Dec 03, 2021 Letters
Kaieteur News – Editorials and commentaries published over recent months by mainstream and social media are plush with criticisms of the Irfaan Ali administration. If the criticisms are not dealt with in a timely and satisfactory manner, they have the potential of gaining traction. The criticisms can move from traction to action, jeopardising the country’s pot of good governance.
The criticisms in question refer principally to governance issues concerning;
1. Auditing the US$9.5 billion in ExxonMobil expenses;
2. Constitutional checks and balances;
3. Transparency and accountability; and
4. Meaningful consultations
To its credit, government recently announced that the US$9.5 billion will be audited. Since then, a call has been made to make the findings public. Governance concerns have also been expressed regarding; reconstituting the Integrity Commission, the Public Procurement Commission, allegations of conflict of interest and violations of the rule of law, acceptable standards of consultative democracy, as well as appointments to the Judicial and Police Service Commission. In the midst of all the noises, an accusation was made that government is “not interested in any form of good governance in the country’s nascent oil sector.” The bone of contention here is the Petroleum Commission Bill. Hovering in the background is the impending Local Content legislation. There is an expectation that following passage of the Local Content legislation, the institutionalisation of a civilian oversight body would be considered in the interest of good governance in the sector.
Still on governance in the oil sector, a number of questions have arisen at the national and regional levels indicating that some form of governance will be needed concerning ExxonMobil’s Yellow Tail discovery in the Stabroek Block and its environmental Impact. Because governance is an overarching phenomenon impacting every aspect of the social, political and economic life of a country, it was not surprising to see criticisms of government’s proposed amendments to the Representation of the People Act described as ‘woefully inadequate. ‘Following the firing of several salvos aimed at the proposed amendments, Mr. Anil Nandlall announced that; “More electoral legislation amendments are being crafted.”
The criticisms about governance, well intentioned or not, should not be dismissed whimsically. The days of newspapers influencing their readers are not yet over. Taken holistically, and assuming the criticisms will be driven principally by mainstream media, any dilly dallying by government can result in the gradual frittering away of hard-won democratic gains. All things being equal, the real question is, by making the public aware of these matters, shouldn’t such a practice be considered a norm in a parliamentary democracy? And must governments not have the right to formulate policies and implement programmes compatible with their elections manifesto?
Concomitantly, should the government not expect their policy initiatives and/or cabinet decisions to be scrutinised as a matter of public interest with the press, facilitating a back-and-forth public discourse? But the more fundamental question is, are the stakes higher for the electoral process or governance or both?
The electoral process is unquestionably an integral part of governance. However, after an election is over, governance assumes the pivotal factor, fundamental to every sphere of the executive’s engagement with the public.
In fact, in the light of Guyana’s experience, the governance factor assumes a defining role following the hard-won battle for a free and fair election result. In the aftermath therefore, it is not just governance per se, but good governance in politics and economics that will be at the forefront of the public’s mind. Deficits in governance persistently questioned by mainstream media, not-for-profit organizations, stakeholders and the political opposition can serve to undermine the gains of a free and fair election. What is right and what is not, is precisely where the contention resides. It is here where perceptions of backsliding, buttressed by claims such as; ‘Is this what we voted for?’ That ‘The PPP has returned to its old ways’ and defining the PPP/C administration as an ‘installed Regime.’ are attractive propaganda sound-bites that require strong but not one-off answers.
The public’s perception about government’s shortcomings is likely to be sustained by sections of the media, which will help to nourish traction and consolidate lingering suspicions that eventually become grist for calls to action. In the circumstances, criticisms of governance, if not addressed with a high level of nimbleness and adroitness, have the potential cumulatively, to sow distrust and discord amongst the populace. Moreover, the criticisms can become even more toxic when situated in the context of the Guyanese reality concomitant with the extant political and ethnic polarisation obtaining in the country.
But what is equally noticeable is the fact that these matters have provided oxygen to a much-discredited political opposition, which was caught red-handed trying to steal an election. But it is not only giving the opposition oxygen that is problematic, it is flabbergasting to say the least when we hear representatives of the APNU+AFC voicing concerns about transparency and accountability, as if their carpet is lily white with no blood stains decorating it. The bottom line, however, is when the rule of law is threatened or violated, irrespective of who is in government. The governance issue becomes a flash point making the gains won at a free and fair election easy to jeopardise.
Addressing these matters is both urgent and critical. The electorate voted for nothing short of good governance. In the circumstances, steps must be taken to address the concerns, but not by creating new concerns. The question of checks and balances in governance play an integral and defining role in any democracy, especially after a gruelling battle on all fronts. Experts say governance should be designed to enable state power to function effectively and efficiently while at the same time restraining those who control the levers of power from consciously or unconsciously violating Constitutional and legal safeguards.
This brings us to the important question of openness. In a memo on ‘Transparency and open government’ President Barack Obama put it this way: “My government is committed to creating an unprecedented level of openness in government. We will work together to ensure public trust and establish a system of transparency, public participation and collaboration. Openness will strengthen our democracy and promote efficiency and effectiveness in government.”
The counterargument may very well be that Obama’s memo on transparent and open government is exclusive to the US, but when examined from a global perspective, inherent in the memo are some precepts that are universal and applicable to any developing country struggling to maintain a stable democracy based on the rule of law and democratic governance.
Clement J. Rohee
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