Press briefing sketch
The offensive President Jagdeo
April 3, 2004
The country got a new cabinet yesterday. There was Colin Smith perched in the Prime Minister's spot, Adam Harris, Natasha Waldron, Wilfred Cameron...
As they sat in the comfortable armchairs of the Cabinet room, they could for a moment bask in the illusion of power until Liaison to the President Robert Persaud alerted them to Jagdeo's imminent arrival.
For the next hour they were given a good reminder of who is in charge of this country. And if this is anything like how Tuesday's Cabinet sessions are, then the ministers deserve every penny of their salary.
Jagdeo wanted to discuss grand (and safe) international issues while the media right now have a one-track mind. He talked about the painfully named La Tortue of Haiti. They thought about the death squad. He held forth on the eternal Sugar Protocol and the 'frivolous' comments of budget analysts. They thought about the death squad.
And when it came time for the questions, they talked about Axel Williams, Gajraj, Bacchus and visas. He thought of every way not to answer the questions and then rode roughshod over the press from behind his cacique crown.
Jagdeo has learnt well that the best defence is a good offence and yesterday he deployed it ruthlessly.
Stabroek News "fabricates" stories "so what credibility does it have on this matter?" he asked while referring for the umpteenth time to an article that mistakenly said Bacchus had taken a lie detector test. This was part of a rambling answer to a simple question of whether the fact that Axel Williams got a gun upgrade having killed a man should be the subject of an investigation. "I have a follow up..." said the reporter. "You can have all the follow ups you want..." he said and then Robert stepped in and sent the questioning elsewhere.
When asked about the visa revocations, Jagdeo declared, "I am more concerned about the people of this country."
Adam Harris "who has a funny way of linking things" defended the satire of his Kaieteur News gossip column that had Donald Ramotar running to the US embassy this week. "That's not satire. That's lying!" said Jagdeo and was glad to announce to the nation that Harris routinely lies in the press. Adam laughed with everyone else but it was serious stuff.
Stabroek's Patrick Denny was also attacked when he asked about the super salaries paid to some civil servants. Jagdeo said there were quite a few more. At least there aren't any politicians on the list, he added and asked if under Hoyte (14 years ago) Cedric Grant was not paid a salary worth twice the amount of the army's annual capital budget. But he was not a politician, said Denny. "Oh I am glad Mr Denny is defending Cedric Grant's salary. It must be some overhang from a previous reincarnation. That's not the reporter talking in you." Patrick mentioned something about "Mr President should not misconstrue..." But how to argue with a man standing between two Golden Arrowheads?
And by then the battle had been won, Jagdeo ran out the clock riffing on a soft question, courtesy of Waldron, about how he assessed his three years in office, bringing in everything from Barbados being in recession for a few years now (wrong) to how the government was spending 9.4% on education, a higher percentage than any other country in the whole world. (At least Lesotho, Yemen and Zimbabwe are all higher)
A wounded Harris lobbed a softball about US interests in the region, self deprecatingly saying how old he was when he got his dates mixed up. But Jagdeo cut him again: "Feel free to speak the truth Adam. This is a comfortable environment, feel free."
And as he shuffled his papers someone asked why he was wading into everybody. "I'm just enjoying myself," he replied. And you could tell he was.