Politics and Reality
Many Guyanese were quite pleased with the outcome of the last elections. The major reason was that they believed with the opposition controlling the purse strings in Parliament, the government would have to involve them in the budgetary allocations for one. And to the man in the street, and (more importantly) the average voter, the budget looms very large. Tax rates, community and national improvement, are only two of the thousands of ‘line items’ that will affect his quotidian life.
The Opposition – especially the major partner – while they actually believed they could win the election outright – could not also have been displeased with the result. They actually won a toehold in the governance of the country. The populace watched with some bemusement, however, as the government and the opposition jockeyed for ‘advantage’ in the allocation of power in the ‘new dispensation’. They were now being exposed to the minutiae of how the government actually functions.
One of the myths that have been clarified is that the government can actually run on auto pilot. While an exemplar of bureaucratic organisation, the rules are never so explicit as to address every contingency. There are always ambiguities and grey areas that must be explicated for time, place and circumstance. What all of the ‘back-and-forthing’ exposed, consequently, is that those who wish to become involved in the governance of our country must become intimately familiar with the rules of the game, so to speak.
While on the campaign trail it had become customary for opposition ranks to simply promise anything under the sun to garner support. Not having the burden of actually having to ‘put their money where their mouth was’, they could get away with it. For this reason, in most jurisdictions when the opposition assumes power, their supporters invariably accuse them of “selling out”. Faced with the practicalities of exercising power they have to adopt a more pragmatic posture. Obama’s present falling out with the left wing of his party in the US is a good example of this phenomenon.
But in Guyana, the Opposition no longer has the luxury (such as it is) of offering ‘pie in the sky’ rhetoric – at least not now. They have to become responsible, based on what is permissible under the constraints that all governments operate. We saw this necessity rise to the surface in the allocation of seats to the Committee of Selection in parliament, which unfortunately had to end up in front of the courts. Now once again we see it in the handling of the Budget by the House now that it has been constituted into the “Committee of Supply” (CoS).
Here the rules dictate that the Opposition cannot propose initiatives that place a burden on the Consolidated Fund – meaning increased spending – but by implication can suggest cuts in spending. But it does not end there: cuts have implications on employment rules etc. which cannot be violated with impunity. The AFC, during the campaign, had made a central issue of alleged governmental inflated spending.
As the rules dictated, they gave the requisite notice for cuts one day before the CoS was supposed to meet. And all hell broke loose. Government workers that would be affected by the cuts protested in front of parliament; the government exploited the sentiments against the AFC’s proposals and the latter ended up with egg on its face. APNU, on the other hand, more conversant with the ground realities, accepted the government’s offer to discuss written proposals before the CoS. And came out smelling of roses.
The government accepted APNU’s suggestion to raise the Old Age Pension to $10,000 (and so place a further burden on the Consolidated Fund) and the latter abstained when the AFC called for a vote on just one of the cuts they had proposed. They had not done their homework to hone in on specific ‘fat cats’ they accused the government of harbouring. The government’s budgeted spending on all three Ministries was passed.