The international community must be wary of Guyana. Ever since 1989, the international community has been engaged in promoting economic liberalism, democracy, good governance and stability.
The international community must be credited with success in terms of the first two goals which are in keeping with the political and economic model which they wish to perpetuate in countries moving from state-centric political and economic systems. However in terms of good governance and stability, the West must be disappointed that their efforts have not worked as they would have wished.
The West had assumed that what worked in developed societies would have worked here. It had diagnosed, quite correctly, that national institutions were weak in two regards. They needed to be improved and made modern, and second, the necessary skills to make them function were lacking.
This diagnosis informed two sets of policy responses: firstly, was the need to recapitalize and improve systems within national institutions. This process is what they termed institutional strengthening. The second process was the need to attract and retain the skills necessary for the effective functioning of the machinery of administration. This process was known as capacity-building.
The diagnosis was right but the West misread the situation and assumed that it would have been easy to simply transplant these processes into developing countries which did not have a culture of strong and stable national institutions.
It was like building on shifting sands. It has not worked because in small societies there are other things that intervene and loosen the very foundations of sturdiness upon which solid institutions are needed.
This is why despite the legislative and institutional reforms, despite the millions that were poured into project aimed at creating workable ministries and departments, good governance remains elusive.
But it is in the political realm that the West has had its greatest failures in Guyana. Elections are crucial to the model of democracy that the West wishes to support its neo-liberal policies in Guyana. And elections in Guyana have come with a huge price tag for the West. Billions has to be spent each year by the West to keep the election machinery intact.
In no other part of the world is the donor community required to plug so much resources into the holding of free and fair elections. Considering the size of the population, it must be frustrating to the West that each time there is an election, there is always a range of contentious issues and settling these issues requires the West to dole out billions of local dollars to support the electoral process.
And still by the time the next election comes around, there are a number of issues which have to be addressed in order to have elections which would not lead to political protests and instability.
The West has made a huge investment in Guyana. And its patience must be stretched then by its constant engagement in issues which ought to have been settled by now. The West has also plugged billions of dollars in constitutional and parliamentary reforms; it has supported the stakeholders’ process and the various political engagements aimed at creating stability and cohesion in Guyana.
And yet every few years a new round of reforms has to be funded. Like the problems of Guyana, the solutions have no ending.
What must have most disappointed the West, however, must have been its failure to animate local civil society, something that is seen as critical to offset the dominant role of political parties and an effective vehicle to conceal the interests of the bourgeoisie class.
Civil society has remained leashed to the existing interests within society. It has found neither a voice nor a vessel through which it can emerge, and so long as it remains in this state of embryonic growth, the neo-liberal model will remain underdeveloped in Guyana.
Yet there is a solution to both the problem of civil society development and good governance. The views of civil society are not being heard and recognised because there is no vehicle for them to air their concerns.
At the same time, the government remains unresponsive to the wider concerns of society and does very much as it pleases, knowing that it does not need to hold itself accountable for its actions.
What we lack in Guyana are credible and regular opinion polls. If we had these polls then the government would have been hard pressed to ignore the concerns of the wider society. A great many things that are happening would not be happening had there been credible opinion polls gauging and measuring the reaction of the public.
What Guyana needs to animate the voice of civil society and help improve good governance is for funding for a credible local polling organisation, one that is independent of the political parties and the government.
This organisation would help the policymakers have a better understanding as to how exactly the people feel and give popularity ratings not only of the various political actors but also of policies.
It would allow civil society a voice and encourage persons and organisations to take a more active stand on issues in Guyana, knowing that the acceptance of those positions can be measured by the pollsters.
Before the ABC countries wash their hands of Guyana and deem their investments in the political and economic realms a failure, they should give serious thought to funding a credible polling organisation in Guyana so that the public voice can be heard, not through the filters of the political parties but through the opinions of the people themselves as captured by the polling organisation.
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