President David Granger was sworn in as Executive President on May 16th following General and Regional Elections held that same week. The Head of State then swore in his Cabinet days after he took the Oath of Office.
Last week, Insight’s Nazima Raghubir had a sit down interview with newly sworn in President of Guyana, David Granger, along with some other journalists. Various stories have emanated from the interview, Insight offers the transcript of that interview for posterity’ sake.
Q: What was your first week like, the highlights and some of the challenges during your first week of office?
President Granger: “The first task of course was to ensure that the ministers were appointed so that they could take control of their ministries and this was largely achieved. The majority of ministers were sworn in. There are 15 ministries and all 15 ministers and that was my biggest challenge to make sure that they were able to engage with their staff and assume responsibility for their respective ministries. Secondly, I met with the secretary of the Caribbean Community, he was the first diplomat I met with and this was done to send a message, to reassure our Caribbean colleagues, that the Caribbean is our first and foremost diplomatic concern, it’s an economic issue, we want to ensure that the CSME works for us, works for all of the Caribbean countries. So in terms of symbolism, in terms of our ideology we met with the Secretary General of CARICOM. We also met with Ambassadors of the bordering state, Brazil, Venezuela, the Ambassador for Suriname was not present at the time but that was also a necessity or a priority. The next priority, if you can call it that is meeting with the staff of the Ministry of the Presidency here and the Permanent secretaries and heads of agencies, authorities and commissions in the public service. Every government in the world depends on an efficient public service and I met with them to explain the policies of the new government so that they could support the thrust, they have to understand where we are going and what we are doing but I depend on them, I depend on the public service and I got that message across. I also visited the Public Service Training division which is as you know I intend to convert into a Public Service Staff College because you can’t get anywhere without public servants. So those were my top priorities to look towards the issues of governance, to ensure that people understand the direction in which we are going to travelling”
Q: And the highpoints or challenges?
President Granger: “We were very encouraged by the support of the people in general, we received congratulations from hemispheric leaders, some of whom maybe coming for the inauguration tomorrow and we feel confident that we will be in a position, that we have a team in the Cabinet and we would be in a position to give Guyana the quality governance that it needs and give Guyanese the quality life they deserve. I wouldn’t say there were any low points, I am very confident that we are moving in the right direction and the majority of the people are with us.
Q: Your administration was criticised about the size of the cabinet, number of ministries and new ministries you have created, your reasons behind that ?
President Granger: “There are really 15 ministries which is fewer than ministries in the previous administration and it was the amalgamation of some ministries that might have created concern , I have not created a larger number of ministries than existed before, there are now fewer. As far as the name are concerned I have explained that some of the changes in names were to emphasis the functions, for example the Ministry of the Presidency always existed, it is just the renaming of the Office of the President, I felt it necessary to have a Minister of State who would continue to authoritatively to ensure that the Cabinet decisions are implemented throughout the government services. In terms of the Ministry of Communities, I feel that it is more clear that we are not simply building houses or building roads we are building communities where human beings live and that it why it was renamed to emphasis the human aspect of local development, of local government, of regional government and of housing schemes, we want to see places where human beings live not just a collection of buildings, a collection of families, so we can emphasis sporting facilities, culture and the type of community life which is sometimes absent in housing schemes. As far as public security is concerned the names are self-explanatory, changed from Home Affairs, what does Home Affairs mean ? Home Affairs is an old title which is taken from the British Empire. They had Foreign Affairs, which dealt with international matters and Home Affairs, but we don’t have an empire so why should we call it Home Affairs. I am concerned with Public Security, so as far as I am concerned, Public Security makes more sense than Home Affairs, People may differ but there is nothing strange there. Public infrastructure means you know, infrastructure for public use, for public good, so we are looking at stellings, we looking at road ways, we looking at bridges, there is a lot of criticism but some of it is, I would say, is not necessarily well informed”
Q: you have been crictised also for the lack of consultations for the renaming of ministries.
President Granger: “Some of those things are commonsensical, you know it is known that Indigenous people prefers to be called Indigenous, they have actually asked me to rename the Amerindian People’s Act, the Indigenous People’s Act, so I have consulted the Indigenous people, It was logical and some of them were in the making for sometime”
Q: you have entered office on a wave for change in governance, do you feel pressured to provide that change?
President Granger: “We obviously under pressure, because there is an ocean of expectation in the country but I am confident that people are aware that after 23 years of rule by the PPP there has been some damage to our institutions and it will take some time to repair that damage, so yes there is pressure, there is pressure of expectation but there is also a need to ensure that things are done in a way that would ensure that people in the end get a good life”
Q: The coalition (APNU-AFC) has campaigned on constitutional reform, how soon do you see your government moving ahead with this and what time frame are you looking at?
President Granger: “The Constitutional reform process has been going on for the better part of nearly 15 years since I think the Herdmanston Accord was signed and a Constitutional Reform Commission was convened and there are still several unimplemented recommendations. Rather than simply do, what I would call a cherry picking exercise, I have proposed that we establish a Constitutional Reform Commission which would consult with the people broadly, bring their concerns into the commission and then make recommendations for changes. I don’t want a boardroom change, I don’t want a boardroom type of exercise, consultation if you want to call it that, I prefer to go and meet the people in their various areas. Sometimes when you sit in a boardroom and you just receive evidence, only people who can travel to Georgetown are the people who care to come Georgetown would give such evidence but when you go to the people I think you get a different result, that I what I want to see, I want to go to the people. You might think you know everything, but sometimes people in the riverain areas have a problem but they know their rights, their entitlements and sitting in Georgetown doesn’t always help, you know, what I am trying to say is this you might speak about children’s right to education as part of the constitution but if we are to fulfil that obligation in the constitution, it means you must provide the means for that right to be enjoyed, so If a child is living at Parashara, Nappi or somewhere else and the child has to travel great distances that child is probably going to miss school because that child has to travel a great distance every day. So if you want to make the constitution work you have to consult with those people. We have guaranteed indigenous people the right to use their language but there is some people who don’t know a word of Akawaio or Macusis and our teachers do out there and teach in English, so all I am saying is that we need to consult widely, rather than sit down in a room in Georgetown and make these orders and that is what I intend to do. Constitutional reform is important but it must not leave us in a situation where we are at present with a whole ream of unimplemented recommendations. We have a situation in which some people attempted to do cut and paste, ahh there is a good clause here from the South African constitution. Let’s clip,clip,clip and paste it in and ohh there is another good clause from Australia and when you look at it now, it has the head of a camel, feet of a horse, tail of a cow, wagging like a dog and the whole thing you say, is this really a constitution and I think we must avoid the danger of simply cutting and pasting and cherry picking from other constitutions and find out what the people want”
Q: How soon will the commission would be set up ?
President Granger: “ I would think that we can convene the commission within the next month, within that hundred day period and then we can look forward to having a report as soon as possible, I hope that we can get a report before we celebrate our 50th anniversary of Independence”
Q: The coalition has also campaigned on reform that would see reduced powers of the president, if that goes through, you first president to have reduced powers.
President Granger: “I have agreed that the presidency, the powers of the president should be reduced but what I am also suggesting that it should also be part of the reform process so that we can establish checks and balances within the governmental system, it is no point cutting down powers and weakening the ability of the executive to govern, we would obviously like to strengthen the national assembly, the legislative branch to make sure that the executive branch doesn’t have power to overrule or override the legislative branch. For example, you know we came from a situation in November last year simply because the executive branch prorogued parliament and up to now Parliament has not met for ten months which is not acceptable in a democracy”
Q: The coalition had identified some irregularities by the previous administration, but you have said you will not be involved in any witch hunting but how do you decide what needs to be investigated ?
President Granger: “We have not laid down a table of offences, obviously we don’t intend to tolerate serious crimes and frauds and murders and that type of thing, the law must be allowed to follow its course , when we spoke about witch hunting that referred largely to political persons, persons who might have belong to other political parties but in terms of crimes, yes, we certainly want to remove people who have committed high crimes and misdemeanors but in terms of politics you know I accept and respect the right of every Guyanese to vote for the party of his choice. In terms of senior public servants, they obviously must vote, army officers vote, police officers vote, you can’t go after them if they voted against the party that you support but what we would not like is that persons would damage, particularly in the public service, would damage their impartiality by so committing themselves to political parties that they are paralysed when it comes to the performance of their work, or worse that paralysing, sabotage their work”
Q: But there were allegations of corruption, where do you draw the line when it comes to what needs to be investigated?
President Granger: “We obviously have to investigate corruption we cannot simply turn a blind eye to graphs of corruption and we cannot allow people who have stolen money to escape scot- free, so there will be investigations and persons who have found to have spent monies which don’t belong to them, will be asked to explain and if there is, you know, any indication of crime, that crimes have been committed, they could be prosecuted”
Q: Exxon Mobil recently made an announcement about oil discovery, there is usually gestation period between these finds and full blown exploration, in your estimation when it is likely that the country could benefit?
President Granger: “It would take five to seven years for oil to start flowing, we will benefit then. We do have oil, we know we have oil, there was a site in the Rupununi in the 1980s and I was shown oil, Guyana has oil, the question is whether it is commercially exploitable. The area that we have visited I think is about a 120 miles out, it is well within our EEZ, Exclusive Economic Zone, so there should no challenge from either Suriname or Venezuela. It is in deep water and we obviously don’t have their technology to exploit, but it will take time, we are now in early days and the exploration is still going on, it is not a production, it is an exploration”
Q: What would be the major differences in the way your government manages the economy against the previous administration?
President Granger: “The absence of corruption, second the emphasis would be on human development, the alleviation of poverty, particularly, and ensuring that more Guyanese get involved in the economy, third, it would emphasis our way of doing things would emphasis the role of education, particularly education in the sciences so that we produce more engineers who can build proper highways and bridges and stellings and develop the country. It would also emphasis the importance of employment, full employment particularly for young people coming out of school, the more people work, the richer the county is as a whole and it would also emphasis, micro enterprise and manufacturing. Manufacturing has been one of the most sluggish sectors of the economy and this is a direct result of maybe the lack of entrepreneurs and also the shortage of energy and that would be another important factor in the economy providing cheap energy and in so doing we must move away from this solar panel mentality and think of huge fields of solar panels so that it can generate electricity for the whole community rather than one house hold as a time, so these are some important areas that would see economic change. Finally, I would say that the emphasis on information technology would be another characteristic, this country has to be wired, more people in the public service and elsewhere has got to be able to access the information super highway. For example, I went to the public service training division and you know it is quite backward. I do believe there must be a laptop on every teacher’s desk, I do believe that every teacher going into Cyril’s Potter College of Education must have a laptop, I do believe that every school must have a computer laboratory and we have to train a generation of children who can access the internet regularly, reliably and make the best use of information. We are in an information age and we just can’t keep locking parts of our population out of information technology. A few weeks ago I was in the Rupununi and once you get pass St Ignatius you are out of contact with the world, no tv , no telephone, nothing at all, you’re just in a void, that has got to stop”
Q: Have you been able to assess the state of the tax payers’ fibre optic cable?
President Granger: “No we have not been able to assess that, we don’t know if it is possible to rehabilitate it and what the implications are. It is quite a complex project because in handling data between countries with different languages there might be some complexities”
Q: Is it still possible to have a relationship with the opposition, following animosity from elections period and the fact that the PPP said it will not respect this government?
President Granger: “I know the PPP well, they are going to behave like that for a while, but we are committed, we are already a six party coalition and we will continue to keep the door open to having joint committees, for example, the budget, I see that there should be a tripartite budget committee, looking at the budget and I need to work with them. I have said before and I repeat, it is not my policy to have 51% of the vote and lock 49% of the population out, the PPP does have a constituency and I respect the right of people to vote for nay party of their choice and I respect that constituency and I wish PPP would give voice to their constituents by sharing the National Assembly with us and by sharing the government with us”
Q: Your religious background is an important part of your identity, how do you see it affecting the way you govern?
President Granger: “I have made my choice, I have been educated, I grew up in the Anglican Church and I intend to die as an Anglican and I have certain strong beliefs, I don’t impose my views on any other person because this is a multi-religious country, I respect Islam, I am a honorary member of a certain masjid, I respect Hinduism, I respect the Baha’i, I feel that every Guyanese has the right to pursue their religious beliefs of his or her choice. I also respect the state and the state should not allow itself to be swayed by one or the other, the state has its responsibility to all religious groups.
Q: How can you avoid your religious identity playing a role when dealing with sensitive issues like LBGT rights, abortion and rights for commercial sex workers?
President Granger: “When the time comes we will consult, take action with those particular groups that you mentioned in accordance with international practice, in accordance with the law and in accordance with the will of the people. International practice changes you know, as times goes by, at one time people tolerated, executions, judicial executions for certain crimes but now people feel that capital punishment should be abolished, so times change, you know. There was a time when same sex relations were punishable by law but now in many countries, those laws have been repealed. So we have to keep abreast with what is happening in other countries and same time what our own people want, so we try not to get ahead of the people, at the same time you try not to separate ourselves from what is taking place in the international community”