Last Updated on Thursday, 2 February 2017, 19:52 by Denis Chabrol
It has been almost 321 days since President David Granger’s last press conference in early March 19, 2016, and Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo believes the Head of State is hiding from criticism against his government.
“I have a major issue about the president and his accountability to the nation,” Jagdeo, a former President, told the press corps at the Opposition Leader’s Church Street office this afternoon. “He hides behind these pre-packaged interviews.”
President Granger’s first press conference as Guyanese leader was held 490 days ago on October 2, 2015.
Jagdeo is calling on the Guyanese press corps to refuse what he called “this pre-package sort of thing.”
“He has not held press conferences because, I think, he doesn’t want to be accountable on several matters that were happening in his government. So he packages these things and he deals with safe subjects in a safe environment,” Opposition Leader Jagdeo added.
Jagdeo’s comment came just as he decried the situation facing miners relating to the changing tax regime proposed in Budget 2017. “Taken together, this change in fiscal environment, and environment in which mining takes place, particularly small mining… will harm the sector irreparably,” Jagdeo said as he urged government meet with the miners.
Jagdeo is not the first person to raise this concern about the President not holding a press conference. Prominent attorney and former National Assembly Speaker, Senior Counsel Ralph Ramkarran called for the President, in a facebook post, to meet with the press to discuss government’s shifting position on the viability of the Amaila Falls Hydroelectricity Project.
That very issue was the subject of a recent parliamentary debate between the two sides.
“I recall that long before a year had elapsed of Mrs Janet Jagan’s presidency, an outcry arose regarding her failure to hold a press conference. She eventually held one about one year into her presidency,” Ramkarran had written on his facebook page earlier last month.
“The voices calling out Mrs Jagan in 1997-8 are still around, but have gone silent on President Granger’s failure to hold a single press conference despite having been elected to office one and a half years ago,” Ramkarran had said.
The President has been utilising his weekly half-hour ‘The Public Interest’ television programme to engage members of the media, only allowing two journalists per week. One journalist is drawn from the state media while the other is drawn from the independent media.
The first ten minutes of “The Public Interest” programme, up until a recently announced change, were dedicated to a specific topic decided by the programme’s production team, while the remaining 20 minutes were designated for other questions.
The change came after the President was questioned on his programme by a Stabroek News reporter about his failure to hold a press conference since October 2015.
President Granger responded to the question, raised by the SN reporter, citing his busy schedule, but said he is not opposed to holding a press conference.
“I don’t have an objection to having a larger press conference. I have a very busy schedule… and it is very difficult to spend a lot of time with the media and I try to make it possible every week but if that is the desire of the Guyana Press Association, that can be arranged with my press team,” Mr Granger had said.
Since the airing of that episode of “The Public Interest“, almost a week ago, there has been no presidential press conference.
The President did, however, attend a meeting of the Community of Latin America and Caribbean States (CELAC) in the Dominican Republic. Press releases from the Ministry of the Presidency were issued to the media about the President’s DR trip, and what official remarks were made on said trip.