The PPP/C needs to rein in Jagdeo

Whatever may be the motive underlying the campaign style of former President Bharrat Jagdeo, there is widespread agreement that the rhetoric, invectives and undisguised race-baiting in all his speeches bode ill for the country.

It is true that many of the PPP/C’s more extreme, grass root supporters admire Jagdeo’s aggressive style, targeting the APNU’s African-Guyanese leaders and their supporters. But APNU too has persons with extreme views and sentiments, and who consider Jagdeo’s message grave provocation. At some point their patience and tolerance could snap. This country has made much progress in relations between the two main race groups following 1997. But that improvement must not be taken for granted and there is no doubt in the minds of more sober persons that Jagdeo’s conduct and his speeches are undermining that progress.

On March 8 at Babu John, Corentyne, Jagdeo’s target was the PNCR and its leaders in “African villages”. Jagdeo told his audience then that on elections day November 28, 2011, those persons went around the African villages beating drums and calling on residents to go out and vote to throw out `coolie people’.

Despite the grave concerns expressed about that speech from no less than the Media Monitoring Unit of GECOM, Jagdeo daringly and defiantly raised the level of vitriol at the PPP/C Albion rally on April 19, predicting that if the elections are won by the opposition, the ex-military officers in the APNU+AFC leadership would link up with the [serving] Military and go to the homes of mainly Indian audience and start kicking the doors down. The message was clear: African-Guyanese are lawless, dangerous, to be feared and not to be trusted with the reins of government.

Retired Rear Admiral Best who had earlier announced his support for the opposition coalition sought to defend his former colleagues and the serving men and women of the Army. Jagdeo then pounced on Best, questioning his integrity and demanding that Best explain the source of his wealth.

Had these come up in a less tense environment or time, Jagdeo’s call would appear ludicrous. If there is any explanation to be done for source of wealth, then surely it is by Jagdeo. After all, Best is older than Jagdeo, has worked and saved for much longer than Jagdeo, bought a house lot that is one-seventh the size of Jagdeo’s, and built a house that is a fraction the size of Jagdeo’s, with none of the grandeur.

Jagdeo it seems considers that he as a former Commander-in-Chief has the right to freedom of expression and association with the PPP/C but that his former subordinate Best has none. The truth is, and his attorney Bernard De Santos, SC might wish to confirm this and advise him, the kind of speech Jagdeo is making is not protected under Article 146 of the Constitution.

There is no question that the attack on Best by Jagdeo has caused some serious reflection at the level of officers and ranks in the Defence Force.

The PPP/C with a lacklustre campaign headed by the uninspiring Ramotar-Harper pair decided to contract out its elections campaign to Jagdeo, a man who for a long time has enjoyed and abused constitutional immunity. Even if Jagdeo’s strategy were to work in the short run, it is dangerous in the longer term. The PPP/C needs to rein him in. If it does not, then it will not escape responsibility for the consequences of Jagdeo’s race and hate speeches.

Challenging the Jagdeo myth

Mr. Carl Greenidge, Finance Minister in the PNC Administration has been one of the chief targets of the PPP/C since 2011 for what they claim to be his mismanagement of the economy prior to 1992. This claim is at best one-sided and at worst totally dishonest, completely ignoring the performance of the economy when Greenidge demitted office in 1992. Perhaps as the calypsonian Chalkdust sang: “they ‘fraid Carl”.

A question for the PPP/C is if the Economic Recovery Programme (ERP) which they in opposition had dubbed Empty Rice Pot was so bad, why did they not replace it? The truth is that the ERP negotiated by Greenidge with the IMF and other international lenders and donors placed Guyana on a trend where its economic growth rate was well above anything the country has ever witnessed, before or after. Asgar Ally, riding on the wave of debt write offs initiated by Greenidge, kept the economy roaring until he was undermined by then Junior Finance Minister Bharrat Jagdeo.
Continue reading Challenging the Jagdeo myth

The Jagdeo Initiative – what is that?

As President Jagdeo prepares to demit office in another few weeks there is a single issue with which his name will always be associated in CARICOM. And that is the common regional agricultural repositioning strategy which has been given the name Jagdeo Initiative. That it will remain only an initiative without any success is evident by Jagdeo’s failure to carry through his initiative even in his own country. Quite what is the Jagdeo Initiative and how did it arise?

In 2002 President Jagdeo had said to the leaders of CARICOM that agriculture had been buckling under pressures of trade reform, natural disasters and policy deficiencies; that the region had a poor implementation track record with the result that agriculture was not providing the region with food security nor covering the growing food import bill. He told his colleagues “… at this stage, we need a policy and strategy which will allow us to decide on what sort of institutions and mechanisms are needed to reposition agriculture.”

The region’s leaders were taken in by the self-confidence of the young Guyanese leader and taking him on his word rather than by his action, made him Lead Head responsible for Agriculture in CARICOM.

IICA and FAO recruited
Thereafter it was all bureaucracy and talk with nothing to show for it. Apart from the resources which he had at his disposal within Guyana’s own oversized and expensive Ministry of Agriculture, Jagdeo was also able to call on the Inter-American Institute for Co-operation on Agriculture (IICA) and the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) to assist in developing a framework towards a common regional agricultural repositioning strategy. This included:

• A situation & Outlook Report (May/03) establishing the challenges and requirements of repositioning.

• A Ministers of Agriculture Forum (June/03) which supported the renewed call for action and the Jagdeo Initiative.

• And in July 2004, the Caribbean Heads of Government endorsed the first Proposal containing the Initiative’s vision, scope, focus and process.

Under the Jagdeo Initiative, by 2015, agriculture in the region will have “made substantial progress in its contribution to sustainable growth, within a framework of transparent institutions and good governance that enables the transformation of its products and processes, encourages investment, drives entrepreneurship and assures an acceptable and consistent level of food security.”

Scope and process
The scope of the initiative is to define and implement Interventions to address Key Binding Constraints within the context of the Community Agricultural Policy; Existing and planned complementary initiatives undertaken by national, regional and international organizations; Emphasis on non-traditional products, value-added and intensification of diversification and practical programmes with achievable targets.

The process comprised regular briefing meetings; establishing the context, scope and output of consultations; National Consulta-tions redefining the challenges, opportunities and requirements, regular workshops developing consensus on Key Binding Constraints, framework of Interventions and draft of 2nd Proposal to the Heads of Governments.

The process was to have received validation by the regional private sector and endorsed by the Agriculture Ministers in Jan 2005 and agreed by the Heads of Government in February 2005. For the next several months leading into 2006 there was supposed to be an Inventory of Interventions at National and Institutional Levels.

Overall responsibility for the Initiative was vested in President Jagdeo, with the next line down being the regional Ministers of Agriculture, Ministerial Delegates, Other Stakeholders.

Early criticisms
It seems that at some point around 2005/2006 Jagdeo lost interest in his own initiative and in fact did not even attend a High Level Symposium on the CSME held in June 2006 in Barbados. At the Symposium, Director of Operations and Integration for the Caribbean Region Mr. H. Arlington Chesney in a power point presentation described the initiative, somewhat harshly, as “not a perfect instrument; not a scholarly piece of work; evolving; a kick start and a vision and framework for all”.

Then in October 2010, Mr. Sergio Garcia, the CARICOM Programme Manager for Agriculture described in less than complimentary terms the series of earlier food initiatives that have languished in the region. Those initiatives of which the Jagdeo Initiative was the most recent, were described by Mr. Garcia as having “had limited, if any, success, however, because they have been prepared and executed in isolation from other policies. Actions taken have thus been sparse, diffuse… and uncoordinated.”

Jagdeo and his lead Minister
Mr. Garcia might not know it but that is characteristic of several of the initiatives undertaken by the Jagdeo Administration. Jagdeo also did not help his own cause by having a Minister of Agriculture who was no more focused that he was.

To address the problems of agriculture and food security both regionally and nationally required not only a realistic vision but focus, commitment and sustained work. Instead of these, Jagdeo and his current Minister of Agriculture Robert Persaud MBA seem to prefer politics and propaganda with the latter thinking it was all about pepper, papaw, pumpkin and pineapple! Are these guys for real?

That knowing the problem is half the solution did not apply to Jagdeo and his Initiative and consequently it barely advanced beyond the identification of “binding constraints” which any desk exercise could have produced. Paradoxically the Jagdeo Initiative farmed out many of the responsibilities for addressing these constraints to the other CARCOM territories with only a single task assigned to Guyana and even then only jointly with the Caribbean Agricultural Research and Development Institute (CARDI).

While Guyana’s food bill has trebled since the President came up with his initiative, other countries in the Caribbean have long since dispensed with the initiative. In 2008, then Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister Patrick Manning said that his country could not “wait for others to lead the way” and that Trinidadians must produce more and consume less; and above all else “we must move towards the highest possible level of food production…”

While Jagdeo speaks disparagingly of the closure of sugar estates in the Caribbean, Manning saw it as “liberating thousands of acres of arable land for food production.” Contrary to what Jagdeo has said about Trinidad, that country has announced the availability of two-acre plots of land to six thousand new farmers and the creation of seventeen new large farms, all of no less than one hundred acres each. That in a country that could fit many, many times into Guyana.

This past week, CARDI hosted in Trinidad Dr S. Ayyappan, Director General of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) a public lecture on how agricultural research and development in India helped to reduce hunger in that country. It would have been very useful for Guyana to have invited Dr. Ayyappan to visit Guyana to do a similar talk here and meet with officials but perhaps the campaign agenda did not allow for distractions by such developmental issues.

In Jamaica both the Government and the private sector have demonstrated what could be achieved with national initiatives. While in Guyana the agricultural bank was shut down and NIS money was allowed out for Mr. Duprey’s CLICO, Jamaica was more sensible. There the Export/Import (Ex-Im) Bank of Jamaica is teaming up with the Scientific Research Council (SRC) to collaborate on ideas, and with the National Insurance Scheme for the establishment of special financial facilities aimed at boosting agro-industrial production.

Such financing has been used in SRC-produced technologies in activities that include drying and the preservation of foods, particularly spices and teas; those for smoking, in the case of meats; and canning and concentrate applications, in the case of fruit and vegetable processing. And the Jamaican regional giant GraceKennedy Limited has only just launched the Grace Fresh n’ Ready brand of processed vegetables and official handing over ceremony of a J$43 million post-harvest processing plant in that country. The plant was leased from the Ministry of Agriculture. The facility was the result of a multi-lateral partnership known as the Improving Jamaica’s Agricultural Productivity Project (IJAP) – which received funding from the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) – the Ministry of Agriculture and the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA) and GraceKennedy Ltd.

There must be some realistic doubt whether at some stage Mr. Jagdeo will prepare a status report on his Initiative on which CARICOM was led into spending lots of scarce money.

The silent and dormant agro-processing/packaging plants at Parika and Sophia testify to Guyana’s failure to address its mounting food bill and exploit its huge potential in agricultural products. There must be a sense of both relief and sadness among Guyanese that other Caribbean countries long ago realised that under Jagdeo the region’s agricultural initiative was going nowhere.

Sadness that Guyana blew a wonderful and historic opportunity to stamp its valuable contribution on CARICOM: relief that the other countries did not rely on our President to help them solve their food problems. They would still be waiting.

Meanwhile when I asked a couple of friends about what they know about the Jagdeo Initiative, the most polite response was what is that? One said the LCDS, while another said Amaila. Oh, well.

Nandalall should direct his advice to Jagdeo, not Kissoon

In a letter appearing in Sunday Kaieteur News July 31 and captioned “Mr. Kissoon is treading on dangerous waters”, Mr. Anil Nandlall, signing as “MP and Attorney-at-Law for His Excellency, President Bharrat Jagdeo”, seeks to offer advice to Mr. Kissoon and threatens contempt of court proceedings over comments made by Mr. Kissoon in his Kaieteur News column.

Mr. Nandlall knows that Mr. Kissoon is represented in the relevant matter by two Attorneys-at-law, with a third soon to be added. As one of those attorneys I would respectfully suggest to Mr. Nandlall that he should spare himself and our client such gratuitous advice and instead direct it to his client, the President, who makes a habit of commenting, like Sir Oracle, on matters that are sub judice.

I wonder if Mr. Nandlall, as a regular attorney-at-law for the President, has cautioned his client of the impropriety of such interventions. If he has, it would be helpful to readers if Mr. Nandlall would comment on an article appearing in Stabroek News of July 30, in which the President makes loaded references to criminal charges against a person involved in a matter in which the President as Minister of Information is currently adjudicating.

Guyanese are aware of the numerous occasions on which Mr. Nandlall’s client has shown contempt for our courts as well as our constitution. His client now demonstrates in the complaint against CNS 6 unmistakable bias and rank abuse of Presidential power, a combination so egregious as to make any comment by Mr. Kissoon pale in comparison.

Finally while Mr. Nandlall seems unable to refer to Mr. Jagdeo without the title His Excellency, I would like to remind him that his instructions were to bring the action against Mr. Kissoon in the name Bharrat Jagdeo, which he did.

Mr Khan’s letter ignores Section 13 of the Income Tax Act exempting only the President’s official emoluments from income tax

Of all the serious questions raised about President Jagdeo’s “acquisition” of acres of land at Pradoville 2, Attorney-at-law Mr Jerome Khan (‘President Jagdeo is not liable to pay capital gains tax after selling his house in Pradoville 1’ Stabroek News, February 15) has chosen to join issue on whether or not the President is liable to pay income tax under any circumstances.

Mr Khan’s entry in the minefield of revenue law with some constitutional implications is welcome and his reminder to readers about section 66 of the Tax Act Cap 80:01 is useful. However, his bold attempt to defend Mr Jagdeo in the absence of any attack and his description of excessive and possibly unlawful benefits as “protection of the law” may be excused as convenient and self-serving, even opportunistic to the point where Mr Khan ignores the basic distinction between what lawyers refer to as a sword and a shield. The constitution’s principal shield for the President is provided under the immunities article (Article 182) and with respect to income, only that it cannot be reduced to the holder’s disadvantage (Article 222 (3)).

Mr Khan’s reliance solely on section 66 of the Tax Act and his certainty about how the courts of Guyana and the Caribbean Court of Justice would rule in a matter that at best involves the thorny issue of a conflict of laws presumes too much and would hardly come from an experienced attorney-at-law. His letter completely ignores Section 13 of the Income Tax Act which exempts from income tax only “the official emoluments [emphasis mine] received by the President both when in and when absent from Guyana.”

In his forays into revenue law, Mr Khan should know that the Tax Act in its many incarnations preceded the Income Tax Act, which was first introduced in this country in 1929. Why would a court ignore the argument that the provision was in respect of known taxes at the time, particularly since under each subsequent Tax Act – Income, Capital Gains and Property – the law specifically addressed presidential exemption. Mr Khan may also note that the long title of the Tax Act is ‘An Act to consolidate the enactments relating to the imposition of taxes for the public use in Guyana.’ He would know too that there have been twenty-one amendments to Section 13 of the Income Tax Act and not a single one sought to exempt from income tax, income other than the official emoluments of the office holder.

Is Mr Khan suggesting that the parliamentary draftsmen, the attorneys general, the ministers of finance, the National Assembly and the president who assents to all acts including amending acts, did not know about the qualification in Section 13? And is Mr Khan aware that the President pays VAT on his purchases of standard rated items in the absence of a specific exemption in the Value-Added Tax Act?

Tax exemption for the head of state has a particular history and context. It derives from our colonial days when the governor’s ‘official emoluments’ paid by the British government had to be specifically exempted for two reasons. The first was that since the office or employment was exercised in British Guiana the income would be taxable here, regardless of where paid. Second, since the emoluments accrued to a person who was considered resident and domiciled in the UK, under their laws it was taxable there. In other words, the income was taxed but not in Guyana.

Ethically minded individuals assuming high political office usually place their personal assets in what is referred to as a blind trust, and studiously abstain from business deals while in office. Lawmakers make certain assumptions about the character of the holders of high office and would hardly contemplate a president being willing to stretch the laws.

But let us for a moment assume that Mr Khan is right: to exploit a loophole in the tax laws for one’s benefit is to engage in tax avoidance – something that Mr Khan as an attorney seems to be advising gratuitously but which Mr Jagdeo as President should resist. And as for Mr Khan’s pronouncements about motive and intent in the Pradoville 1 transaction, Mr Khan may wish to refer to what are called in tax laws the ‘badges of trade’; to the inferences from which motives can be drawn; and to the whole body of relevant case law which I think would be outside the scope of a letter to the editor.

I hope Mr Khan appreciates that this is not some technical issue about conflicts of laws but one of a political culture where a person operates outside and above of the law. It is about the rule of law and the equality of persons before the law. I would borrow his own words and state that I have no doubt that as taxpayer, former politician and now practising attorney-at-law, Mr Khan would agree with me on these and on the improprieties surrounding Mr Jagdeo’s property transactions. In fact the judges of the CCJ would find interesting a ‘lawless’ and unique set of laws while Mr Khan may find his confidence that that court would give him unqualified support completely misplaced.