Unwillingness to negotiate is a fatal flaw

What took place in Linden over the proposed increase in the electricity rates for the community is truly astonishing.  How could a minority government that requires parliamentary support from the opposition treat with the opposition constituency so shabbily? The regime could have set aside enough time either before or after the budget to have a proper consultation with the people of Linden, even if in the end that process led to no agreement and the regime had to take the hard decision to implement its electricity rate alignment without community support. Instead, the regime proceeded in its now traditional fashion, believing that the fact that it is the government gives it the right to do as it pleases. There is a clear distinction between the proposed rate realignment and those who must pay for it, and a different approach to the one being suggested exists among the government’s own constituency.

The Sugar Industry Labour Welfare Fund (SILWF), created in about 1947 to provide subsidised services to sugar workers, survived the Burnham regime and is still very much alive! In 2010 it had assets of over $1.8 billion and received some $125 million in levies ($500 per ton of sugar exported) from GUYSUCO. It provides loans, subsidises water and does some infrastructural work for the benefit of sugar workers. This is the same sugar industry that is in trouble and now requires $4 billion from the national purse. It is not inconceivable that in any attempt to privatise the sugar industry, efforts would be made to safeguard the SILWF but on the other hand, we may also feel that all these forms of subsidies are outdated and should be eliminated. Nevertheless, the principle of subsidising is not being universally questioned and therefore the people of Linden deserve more than the short shrift the PPP/C has sought to give them. Maybe, as the Prime Minister said, “the pain will pass,” but this inane approach, with its failure to properly consult and negotiate, has firmly shut the door on the PPP/C’s electoral possibilities in Linden for some considerable time.

But how on earth did APNU find itself embroiled in the Linden mess and give rise to the perception that it will accept some form of electricity rate alignment in exchange for what its constituents consider their constitutional rights? And how did it seek to represent the opposition interest without seriously negotiating an AFC presence in its delegation, thus giving the impression that its intention is to sideline the very party that is largely responsible for its advantageous position? And now the AFC is likely to feel more aggrieved if APNU does not consider its nominee for membership of the elections commission, and even more so if APNU chooses one of its own.

Negotiations about basic security are never easy or the Israeli/Palestinian conflict would have been solved long ago. The elections commission is more or less where the political buck stops and it is a good indication of our ethnic divide and suspicions. The parties require people who will strongly represent their interest; all the PPP/C nominees are Indian and APNU appears poised to go in the same direction (i.e. have all African nominees). It would be a mistake for APNU to take a legalistic position and not sit down and seriously attempt to negotiate with the AFC about the current vacancy. They might not agree, but each of the parties has its constituency and negotiations must not only be done but must be seen to be done.

The constitution gives the leader of the opposition the right to make representations on behalf of the entire opposition and its constituency but the process of that representation is as important as its content and outcomes. At the end of the day, people only follow leaders because they believe those leaders will best represent their interest and the first task of an effective leader must be to understand those interests and try to fulfill them. As Professor Jeswald Salacuse claimed, “Experienced managers know that when it comes to leading people, authority has its limits. After all, some of the people you are supposed to lead will inevitably be smarter, more talented and, in some situations, more powerful that you are. In addition, often you’re called upon to lead people over whom you have no real authority, such as commissions, boards, and other departments in your organisation.”(2006 “Real Leaders Negotiate” Harvard Business School).

Make no mistake, most of us have been socialised in an autocratic culture in which a nuanced implementation of legal requirements has been absent. The approach taken by the PPP/C and so perfectly mirrored by APNU, has its roots much deeper than the PPP/C’s intention to discriminate against Linden for not sufficiently supporting it during the last elections or APNU’s deliberate attempt to sideline the AFC and/or cosy-up to the government. This overdependence on legal authority has been the modus operandi of the PPP/C and nowhere is this better demonstrated than in its dealings with our national cricket.

Because of the government’s unwillingness and/or incapacity to negotiate with its own citizens, international and regional cricket, loved by most, may not be played in Guyana for months if not years and we are supposed to be comforted with the explanation that “there is no gain without pain!”  (Please note that APNU initially supported the government on this issue!)

What the above points to is the need for all our people, particularly our leaders, to recognise the more subtle requirements of leadership in this sophisticated technological age in which stakeholder participation and ownership are required. Good leadership means getting individuals and groups of people to move in desirable directions without having to command, and building strong and abiding relationships. Given its one seat majority, if the opposition is not to squander the political opening presented to it, it needs to significantly improve its internal working relationships. As such, it may wish to pay some attention to Salacuse’s opinion that building effective working relationships requires “(1) two-way communication, which allows information to flow easily in both directions; (2) a strong commitment from the leader to the interest of those he leads; (3) reliability, which the leader shows by behaving predictably and honouring promises and commitments; and (4) respect for the contribution that followers make to the organisations.”

henryjeffrey@yahoo.com

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