In 2010, a group of Buxtonions invited the then President, Bharrat Jagdeo, to Buxton and afforded him a lavish welcome. This was after President Jagdeo had described Buxtonions in very unflattering terms and his government had presided over the criminalization of the village, as they sought to combat the politico-criminal project that was embedded there. The visit was met with divided opinion in the village and some of the scars are still felt to this day.
I publicly opposed the visit on the grounds that Mr. Jagdeo should not be welcomed among African Guyanese who felt the heavy boots of his authoritarian regime, and in the process, were systematically marginalized. I expressed dismay that my fellow villagers would issue the invitation. Mr. Jagdeo took offence to my stance and launched an attack on me, including the veiled and not so veiled charge that I was being a racist. He claimed that as President of Guyana, he was free to visit any community. Some prominent Buxtonions agreed with him and chastised me.
A year later, during the 2011 election campaign, the PPP turned up for a meeting in Buxton and they were promptly expelled by Buxtonions. I had nothing to do with what was a spontaneous act by frustrated villagers, but I supported my fellow villagers and defended them against PPP charges that they were hooligans
I recounted those two incidents to remind Guyana that Mr. Jagdeo and the PPP are strong defenders of the right of the president and the government to visit any community, regardless of how that community feels about them. So, I was more than a little surprised when a few weeks ago, Mr. Jagdeo urged his supporters to chase and harass the president and his ministers when they visit their communities. His justification is that the government was illegal.
The PPP government was mean to me personally. I was denied employment; I was blacklisted at the airport. I was denied access to the State Media. And I think if they return to power, they would resume those actions. There is something about the PPP’s politics that thrives on revenge. It is for that reason that I cannot support that party’s return to power. But I will defend Mr. Jagdeo’s right to engage in sharp political polemics.
Although his rhetoric at Babu Jaan was extreme, I do not think Mr. Jagdeo has committed any crime. Yes, his rhetoric could possibly lead to attacks on government officials, but I can list many statements by government ministers that could have led to attacks on opponents.
Most African Guyanese have a combination of disdain and fear for Jagdeo and the PPP. So, I am sure that they rejoiced when the news broke that Mr. Jagdeo was being questioned by the police about his instructions to his supporters. I understand the need for revenge, but I cannot support the police action against the opposition leader.
I have said on several occasions that this government has the best human rights record of all our post-colonial governments. This is the first government that has not presided over a police state. Going after Jagdeo for his statements at Babu Jaan will sully that record; it will play into the hands of those who are pushing the narrative that the government is dictatorial. So, I call on the police to leave Mr. Jagdeo alone.
Does this government have the appetite to do what it takes to curb corruption?
I think there is, among some sections of the APNU+AFC, an appetite for curbing corruption. I really do think there is sincerity on this issue. But that appetite is impeded by a lack of political will. I agree with Mr. Ralph Ramkarran that because the thing has become endemic, it consumes all facets of the society, including the very agencies that are being relied on to curb it. So, the appetite also clashes with the enormity of the problem.
Partisan considerations keep getting in the way of doing what is necessary to effectively tackle this difficult problem. Because corruption has such deep roots in the society, curbing it requires a comprehensive approach. This would mean that some party members and supporters would get fingered in the process. But the political culture does not allow for this—party comrades who are loyal to the party are often protected.
The other barrier is the linkage of official wrongdoing to ethnicity and ethnic empowerment—ethnic imperatives get in the way. The PPP, while in government, encouraged corruption among its constituency, and the current government is under pressure to do likewise, in the name of levelling the ethnic playfield.
And this is where the problem gets very sticky, because the parties don’t want to be perceived as standing in the way of “ethnic empowerment”. There is a tendency to see the corruption of one’s party or ethnic group as less horrifying than that of the opposite party and group.
Third, governments of all parties have not shown the political and intellectual capacity needed to solve the underlying causes of corruption—poverty, unequal social and ethnic distribution of wealth, weak government institutions, inadequate compensation for government and state employees among others. There is a kind of intellectual and political laziness that passes for governance which has in turn failed to grasp the complexity of a country like Guyana. We come from a complex history which requires more nimbleness and creativity from leaders.
Finally, governments by their very nature are seldom agents of fundamental change. Those have to be imposed on them. This is where our Civil Society organizations come in. And I don’t think most of them are interested in corruption as a core problem. We have too many single-issue organizations which do not see the linkage between their immediate causes and something as egregious as corruption. It is a very sad failing.
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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