vibrant political activist, Marvin Pearce, held at People’s National Congress headquarters. The New York-based Pearce, a passionate supporter of the PNC-led APNU+AFC Coalition was one of the early casualties of the COVID-19 pandemic in America. Last month, Smith himself lost his life to the virus, and the PNC would end up holding a similar ceremony for him as he presided over for Pearce. Both men were young and passionate and bright. The only essential difference between them, outside of location of course, was that Pearce passed away before any vaccine was developed while Smith died, unvaccinated, in the middle of the government of Guyana’s ongoing and comprehensive vaccination drive.
Last weekend, another beloved and respected figure, another relatively young man associated with the PNC, Douglas Gittens, Region Ten Vice Chairman, passed away from COVID-19, prompting sobering calls for persons to get vaccinated. Among those making such calls was Leader of the Opposition, Joseph Harmon, who stated:
“I take this opportunity to implore all Guyanese to not become complacent and to intensify their efforts in observing all COVID-19 measures and make your best efforts to get vaccinated if you have not yet gotten the vaccine.”
In acknowledging Gittens’ cause of death as well as his contribution to the Coalition, Harmon also said, “Douglas passed today as a result of complications from COVID-19. He was a tireless worker and fastidious Vice Chairman who dutifully served the people of Region 10 to his last day. His positive personality and contribution to the advancement of Region 10 will be sorely missed and the void he leaves will be a challenge to fill. The APNU+AFC Coalition will examine ways in which his legacy will be honoured and these will be announced in due course.”
Yesterday, Harmon did the dishonourable. At his longest press conference to date, one he later patted himself on the back for both for the duration as well as what he claimed was “providing credible information to the Guyanese people”, Harmon – through the most insidious contortions – likely set back national vaccination efforts irreparably.
To be clear, earlier this week, Harmon raised not necessarily illegitimate concerns about the price being paid by Guyana for the Sputnik V vaccine, as well as red flags with the procurement of the shots stemming from a company owned by a member of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) royal family, Sheik Ahmed Dalmook Al Maktoum. Al Maktoum, according to reporting in a Norwegian paper was linked to two convicted fraudsters and his company has been accused of price-gouging vaccines sourced from Russia through the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), the government agency tasked with selling the vaccines overseas. The duty of a Parliamentary opposition was to hold the Executive’s feet to the fire when it comes to issues of public expenditure and the government has defended the expenditure in this case on the basis of both the international scarcity of the vaccines and the urgency considering the pandemic. That having been done, it is for the public to decide whether the expenditure was justified or not – what cannot be called into question is the necessity of vaccination.
Yesterday however, perhaps feeling that his raising the issue of due diligence in procurement and the level of expenditure did not gain enough transaction, Harmon raised the spectre of the possibility of fake Sputnik vaccines being in Guyana. His source of concern? A March article by Reuters, based upon a release from the RDIF itself about a batch of 5,775 discovered by Mexican authorities. The article mentioned, as background, that Mexico had imported 200,000 doses of the vaccine a month earlier, a fact that Harmon – who has received his full dosage of the same Sputnik V vaccine – used to link to Guyana’s initial receipt of the same number of vaccines and to question the possibility of fakes here, this despite that the fake batch, found on a private plane en route to Guatemala, had no connection to any official vaccine programme in Mexico and was so terribly produced that the fraud was clear from the packaging alone.
In short, Harmon used a three-month-old article about fake vaccines in Mexico, completely unconnected to the company from which Guyana procured the very vaccines that Harmon himself is immunized with, to call for a halt in the use of Sputnik V vaccines. As if to remove all doubt about his intention, Harmon’s Official Facebook page posted a summary of the press conference preening that “Mr. Harmon also noted that a batch of 200,000 fake Sputnik V vaccines was discovered in Mexico. Mr. Harmon said that until the PPP can provide credible assurances that the vaccines are authentic, their use should be suspended.”
What Joseph Harmon was casually engaged in yesterday was deliberate misinformation on a critical public health measure designed to mitigate the impact of a deadly and continuing global pandemic. Harmon, who enjoys – as Opposition Leader – a generous remuneration from the state has essentially sent out a signal to his supporters, the majority of whom are working class and thus far more economically and epidemiologically vulnerable to both COVID infection than he us. Political scientist, Hannah Arrendt, in observing the trial of former Nazi senior official Adolf Eichmann, noted how ordinary, how bland, Eichmann was in justifying and rationalizing his role in the atrocities of the Third Reich. No doubt Harmon yesterday felt that his misinformation was just par for the course of politics, and that the potential fatal consequences, ones that would overwhelmingly affect those that have entrusted him with political power and thus look to him for guidance, were acceptable. And of course, we can presume he has either has the tacit support of – if he has not has been directly instructed by – his leader in hiding, David Granger, who himself has received full vaccination and enjoys tremendous economic and other support from the state, including healthcare benefits.
Late last evening, after hours of being lambasted on social media for his misinformation and hypocrisy, and after round condemnation by President Irfaan Ali, the Opposition Leader sent out a press release restating many of his positions on the procurement process of Sputnik. Absent from the release was any further claim of fake vaccines, a no doubt last-ditch effort to switch the narrative and save face. The damage has already been done, however – on his post with the lie that 200,000 (not the actual figure of about 3 percent of that number) fake vaccines were found in Mexico, many supporters commenting used the post to justify not taking that or any other vaccine or not going back for a second dose.
A year ago, Granger, Harmon and the rest of the leadership of the APNU+AFC coalition sought – with inflated numbers, deliberate lies, and a Russia conspiracy perpetuated with shameless zeal – to undermine the foundations of the democratic will of the people of this country, a campaign that was insidious enough in itself. Now, with the same strategy, they are seeking to undermine good-sense, urgent public health measures in the middle of the most impactful pandemic in human history, even as they continue to hold ceremonies in honour of the COVID-19 victims who were close to them. If Harmon and the political machinery under his and his leader’s control truly want to honour the life and work of persons like Pearce, Smith and Gittens, they need to begin by adopting some sense of decency and integrity on, if nothing else, the fight against COVID-19. Otherwise, this is without a doubt classifiable as what Hannah Arrendt observed and titled the banality of evil.
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