“ THE BIG INTERVIEW - Jagdeo's way ahead ”

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The tenure of Guyana’s President Bharrat Jagdeo is nearing its end. While attending his last CARICOM Summit as Head of Government, Jagdeo spoke frankly to regional journalists, including NATION Managing Editor Tim Slinger, in St Kitts yesterday. He was candid on several topical issues, including freedom of movement across the region, REDjet and West Indies cricket.   Q: This is your final appearance at the CARICOM Heads of Government conference. After 12 years, what are your impressions of the regional body? Jagdeo: For too long we’ve held up these lofty ideas of the Treaty of Chaguaramas and almost in a sacred way without focusing enough on how we break those down into projects and programmes and get those implemented. The only way that we’ll change the perception of CARICOM is not just through a PR job . . . . There are a lot of positive things about CARICOM but the more ordinary people can feel regional initiatives impacting on their lives. The fishermen in Barbados, in Trinidad and Tobago, Grenada and Guyana and Suriname can have their fisheries agreement that allows them to move seamlessly across these countries and fish, then without any hassle they will start to say CARICOM is working. So it builds support through specific initiatives. There is that sense of urgency that we need to create the mechanisms for that new approach. A change in mindset. We have a report of the reconstruction of the secretariat and everyone who spoke said it has to be result-oriented. We have also in the long run to shorten the summit, although that may not be a decision for me. If the European Union (EU) with 27 countries can meet in half of a day, I think we can do it in a day and a half and have a tight agenda. This is my view for the past 12 years I have been here – I’ve seen changes, I’ve had my frustrations but I am not unhappy to go.   Q: As you near the end of our political career as leader and president of Guyana, what would you say are your achievements? Jagdeo: Our democracy has matured, our people are more comfortable with each other, which is an age-old problem that we have had from the 1960s, the economy is doing well, so I am leaving ata good time. I have to say that here in the region, whatever I can do, as I said in my Independence Day address to Guyana, to continue to support regional initiatives, I will do, but from a different capacity as a private citizen, which I am not unhappy to be.   Q: It has been mooted that you would be the best choice as CARICOM’s next Secretary General? Jagdeo: When that suggestion was made and a few Heads wanted me to accept the position, I said I don’t want to be Secretary General of CARICOM. I am just not cut out for it. I am not looking for a job right now.   Q: On reflection, do you think things could have been better for the regional movement? Jagdeo: There was a time when we didn’t have a common agricultural strategy for the region, we didn’t have an agricultural strategy at all; now we have that . . . . but we don’t have regional institutions to implement a regional strategy. These policies have to be done by the sovereign governments that make up CARICOM. So in some countries there has been a greater focus onagriculture. Others seem to think it is still not important and I feel that only when there is a crisis or when there will be a shortage of food, that those countries would come to realize how important food security is for their populations. The success of this initiative will depend on how countries themselves use some of the findings.   Q: Freedom of movement within CARICOM has been a major talking point and in particular a hotbed issue between Barbados and Guyana. What are your comments? Jagdeo: The treatment of people should be dignified. If Guyanese were to go to Barbados or any other country, they have to respect the laws of Barbados or the countries to which they migrate. And the immigration authorities in Barbados or whichever other country should do their due diligence and not give special preference. What we ask though is that people are mindful of their treaty obligations and secondly that people be treated in a dignified manner . . . . This is our concern. Having special benches for them, treating people as though they are criminals, when they are just trying without any information to that effect, is what has caused much of the problem in the past. And there has been some real spectacular cases which demonstrate capricious behaviour on the part of several immigration officials. We have been assured by the Bajan Government that there is no policy to discriminate against anyone, but often we find that in the implementation of that policy there are some who seem to have prejudices against certain categories of people.   Q: What about the distribution of health care for all and sundry? Barbados, for example, has made it clear that undocumented immigrants will not be afforded this facility. What are your views? Jagdeo: Barbados has been making some arguments that they cannot afford to give contingent rights, medical benefits, to migrants and it would overload their capacity, etcetera; and one can’t be unmindful of that. In Guyana’s case we have thousands of migrants who come to live, from Brazil, from India, from Nigeria and from China, and they enjoy the same benefits that Guyanese enjoy. But then again, we are a different country and I can’t be unmindful if a country makes those arguments. At the retreat, many countries said, particularly given the economic crisis, that they may not be ready to meet the timetable for the Single Economy as originally envisaged. I don’t see any reason why Barbados should not continue championing the Single Market and Economy, but they have to be aware that the Single Market and Economy has free movement of people as an essential tenet. It may be a timing issue and maybe some countries are not ready now, but will be ready a little bit later.   Q: Regional transportation has also surfaced as a major talking point, LIAT and the like. Jagdeo: I had to make this point at the caucus, that we signed on to an open-skies policy in the region, so we can’t have a commitment to open-skies policy then try to prevent competition. I understand predatory pricing and we should safeguard against that, but competition is essential to keep the services good and the price of those services affordable. Therefore when elements of protectionism that have nothing to do with safety, etcetera, creep into our consideration as to who should fly the region, I think it runs contrary to the Treaty and the open-skies policy that we all committed ourselves to and to the economic development, because we need more people moving, more goods moving at a more competitive price to enhance economic development. We can’t want it both ways.   Q: Former West Indies cricket captain Chris Gayle has disclosed a “tell-it-all” about his problems with the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB). Your views on this subject? Jagdeo: The board [WICB] thinks it owns West Indian cricket. My belief is that it belongs to all of us, the people of this region. So they operate like they are private owners of West Indian cricket. Many countries, when you have failures, consistent failures, the boards go too, because sometimes they are the problems. What irks me is the unpredictability of this board. I think Chris Gayle has been treated unfairly by the West Indies Cricket Board. You can’t not tell him anything, he needs to earn too. You have a tour upcoming and when he goes off, he gets another contract, then you are concerned that he has left the region. I think it is [something] against those guys who stood out. Sarwan, Chris Gayle and a few others held out with WIPA sometime ago when they asked us to get involved at the level of Heads and they have decided to humble them. So, can you imagine the coach of the West Indies team, who played I think two Test matches, telling Shivnarine Chanderpaul how to bat. Chanderpaul was one of ICC’s top players in the world. Chanderpaul has the second highest runs in the West Indies after Brian Lara, and you have someone who probably [made] five runs . . . coaching a person who is in this stage of his career, to change his batting style . . . . If he makes runs, they call him and tell him he shouldn’t bat like that, and if he doesn’t make runs, they say the same thing to him at meetings, after meetings, every time he bats. I have the suspicion they are trying to break him, and when he speaks out against it to let people know what’s happening, you want to discipline him. This can’t be right, something is wrong. So it’s all about pettiness and the culture of going with people who are compliant. I think we need to change a lot of these people. We need to have serious term limits at these boards too.