By David Hinds
Not unexpectedly, there has been some hype in the media about the performance of the current government as it marked its third anniversary in office. The government itself set the tone with the publication of its long list of achievements since taking the reins of government in May 2015. No government has come under such intense pressure to perform as this one—not the first post-independence administration or the one that succeeded it after 28 years in charge.
By the time this Granger-led administration took office, Guyana had become a tired, dysfunctional country. No amount of hero-worshipping of our founding fathers could hide the fact that at the level of governance, Guyana has been a colossal failure.
There is nothing that we can hold up as an example to the rest of the world in that regard. Our country has been kept alive by the creativity and survival instincts of our people—the salt of our piece of earth. And even that near miracle by ordinary Guyanese has been compromised and tarnished by our dreadful and dreaded politics.
Yes, there have been moments of light along the way, but those have been quickly blown out and away by the dreaded hand of power. The Burnham government started the rut and the Jagdeo government performed the rites. So, when the APNU+AFC government took office, many of us could have been excused for expecting too much from it. After all, we had slid so far down the valley of failure, many thought we couldn’t go further down the slippery slope.
By 2015, the world had moved on—the Cold War had ended, and the charismatic leadership of the early post-independence era no longer held sway. More and more, the so-called Third World countries were being forced to fend for themselves in a hostile world which, according to David Rudder, “don’t need islands no more.”
One of the small manifestations of light ironically occurred in our ethnic politics. While ethnic politics remained Guyana’s major challenge, sections of the two major groups had from 2006 showed a willingness to rebel against their ethnic parties. A small section of Indian Guyanese took that plunge in 2011 and 2015 and together with a fired-up African Guyanese electorate, they produced results that denied the PPP of their “assured majority.”
In other words, a small majority of the electorate caused an electoral revolution by voting for a coalition of parties. They voted for something new—not for the PNC or AFC or WPA, but for a Partnership of Parties. Unlike the 1964 PNC-UF coalition, which was a post-election arrangement, this one was a pre-election pact. To my mind, this notion of a partnership government made the difference in 2011 and 2015.
It is against that background that I have argued that the current government has a historic duty to break with the old politics and repay the electorate with something fresh and hopeful. Those who voted for the Coalition could not have voted for a resumption of the old politics. Half of the electorate had used their vote to give Guyana a chance to redeem itself after six decades of failure. One could feel it in the air and see it in the joyful faces that took to the streets in mass thanksgiving in the weeks following the election. David Granger, by no means a charismatic leader, was elevated into a political rock-star.
Now, just three short years later, our country has lost hope again. The government that came to power with such mammoth goodwill has turned out to be the most unimaginative since independence. It has given Guyana nothing big and transformative to hold on to. It governs as if it has no sense of its own place in history. Its laudable vision outlined in its election manifesto has not been translated into policy. It stumbles from one political error to another. It is a coalition government that governs like a single-party government
Its start in office will be remembered for the massive pay-raise it gave to its members and its three-year anniversary will be remembered for its senseless attempt to muzzle two lowly newspaper columnists, followed by the invocation of an old sedition law aimed at stopping people from criticizing the government on the internet. In between these, the economic insecurity and other challenges facing ordinary Guyanese have continued.
This is not to say that there have not been some positive signs and acts these past three years. But these have been routine things which all governments do. And in any case, they have been overshadowed by the host of negatives which I have discussed in other columns.
The big question is why has a government from which so much was expected, delivered so little. The answer to my mind lies in the government’s management of power. This is Guyana’s most politically inexperienced cabinet and the cabinet is the only decision-making body in government. So, you have an inexperienced cabinet making decisions for a government that is expected to be transformative. Through no fault of their own, most cabinet members have not had a history of political struggle.
In other words, the worst performance of the government has been the lack of consultation within its ranks. There has been no consultation within APNU, and between APNU and the AFC. APNU hardly meets, and there is no forum for APNU and AFC meetings outside of Cabinet. The coalition parties do not participate in deliberations on government action.
The lack of involvement of the parties outside of the cabinet has severely hurt the government. Had there been meaningful consultations, many of the mistakes could have been avoided. Most of the political experience and brains of the PNC and WPA is not in Cabinet.
A vivid example of this problem lies in the management of the oil sector. For example, one party member who has studied and written more about oil and who is available to the government has never been consulted in all the negotiations that have taken place. It took the Minister almost a year to meet with the WPA, a coalition partner, to discuss the contract with Exxon Mobil.
It is, therefore, difficult not to conclude that after three years of this government, we are back to square one. I get the sense that those in power are expecting the coming of the oil economy to be a sort of magic wand which would mask the failures of the last three years. I respectfully beg to differ.
More of Dr. Hinds’ writings and commentaries can be found on his YouTube Channel Hinds’ Sight: Dr. David Hinds’ Guyana-Caribbean Politics and on his website www.guyanacaribbeanpolitics.news. Send comments to [email protected]
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