Feb 24, 2021 Editorial
Kaieteur News – There is one great story that is often used to establish the fundamental mythos of American democracy. It goes like this, as most recently told by House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi: “On the final day of the Constitutional Convention in 1787, when our Constitution was adopted, Americans gathered on the steps of Independence Hall to await the news of the government our founders had crafted. They asked Benjamin Franklin, ‘What do we have, a republic or a monarchy?’ Franklin replied, ‘A republic, if you can keep it.’”
The fundamental concept of a Republic is simple – it is a representative system in which people exercise power through their elected representatives, sometimes complementary to the more basic concept of democracy in which people are ruled by a government elected by a majority of eligible voting citizens of a country. In more homogenous societies, the distinction might be lost but in a multicultural, multiethnic polity like Guyana, specific representation matters. This was at least in part the thinking – whatever the actual outcome was – when then Prime Minister [and Head of Government] Forbes Burnham took the country to Republic status on February 23, 1970.
The political system that evolved from that time to now – for all its flaws – has been designed at least on paper to give meaning to the official full name of this country, The Cooperative Republic of Guyana. The Parliamentary session held on Monday, Twentieth Sitting of the Twelfth Parliament of Guyana, Day 1 of the “Debates” for Budget 2021, held the day before the 51st anniversary of the celebration of our status as a Republic, was a betrayal of any aspiration to a cooperative republic. As reported in our coverage yesterday, the session was primarily not typified by any intelligent, deliberative consideration or interrogation of the actual budget being put forward for 2021 and the programmes it is meant to cover.
What took place in the National Assembly instead was primarily empty theatrics, the presentation of patently false information, poor research, boorish behaviour that went far beyond any established definition of heckling, overt homophobia ironic in that was exercised by both sides of the house, blatant race-baiting parading as racial representation and general behaviour unbecoming for/of political representatives of the citizens of a republic.
Yesterday, primarily because of COVID-19 restrictions, for the first time since its inception, the festival celebration of our Republic anniversary, Mashramani, was non-existent. Still, it should be noted that there was also no real attempt at framing the why, the rationale, the value of our continuing to keep the Republic going outside of the partying. The virtual ghost town that was Georgetown on a day, which we are accustomed to camaraderie and celebration was fittingly analogous to the macabre decline that was the parliamentary session that took place the day before.
We need no more lessons in the fragility and corruptibility of our fundamental democratic institutions in 2021. The year 2020 was encyclopaedic in that regard, a stark reminder of how many things have to be fixed in order for us to keep our republic intact.
There was one bright light on Monday. Newly minted Minister of Housing and first-time Parliamentarian, Susan Rodrigues started off her budget presentation by first expressing disappointment in the poor intellectual quality of the debates, before going on to deliver a tour de force parliamentary performance that was, as it should be, a fact-based representation of her political side, a brutal deconstruction of the faults of the opposing arguments, and a framing of her portfolio within the larger national developmental agenda. Equally important, she did so with great decorum. As the debates continue over the next week or so, that is the standard that her colleagues in the house should aim for.
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