A crucial moment

Stabroek News
March 24, 2001

The youthful Bharrat Jagdeo has been elected as president in his own right. He is the first elected president who was not part of the trauma of the sixties. It could be a defining moment for our political culture but for that to be the case the president must show both courage and decisiveness.

There are always arguments for playing safe, for remaining firmly ensconced within the bosom of the party, for relying on old and trusted but not necessarily competent party comrades. But reforming presidents cannot afford to think that way. If the priority is to please the party it will be at the cost of winning the understanding and support of the people as a whole. Bold new moves are needed to show everyone that the president's priority is development and that in pursuit of that goal he will seek the best talents and practice inclusiveness. There are some obvious failures and figureheads in the cabinet, whether due to age, illness, laziness or incompetence. Some hold important ministerial portfolios and in the interest of credibility they should be removed and replaced.

The available talent is considerable once one thinks inclusively and includes members or supporters of opposition parties and persons not known to be sympathetic to the government. There are obvious candidates for ministries ranging from sport to culture to education to finance to agriculture to law who could bring to these portfolios an entirely new vision and energy. A reforming president should immediately busy himself by consulting widely with the opposition parties and with other respected members of civil society, including potential candidates, before announcing his new cabinet. If it is business as usual there will be bitter disappointment and that momentum so necessary to get a new government going and to make a favourable impact will be lost.

This will clearly be a testing year for the economy. Energetic, capable and focused ministers are needed to deal with this. Without them, the economy will struggle along with the resulting problems of unemployment and poverty.

The President must also recognise the divisions that exist and go out of his way to deal with them. Linden must remain a priority and so must urban empowerment generally. A Sixhead Lewis gym should be merely the precursor to other gyms and sports facilities. What has been done so far is too slow and not enough. And the whole question of education remains an absolute priority. Many responsible persons believe it is the overriding national priority and a dynamic minister is needed to innovate and consult all the stakeholders.

The cabinet needs a radical shake up. But in addition, the president must forget the past and concentrate on the future. All sides have made serious mistakes, finger pointing will do no good. The president can set the tone for a new Guyana in his acceptance speech