Six wasted months
A full six months after the general elections of November 28, 2011 the people who voted – no matter which party – must be hard pressed to find anything positive flowing from the casting of their vote. Those who didn’t bother to exercise their franchise must be even more comforted in their decision.
Perhaps the reality genre could inspire a popular show here on the biggest winners and losers from November 28 and plot their progress on a weekly basis. It would likely be a tale of bluster, rhetoric and failure with very little hope for comprehensive change.
Yet, the results of November 28 have gifted the Guyanese people with an opportunity to radically transform the way the country is run and which transformation could potentially bring much improvement to the lives of thousands of the disadvantaged and poverty-stricken.
Unfortunately the last six months have been completely dominated by the politicians – consummate and mediocre – with the end result being cauldrons of divisive venom, a slew of lawsuits in the notoriously pedestrian law courts, the historic cut of the budget which has made political divisions razor sharp and a volley of motions in Parliament whose impact will likely be negligible.
Analysts will undoubtedly `gotay’ the happenings to decipher which side is having a better go of it and is better positioned for the way ahead and possible snap polls. Whatever matrix is employed it will be clear that it is the people of the country who are being short-changed and that the nurturing of the democratic project is at a standstill even though the world around is moving inexorably on a much elevated plane and, for example, the foreign-owned extractive companies are aggressively pursuing this country’s riches while the internal squabbling drones on.
While there will be many variants, conventional wisdom would agree that the longer the government is able to fend off appeals and campaigns by the opposition for transformative change the better its position would be in the longer term. The government could simply wait out the opposition and blame it for the malaise as it is already doing. It’s for the opposition to show what its slim majority can achieve in Parliament for real improvement of ordinary citizens but not in the manner in which it secured the budget cuts. While the budget cuts have been sensibly explained by the opposition they have played right into the hands of the government which never loses the opportunity to propagandize. Further, the cuts in themselves are not going to improve anything for the average Guyanese. If anything there may even be job losses. What the opposition needs to be able to do is to clinch transformative change of the magnitude of the budget cuts but with the ruling party and government fully on board.
Of course, the person with the greatest ability to achieve this transformation is President Ramotar. Unfortunately, his performance over the six months has been deeply disappointing. He has not asserted himself and set a course for the country particularly given the “uncharted” waters that his Minister of Finance and other senior officials have referred to. His public presentations have been low-key, uninspiring and without any broader or sweeping vision for addressing the special circumstances that the country has found itself in. Instead he seems cocooned by minders like the Luncheons and Teixeiras and the ever present spectre of former President Jagdeo. The country has no real sense of what a Ramotar presidency intends and whether he will seize the opportunities offered by the loss of control of Parliament to catapult the quality of governance of the country and try to heal the various clefts in the national fabric.
The country has been a repeat victim of bad faith political negotiations in crowded theatres. The separate dialogues conducted by former President Jagdeo with the late former President, Mr Hoyte and the present PNCR Leader Mr Corbin are perfect examples of this. What is needed urgently is for the three leaders: President Ramotar, Mr Granger and Mr Ramjattan to sit down for hard-nosed talks on what the priorities for the remainder of this term should be and how to put the country first. Mr Ramotar is in the perfect position. He is both President and General Secretary of the ruling party and so there are no fetters on him. The other two may require a negotiating mandate from their respective party/coalition.
The on-and-off talks which were started earlier this year by the leaders were adulterated by the ill-advised attempt by APNU to engage with the government without the AFC. This encounter brought forth several positives including the increase in the old age pension but only because the PPP/C believed it would have gotten a huge reward – its budget passed untouched. A different reality later set in when Linden erupted over APNU’s supposed position on power tariffs for the mining town. Had the PPP/C succeeded in its plan it would have been just as divisive as the budget cuts eventually were.
Thus far, the election results of November 28 have not produced anything out of the box. Manoeuvres by all three players carry the brand of the old-style politics of securing gains – and conversely – inflicting losses while being completely oblivious to synergizing commonalities for the benefit of the entire country. Each party has played strictly to deadening form. None seems certain about how to proceed so each has simply tried to protect its turf and expand influence.
This is what President Ramotar and Messrs Granger and Ramjattan have to sit down and thrash out. How the entire country will prosper even in the shadow of a likely snap election. This is the challenge that presents itself and has thus far eluded particularly the government. It is attempting to proceed with the business of running the country as if it was fully in charge. How else does one explain a government not having brought a single piece of significant legislation to Parliament in the six months it has been in control? Will it bring anything this year? Obviously it knows that it would need an opposition vote to have any bill passed and that is why nothing has been presented. That is the nub of the matter. It has to be prepared to make mature compromises with the opposition during this period otherwise it will not be governing in the interest of all of the people.
Indeed, at present Parliament is being reduced to debating motions: a motion parliament instead of a parliament in motion. While the opposition started the trend, the Prime Minister has now joined the excursion with one on the Integrity Commission. The PM must be aware that such a motion is a waste of time when his government has failed to address the absence of a Chairman of this body, credible appointments to the Commission and adequate resources for it. The flurry of motions again depicts the inability of all sides to rise to the occasion. The opposition should have been furiously drafting its own legislation rather than designing motions which for positive action still require an enabling bill.
We could potentially have more months and years of this enervating gridlock. Were this to be so, the three leaders would be judged harshly by history. There are so many pressing issues at the moment that demand the involvement of all the parties and the people: sugar, electricity, crime, local government elections, constitutional reform and management of the extractive industries. The parties have a unique opportunity to define their priorities and agree a legislative agenda that puts all the people of the country front and centre. Six months have already been wasted.