Formal institutions alone will not bring about national unity

-Dr Thomas Singh

National unity cannot be achieved via formal institutions alone, according to University of Guyana lecturer, Dr Thomas Singh who suggested that Guyanese are not inclined to work together.

The law cannot change behaviour, he told a packed meeting at the  Hotel Tower on Friday evening during a symposium organised by the WPA to mark the 33rd anniversary of the assassination of Dr Walter Rodney. He said that national unity is not about formal institutions and mechanisms such as governance, power-sharing, legislation, regulatory agencies, constitutional commissions or electoral mechanisms.

The law cannot change behaviour especially when it is inconsistent with society, he posited. “We cannot rely on formal mechanisms to achieve national unity,” he said noting that it was not an end in itself but a process.

Singh noted that collective action involves a social dilemma where people have a natural interest to pursue something privately for themselves and this could ultimately affect the public good. He said that based on experiments, “Guyanese have no desire to contribute to the public good.” He questioned whether Guyanese can ever do the things that require collective action in such an environment and said that the answer is no. He said that as a result there are political, economic, social and cultural consequences.

Singh also referred to a ‘tit-for-tat’ strategy which has been recognized as being a powerful strategy for getting people to work together. He cited studies that have found this result but said that this strategy is not producing cooperation in Guyana and it is frightening.  He cited the high migration rate as one of the reasons that it is not working asserting that Guyanese are “a very impatient people.”

He said that if this sort of behaviour stymies the society, it should be recognized as such and the equilibrium should be shifted.  During the discussion, one participant, to loud cheers said that the people of Guyana feel shut-out of any mechanisms to make their voices heard and “there is a resentment building.” She noted that the leaders have to come to the people as the people cannot go to parliament to speak. She said that such forums can strengthen democracy in Guyana.

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