The Opposition Leader

A no-confidence motion against the Coalition Government in the name of Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo will be debated today in the National Assembly. Jagdeo has said that the motion is aimed at protecting Guyanese and Guyana from excessive borrowing, taxing and wasteful spending of the current administration.

The Coalition has maintained that its “impressive track record” over the past three years makes the A Partnership for National Unity + Alliance for Change (APNU+AFC) Government a force to reckon with even with. “The Coalition Government has restored Guyana’s credibility in the world, protected our national sovereignty and territorial integrity, ensured that there is an independent judiciary, an autonomous Parliament and other constitutional agencies such as GECOM, which are all guaranteed full financial independence,” it said in a statement on Tuesday night. At its Cabinet meeting on Tuesday, the Coalition Government re-affirmed its patriotic commitment to Guyana and strengthened its resolve to realise the good life for all.

Much has been said about Jagdeo’s motive for bringing such a motion knowing full well his party does not have a majority in the National Assembly to pass it. Persons have commented on his lack of sensitivity to President David Granger’s illness and pointed to the fact that Jagdeo might be trying to capitalise on this. What we know for sure is that ever since the defeat of the PPP/C at the 2015 General Elections, Jagdeo had been trying to make a comeback from his sordid years as leader of this nation. First, he wrested the general secretary position of his party from the veteran Clement Rohee, who, having withdrawn his candidature for the post, nominated Dr Frank Anthony who Jagdeo defeated by a mere 13 votes.

While Jagdeo is no stranger to politics, his brand of politics disconcertingly reverberates. He continues to attract attention, given the conditions under which he ascends the political ladder. President Cheddi Jagan appointed him junior minister to then Minister of Finance Asgar Ally, whom he later fired and thereafter promoted Jagdeo, who Ally accused of undermining him.

When in 1997 the PPP/C contested the elections an “A team” was put forward. The leaders of this team were prime ministerial candidate Samuel Hinds, presidential candidate Janet Jagan and Jagdeo. Though uncertain what role he would have taken, none doubted he was being positioned to play a significant part in the government. With the PPP/C’s victory, he began carving out a space, demonstrating the willingness to be a team player, providing he leads the team.

This characteristic was seen throughout. From Minister of Finance to president, Jagdeo maintained control of the nation’s purse strings and expected unflinching compliance, be it administratively, politically or socially. Reportedly, financial and economic decision-making, inclusive of public companies and corporations, were initiated and concluded by him.
An instance that reverberated and which almost brought the economy to a halt was the 1999 public service strike. The strike escalated because, in addition to then Minister of Public Service George Fung-on saying not a cent more to public servants and refusing to meet with their unions, then Finance Minister Jagdeo advised the government to stick with Fung-on’s position. After more than 50 days of strike, workers shot by the Guyana Police Force, and billions of dollars lost in revenue, the government had to agree to arbitration to end the strike.

It is a held view that, having caused the government and country this major setback, Jagdeo during his presidency, became more determined in his anti-union stance. The right to collective bargaining for public servants was denied and the arbitration award was never fully implemented. Trade unions can identity their unique experiences where, once his government had a say, how poorly they were treated.

When in 1999 Mrs. Jagan resigned the presidency, Jagdeo’s ascendancy was described as musical chairs. In keeping with ascension, Hinds was expected to succeed Mrs. Jagan. Instead, he ascended to the presidency, making way for Jagdeo to ascend to the prime minister position. Thereafter, Hinds stepped down to allow Jagdeo to be appointed president and he was re-appointed prime minister.

That dubious ascension notwithstanding, given Jagdeo’s relative youth, influential voices asked that he be given the chance to govern. There was general expectation that having not experienced the 1960s racial upheavals, governance under him will see less conflicts and animosities. Yet it was during this period several instances of repressive governmental acts and actions were noted.

There were heightened allegations, some not without justification, of racial tensions and conflicts, groups targeted for exclusion based on geography, political association, and identity. Imbalances in budgetary allocations and resources directed to or taken away from regions where the government under his leadership did not control, were noted.
The narco-economy was allowed to flourish which Professor Clive Thomas noted represented a significant percentage of the economy. The criminalised state was also coined because, in addition to the narco-economy, corruption was pervasive. Transparency International ranked Guyana the most corrupt Caribbean English speaking country, a shame and stigma that require much work to remove. During this period when hundreds of dead bodies were turning up all over the place, Dr. Roger Luncheon famously described the carnage as being done by phantom squads. Later, it was learnt the government’s hands were bloody.

Dissent and alternative views were not treated as a right or opportunity to engage or review. There exist several anecdotes. Notably among them is Mrs. Jagan who was publicly demeaned for disagreeing with Jagdeo’s policy of withdrawing government advertisements from Stabroek News for its reportage.

President Jagdeo assented to the bill that allows a person not more than two consecutive terms to be president. On demitting office, he began putting a process in place to create a framework to see his return as president, though throughout Donald Ramotar’s presidency, he reiterated his non-intention of holding constitutional office again.

The 2015 elections proved otherwise. Jagdeo not only appeared on the List of Representatives, but successfully manipulated the system and became Leader of the Opposition. Despite losing his third term bid and being a lame duck leader, Jagdeo has insisted that he must choose the next presidential candidate for his party. With his position as General Secretary, the most powerful office in the country’s oldest political party, there is need to begin frank and honest national discussions about Jagdeo’s politics which continues to reverberate.


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