No one could pretend that 2008 was a good year, and we would be fooling ourselves if we indulged the hope that 2009 would be very much better. Apart from anything else, the global financial environment is not in our favour, and we cannot be insulated from the effects of the turmoil in the markets and the economic recession, which we can only cross our collective fingers will not descend into a depression.
If what is happening beyond these shores gives no cause for optimism, with some exceptions like the Berbice River Bridge, the local situation does little to raise the spirits either. After sixteen years in office the current administration seems to be resistant to learning from experience – even the experience of the PNC government which preceded it and which it never tires of castigating. Our first wish for the government in this new year, therefore, is that it pauses for reflection as to why in a general sense the country is not making the kind of progress which it should have done, and whether there aren’t certain flaws in its thinking which has made it prone to repeating the mistakes of the past.
One would hope that it would soon come to the conclusion that heading the list for these, is the obsession to control every facet of life in this country, which has had such a debilitating effect on all activity; has stifled creativity and innovation; and has left the population either weary or alienated or both. Arising out of the first wish, therefore, our second wish for the government in 2009 is that it would release its stranglehold on every sphere of endeavour and make space for innovation unconnected to the rulers to flourish. And the sense of powerlessness felt by so many could be somewhat redressed if the government would reconcile itself with autonomy at the local government level. Much of the delay in achieving accord between the two major parties in local government reform can be laid at the door of the PPP/C representatives, who simply did not want to countenance letting go of controlling local authorities.
And connected to this is the unhealthy politicisation of almost every dimension of existence in this land. Does the government have to see every group or organization in a political light, even if what they are trying to do is non-political in nature? This nation is gasping for some fresh, free, non-political air, so our third wish for the government is that it takes its political spectacles off for a change, and stops trying to contaminate every aspect of our little local world with political considerations.
All governments left too long in office become divorced from the people who elected them. It seems to be part of the creeping disease associated with power. And this government is no exception to the rule, having lost contact with what all segments of the electorate think. Like governments in a similar position elsewhere too, it wants to hear only what it wants to hear; no adverse view must disturb the manufactured vision of what it would like to believe obtains. Our fourth wish, therefore, is that it stops lecturing us all incessantly, and begins to listen, truly listen to what people out there have to say, however unwelcome their observations might be.
And specifically at the political level that wish would encompass listening for a change to what the opposition has to say; the fountain of all truth and knowledge cannot reside with a single party simply because it happens to hold power. Opposition motions, opposition bills, opposition proposed amendments are not to be dismissed out of hand; it really cannot be the case, statistically speaking, that everything, absolutely everything, that the other parties have to say or bring to Parliament is nonsense. If that proposition were valid, then we wouldn’t need a democracy at all; insight, omniscience and understanding would reside with the governing party alone and we could dispense with elections altogether and leave the enlightened ones to rule us undisturbed and uncriticised. But surely, in the depths of their souls even they know that they do not have a lock on all wisdom and that sometimes, just sometimes, they might be wrong. Following on automatically from wish four, therefore, is wish five: namely, that having listened to others, particularly the opposition members in the House of Assembly, the government is prepared to take on board some of what they have to say and adjust itself accordingly. The very nature of democracy presupposes a variety of viewpoints, and systems succeed or fail on how well they accommodate these.
It would help the government, of course, if instead of surrounding itself with loyalists and those who can be relied upon not to give a counter-opinion and puncture holes in the vision – and this is wish number six – it might wrap its mind around the possibility that it could actually start making appointments on the basis of talent, rather than of loyalty. In particular, it might stop treating diplomatic posts as a kind of pasture to which loyal party servants for whom there is no longer a slot at the centre of power, can be retired.
No government, of course, likes to admit failures, even though there is no such thing as perfect government. But when it does make mistakes, do we have to be bombarded with propaganda that says that the government did absolutely everything possible, and it is the fault of the PNC, or climate change or global warming or whatever. The people will not be persuaded by meaningless rhetoric – particularly after all this time. So wish number seven is for greater candidness and less polemic from the government this year.
In fact, the people are entitled to greater openness on the whole, and so we live in expectation of a Freedom of Information Act in 2009 – wish number eight. Of course, the fact that this is on the statute books would not automatically mean that we could expect the government and its agencies to change their age-old culture of secrecy about even the most trivial of matters immediately, but at least it might nudge them in the right direction.
And so to wish nine: that the radio spectrum be opened and licences granted to independent television stations to operate in Linden.
One might have thought that the government would have learnt from the Linden experience that it doesn’t matter how long you keep talking at people and allowing no electronic avenue for the expression of different views, they will still keep their own counsel, so to speak. In the case of Linden, all those years with nothing but NCN on the airwaves did not persuade that particular constituency to vote for the PPP/C in the last election; in fact the governing party received 700 fewer votes in Region 10 than they did in 2001. Those who turned away from the PNCR there, gave their votes to the AFC instead.
There are all kinds of issues of substance about which one might have wishes; however, what those above reflect is a change of attitude on the part of the government whereby it displays a greater openness as well as some kind of willingness to work with others outside its limited circle.