Yesterday , May 11, marked the fourth anniversary of the coming to power of the APNU+AFC Coalition Government. The government and one of its constituent parties, the AFC, have issued statements which highlight the achievements of the administration. Since the PNC has not issued a separate statement, one can assume that the government’s statement reflects the views of that party.
The WPA is not usually consulted by the government or APNU on such matters, and because there is no consensus among that party’ s leadership on the Coalition’s tenure, the public is not likely to hear from Rodney House.
It is safe to say that by the time the fifth anniversary comes around, a new government would be in place—either the Coalition would be re-elected, or the PPP would be returned to power. So, this anniversary takes on added significance—it is the last anniversary for the Coalition to make its case for re-election.
Towards this end, the government’s statement is important. The statement skillfully tries to make the case that no other government since independence has done so much for the country in its first four years. It enumerates a long list of achievements in the areas of public infrastructure, on human rights and press freedom and strides in “social cohesion”.
The AFC’s statement concentrates on what it refers to as “developmental” issues particularly in the area of public infrastructure.
I have no quarrel with the government celebrating its achievements—that is what governments and governing parties do. And since we are into the election season, it is quite in order for them to make their pitch to the electorate, even if they inflate their performance. It is also in order for them to compare themselves to the previous government. In this regard, the government’s statement was quite strong—it draws attention to its success in putting breaks on the criminalized-narco State which took root under the previous government.
Although the AFC statement admitted that more could have been done, neither statement highlighted the challenges the government faced and how it dealt with sensitive issues. To do so would have been unprecedented. But, as I read the statements, I thought they missed an opportunity to pre-empt the opposition, by trying to put into context their unfulfilled promises and the errors in judgement. So, I believe the statements spoke to the faithful, but ignored that critical and skeptical constituency which is going to be critical to the Coalition’s chances of retaining the government.
For me, the Coalition has indeed done a fairly good job in the area of human rights—it has not expanded the police state it met, even if it has not dismantled it. For the first time since independence we have not seen a government locking up opposition members for their political activities or shooting them down in the streets. This is a significant achievement. Had it been matched by similar achievements in the economy, in race relations and in constitutional reform, we could have witnessed some small degree of social transformation.
In the final analysis, Guyana’s biggest challenges lie in its institutionalized poverty, in its entrenched ethnic insecurity, in its overpowering authoritarian state and in an insane government intolerance of dissent. After almost six decades of independence, we have not mustered the necessary will and vision needed to arrest these endemic problems. Party politics and its attendant ethno-political tribalism have stood in the way of this will and vision.
The history of slave-bondage and colonialism meant that political independence had to be a project grounded in social, economic and political transformation—turning plantations into viable nation-states in a world that is inhospitable to such projects. Institutionalized economic poverty, socio-economic inequality, undeveloped political institutions, ethnic insecurity and fear are barriers to transformation—they have to be overcome. Any serious government must tackle those deformities.
The Burnham government, as the first post-colonial government, logically had to confront the need to transform the society from its sordid past. It attempted to tackle the problem by initiating some revolutionary policies, but lost its way when it opted for authoritarian rule, electoral malpractice and party paramountcy.
The PPP government that followed totally ignored social transformation and opted to criminalize the authoritarian state it inherited as it promoted elite accumulation of wealth within the context of ethnic domination. So, by the time the Coalition took power in May 2015, it was saddled with the burden of turning the country in the opposite direction.
The movement towards a plural form of government, in the form of the Coalition, promised to break with the old politics and pave the way for the necessary creative social and political engineering. But the experience of the last four years has shown that we have not reached that level of maturity in our politics. The plural intent of the voters has not been matched by a similar intent on the part of the leaders, who found it difficult to balance party interests with a national-plural praxis. So, the Coalition in government was at best an uncomfortable patchwork of parties and individuals with no pretense of transformation.
It is that transformation that the unrepentant PPP feared the most. For, the more transformational the country’s political economy becomes, the more difficult it is for the PPP and the old PNC to continue to traffic in the old politics. A transformation in the economic direction of the country, in our ethnic politics, in our notion of democratic governance, would inspire new thinking within the population, which would in turn serve as a barrier to political backwardness.
The electorate must be wary of returning the PPP to power by itself in a socio-political environment that has not undergone any transformation. In a strange way, Mr. Jagdeo’s recent statement that the mistakes of the Coalition have made it easier for the PPP to return to power has some logic to it. But I want to pose a different logic. The limited success of the Coalition in bringing about large transformation, ironically is the reason it should be returned to office.
Let me explain. I rather a government that puts a break on the criminalized State than one that would expand such a state. I prefer a government that would not shoot at opposition protestors than one that would not hesitate to order the police to shoot.
The current environment of neo-liberal economics combined with precarious constitutional arrangements and extreme ethnic fear is ready-made for the PPP to resurrect the criminalized state and ethno-political domination.
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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