The news emanating from the Guyana Chronicle regarding the reinstatement by decree of the General Manager is most sickening.
There are three things that I must get out of the way. First, party leaders and activists have a right to work whether their party is in or out of power. Second, it is to be expected that any party coming to power will distribute jobs to the party faithful. Third, all governments make errors of judgment, especially as it relates to the management of power.
I say the above in order to make the larger point that the business of governance is a complex phenomenon that must be appreciated by those who govern, those who elect the governors, and those who critique the governors.
Politicians are humans first and always, and as such are prone to potential and real human flaws. But there are some flaws that are more easily avoidable than others. The flaw that led to the ugliness that has emanated from the political management of the Guyana Chronicle since this government took office was avoidable. And that flaw is this—those who have held political office in Guyana have governed as if the power that comes with being in government is primarily personal power which should be used in personal ways.
Since the party is the means by which the individual assumes power, there has been over a period of time, a conflating of the personal with the party and the party with the government. In other words, there are no walls of separation between them.
While the constitution and other forms of rules are meant to construct walls of separation, these easily become victims of the personalisation of political power. And in societies like Guyana, the notion of the messianic leader coupled with the highly emotional ethno-racial political identification ensures that the maximum leaders are given cover by “the people.” There is, therefore, little constraint on the personalisation of power.
This state of affairs has over time become normative and ultimately part of the elite political culture. The problem with entrenched political cultures is that they drive political thought and action—they become political truth. Our leaders, then, accept the personalisation of political power as the right and proper approach. They go beyond the authority of their positions in government and act simply because they have the political and personal scope to do so.
It is against this backdrop that I view the happenings at the State-owned newspaper. It is clear that the political actors make no distinction between State, Government, Party and the Person. They intentionally and unintentionally conflate the State and Government. Therefore, they believe that the newspaper is owned by the government and if that is so, then the party that forms the government owns it too, and the party leader that heads the ministry under which it falls is the ultimate owner.
I know the Prime Minister knows the difference between party and State. I also know that at one point in his political life, he frowned on the paramountcy of the party over the State. Since his actions on the Duncan matter have all the markings and makings of paramountcy of the party, then one must ask whether his political outlook has changed. And if it has, what is responsible for this change? Has the Prime Minister acted as party leader or government leader with responsibility for a State entity?
Others have made the linkage between the PM’s action and the internal politics of the AFC. Even without intimate knowledge of the AFC’s internal politics, I find the linkage persuasive.
Let’s ask a few more questions. When the Chronicle’s Board of Directors by majority vote took a decision to uphold the Editor’s decision to discontinue the columns by Lincoln Lewis and me, why didn’t the PM order an investigation? Why didn’t he use his power to rescind the Board’s decision? Why to this day has the PM not uttered a public word on the removal of the columns? Why hasn’t the PM not contacted me to express a private view on the matter? What is so different in principle between the Hinds/Lewis case and the Duncan case to make the PM act so drastically different?
These are, of course, rhetorical questions—I think I know the answers. In any case, I would be more than surprised if the PM makes any public utterances on matters arising from this column. Everyone knows that Lincoln and I are not AFC members, and as such the PM would not have felt compelled to intervene on our behalf—he intervenes only on behalf of the party faithful.
Most of the State Media has become AFC’s territory—shamelessly so. I say shamelessly, because although I think parties will always find jobs in government for their members and are justified to some extent in doing so, it is my studied view that there is too much AFC domination of the State Media.
This has rendered those media mouthpieces of the government and the Coalition parties, in ways that are often very painful to digest, even for some government supporters like myself. As a columnist, I never thought my column should have been used as a propaganda or public relations medium for the government or Coalition.
In other words, I do not think the party member should use his or her position in the State Media to serve the needs of the government and party.
This partisan population of the State Media have hurt those entities—people don’t take them seriously, as can be gleaned by their circulation and viewership relative to other media houses. One feels for non-party workers at those entities, whose professional growth is hampered by the ceaseless censorship and self-censorship and political policing by party members.
Now with the Duncan affair, we see the Chronicle becoming a political pawn in the AFC’s internal politics. This is very unhealthy and embarrassing for a government, which has the historical responsibility to turn its face and Guyana away from such primitive forms of governance.
The PM should not have over-ruled the Board’s decision to save the job of a party member whose presence at the Chronicle is not pivotal to the positive transformation of that newspaper. In other words, Duncan’s reinstatement does not benefit the government in any positive way. From all indications, it seems as if it benefits a faction within the AFC.
The Board members who resigned around the Lewis/Hinds controversy and the more recent Duncan scandal should be congratulated. At least some people are still capable of taking courageous stands against the naked, brutal exercise of power.
That said, I still want to remember the Nagamootoo who was singular among PPP leaders of the 1970s in mounting WPA platforms, which were then targets of the might of the State Military and Police and other para-state organs of violence. I still prefer to remember the Nagamootoo who walked out on Jagdeo’s bullyism than the Nagamootoo who unashamedly used political power in personal and partisan ways.
I am in favour of the continuation of a State Media. I feel such media can play a mediating and liberating role in a media landscape populated by private agendas and political propagandising.
The role of the State Media is not witness for the PNC, PPP, AFC, WPA, ANUG or APNU—it is to give the nation a perspective that transcends the narrow agendas of those parties and the private media. Sadly, the Prime Minister has not used his power in this regard. He has not led the revolutionising of the State Media and turned them into modern entities that ask questions of power and help cultivate a nation that is ready to free itself from the chains of its past.
In the final analysis, I weep for my Guyana. Are we doomed forever to be locked in the backward political cultures we inherited from our tormentors? When will we throw up leaders who have the courage to choose principle, virtue and country over frivolous personal and partisan interests? Have we no shame in justifying the “Third World” label by our actions when given the power of the people? What benefit is the return of the Coalition to power if the price is the continued underdevelopment of our political culture and forms of governance?
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