Sometimes when individuals have a captive audience, they talk as if peoples’ memories are short. Yesterday, one man demanded that race relations be put on the national agenda.
He should be reminded that race relations was always on the national agenda. But when the Coalition to which he had lent his support got into office, it downgraded the sharing of executive power to something call social cohesion which was simply about building good relations between groups without addressing the core concern of race relations – – the sharing of political and economic power.
The same gentleman in 2016 presented an interim report on constitutional reform. The expectation was that the recommendations contained in that report would have informed the contents of a Constitutional Reform Bill.
Across the political spectrum, it has long been touted that the key to improving race relations is constitutional, electoral and parliamentary reforms. The APNU+AFC promised such reforms in their 2015 Manifesto; no such reforms took place in the five years the Coalition ruled Guyana. No such reforms followed the interim report on constitutional reform.
The Coalition promised a Government of National Unity and said the Opposition would be involved in this government. When it got into office, it changed its tune and said that the Coalition was the government of National Unity.
The APNU+AFC Coalition promised to immediately appoint a Constitutional Reform Commission consisting of representatives of trades unions, the private sector, religious and faith-based organizations, women, youths, professional organizations and academia.
It said that the Commission would be tasked with “fashioning comprehensive reforms, for early implementation, designed to guarantee a democratic society free from the abuse of citizens by those in high office fuelled by the exercise of arbitrary powers and behaviour by the Executive which is inconsistent with the spirit and provisions of the Constitution.” This Commission has not materialized.
Race relations have never been off the national agenda. The issue has simply been put on the backburner by the same political forces which promised reforms.
These political forces are controlled by the middle class. It is the middle class which exercised effective control over the leadership of the government, the parliament and the political parties. They have done nothing to bring about reforms to improve race relations.
Middle class leaders and pretenders cannot be trusted to lead any process aimed at improving race relations. They are reformists who will offer a concession here and concession there but will never make the sort of substantive changes to address the core issues of who controls the state and the country’s economic resources. And so long as these issues are skirted, debated, and talked about, race relations will become meaningless platitudes touted occasionally to excite the masses.
The middle class in Guyana is not interested in sharing political power; it is only interested in hogging political power. But the problem is not just one of the lack of political will, it is also the issue of capability. The middle class leaders in Guyana love to talk about improving race relations and shared governance. But they have no answers as to what should be done.
Many of the loudmouths who bellow the need for power sharing, shared governance or inclusive governance cannot point to a single model around the world where this system works. And they have none to suggest. They are clueless on this score.
It is easy therefore to tout the need to put race relations on the national agenda. But where are the models which can be used to improve race relations. Those who want to propose improvements in race relations must advance a model which can be used. Not suggest another round of talk shops which will end up with yet another report which will gather dust in someone’s office.
They should ask David Granger about the abysmal failure of the Ministry of Social Cohesion which absorbed millions of dollars annually in government allocations and yet can point to very few success stories.
Suggestions such as having the political leaders visit communities to understand the alienation and distrust as well as to find creative ways to celebrate one’s ethnicity do not address the core issues– the control of power and access to resources which are at the heart of racial tensions in society.
The middle class is not interested in addressing such fundamental issues because this will slacken their grip on power. The talk about race relations therefore becomes an excuse for the continued control and command over political power and economic resources by the middle class.
Race relations will not improve until and unless the class problem is solved. A good step in that direction would be for the PPP/C and the PNC/R to agree to place all the resources of the country into a common holding for would be valued and shares issued to every citizen.
For every oil block, for every timber grant, for every bauxite and gold mine, for every inch of state land sold or public asset disposed, the people should benefit. This would give every person of every race a direct financial interest in the resources and the decisions over the use or allocation of these resources.
This is a radical model which places both economic and political power directly in the hands of the people. It addresses the core political and economic concerns of the respective races. But this is too radical a model for the middle class neo-liberalists who wish to keep the working class divided so that the middle class can continue to have its way.
(The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this newspaper.)
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