It was massive prolonged street protest in 1997, led by Leader of the Opposition Desmond Hoyte, that put in train actions to achieve a more inclusionary political culture. On 17th January 1998, President Janet Jagan and Mr. Hoyte, via the Herdmanston Accord, agreed to Constitutional Reform. That process, which saw the widest of nationwide consultation, led to amendments in the Constitution.
Citizens were clamouring for change and determined to move Guyana forward in a new direction. In this they had the support of both the Opposition PNC and Government PPP parliamentarians who voted for the amendments in the National Assembly. These were assented to by President Bharrat Jagdeo. Notable among which are- 1) a modernised political system as outlined in Article 13 and, 2) the clear establishment of basic human rights and freedoms as per Title 1.
Where there existed doubt as to roles, rights, involvement and responsibilities of Guyanese, as individual or group, with regards to how we treat with each other, the aforesaid declarations laid out a clear path. Had society received the required leadership in fortifying the Constitution, through legislation, the cries of all to be treated with dignity, and as equal and participating members, would have materialised.
Mr. Jagdeo was leading a young nation in the throes of political conflict, and the escalating nature of our ethnic tension and division needed to be corralled and eliminated. His was the rare opportunity to distinguish himself at that critical juncture in our history. Instead, he balked. I don’t know how it sits with him as the longest-serving president, under a new dispensation, who turned his back on the people when they needed him most.
At a promising time, he failed to ensure legislation to give meaning to Article 13. This article expressly states: “The principal objective of the system of the State is to establish an inclusionary democracy by providing increasing opportunities for the participation of citizens, and their organisations in the management and decision-making processes of the State, with particular emphasis on those areas of decision-making that directly affect their well-being.” Neither was there any new legislation to attend to Title 1 outside of the existing.
His government’s policies and programmes were fraught with allegations and evidence of exclusion, discrimination, marginalisation and recrimination. Basic rights such as freedom of assembly and association, the right to life, protection from discrimination on the grounds of race, and protection from inhumane treatment, could not be guaranteed.
It was sustained citizenry agitation to realise the changes fought for that in 2001, Mr. Hoyte was successful in getting President Jagdeo to sign an Agreement to address identified social, economic, cultural and political ills. Though society breathed a sigh of relief at this inclusionary act, and hoped for the best via implementation, Mr. Jagdeo reneged. The 2003 Communiqué he signed with Leader of the Opposition Robert Corbin suffered the same fate. Similar attitude was extended to non-governmental institutions.
On 8th March 2000 the Guyana Trades Union Congress (GTUC) signed an Agreement with his Government to advance its membership’s well-being, consistent with the trade union’s constitutional role in “national cooperation for the development of the economy” and its right to “participate in decision-making processes of the State” (Articles 38 and 149C). In spite of repeated efforts by GTUC to have the agreement implemented, the government refused to budge.
Thus, last Sunday at the PPP Election launch, when Mr. Jagdeo promised a PPP government will pursue “inclusionary democracy,” we must ask who was talking. There exists doubt he even believes what he is saying. And though constitutionally he cannot run for a third term, when he had the opportunity to deliver, he didn’t. He failed to deliver as President, Leader of the Opposition or Party Leader.
Were he serious, when he snagged the PPP parliamentary leadership from Donald Ramotar and party leader from Clement Rohee, he could have done something. These are positions of power and influence, and he could have played roles not unlike Dr. Cheddi Jagan, Mr. Hoyte and Mr. Corbin as Leader of the Opposition and their respective parties. Review of those men’s stewardship showed their studied efforts to realise benefits for their constituents and shape the nation’s body politics for a better Guyana.
His press conferences, be they condemnation, oversight or shouting ‘get out’ after the no-confidence motion, never communicated a belief in or desire for inclusionary democracy. Neither has he laid before the nation any proposal that could have transmitted to Guyanese, particularly those who voted for the PPP, that he was fighting for them to have their interest advanced by having a seat at the table. By his actions, Mr. Jagdeo has let down the party, its supporters and Guyana. And throughout these failures, Irfaan Ali stood beside him in silence.
Society recalls shortly after the Coalition (APNU+AFC) was elected, a team was put in place to engage the PPP on governance. The PPP scuttled the process by objecting to Prime Minister Nagamootoo’s presence as the leader, which constitutes transgressing the right of each team to choose its representative. The coalition sought to resuscitate the engagement, with President David Granger committing to lead the team. He took sick shortly after, then the no-confidence vote followed, and since then it has been nothing but bedlam coming from this PPP leader.
These are serious times, and all must be held to account for their stewardship. Our vote is of value, and we must not allow any to cheapen or demean same by taking us for granted or thinking they can pull wool over our eyes.
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