There are concerns within this society that the APNU+AFC Government is either tone-deaf or doesn’t pay critical attention to its campaign commitment vis-à-vis its day-to-day management of the people’s business and the treatment of the people. It is not lost on me making public these concerns, in some quarters I’d be labelled anti-government, pro-PPP/C, or expected to shut up, on the pretext that the government should be given a chance.
A fundamental element, either being lost sight of or ignored, is that government should be accountable to the people and to critique its performance does not mean being anti-government or giving government a hard time. Critique means the exercise of civic duty in ensuring the tenets of good governance are pursued and upheld and the administration’s contract with the people, that secures its presence in office, is being honoured.
Currently there exists an impasse between the Government, as the employer, and the Guyana Teachers’ Union (GTU) as it relates to the negotiating of a Benefit Package. In Opposition, David Granger in several public appearances unequivocally stated and promised that teachers would be the highest paid public servants, education is integral to development, and under a Granger-led administration teachers would not be shortchanged. Mr. Granger is now President and the teachers, justifiably, are looking forward to movement in such direction.
According to the Guyana Constitution, the President has Executive responsibility. Ministers, including the prime minister and vice presidents, are the office-holder advisers and assistants. The buck stops at on the desk of the President, for the ultimate responsibility for the management of the Executive is his/hers.
The issue before us on the teachers’ pay is not whether they are being made the highest paid workers or not, but the failure of the Granger/Moses Nagamootoo administration in constructively engaging the Union in conducting negotiations to realise the commitment given for raise of pay.
The teachers’ call for the implementation of the recommended package that came out of the task force set up on the President’s directive, and constantly being told that it is with the Minister of Finance, is far from what is considered acceptable. The promise, acceptance and established of that Task Force Committee represents a contract with the teachers, which came after the Union threatened strike action almost three years after the administration entered office. With the act by the government of not meeting with the Union in an atmosphere void of rancour and mistrust, it has only itself to blame.
Taking an individual perspective – as a trade unionist when the commitment was given by government to establish the task force it was viewed as an act to defuse the strike, not an intention to honour any commitment to pay salary increases consistent with the repeated promise made prior to May 2015. I’d wish to be proven wrong.
This country has seen previous governments making decisions as it relates to workers and their benefits with a high degree of alacrity. On many occasions those decisions were made within eight to 72-hours to avoid loss of trust, which inevitably leads to clashes and breeds rancour. The government needs to change its attitude in dealing with workers’ issues.
There is an issue the workers will never forget and always refer to when their interest is being ignored. It has to do with this administration, less than three months in office, giving itself sizeable increases, from the President right down to the junior ministers and Members of Parliament.
The rank and file workers were told by the government spokesperson that this was to avoid corrupt practices by them. Teachers and other public servants should be no less deserving, especially when government repeatedly says it’s serious about stamping out corruption. In normal circumstances in employment, before any pay increase can be entertained, the probationary period (90 days or three months) had to completed and an evaluation done, but government does not see itself tied to this industrial relations practice.
Another case in point is the treating of the Berbice Bridge issue. The average Guyanese is conscious that the determination for its construction was one influenced by strong political consideration, and for this reason there may be severe weaknesses in the economic determination. The society is aware that the opposition at the time held serious misgivings about the project, but today the opposition is in government and cannot behave or respond to the challenges confronting the bridge management in the same manner as when in the opposition.
This bridge has significant investment from the National Insurance Scheme (NIS), the workers’ money, and it also pays a significant role in on our communication network. Regardless of the politics and animosity between the government and opposition, it is expected that government will lead the way in making sure that this entity survives, becomes viable, and the return on the workers’ investment is guaranteed.
It was therefore disturbing to witness the type of responses from officials to this critical issue. Though this bridge was constructed during the Bharrat Jagdeo presidency, he is not in the driving seat to fix the problems. Calling on him to answer questions may garner political scores, but it remains the responsibility of this administration and it must act accordingly.
Society has reason to be concerned that this administration is copying some of the misconduct of the PPP/C government officials they condemned when they were in the opposition. The toucheous clutch and intolerance to critique, no manner how constructive and who it is coming from, must be replaced with examining the merit and demerit of the message not the messenger.
Sometimes in the most unlikely of quarters and source a thought is uttered, an idea sparked. Open-mindedness is key to receiving this and a necessary approach to development. This thing of wanting silence, having persons kowtow or agree even when wrong is counterproductive to development and leadership. Leadership requires listening, being able to self-critique, and tap into good ideas – regardless from whence they come-in order to steer the ship and achieve the set objectives.
And this brings me to the point of Freddie Kissoon’s question to me about speaking to the Prime Minister on the Guyana Chronicle’s decision to discontinue my column. I said to Freddie, I’ll have nothing to tell Moses Nagamootoo whenever I see him. My position has a twofold thinking- 1) Moses is the subject minister of Chronicle and he would have been party to the decision and; 2) were he thinking differently, he has within his power the authority to rescind the decision. I cannot be bothered to encourage what should be discouraged in those who offer themselves for leadership or ought to know better.
Persons who are elected to office have entered into a contract with the people, are paid by the people, and are expected to deliver on the people’s behalf. Citizens must remember their responsibility to hold leaders accountable and treat them accordingly as paid servants not masters.
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