OPINION: Guyana’s two-headed presidency -an obvious monstrosity, a real embarrassment

Last Updated on Wednesday, 27 October 2021, 12:06 by Denis Chabrol

By GHK Lall

I knew that problems lurked, a national embarrassment waited.  This was the result of the slick work of a political cardsharp that dumped a leadership arrangement on Guyana, which is now this aberration of a two-headed presidency.  Every time it raises its head, Guyana is made weaker, looks lost, and appears as a bigger global laughingstock.

This was conspicuous at the United Nations.  There was the President and Vice President of this poor little nation sitting together, and their global political contemporaries wondering why both of them are there at the same time.  It was virtually unprecedented in international forums, prompting the foreigners to ask themselves who was the real Number 1 at the UN, and who was minding the store in oil-flushed Guyana.  Since the VP is overseer for oil, then he should have more than enough on his hands pursuing the best deals for this country, and engrossed that removes him from his role as chaperone to the president.

It was a spectacle, this two-headed presidential apparition, a wrestling tag team, prancing on the world stage, and pretending at genuine engagement.  On the other hand, given the obvious unsteadiness of Guyana’s head of state, it was babysitting and handholding.  Still, I wished that such would take place locally, away from international stares.  The people at the UN must have pinched themselves:  is this for real?  Is this how Guyanese manage themselves and their oil wealth?  I could visualize this through the studied politeness, stiff upper lip, and all.

Now, I make something clear: the nation’s presidency is not a nursery affair, but a grueling undertaking, and one for which the president is not ready.  Not even PPP mythmakers and storytellers can gloss over the pictures of the two-headed hydra that confirms what Guyana’s presidency is.  The party’s admirers are appalled, the VP’s worshippers dismayed, because the creation of his hands comes back to flay him.  I am embarrassed at this national peculiarity that humiliates us before all.  I feel sorry for a president forced to function above his competency level.  He fails abjectly, and no quantity of ribbon cutting, sod shoveling, and flying visits to dole out charity can camouflage his deficits, fluffs and bluffs.  I had warned about this: the man is not oaken presidential timber.

For PPP defenders upset at the obvious, and scavenging around to find presidential parallels and precedents, I say to them: don’t worry about me.  Think of what is going on in the heads of the assembled dignitaries at the United Nations General Assembly, when they beheld our out-of-his-depth president pleading for help from the distancing VP, who was too embarrassed to run to the rescue. He created the monster, now he must cage it; deal with future contingencies.  How often will the president lose his way, reach for Vice Presidential counseling?  How frequently, is he going to put regional and international leaders on hold, so that he can get whispered corrections/interpretations from the VP?  This does not accrue to the dignity of the office of Guyana’s presidency.  Sadly, it speaks poorly of the incumbent’s prowess.  Worse still, all Guyana is degraded by this tangled presidential tango.  One misleads about transparency, while knowing full well the other’s love affair with secrecy, a mutual coverup society it is, which is why this leadership arrangement has to prevail.  It is one propping up the other.

Though I should be disparaging of the plight concocted by the VP, I am sympathetic to the hole that he dug for himself, and into which the limited president condemns himself.  The VP must bail him out.  When Guyana’s President and Vice President engages in this pas de deux, they may not be humiliated, but Guyana is.  If and when oil (when is it not, nowadays?) is the issue, then the VP has his own domain, his own atmospherics, and his own acolytes, which is where those wheeling and dealings-aka discussions and negotiations- should occur.  When oil is the topic of engagement, the VP is quite capable of going off on his own; he has to concentrate on that all-important portfolio.  He must do so without looking over his shoulder and worrying if the President will hold up or fold up.

Let the President stand on his own feet, face the music, and deliver or fall.  After all, he agreed to the job, knowing that it was going to be a struggle.  He must manifest that he is a thinker, nimble on his feet, and can think on his own, regardless of which regional or global agency is involved.  Give the leader the space: he either thrives or takes a dive.  But let this hanging on to the VP’s coattails cease, while the VP himself must let go.  This business of allocating make work to him cease.  This-two-headed presidency is not good for Guyana’s image, makes us look frail, and subject to exploitation.  Though neither national leader would listen, this is why we have (or should have) veteran and competent senior public servants.  Flunkies and party loyalists have little to offer, help the President to implode, and no amount of propaganda spray painting can conceal what is happening with Guyana’s presidency.

The UN is over there, but CARICOM is right here, where the second instance of Guyana’s hydra-headed leadership was part of recent proceedings.  The CARICOM people must be wondering: what the hell is this abomination, where it came from, who is responsible, and how much longer they have to deal with this.  They have to figure how to interpret and communicate with Guyana’s two presidential heads going off simultaneously.  It is incredible: the VP has to intervene, carry the President.  To his credit, the VP tries hard not to get in the way, and steal the President’s thunder.  But he has to do damage control, can’t help himself.  Regional heads of government are from here, they live near us, with us.  First, the CCJ mocked us (nicely), now CARICOM heads have to be shaking their individual noggins over this Guyanese leadership curiosity, of conjoined Siamese political twins.

How long this charade is going to go on is anybody’s guess.  The VP and DPI can’t block international media presences from observing and absorbing the circus that is Guyana’s presidency. How did we ever get into this mess?  Who is it that comes up with these disastrous machinations that backfire so shamefully?  Why is it that Guyanese have a leader that lives the Peter Principle in national affairs before international audiences, and we must go along with it?  We know the answers to those questions, don’t we?  And here I am thinking that Joe Biden is bad.