Guyana needs ‘political timeout’ – McAllister

One of the primary architects of the main opposition’s shared governance plan says the country needs a “political timeout” to allow reconciliation and re-engage the people in national development.

According to former PNCR Executive James McAllister, there is need for people at all levels to begin agitating to ensure there is a shared governance arrangement by the next general elections in 2011. “If we decide we want the country to go forward, we need to understand firstly that we need some fundamental changes in the way we do things in the country,” he said in an interview with Stabroek News. “We need to take a political time out and look at how we deal with issues–like, the relationship between the executive and the judiciary. Is it serving us well? And I am not talking about the people in control saying whether it is serving them well or not, but the people! The citizenry! They need to have the final say.”

McAllister said the continued infighting among the political forces is robbing the Guyanese people of processes that are modern and fair. Under a shared governance arrangement, he said, the people could genuinely strive for procedures and mechanisms and relationships within the body politic that are in the best interest of the country, rather than politically partisan efforts. He used the judiciary as an example, noting that once people can be certain that they could have justice in a timely manner, it will remove the fear that currently pervades the society of the government’s ability to destroy one’s life. As the situation is now, he said a person could be charged with treason and spend five years in jail whether he or she is guilty or not, without any proper investigation or recourse.

Further, McAllister also acknowledged the argument that a shared governance arrangement could also bring a form of “ethnic security” where all groups could participate, though he was keen to emphasise that shared governance would only temporarily be needed to address those concerns. “Shared governance is not a permanent solution. It is a vehicle to allow for reconciliation, not only among ethnic groups, but the political forces,” he said. Additionally, he said it would allow for reordering the relationships between the different branches of government and the definition of new national ethics and morals. In real terms, he said it would see the constitutional changes to ensure the greater independence of the judiciary and systems to allow for security of tenure for public servants, among other changes.

He dismissed the suggestions by President Bharrat Jagdeo and other government spokesmen that building trust is the fundamental prerequisite for a shared governance arrangement, calling it a deflection from any meaningful engagement on the subject. “When the two parties have to agree, they always do,” he said, adding that if the structures are place for shared governance, an agreement could be reached. However, in this regard, he also said it is essential that civil society play a major part.

Accordingly, McAllister said, a “functioning” civil society is critical. He noted that the biggest obstacle to the problem has been the fact that the country’s economy is so small that everything boils down to doing business with the government. As a result, he said that over time persons who sought to push civil society’s involvement have been punished, with no recourse because of the slothful judiciary. “Therefore we have to facilitate the existence and functioning of civil society and the people who must be involved must consciously decide that all the space in the country must not be occupied by politicians, because that is one of the problems we have now,” he said, pointing out that when the politicians fail to agree, it creates gridlock. “We need to create space in our national dynamic for other forces,” he added.

McAllister, who was controversially recalled as a Member of Parliament for the party last year, had headed the committee that produced the party’s blueprint for shared governance. Since the start of the year, the PNCR has been trying to woo support for its renewed push for shared governance, with party leader Robert Corbin urging “genuine inclusiveness” embracing all stakeholders in the nation building process.

But McAllister was critical of the timing of the party’s call, saying that it has done more harm than good towards the advancement of the proposal. “I was concerned because I saw it as a reflex action to divert attention from internal issues,” he said, while referring to the debate about Corbin’s stewardship of the party, which was preceded by the very public withdrawal of former leading members. “It sent a signal to the PPP that we are not serious about this thing-we set it down and then we bring it up as some sort of tactic,” he added, describing the situation as unfortunate.

McAllister, nevertheless, thought that an organised opposition is necessary since reducing the PPP/C’s parliamentary majority below 50% remains “the only sure way” to secure an arrangement by the next general elections in 2011.

He added that the PNCR would have to play a major role in this process and would make adjustments necessary to its structure to put forward an attractive structure to the people.

The original PNCR blueprint for shared governance was presented at the invitation of the Social Partners civil society grouping, in 2002. It conceptualised a cabinet comprising all the major parties and the re-introduction of a non-executive head of state appointed from the party with the largest popular vote. The blueprint included proposals for proportional representation, as determined by periodic national elections, to be used to fix each party’s level of involvement in the national government. It also noted the need for predetermined structures and procedures to be enshrined in the constitution or in any multiparty agreement to facilitate decision-making by consensus and to resolve disputes in the national executive. It was envisaged that the larger the margin of victory of the winning party, the fewer would be the inhibitions to the exercise of its powers in the multiparty executive. And in order to prevent foot-dragging and undue delays, the design of executive and legislative decision-making processes would incorporate decision deadlines beyond which special mechanisms would be triggered.

The proposed governance system was also to have mandated the participation of the public and civil society in national decision-making and expressly provide mechanisms for the economic empowerment of the disadvantaged.

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