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Commentary: Guyana's president is out of control

Monday, 27 September 2010 12:00 Written by  font size decrease font size decrease font size increase font size increase font size

By Dr David Hinds

On Thursday, September 16, the president of Guyana held a forum to announce to policy holders of the failed CLICO insurance company that they would be reimbursed by the government.

David Hinds lectures in Caribbean and African Diaspora Studies at Arizona State University in the USA. More of his writings on politics in Guyana and the Caribbean can be found on his website.
At the meeting was well known chartered accountant, attorney at law and columnist, Christopher Ram, also a policyholder. Ram had argued in a letter in the newspaper that it was the Bank of Guyana, which was named as liquidator by the High Court, which should be addressing the policy holders.

According to Ram:
“The Chief Justice ruled that the Bank of Guyana be the liquidator. But President Jagdeo had promised that no policyholder would lose out on their investment, and he may be meeting them to say how the government will back his guarantee. That is the extent to which the government can go without frustrating the ruling of the court. In fact the President should be meeting with the Bank of Guyana in its capacity of liquidator and it is the liquidator that should be meeting with the policyholders.” (Stabroek News, September 16)

The president was angered by the letter and spent much of his address to the policyholders attacking Ram. When Ram attempted to ask a question during the question and answer session, the president refused to allow him to do so.

According to the Stabroek News report:
“During his speech, Jagdeo criticized accountant Christopher Ram for his letter, printed in yesterday’s edition of the Stabroek News, questioning why he (Jagdeo) and not the court appointed liquidator was meeting the policyholders. Jagdeo also attacked Ram for his role as financial consultant to the directors of Globe Trust. Advice given by Ram, Jagdeo said, had led to an unsuccessful reorganisation plan and to investors of the institution suffering unnecessarily. When the floor was opened for questions, Ram attempted to ask a question but was prevented by the President from doing so. ‘Not at my meeting,’ he said, ‘you can go outside and write in all the papers…I’m just fed up with all of these sour people.’ Ram then left the auditorium. When asked by this newspaper after the meeting whether his reaction was excessive, Jagdeo maintained his position. ‘No, no, no, not my meeting. Let him go… Give him the pages. He has Stabroek News to distort everything,’ he said.” (Stabroek News, September, 17)

In our highly partisan political process where there is no wall of separation between party and state, it is conceivable that every now and then the Head of State would descend into partisan “busing out.” All presidents and prime ministers have done it; some more than others.

But this president takes the cake. He does it as if it were part of his oath of office. Yesterday it was Hinds, Ogunseye, Corbin and Kissoon. Today it’s Christopher Ram. Tomorrow it will be somebody else. When you add it all up it amounts to what a calypsonian once called “Shame and Disgrace in the Family.”

Must we be reminded that this person is the institutional face of the country? He and his supporters and some non-supporters spent the last month reminding the country, as if we needed a reminder, that he is the president of all of Guyana and is free to visit any village in the country. What will they say now -- that as president he is free to abuse any citizen when he wants?

The treatment of Christopher Ram at the Cultural Center on Thursday is cause for major concern. “Not in my meeting” screams the president. “Ram shall not speak in my meeting.” Read that in Guyana’s political language to mean “Not in my country.”

When the president recently interpreted some to be saying “Not in my village” when he visited an African Guyanese village he called them bigots. Now he chases people out of “his meeting.” Talk about double standards!

Guyanese had better “take warning,” to paraphrase another musical poet of yesteryear. This president is out of control.

For the most part, Guyanese seem to have lost the ability to call a spade a spade. “The president is wrong but those who criticize him are more wrong,” they say. “The government is doing wrong things, but if you call it a dictatorship or advocate agitation you are wrong,” some reason.

One newspaper editorialized that the president’s visit to Buxton “is one of the most undisguised acts of political opportunism in recent times,” but David Hinds’ reaction was excessive. The president denies Ram the right to speak; Ram describes the action as idiotic. But, according to one letter writer, both of them must apologise.

While citizens are bound to respect the presidency, the person holding that office is equally bound to respect the office and uphold its dignity. In the end a country gets the leader it cultivates.

For the record, few can reasonably dispute Christopher Ram’s position that it is the Bank of Guyana, the liquidator, and not the president who should be talking to the CLICO policyholders. Ram’s view is grounded in law and political ethics. But he obviously angered the President, who evidently cares little about law and ethics.

You see, there is more in the mortar than the pestle. Ram touched a nerve -- a raw one. He is asking, among other things -- why is the president continuing this business of spending his presidential days “sharing out” things to people? Further, why is the president disregarding the court? Ram is taking aim at governance and the rule of law.

Many people, including some non-partisan ones, cannot see how demeaning and wrong these practices by the Head of State are. Some at the Cultural Centre cheered when the president tore into Ram. Guyana gone fuh channa. Or at least it’s going.
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