Walled up Presidency?

Walled up Presidency?

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by Vidyaratha Kissoon

“You see de fence? I only hear about dis fence, is what madness is dis?”

The man on the phone had turned into Shiv Chanderpal Drive on his way to work. He had worked hard for the change in 2015.

The fence outside the Ministry of the Presidency iis not really a fence. It is a wall.

The wall is painted green with bits of something which might be AFC yellow which look a bit greenish anyway.

There is a gate in one part of the wall. It is reminiscent of the gate at the Camp Street jail.

But is who Granger friken suh?”

People have always picketed the Office of the President, especially during the last administration.

In July 2002, some protesters had ‘stormed’ the Office of the President. Some of them went down Regent Street afterwards and burned a store or two. The then President was not in the compound.

There were other pickets after that – different groups of people. Different issues, some of which were never resolved.

Some pickets continued after the change in Government. There were never any moves to take over the offices or to attack or pelt any of the people coming out of the compound.

There is something strange about the Green Wall. It seems a symbol against all the talk of bringing people together and working in love and Unity and so on.

Who is scared of the people? Are there going to more changes announced which might inspire the July 2002 spirit and have people try to take over the compound?

Or is this some kind of fixed monument now to the walls which exist between the governing elite and those being governed?

Walls usually mean more secrecy, more things to hide, less transparency.

Transparency

President Granger met with the Exxon Mobil people on 30 August, 2017. The meeting was at State House. State House does not have walls around it at the moment, just the beautiful wrought iron fence.

The President reportedly said that “Government will be working with ExxonMobil to develop a long term relationship, which is founded on transparency, accountability, openness and aligned interests for the good of Guyana. “

This statement is ground breaking, especially since a search on the beautiful DPI/GINA website revealed the news item about the President is the only item which has the word “transparency” in it.

DPI/GINA is probably not set up to deal with transparency, openness and accountability. It looks like Prime Minister Nagamottoo will have to move out from behind the Green Wall to include the transparency project on the DPI/GINA website.

The Ministry of Natural Resources website seems a natural place to disseminate information about the contracts with Exxon. However, a check on the website shows a Page Under Construction in the part about the oil and gas.

The Government of Mexico has a website with various contracts (if you use Chrome, you can translate the site as you browse).

In January 2016, President Granger had inspired a headline in the Kaieteur News “No place for corporal punishment in Guyana”. It was nice, progressive, unpopular with the people who like to beat children and who must have voted for President Granger.

The then Minister of Education Dr Roopnarine seemed on the same page as the President.

But, 20 months or so later, teachers are still beating children in school. And instead of Dr Roopnarine going around , teacher to teacher , educating them about the alternatives, President Granger has pulled him in behind the Green Wall.

Will the President’s call for transparency in the deal with ExxonMobil go the same way as his calls for No corporal punishment in Guyana?

What could transparency look like?

Guyana does not have a history of open Government. There was another joke in August when slap-and-strip-bheri’s leader Bharat Jagdeo called for the Government to release the contracts the PPP had hidden behind their chain link fence.

The PPP hasn’t created a website and shared out the contracts. They might not have kept copies in their files.

Attorney-at-Law Christopher Ram has been in the public domain challenging the ideas of secrecy and confidentiality related to the contracts with ExxonMobil. The Government has not responded.

In March 2017, the Ministry behind the Green Wall announced the appointment of Dr Jan Mangal as Petroleum Advisor in the Ministry. The press release does not mention transparency as part of the terms or reference for the work of the Advisor.

In August 2017, the Minister of the Ministry behind the Green Wall, Joe Harmon, said there was no conflict of interest in Dr Mangal’s working with the Government, and Dr Mangal’s brother being part of a company Totaltec which has a contract with ExxonMobil.

Totaltec was around since October 2016 if not longer.

In a world in which President Granger’s comments were true, the Ministry behind the Wall would have proactively revealed the details of the relationship between the Petroleum Advisor and the principals in Totaltec.

The Ministry would have shared the contract and terms of reference for the Petroleum Advisor so the public could form their own conclusions about the conflict of interest and how it was resolved.

Experts who shall not be named..

The Government apparently has a lot of experts around. Minister of Natural Resources though has been secretive about the names of the experts. Now is the time for the Minister to go and list all of the advisors and share their reports which contain the advice they have given the Government .

There are growing discussions about the ways of dealing with confidentiality and transparency.

Parties can renegotiate their agreements.

It isn’t clear if the Minister has ever had advice about how to renegotiate the relationship with ExxonMobil in the best interests of the Guyanese people.

Has President Granger and the Government of Guyana started new negotiations to make the discussions transparent with ExxonMobil?

After all, if ExxonMobil is also committed to EITI and transparency and accountability then they should have no problems with opening up their agreements.

President Granger does not hold press conferences so there is no opportunity for anyone to ask him unless they catch him at some other random event.

That Green Wall should not be a symbol of the future of the relationship between the Government and the people of Guyana.

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