A shared governance regime must contain strong checks and balances!

I have a morbid political fear of any form of shared governance that puts the PPP/C and APNU together in government without enormous checks and balances.  In my view, notwithstanding their persistent acrimony, should they begin to work together in the same government, friendships would soon develop and woe betide those who would oppose it!  Even though the parties are now political enemies that has not stopped them from attempting to accommodate each other in distribution of land, etc.

One factor many of those who propose shared governance overlook is that the various ethnic groups have more similarities than differences; so much so that many persons have claimed that since politics constitutes the only significant dividing line, what we need is a new stock of politicians. This line of argument is wrong because our problem is structural; rooted in the nature of competitive politics and our ethnic distribution. Placed in this kind of a context, it would be amazing how quickly a new set of politicians would appear old!  Yet this very thought points to the dire possibility that if by means of shared governance we are able to successfully bridge the  political divide, we might also be creating a political monster!

The PPP/C and APNU supporters represent some 90% of the electorate, and given our ethic allegiances, the mere fact of government and the opportunities for patronage, the likelihood is that the opposition would remain weak and that the coalition would remain in office for decades. We have seen throughout most of our independence history the ravages that a stable unaccountable government founded on a single ethnicity can cause. Well, if you believe that the Burnham and Jagdeo regimes were bad, establish a PPP/C/APNU coalition government without strong and many-sided checks and you may not have seen anything yet! Perhaps I am being too pessimistic and alarmist but our fore parents have cautioned us: “wa u can see a daylight, na tek fiah stick an look fu a night!”

There are those who believe that, in terms of ethnic participation and equitability, we have had an unenviable history and that we now need to attempt a more consensual approach to governance. Added to this, by removing the capacity of the government to dictate to the parliament, the last elections have opened a vision of freedom, opportunities and possibilities that any government will find politically almost impossible to close. Simply winning an absolute majority at a future elections and attempting to turn the clock backwards will not do: it will at best lead to massive alienation and disaffection.

The present situation in the National Assembly, where no party and therefore no ethnic group dominates the political space, corresponds well to what a considerable number of Guyanese believe is just and workable in the parliamentary branch of government.  Yet this precarious arrangement, premised as it is on a very marginal electoral outcome which forces all parties to persistently guard and extend their support, is too unstable and uncertain to help us to maximise our development potentials. The question is how to craft a more consensual regime that will, as much as possible, mitigate the development of a dictatorship.

In 2002, the PNC presented its views on a shared governance regime and in 2003 the PPP/C presented a document in which it called for “inclusive governance.” The former heightened my fears about the possible emergence of a prolonged dictatorship and the latter led me to believe that shared executive governance could only be possible when it had become unnecessary, that is, when the political parties have come to trust each other!

The major planks of the APNU going into the last elections were the demand for shared governance – it opened its manifesto with an outline which indicates its belief that all parties may become part of the government executive based on seats won; the need for constituency reform much as I suggested a few weeks ago; local government reform, etc. Yet this was a broad manifesto commitment which could not specifically address the concerns expressed here. However, the APNU is coming under increasing pressure to become more proactive in support of its shared governance goal and the ideas presented here are intended to aid this process along.

What follows is an outline, bolstered by national and international practices but focusing on the all-important national executive participation. It also seeks to severely restrict the possibility of dictatorship by creating an environment in which a political party, even when the executive it supports is in government, can grow to become more independent from the executive.

A shared governance regime should be one with:

Strong separation of powers.

A National Assembly which is truly independent of the executive, with its own personnel and financial administration and a separate budget office to deal with the national budget.

A presidential system in which the president is elected by at least 50% of the votes cast.

Members of the executive (ministers) who are not members of the parliament.

Parliamentary parties that are not organically tied to the presidency, e.g. the president cannot prorogue the National Assembly  The leaders of the majority and minority in the National Assembly and chairpersons of the important standing committees of the National Assembly having improved status/remuneration comparable to that of members of the government.

The president having the right to hire and fire his cabinet.

Transitional arrangements where:

Parliamentary parties will suggest names to the president for inclusion in his cabinet in proportion to their representation in the National Assembly. If the president chooses to dismiss a minister, his/her party will have to make another nomination.

The president’s party has a reasonable majority in the cabinet, even in a hung parliament such as now exists.

Any issue in the National Assembly that is declared to be of “communal interest” by 40% of the assembly may only be passed by a specified special majority.

With the exception of the transitional measures, what I am suggesting is more or less an American type executive/parliamentary system. I know that this runs against the grain of some of the more important literature on shared governance but theory should only act as a guide and I believe that our history requires arrangements more consistent with what is proposed here.