What is the usefulness of the President’s overseas visits?

It is almost impossible to count the number of times the President goes on overseas visits. He is by far the most travelled President/Prime Minister in the region even as our country remains only above Haiti as the poorest in Caricom. The latest overseas visit is reported in your January 12, 2009 edition which carries a release by the Government Information Agency (GINA) that President Bharrat Jagdeo is on a visit to Libya, Qatar and Greece that will last one week. He is accompanied by four other persons, two ministers, the largely unknown George Hallaq, Presidential envoy to the Middle East and Greece and the religious leader close to the government and some time civil society activist Fazeel Ferouz, President of the Central Islamic Organisation of Guyana.

Weighed down by the yoke of flooding, high cost of living, ministers who in the absence of the President become even more unproductive, lawlessness and punitive taxation, Guyanese have a right to know the reasons, timing and the usefulness to them of such visits. Is it to meet with Guyanese nationals in those countries, to expand trade and investments or to seek diplomatic support for some major international initiative Guyana is launching? If it is trade, why not take a private sector representative or is that hat being worn by Mr Ferouz?

And we all know that when the President returns home, he makes no proper report as any responsible manager, let alone a country President would, but more often than not simply calls a press conference to discuss trite domestic issues which his ministers are paid to address, and little else.

And of course we must not forget cost. My information is that each overseas visit the President makes costs thousands of US dollars and somewhat less for ministers. How much is this visit going to cost taxpayers in total and would that money not be better spent on the poor and the flooded out in Guyana or on the numerous problems that drive Guyanese from the country?

This seems to be a perfectly legitimate question for our reporters who turn up like sheep at the President’s post-visit press conference to ask. Indeed it would be useful to know how much was spent on overseas travel by the President, his ministers and their entourages during 2008. Perhaps the Accountant General can provide us with this information, failing which I would like to see the Public Accounts Committee demand the information.

Taking full advantage of our system of electocracy, the government seems all too ready to do as it wants, when it is confident that it controls the instruments of disclosure, accounting, accountability and audit so that the public remains powerless and ignorant.

I hope that when next the government asks the inane question where the money will come from to pay living public sector wages, reasonable pensions to our senior citizens and better flood control measures, we will have several answers ready.

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