“Government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” – Abraham Lincoln
“When governments fear the people, there is liberty. When the people fear the government, there is tyranny.” – Thomas Jefferson
These famous quotes by former US presidents hold true, not just for the US but the world at large and they speak to what democracy really is. The people elect governments to work for them and if a government is working for the people, then this ought to be manifest in its operations. Too often this is not the case.
What is the situation in Guyana? Does the government fear us? Or do we fear the government?
In November 2011, the sod was turned for the construction of what will eventually be a Marriott-branded hotel in Guyana. There was no consensus that Guyana needed another hotel – and one in the city at that. The decision to build a Marriott-branded hotel was most likely taken among a few people behind closed doors – in an old boys’ club-type atmosphere. This was definitely not a case of the government working for the people.
A similar example is the decision to build a specialty hospital; a project that has been mired in controversy from its inception. Had the people been asked, hands down the majority might have opted for their local hospitals to be upgraded or even rebuilt. The people were not consulted.
More recently, and ongoing is the protest by residents of Plaisance over the decision by government to erect a tower at a site in the community for the e-governance project. The location selected is a community centre ground, which residents have used over the years to hold activities. Prior to the moves to build the tower, residents had been deprived of the use of the community centre, they said since the emergence of the high-income housing development at Sparendaam North, commonly known as ‘Pradoville 2’. In order to use that area for housing development, government had removed a tower, which had been there for years and which facilitated transmission by the National Communications Network.
It is in instances like these that government is seen operating as a father who believes he knows what his children need and is just doing it; even if they don’t want it, rather than an employee, which government is, working for the people.
Put simply, it is the money earned from the taxes the people pay that keeps the wheels of government turning: it pays salaries and benefits; and funds every other government project not financed by grant aid or loans.
If there were no taxes, no contribution by the people to government coffers, very little would get done; in short without the goodwill of people there would be no government. Today few governments remember this, or if they do, they try to ensure that the people forget it and they employ force to do so, or guile or fear. The need for power can induce a state in which governments believe their role is to rule, rather than manage the affairs of the people. This is when democracy exits and tyranny takes over; this is a danger for any nation. It is therefore up to the people to constantly remind their government why it is there and what it is there to do.