The Berbice expedition

Stabroek News
September 11, 1999

Beginning yesterday, President Bharrat Jagdeo, Prime Minister Sam Hinds and 15 government ministers embarked on a three-day expedition to the Ancient County to meet the people and to convene a Cabinet meeting at Canje.

At the helm of a one-month-old presidency, Mr Jagdeo is no doubt keen to imprint his own style of leadership on the country and the exercise in Berbice is seen as one way of accomplishing this.

His presidency is already proving to be a breath of fresh air wafting through the corridors of power but the euphoria of the moment must not mask the absolute need to concentrate on gleaning results and setting priorities.

No one will quarrel with the concept of the Berbice confab and the President will be expected to replicate it in the rest of the country before his term expires. The philosophy underpinning the Berbice move is assuredly a quest to be responsive to the people's needs, enliven the engagement between the administration and the people and demystify the trappings of government.

Over the three days, flurries of promises will be made by the retinue of ministers to the people and complaints to tax the most dedicated of scriveners will be recorded. And what after that?

The exercise will have little meaning if it doesn't significantly alter the parameters of the way government deals with the issues that affect people.

As an immediate recognition of this, Mr Jagdeo's administration should publish a comprehensive litany of the complaints and problems discerned during the Berbice visit and set out in some detail how in the short to medium term these can be addressed. Targets should be set and the ministers and their ministries should be expected to live up to their commitments.

Mr Jagdeo has already hinted at this in his reference to introducing modern methods of management in his administration. While the Berbice excursion is highly commendable and brings the government to the people, it is here in Georgetown that he also has to mould, cajole and nurture the type of change desired.

Ministries, government agencies and departments must become more responsive to the needs of the people; in a sense more customer friendly. The letters columns of this newspaper and the broadcasting spectrum are chock-full of complaints about the ponderously slow nature of government and the seemingly uncaring attitude.

Even institutions such as the Office of the Ombudsman have complained about the unresponsiveness of important bodies such as the Lands and Survey Department and the Guyana Police Force.

It is this mindset that no penalty attaches to poor government service that Mr Jagdeo must reverse decisively if his trip to Berbice is to yield results and become a beacon of a new way of doing things. Accountability must become the anthem of Mr Jagdeo's administration and all public servants must be held to this standard and evaluated on this basis.

One sure way of achieving this is by strengthening the institutions that have an oversight role relative to government and its departments. Bodies such as the Ombudsman's office, the Office of the Auditor General and the Police Complaints Authority have an integral role to play but have languished for years with staffing and resource problems. They can yet become more effective watchdogs in Mr Jagdeo's drive for responsive and responsible governance.

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Guyana: Land of Six Peoples