The ridicule and fears generated since the appointment of retired Justice James Patterson as Chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM), that the institution is void of credibility to deliver elections free of and from fear, have been discredited.
Instructively, those who led the nation to believe GECOM is allegedly being deliberately packed with African workers and is led by a person the Opposition dubbed incapable, witnessed an institution delivering results and its performance void of attacks. Professionalism, independence and competence, given opportunity and space, are not race, gender, age or other diversity specific. GECOM, in its present configuration and amidst the assaults, has proven so.
Voter turnout at last Monday’s Local Government Elections was very, very poor. An unfortunate situation, given that the achievement of the right to vote came through the long journey of struggles, paved with the loss of lives, the shedding of blood, sweat and tears.
When we fight for and achieve these milestones, the development of society relies on safeguarding, strengthening and enforcing the gains. Our vote is our voice in the electoral machinery, to appoint representatives to govern in our interest, and we must always be encouraged to exercise this voice. That notwithstanding, the politicians are seeking to justify the low attendance, while others gloat in what they consider to be a victory.
The poor attendance was expected and the results not surprising to those who had their ears to the ground. There are varying reasons for what happened on Monday. An examination will show APNU and the AFC, the groups in the Executive, neglected to hold their base and rally their supporters.
Very early in the administration, President David Granger abandoned the strongholds of the PNC and APNU, which he is the leader of. He made numerous trips to Regions One, Seven, Eight and Nine, with lesser attention paid to regions such as Region 10 – the Linden/Kwakwani location – which is one of the most, if not the most, politically vibrant communities that voted solidly for APNU in 2011 and 2015.
The APNU+AFC’s refusal to put in place a mechanism for the development of a Regional Economic Plan, emanating from the 21st August 2012 Agreement between the Region 10 RDC and Central Government, still echoes. The denial of Linden, by Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo, the return of the television station when at the same time he presided over the establishment of several broadcasting entities in the hinterland communities, is another mark against the groups.
The refusal by the coalition government to address the violation of the Guyana Constitution and transgressing of workers’ rights, by a group of foreigners employed at the Bauxite Company of Guyana Incorporated (BCGI), played a part in the affected workers and their families not wanting to hear any message coming from either of the groups.
Bauxite workers knew they were deprived by the PPP/C government and vigourouly fought successive PPP governments for such mistreatment. In 2015, the workers and their families resoundingly rejected that party and voted for the coalition, based on campaign promises that their rights would be respected and the 2012 Agreement honoured.
Across the country the promises for the creation of jobs and return of Collective Bargaining were believed by workers, the trade union community, and citizens. After APNU+AFC was given the mandate to implement what they promised, the leaders unashamedly said job creation was not their duty and sought to lay such responsibility at the feet of the private sector.
Every government shoulders the responsibility of creating the enabling environment for the state and social partners to work in unison in creating a viable economy from which jobs will flow. Whereas government is being commended for its diligent effort in rooting out the underground economy (narcotics trade), which created illegitimate wealth and other lawlessness, that made Guyana a pariah country in the international arena, it has to go a step further.
Government must know when the economy is being rid of bad money, it has to be replaced with a legitimate alternative programme. The failure to do this is resulting in the economy stuttering, adversely impacting workers/citizens.
We are witnessing minimal opportunities for productive participation and employment of the young who are leaving schools and university. Unemployment and underemployment remain sore issues. The belief and propagating of the message that every person can become an entrepreneur is unrealistic, and could be seen as abrogation of government’s responsibility to create the enabling environment for legitimate deployment of the nation’s people.
The protracted and unnecessary battles with teachers and public servants to respect their right to collective bargaining contributed to the apathy and rejection by workers and their families last Monday. The administration should not forget that the 50 percent and other increases paid to the President, his ministers and all the parliamentarians, in less than six months coming to office, while they continue to have a hostile and estranged relationship with the representatives of the working class (i.e. trade unions), to negotiate their remuneration package was also a factor to vote, withhold the vote, or give the vote to another.
In examining the restructuring of GuySuCo that resulted in the closure of some estates, the treatment of workers was unacceptable. Matters were handled without regard for due process, inclusive of respecting the established role of the sugar unions as an equal social partner, and clear contempt for the Collective Labour Agreement, and the Termination of Employment and Severance Pay Act. This particular mishandling presented the challenger (PPP/C) an upper hand and miniaturised the credibility of APNU and the AFC.
As for the elder/retired community, the generation closest to the struggle for the right to vote and who understands its potency, this demographic too can recount stories of being treated poorly. Taking away the subsidies in water and electricity from this vulnerable constituent, that lives on significant reduced income (pension), remains heartless.
I note the date designated for the Disciplined Services to vote recorded low turnout. I have written before about the error on the part of the coalition in removing the year-end bonus (i.e. one-month salary) this category of workers enjoyed for several years. To take away a direct economic benefit and not replace with another that is better, not only is it an economic attack on the workers but also their family structure.
As for the vendors, the Georgetown Mayor and City Council has treated them with scant regard, seeking to continue imposing its decisions and absent of their involvement. All this constituent has been experiencing is uncertainty and harassment which adversely impact their economic stability, the ability to plan and provide for their families.
When you attack a person’s economic surety it brings out the primordial instinct to retaliate as a form of defence in protecting one’s interest. Rights, including the right to work/earn, be treated with dignity and respect, and collective bargaining that would respect the value of negotiating wages/salary are sacred and must not be trifled or tampered with.
From a trade unionist standpoint, the clear message of the voters was -“why must I vote for a group (s) at the local level when at the national level no regard is being shown for me?”
Finally, where some have registered dissatisfaction by staying away or presenting another the opportunity to govern in their interest, politically it cannot be denied the PPP/C had a clear message and better ground game in mapping out communities and fielding candidates based on respective demographics, particularly in the challengers’ strongholds.
The Local Government Elections are over. The results and the elected representatives known, at least unofficially at the time of writing. These elections must serve as lesson for all, particularly APNU and the AFC, who believed winning was assured where they contested.
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