Opposition Leader and former President, Dr Bharrat Jagdeo on Wednesday asserted that President David Granger’s constant excuses to not host press conferences is a clear indication that he is “abdicating his responsibilities.”
Jagdeo was at the time making this pronouncement based on Granger’s recent request that the media be “tolerant” of his low levels of engagement since the APNU/AFC Administration came into power three years ago.
On Monday last, in defending why he has not held a press conference in months and why there were fewer formal engagements with the media, Granger said that his schedule was a major factor.
“My heart is in the right place, but right now, I’ve had a really difficult period of public engagement and overseas travel,” the President told the media on the sidelines of an event.
He added that “this time last week, I was in Montego Bay, the week before I was in Da Nang, Vietnam. It could be a very challenging period and soon as I get the opportunity I will engage with the press, but I’ve been travelling quite a lot … I’m asking the media to be tolerant.”
However, on Wednesday, Jagdeo lambasted this, saying that Granger’s “sojourn abroad” has resulted in nothing significant for Guyana or its people.
“President Granger, in over three years in Government, held two press conferences about 30 minutes each, he spoke about 20 minutes, and took on average 5 questions each…The President said as soon as I have more time, I will engage the media. I’m asking the media to be tolerant… Yes he has been travelling a lot but what’s the purpose of the travel? …A meaningless speech in Vietnam?…He’s busy travelling, yes, but achieving nothing,” he told media operatives.
Granger had also said that he was preoccupied with dealing with several local issues.
“It could be a challenging period and as soon as I get the opportunity, I would engage with the press, but I’ve been travelling quite a lot and then to deal with domestic issues – the sugar industry, we have to deal with the petroleum industry, I have to deal with crime and security,” he had explained.
However, according to the Opposition Leader, this is a baseless statement.
“He claimed that he was busy… travelling quite a lot and have to deal with domestic issues, petroleum and sugar industry…and crime…He shamelessly cites the Petroleum industry [when there are so many unanswered questions]. What is he dealing with in the Sugar Industry? [He] laid off thousands of people, there’s no social safety net, people can’t feed their families…they raised $30B through SPU and not saying what they will spend the money on…The President has been addressing the sugar industry so much that he can’t even name a board…but he’s busy…When this country is being ravaged on a daily basis by criminals and we have a hopelessly misguided British consultant…We don’t see any specific measures being rolled out…They can’t move ahead with the appointment of a substantive Police Commissioner,” Jagdeo chided.
In the past, the Guyana Press Association (GPA) and other groups, including the People’s Progressive Party (PPP), have urged Granger to meet with the press.
These groups have also criticised Government for its silence on a number of matters of national importance, calling on the President to toughen up and face the entire local media corps.
The GPA had acknowledged that the President was not averse to speaking with the media on the side-lines of public events or during his “Public Interest” televised programme; however, the Association said that they believe that accountability to the Guyanese people would be best served through press conferences.
Public officials under the coalition Government have gone mute for a while now.
Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo, who has responsibility for public information, is also unavailable to the media and does not host press conferences to update the media or the public on what is going on with his office or the Government.
Political analysts and commentators have also noted that there was a new culture seemingly developing whereby Ministers of Government were abusing and assaulting the media directly when displeased with a specific line of questioning, coverage of an event or editorial position of a newspaper on a particular matter.
After two years in office, President Granger held a press conference in December 2017, only the second since the coalition came into Government in May 2015. (Ramona Luthi)