THE GRANGER PRESIDENCY
DURING 1997, Guyana went to the polls after which Mrs. Janet Jagan was sworn in as President at a secret ceremony. Those elections were subsequently deemed by the court as null and void; and were vitiated on grounds of fraud.
I remember how a horde of overseas-based party backers had swarmed Freedom House, among them being “experts” and “hackers” who later claimed that they had “fixed” those elections for the PPP.
I might have brushed that aside then. But recently I saw one of those backers who was exhibiting credentials as a former diplomatic operative. It struck me that foreign interference in Guyana’s elections was no longer an idle boast.
Those “fixed” 1997 elections had opened the raw wounds of acute ethnic polarisation between the country’s dominant Indo and Afro-Guyanese sections of the population. The dark and ominous shadows of open and bloody ethnic conflict had loomed over Guyana.
Amidst social upheavals which cynics would from time to time refer to as “slow fire; mo fire”, I was asked to give guidance to the PPP’s leadership on the way forward.
In the course of my talk at Freedom House, I advocated a power-sharing political solution. I stated that while the Janet Jagan presidency was non-negotiable, everything else should be on the table for dialogue and negotiation between the government and the opposition.
I had appealed for the PPP to reach out towards liberal and progressive elements who might be associated with the opposition. I identified by name one such person – David Granger – a former army officer and, then, publisher of the Guyana Review.
President Janet Jagan had ordered that my speech be published in a booklet, and that 100,000 copies be distributed widely. But as soon as the dust settled on the potentially explosive post-elections conflicts, a counter order was given for the booklets to be destroyed.
As for dialogue towards a political solution, that too was consumed in the flames of opportunism and unprecedented hubris in which the PPP was engulfed after Mrs. Jagan prematurely surrendered the presidency to a political neophyte. Many would claim that “baby doc” strangled national unity and power-sharing in his cradle.
Fast-forward almost 17 years later, the arrogant and corrupt PPP lost power to a six-party coalition. That movement was headed by David Granger who, for the 2015 elections, had given content and meaning to the need for national unity.
As he took the Oath of Office as the 8th President of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana on May 16, 2015, five years ago yesterday, he pledged to promote multi-party democracy. President Granger offered an olive branch and extended a hand of friendship to the opposition PPP to join in the quest for an inclusionary democracy and a government of national unity.
On reflecting on that day, as Sita and I stood at the side of President Granger on the balcony of Parliament Buildings, I felt vindicated that we have elected to office a multi-party government, headed by a leader who publicly proclaimed himself “a President of all the people of Guyana.” He promised to be a “good president” as the crowd spontaneously cheered him on, from then and to this day.
As I watched from Parliament Buildings that day, I visualised what Walter Rodney must have meant when, with clenched fist, he had clamoured for “people’s power!” I was looking past the crowd at the balcony of the court-house where I once stood with the martyred Walter as he agitated for an end to one-party authoritarian rule.
For President Granger, quoting the lyrics from a Fred Hammond song, “this is the day that the Lord has made…”
The Granger Government made great strides in delivering the good life for all. It was not a perfect first term, but the government remained planted among the grassroots. The Granger presidency was characterised by its people-friendly policies and measures.
Initially, the new government lacked the resources to delivered on the many promises. By 2014, the last year of the PPP regime, direct private investment started to slow down. Guyana was denied strategic funds from the international community because of fears that there was no accountability under the corrupt former regime. By then, the bankrupted sugar industry was crippled; Venezuela blockaded Guyana by ending purchase of our rice by and refusing to sell us fuel.
But, to its credit, the Granger Government kept the country going. The changes were evident everywhere. The economy grew from 3 to over 5 per cent. The private sector was given stimulus such as a reduction of corporate taxes and other concessions; the draconian VAT was slashed by 2%; wages in the public service were increased by 68%; old age pensions went up in excess of 60%, etc..
As I noted last week, the Granger presidency shored up the sovereignty of Guyana against the false claim by Venezuela to two-thirds of our territory by invoking the jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice (ICJ). That claim had stalled investments in Guyana, particularly in the vital petroleum sector, against which Venezuela had deployed war-boats to frustrate exploration off Guyana’s shore.
Against a backdrop of no love between Georgetown and Caracas, the Granger presidency concluded agreements with the oil majors on terms that brought mutual advantage to both Guyana and the investors. That was done against virulent objection and obstructions from the political opposition PPP and sections of the compromised media. But it was the Granger presidency that took us out from that period of uncertainty as to whether we could ever develop our oil and gas industry, and to become a petroleum state, as Granger proclaimed on November 20, 2019.
This is the strength of the Granger presidency, that it defends our sovereignty, and maintains internal stability. These five years have brought out in genuine Guyanese, our true sense of patriotism and pride.
Now that fickle-minded elements are waving the flag of surrender to new invaders, we take strength from the words of the Jamaica-born poet, Claude McKay: “Like men we’ll face the murderous, cowardly pack.
Pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back!”