The time may be now for us to find public space/outlet to engage in serious, evidence-based discussions on proposed models of executive governance to address the interest of all. As a trade unionist an element of such discussions would ensure respect for universal principles. The Guyana Trades Union Congress (GTUC) in 1978 during the tenure of Joseph Pollydore as General Secretary took to the Constituent Assembly a proposal for executive power-sharing. Our proposal included a formula that gives to the party that acquired the highest electoral votes the Office of President with executive responsibility, Prime Minister to the party with the second highest votes and ministers be distributed proportionate to the seats won in the National Elections. This proposal was made from the backdrop of five main reference points.
One, the commonality of the socialist ideology by the trade union community, the PPP and PNC, notwithstanding the various strands. Two, our racial diversity which saw manifestations of conflict born out of the divide and rule political tactics of the enslavers and colonisers. Three, respect for groups’ gravitation to political parties based on racial identity, class and ideological interest. Four, the Cold War era and Guyana pursuing the path of non-alignment. And five, the survival and development of a nation-state consistent with our motto, One People, One Nation, One Destiny.
As we examine the foregoing, it would be seen the threat of item four is no longer dominant. On ideology, from the perspective of the political parties it is a matter of great uncertainty, or rather one of great hypocrisy. We see the PPP that makes claim to communist/Marxist beliefs is anti-working class in its policies, has zero tolerance for the right to existence of some trade unions, has a leadership that has amassed tremendous wealth on the backs of the working poor, and is violating the laws and transgressing the rights of citizens in their ravenous pursuits.
Items two, three and five are still with us and will remain with us because these speak of our make-up and identity as a people and country and we cannot run away from them. Running away from them would be running away from ourselves and it is behind this backdrop any model of executive power sharing/shared governance should be examined.
It was and remains the GTUC’s position that the historical tensions and political distrust could be reduced and eventually eliminated if all could work together to ensure personal development and nation building in an environment where conflicts are managed through proper avenues for recourse and respect for diversity. Our belief is grounded in and guided by universal declarations, international conventions, charters and laws, some of which are enshrined in the present Constitution. The call by the GTUC, though initially rejected or not quite understood by some, has over the years been reproduced in various forms in the call for executive power sharing.
The GTUC remains guided by the philosophy that workers (past, present and potential/future) are the most important factor in development and as such they should be able to live and function in an environment that respect their civil, cultural, social, economic and political rights.
To this end the GTUC in 2011 leading up to National and Regional Elections had prepared a document on National Unity which was made public and distributed to the political parties, in which we called for governance to be respected based on our Constitution that saw significant reforms in the post 1997 elections.
Though there’s respect for the calls for a new model of executive governance, what is not being made clear is how this will:- 1) ensure all are held to the same standards and play by the same rules, 2) ensure the universal rights of man are respected, regardless of diversity, 3) secure adherence to the laws across the board and violators similarly held accountable, 4) ensure there would not be tyranny of the majority or minority in Cabinet decision-making, 5) guarantee the well-being of the masses takes pre-eminence over the enrichment of a few, and 6) ensure the needed checks and balances in the governance structure (executive, legislature and judiciary). These are questions that desire deep thought and soul-searching answers.
The present dysfunction in our society which has created the sense of hopelessness and resulted in brain-drain; has seen the escalation in poverty and crimes, and disregard for law, order and citizens’ rights may not be the fault of the present executive structure.
As a trade unionist there are instances where I can point to the violation of laws and transgression of rights by elected officials in government and opposition.
Representatives on both sides will turn a nelson’s eye to wrongdoing and will sit and agree to violate the constitution and transgress the rights of citizens. On both sides our elected officials have succeeded in projecting on this society that standards of acceptable public service should now be measured not by doing better or upholding the laws but by whom is perceived to be less worse.
In closing, proponents of executive power sharing are also asked to examine countries like South Africa where the present government come to power in 1994 on a similar model and has retained power since, yet there are reports of governmental corruption, a continued dispossessed populace, disregard for law and citizens’ rights and the valiant efforts of civil society and politicians to hold violators accountable. Closer to home, in Trinidad with similar racial dynamics, the PNM held the reins of government for decades and in Antigua an African dominated society the ALP had similar longevity but these societies have better development indicators than ours. These global trends are saying to me that our answers lie in accountability and adherence to the laws we have established for ourselves, regardless of who benefit or feel the consequences.
Finally, the Guyana Constitution, unlike others, has clearly outlined the rights of women and children; specifically placed the trade union, co-operatives and youth as major stakeholders in the nation’s economic decision-making and development; guarantees economic protection to our elders; stipulates local, regional and national government elections; stipulates the management of the state’s resources; outlines and guarantees the protection of the Individual Fundamental Rights and Freedoms; requires the independence of the judiciary; and makes known the political objective of the State requires involvement in decision-making on matters that affects one’s wellbeing. Every day we see the violation of these with impunity from our elected officials in government and opposition. If these tenets are disrespected or selectively obeyed by these officials how would executive power sharing ensure conformity, halt the brain drain, and bring about adherence to the elements for a just society?