Op-Ed: AFC in Government: An Appraisal

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Below is an opinion editorial done by Member of Parliament, Attorney-at-Law and former Attorney General, Mohabir Anil Nandlall;

A few weeks ago, I wrote on the miniaturization of the ministerial portfolios of AFC Ministers in the Coalition Government.

In this article, I will briefly examine their performance in the discharge of even these diminished portfolios. As I indicated in my previous commentary, Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo has no defined portfolio. However, he appears to wield some supervisory influence over the state media. Under the PPP Administration, the major criticism of the state media was that it was used for Government propaganda and offered no space to the Opposition. If that was so, then the position has gotten appreciably worse.

I recall, under the PPP, sharing space on many interviews on NCN with opposition politicians. I also recall articles in the Chronicle newspaper, on a daily basis, carrying the views of opposition commentators/politicians. No opposition politician has been invited to NCN since May 2015. No opposition politician has been carried, in a positive light, in any story in the Chronicle newspaper since May 2015. The Department of Public Information (DPI), along with the Chronicle and NCN, denigrate opposition politicians on a daily basis.

However, most damaging is the fact that an AFC executive member is installed as the head of DPI and another installed as the head of the Government Information Agency (GINA). Further, another AFC candidate is the General Manager of the Chronicle and yet another is the Chairperson of its Board of Directors! Well if this is not political nepotism, then the concept does not exist in realpolitik.

When one adds the expulsion from the Chronicle of Messrs. Lincoln Lewis and Dr David Hinds, because their views do not coincide with the Government’s and that of veteran Guyana-born Caribbean journalist, Rickey Singh, because he wrote that Moses Nagamootoo bears one of the most miniaturized portfolio held by a Prime Minister in the Caribbean since independence, the authoritarian hand of Nagamootoo becomes clearly visible. That he once insisted on approving every headline in the newspapers only makes the picture clearer.

Under the stewardship of Vice President Khemraj Ramjattan, the public has become most insecure. We witnessed two back-to-back jailbreaks, within the shortest period ever in the Caribbean. The prison fire in 2017, is the worst disaster to have occurred in any penitentiary, in the Caribbean.

In 2018, we witnessed the worst slaughter of fishermen at sea, in this part of the world. The crime rate is as high as it has ever been and the morale of the Guyana Police Force (GPF) maybe at its lowest, due to constant political interference and machinations. Any reasonably intelligent Guyanese, unaware of the gun licencing racketeering, is not living in Guyana.

Minister Raphael Trotman assumed the mantle of the Natural Resources sector with great gusto. Today, he has become a damp squib. He will be remembered for signing the worst oil contract in the modern world. The mining industry has moved from a booming one in 2015, to one plagued by, significantly, lower production and an alarming plethora of problems, affecting especially, the small and medium scale operators. That RUSAL will soon close their operations under his watch, adds to his ministerial woes.

Under the supervision of Minister Dominic Gaskin, the business environment has contracted to an all-time low. One cannot point to a single initiative emanating from this Minister designed to energize this sector. New investments are something of the past. With the raft of new tax measures, the Guyana Revenue Authority’s (GRA) aggressive posture, the revocation of all concessions granted by the previous Government, the fear of SOCU and SARA and the general apathy of the Government in relation to the commerce, culminates into the creation of the most unfriendly and unattractive business environment in decades. As a result, businesses are closing down operations and hundreds are rendered unemployed.

Minister of Agriculture, Noel Holder, remains an enigma yet to be digested by a large majority of Guyanese. Under his watch, the agricultural sector has simply become a disaster zone. Over 7500 sugar workers have been dismissed and the sugar industry faces imminent closure. With paddy attracting less than $2,000 per bag, several hundred per cent increase in land rent and rates, the total neglect of the Government to maintain proper drainage and irrigation and the dam system in the rice cultivating areas, the imminent bankruptcy of the Mahaica Mahaicony Abary Agricultural Development Authority (MMA/ADA), along with no lucrative market, the rice industry is on the brink of collapse.

It is under his tenure that Guyana was banned from exporting generic “cat fish” to the USA – a very lucrative trade for hundreds of Guyanese, both locally and in the US. I cannot identify a single new policy from this Minister to boost this stagnated and declining sector. His uncharacteristic outburst, recently, pleading his ignorance regarding the whereabouts of the $30B burrowed for GuySuCo, stunned the nation. Finally, I do not believe that there is another Minister of Agriculture, under whose term in office, more agricultural leases have been revoked.

Try as I did, it is difficult to assess the performance of Minister Cathy Hughes. It is either she does very little, or whatever she does is a well-kept secret. What I do know is that there has been no discernable movement towards the much-touted liberalization of the telecommunications sector. The whereabouts of the legislation to have done this is currently unknown. In short, nothing tangible has changed in this sector since 2015. I bet even the location of her Ministry is unknown to most Guyanese.

Minister David Patterson is perhaps the most controversial of them all. He certainly has amassed the most scandals under his belt, starting with D’Urban Park. They have not stop unfolding since. Allegations of corruption are rampant. Under his stewardship, GPL has gifted Guyanese more blackouts than in decades. This comes against a backdrop, when GPL is purchasing fuel at the lowest world market price in years, VAT is charged on electricity and the discount given to pensioners for electricity has been removed.

So, at a time when GPL has billions in their account, blackouts are increasing: in Essequibo, recently, they lasted for weeks. It is under his tenure that this Government re-negotiated the PPP’s Cheddi Jagan International Airport (CJIA) expansion project and ended up paying a higher price for a smaller terminal building, a reduced runway and apron and less air bridges.

His handling of the proposed new Demerara River Bridge is a debacle worthy of an entire article. In the end, he managed to persuade Cabinet to approve a contract of $160M to a contractor whom he handpicked in complete violation of the Procurement Act. SOCU is now investigating same.

Against that mosaic of incompetence and non-performance, it is difficult not to agree with APNU to send them to the polls by themselves at the upcoming Local Government Elections.

I have done my appraisal. On the November, 12, the people will do theirs. We now have to wait and see whether they concur with me.

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