Cheddi Jagan was extremely proud of his government’s commitment to transparency and one of the most visible signs of this was his government’s ability to present the annual Auditor General’s Report after many years of default under the PNC regime. Indeed, the PPP/C has frequently leaned upon this fact as perhaps the most obvious symbol of PNC culpability and of its own commitment to openness and to stamp out the corruption that it claimed had pervaded the three decades of PNC rule. The fact that the PPP/C is willing to put this important plank of its legacy and propaganda at risk by appearing to tamper with the nature and work of the Auditor General’s Office, tells its own story and opens more space for the party to lose even greater ground at new elections.
Never again can the PPP/C stand on an election platform and proclaim that, notwithstanding the usual technical shortcomings of the annual Auditor General’s Reports, they represent an objective professional report of the nation’s accounts, and believe that such a proclamation will carry its historic level of authenticity. If, as some would have it, it was essentially its perceived corruption that caused so many of its supporters to desert it at the last elections, the PPP/C’s recent interference in the affairs of the Auditor General’s Office can only provide more grist to the mill of its detractors and greater opportunities for opposition mobilisation. The persons at present directing the regime cannot be regarded as being simply sufficiently loose-minded to compromise this historic legacy of the PPP/C if they did not believe that such a dilution was unavoidable.
This act serves to again draw attention to the fact that above all the noise the PPP/C has been making, the entire quarrel between the government and the opposition is rooted in the issue of transparency: the unwillingness of the regime to give the opposition full access to all national information and records. If it did anything, the regime’s attempt to mitigate the impact of this issue by broadcasting a structurally biased debate series on corruption only brought the issues of corruption and transparency more to the fore.
However, perhaps unbeknown to the regime, the burden of the discourses on corruption must have suggested to even the most ardent supporters of the PPP/C that the quarrel about transparency has little to do with their security and everything to do with the security of the party leadership. One must not underestimate the impact of this fact on the capacities of both the PPP/C and the opposition to mobilise.
Although the above establishes something of the constraining context within which the regime must operate, we must remember that many in its leadership believe – wrongly in my view – that its elections loss had little to do with issues of corruption but was essentially the result of party comrades not working sufficiently hard to get supporters to the polls, APNU’s racial play, which denuded it of its African support, and the novelty of the Moses Nagamootoo factor, which the leadership believes is unlikely to reoccur.
While recognising that the Alliance For Change took most of its new votes from traditional PPP/C areas, the party leadership bolsters its contention about the possible return of such votes by pointing to the fact that in 2006, disillusionment with the PNC led to many of its traditional supporters abandoning it, only to return to the fold during the last elections. Although in our context this analogy is not without some relevance, it fails to give sufficient weight to the fact that the PNC votes did not simply return to it as a result of its activists exerting more effort. The PNC had to reinvent itself as APNU, not simply to achieve a further electoral reach but also to imbue its supporters with the belief that the restructuring provided it with a better moral underpinning for building a nation.
So far, the PPP/C has done none of this because it is too concerned with short-circuiting the issues of transparency. It is thus left with a single important mobilisation tool: projecting itself as indispensible to the security of its traditional supporters in our bi-communal society. Thus, the old strategy of painting the opposition as dangerous and disruptive is very much in play from Linden to Agricola, in the pernicious reportage in the Chronicle and now with the budget.
One does not have to be a genius to appreciate that in normal democratic states, the present parliamentary dispensation would have made it incumbent on the government to put and keep in play a negotiating framework to get its work done and to move the country forward. The PPP/C knows this but has made no meaningful effort to engage the opposition. All we have been treated to is a yearlong series of blustering and humbug, which the party hopes will work to solidify its traditional supporters.
Yet, the PPP/C is today the only political party with a contracting support base. Its stance on the issue of transparency is unlikely to further endear it to its traditional supporters and most likely will alienate the younger and more educated members as they come to realise that their capacity to flourish and be secure rests in national cooperation and has nothing to do with the PPP/C’s monopolising political power. So far as APNU’s supporters are concerned, even the staunchest PPP/C supporter must admit that the party has done nothing in recent times to make itself more attractive to them; rather the opposite. After nearly two decades in office and with all the state resources at its disposal, the PPP/C has not been able dominate in the Amerindian areas. Indeed, the invincibility it attempted to project in such areas has been exposed; more and different opposition activists, with their tails up, are now on the ground and the PPP/C has nothing significantly new to offer.
Signs are that the opposition has become aware that the PPP/C is caught in this pincer and one would have thought that rather than becoming noisier, the latter would have sought the option of finding open and transparent ways to build cooperation and seriously negotiate the issue of transparency. Instead, the PPP/C appears to be holding to its faith on winning outright a new election that it is rather more than likely to lose. Of course, such an outcome will close the above option with dire consequences.