The new cabinet

Stabroek News
April 11, 2001

The new cabinet was from all accounts a compromise resulting from an at times bitter struggle between President Jagdeo, who wanted more change, and old party hands who wanted to continue to repay past loyalties and ignore competence. It shows. Some notorious underperformers have been retained in Home Affairs (not a single initiative on traffic and crime), Local Government and Finance and the appointment of Mr Navin Chandarpal as Minister of Agriculture is hard to understand, given the considerable criticism he was subjected to as adviser to the President on the environment and Chairman of the Environmental Protection Agency.

The truth is that there are not many obvious candidates available in the ranks of the party and though the Civic element has helped somewhat in this regard there are still many gaps. Moreover the President is now limited to four technocrats (persons not on the party's list of candidates) and the posts of Minister of Foreign Affairs, Tourism and Industry, Legal Affairs and Economic Planning and Development, to be filled by such persons are still open. It is reported that negotiations with persons who have been identified are continuing though some first choices have turned down the offers.

Mr Geoffrey da Silva had shown energy and promise as Minister of Trade, Tourism and Industry. He will now be the chief executive officer of a new investment agency to replace the Guyana Office for Investment. This is potentially a big job, the agency will be chaired by the President and Mr da Silva will surely recognise that investors will not only be found by sitting at his desk and waiting for them to come.

The post of Minister of Foreign Trade, to be held by Mr Clement Rohee, is a much bigger job than it might seem. Mr Rohee did not do well at Foreign Affairs and leaves behind him a demoralised and malfunctioning ministry. The new job leaves him responsible for arrangements with the World Trade Organisation, the Free Trade Area of the Americas (there are ongoing talks) and the European Union - a vital area given its immediate importance to our economy (rice and sugar). Will he be up to it?

A new Attorney General will be welcome. Mr Ramson's appointment had been inexplicable to his legal colleagues and he made no impact on the many outstanding issues that face the profession and the administration of justice.

Dr Leslie Ramsammy had a good record as Chairman of the Georgetown Public Hospital and he may well have the administrative skills needed for the post of Minister of Health.

Dr Henry Jeffrey has been shifted from health and labour to education. It is a major challenge as many consider this one of the most important ministries where there is a great deal to be done. Dr Bisnauth had been a disappointment. He is given a new post as Minister of Human Services, Social Security and Labour, the latter of which will certainly test his mettle.

There are some new faces like Carolyn Rodrigues, Minister of Amerindian Affairs, Dr Jennifer Westford, Minister of Public Service (replacing Mr George Fung-On) and Bibi Shadick, Minister within the Ministry of Human Services and Social Security about whom little is known at this stage.

As indicated, four important appointments are still to be made which could improve the cabinet's overall profile. But to be fair, when one thinks of any of the political parties it becomes clear that the selection of a top level cabinet would require a reaching out to other parties and civil society. In that regard, the recent limitation to four technocrats is a mistake.