Like some other countries on this continent Guyana is a partial democracy, but without the populism which characterizes their forms of government. The reasons why those in office here have inhabited the corridors of power for so long, despite the fact that they have no Chávez-style leader and there is widespread dissatisfaction with their performance, are very well known; they have created an ‘other’ in the form of the opposition, and by extension, its constituency, so that they operate as if they are fighting a kind of hostile force for much of the time and have to be constantly on the defensive. This is how they rouse their supporters, although with diminishing effectiveness in more recent times, it would seem. This is not a one-sided game, of course, since the main opposition did something similar over the years, only in reverse. It is the price we have all paid for the marriage between ethnicity and politics.
The consequences of our political peculiarities have been severe, and none has arguably had a longer term impact than the massive migration levels of Guyana’s best and brightest, who see no future for themselves here. That includes those who might otherwise be thought to be natural adherents of the ruling party’s own constituency, but are certainly not as impressed with the country’s ‘development’ as the government would like. In short, this nation does not have the critical mass in terms of human resources to be the success that it likes to boast about.
That would still apply, it might be noted, no matter which government was in office. Let us imagine, for example, there was a brilliant minister; if s/he has no fully rational system in place within which his/her functions can be discharged, and most important, if there is no middle management to implement the policy decisions, the brilliant minister will achieve very little. And this country has a serious dearth of middle management; it is alive and well but living in New York and Toronto. Without the people lower down the system, nothing can happen. One man cannot run a ministry, let alone a country.
The government has compounded its own problems by being obsessed with total control. Nowhere was that more evident than in the President’s refusal last week to sign into law one of the four local government bills which were passed in the House three months ago. This is the bill dealing with the establishment of the Local Government Commission, depriving the Local Government Minister of his current powers in relation to local authorities. The PPP does not appear to have grasped yet that in this country, the more you try and control, the less you will control in reality.
The ruling party has never demonstrated a feel for talent, and beyond that, has confused loyalty with talent. But loyalty does not get jobs done, and while loyal officials might be the conduits for distributing largesse in order to persuade interior communities – to cite but one example – to vote for the government, efficiency is what counts, and what citizens appreciate. But in the overwhelming majority of cases, the IMCs which Ministers Ganga Persaud and Norman Whittaker have imposed on certain communities are no more effective than the councils which they replaced. As it is, therefore, when a local authority fails, the government fails too – and that includes those councils which are not PPP controlled and where government-appointed executive officials run interference so they don’t succeed. Region 8 and Georgetown are the classic examples of this, and if Freedom House seriously believes that the electorate does not blame central government for the crises and confusion in these instances, they are living in cloud cuckoo land.
It must be hard for outsiders to comprehend why the governing party should be so determined to do those things which are not even in its own self-interest. Behaving imperiously and trying to function only through loyalists does not just bring its much vaunted ‘democratic’ credentials into question, but in the end leaves it in a position where it can govern only half a country, metaphorically speaking, thereby undermining its own capacity to be effective.
The administration does not want to allow any breathing space in the society for contrary views, opposition perceptions or critics, and that can only create more problems than it solves as time goes on. If it allowed greater independence at local government level, it would take some of the pressure out of an admittedly complicated political situation, but no; it must have total domination there too. President Ramotar’s refusal to sign the fourth local government bill on spurious constitutional grounds, therefore, can only come back to haunt his party. The sensible alternative would be to give the local authorities some autonomy, and if they fail – whether in opposition areas or not – as said above, it would not be to the government’s account.
The refusal of the governing party to seek compromises with the opposition on a whole range of issues which come up in parliament have caused impasses which were in many cases quite unnecessary, and ended in failure for the government. But its obsession with secrecy on projects, and its insistence for all practical purposes that the House of Assembly should be a rubber stamp has seen the collapse of its pet programmes and legislation. One might have thought that it would have learnt something from the fiasco which was Amaila and the pointed statements from Sithe Global afterwards about the lack of opposition support, but it seems not.
From the ruling party’s point of view, the message from its own constituents about a loss of interest in politics should have given them pause for thought. The declining turn-out of voters in the last two elections is a warning. Its traditional supporters too see the opaque deals made with the Chinese, for example, in relation to fishing, a matter in which they have a direct interest, or the Bai Shan Lin car park mystery on the Lamaha Street reserve, among many others. They too cannot avoid acknowledging the disaster that is the Skeldon sugar factory in an industry with which many of them have an intimate connection. In the end, like everyone else, they too want to see competent, efficient government. As for the PPP, do its members not see the empty houses in the Corentyne belonging to their former constituents who have migrated?
The politics which Freedom House regards as necessary for staying in power is not the same as that for governing well – in fact, far from it. However, the party has reached a point where its power strategy has become passé and is not working in the way it used to. Nevertheless, it still hangs on to the traditional politics, because it sees that as the only way of recovering the position it held before the 2011 elections. The problem is, even if it manages to obtain a parliamentary majority in 2016, it will not be able to hold onto it in the long term; times have changed, circumstances have changed, the demographics have changed and the outlook of the electorate has changed. The PPP is clinging to a very short-term vision, and as long as it does so, the brain drain will continue and its capacity to govern competently will be severely compromised.