Following the first part of this piece last week, I was sent the text of
a presentation by Dr Brian E Henry at a Leadership Forum in Grenada late
last month. The choice of venue was influenced by the devastation of
Hurricane Ivan and the need for that special type of leadership which the
That should be a must-read for all of those in leadership positions
whether in the private or public sector, and perhaps the sponsors of that
forum - Development Finance Limited - might like to repeat it here in Guyana
given their current and future investment plans for Guyana.
I will return to Dr Henry's presentation shortly. But first I look at two
very recent issues which shape the Jagdeo presidency - the VAT legislation
and a Bill to amend the High Court Act.
The VAT legislation:
On October 31, Minister of Finance Saisnarine Kowlessar issued
Regulations No. 12 of 2005 under the Excise Tax Act and an Order under the
Value-Added Tax Act 2005. Under the order, VAT will come into operation from
July 1, 2006 while registration will begin on April 1, 2006. To the credit
of the government it has agreed that both these items of subsidiary
legislation will be referred to a select committee for discussion before the
National Assembly affirms them. That, however, does not impress many in the
private sector who believe that the government has acted in bad faith by its
initial decision to take the July 1 date out of the act and replace it with
a date to be set by the minister.
Given the strong reasons advanced by the private-sector representatives
and others to the select committee that considered the bill, there was an
acknowledgement that at least on the question of a starting date, the
government was prepared to listen. But then the government turned around and
did exactly what it had signalled it was prepared to be flexible on.
It is hardly how credibility and respect is earned. And to believe that
one can introduce legislation that would require major system changes in the
middle of the calendar and for what is the fiscal year for many, shows a
remarkable lack of understanding of how systems operate and a callous
disregard for the private sector.
The High Court Act:
President Jagdeo has dithered over the appointments of the Chancellor and
Chief Justice following the departure of Chancellor Bernard to the Caribbean
Court of Justice earlier this year. The Constitution of Guyana provides that
"the Chancellor and the Chief Justice shall each be appointed by the
President, acting after obtaining the agreement of the Leader of the
Opposition." During the several months since the departure of the former
Chancellor, Chief Justice Carl Singh has been performing the functions of
the Chancellor as well as his substantive functions as Chief Justice.
There was a single meeting several months ago between the President and
Leader of the Opposition Robert Corbin. Since that time the President has
announced that he has set up - apparently unilaterally - a search committee
whose membership, terms of reference or time-frame for coming up with
recommendations, he has not disclosed. Word was that Mr Corbin was prepared
to respect the judicial pecking order and have the Chief Justice confirmed
as Chancellor and Justice Claudette Singh, the next person in line elevated
to Chief Justice.
There has been much delay and little enthusiasm in resolving the issue
and this has in no way been helped by Bill No. 17 of 2005 transferring to
the Chancellor several of the key powers and functions now vested in the
As the leader of the country, President Jagdeo cannot allow the
perception that politics takes precedence over the rule and conduct of law
in Guyana. In pursuing this bill into law, the government could be accused
of undermining the courts, including, ironically, Justice Carl Singh with
whom it seems particularly comfortable. More dangerously, however, it would
be putting out a challenge to Mr Corbin which he would have to take up if he
is to restore any credibility to his image as the effective leader of
political opposition. What if Mr Corbin refuses to agree to Mr Carl Singh?
Stalemate in the judiciary? Wherever the judiciary goes, there goes the
Having dealt with the poor performance of the economy since Mr Jagdeo
assumed the helm of the Ministry of Finance and his indecisiveness with the
courts we can now turn to other areas for which he has ministerial
responsibility or has exercised some overriding authority.
Crime is perhaps one of the egregious examples of poor results which must
at least in part be attributable to poor management. It is now thirteen
years since all we have had is excuses. Last week there was a report of
three persons being killed having escaped from the lock-ups, and yesterday
five escaped from the Mazaruni jail. In the police force we are in a cycle
of near-retirements which makes longer-term planning quite difficult. The
former Minister of Home Affairs who admitted contacts with some highly
questionable characters has been sent abroad to promote the country's image
and interest, while critical studies on the force have been shelved. There
is no doubt that under the President's watch, the crime situation has
NIS, the Bank of Guyana and VAT :
The National Insurance Scheme which is the only retirement fund for the
majority of the working poor is facing financial difficulties and calls for
refinancing the scheme from the billions we have been spending over the
years have been ignored.
The Bank of Guyana for long periods was without a board while the former
Governor was never confirmed. Even now and in contravention of the law, the
bank is both without a deputy governor or independence. A proper functioning
economy requires an independent and accountable central bank, but here again
we are missing out as we are with the Statistical Bureau, another important
institution which took years to publish a national census but can enter a
political debate within 24 hours.
The self-employed still evade taxes with impunity, despite the billions
invested in the GRA, and the tax burden remains one of the highest in the
world, a burden in danger of becoming worse with the introduction of VAT.
The basic element of equity is now completely absent from the tax system
while the poor bear a disproportionate share.
The University of Guyana is a mess while the Public Service is in
shambles. With more ministries now than ever before we do not have a
Minister of Agriculture with responsibility for rice and sugar - the
mainstays of our economy. Lean and clean government is dead and huge
tax-free, US dollar salaries, some of which are obscene and others illegal
are the order of the day. Our foreign service is in so much mess that no one
bothers to think about it, and some of our diplomats are now on lifetime
postings while showing no returns for the expenditure.
The Office of the Auditor General under new legislation is the weakest it
has ever been, and accountability and corruption are now attracting
international attention. And talking of new legislation we pass laws and
then ignore them, and one only has to think about the Money Laundering Act,
the Deeds Registry Act and the Trafficking in Persons Act to realise how
deeply mired we are in poor management.
How is the President responsible for this? I recall at a meeting several
years ago, Mr Jagdeo being described as being thoroughly familiar even with
the colour of the paint used in the Ministry of Finance. In other words, his
strength is micro-management which is the quality least expected of a
President Jagdeo would do well to learn from the presentation by Dr Harry
who quoted Henry Longfellow as calling on leaders to "lift their shoulders
and lift their gaze." Leaders have to be able to view patterns as if they
were eagles operating at 35,000 feet. Leaders have to see a context for
change or create one, said Dr Harry:
"Without the capacity to move back and forth between the field of action
and the high view, to reflect day to day, moment to moment, on the many ways
in which an organization's habits can sabotage adaptive work, a leader
easily and unwittingly becomes a prisoner of the system. The dynamics of
adaptive change are far too complex to keep track of, let alone influence,
if leaders stay only on the factory floor. Without the perspective from on
high, leaders probably would be unable to mobilize people to do adaptive
work. Getting the high view is thus a prerequisite for good leadership
Yet what have we had from technician turned Minister turned President? He
has slavishly followed the prescription of the International Monetary Fund
for whom he has become almost a poster child and a model student.
In assuming the presidency, Mr Jagdeo took on a role for which he would
be judged long after he leaves the post. It is not his fault that he did not
have the experience or qualities for the job, and unfortunately learning on
the job is not an option.
It is one of the paradoxes that for the most important job in the
country, qualification and experience do not count. While as said above,
that is not President Jagdeo's fault, his success is not entirely out of his
control. His record has been below expectation and it will not be an easy
task for him to have confidence restored in his ability, and to create even
a modest legacy.