Two years of stagnation

With nothing much for the country to celebrate, it was perhaps unsurprising that the second anniversary of the November 28, 2011 elections came and went without much fanfare or notice. Yet, two years of political gridlock and drift has set the country further back and there is no discernible template for moving ahead.

Aside from the boom in gold mining and the bustling rice sector, neither without their fragilities, the major sectors of the economy have sagged. Private developers, mostly in the retail, housing and call centre sectors, have added jobs but it is left to be seen how sustainable these will be.

The political hostilities – with parliament at the centre of most of it – have obscured the deep-seated problems which remain completely unresolved.

A perfect example of this is the state of the sugar industry. This year’s annual production is expected to fall below 200,000 tonnes and no amount of sugar coating will mitigate the disaster that has overtaken the industry. It must be remembered that the PPP/C inherited a recovering industry in 1992 which saw production rising to well above 300,000 tonnes and laying the foundation for even higher output. With total and iron-fisted control of the industry since then, the PPP/C government will be hard pressed to deny blame for its present condition.  The unjust dismantling of the European Union sugar regime undoubtedly affected marketing arrangements but had no impact on husbandry, production and maintenance of factories.

Unfortunately, the two years of gridlock has not brought the necessary cross-party unity for moving ahead on sugar. Production continues to slump, the disastrous performance of the Skeldon factory remains a drain on the economy, massive subventions have to be supplied by the state, workers are not turning up and the mechanisation thrust poses serious problems. Whereas the Economic Services Committee of Parliament would have been the appropriate place to craft a consensus, the poisoned atmosphere in the House will not permit this.

The crime situation is another example. Various periods of the PPP/C’s 21-year reign have been undermined by the ineffective response to crime. The criminals, murderers and organized crime have run rampant.  This period is no different. Execution-style killings and fatal robberies continue unabated while recent weeks have seen wanton murder by licensed firearm holders who should not have had a permit in the first place. The seemingly majestic plans which had been laid out by the Ministry of Home Affairs on the last day of last year have fizzled whereas even in neighbouring Caribbean jurisdictions various measures and expertise are being brought to bear.  Trinidad recently hired a renowned New York crime fighter – not of the Kerik calibre – to assess their problems and is moving in other directions such as working to resettle deportees. There is no comparable development here. The proposed SWAT team is a mismatch for our needs and neglects the fundamental requirement to extirpate corruption in the force first.

Local government is another area. Nineteen years after the last local government elections were held, the PPP/C has still not been able to have these run off again. It has still amazingly found the gumption to deny assent to one of four bills which properly seeks to remove some of the overweening powers of the Ministry of Local Government. There must be a renewal of democracy at the level of the community and it has unfortunately become a casualty of the interminable wrangling between the government and opposition.

Given that the government does not have a legislative majority, the crafting of the budget should certainly take account of the emphases and priority areas for the opposition. Yet for the third year in a row, the two sides are headed for an unproductive showdown over the budgetary process. Thus far, the government has been able to have its way but at the cost of opposition goodwill and judicial intrusiveness into the business of the legislature.

This malaise is replicated in many other sectors, the collapse of the Amaila Fall hydropower project being a case in point. All the while, the small man continues to bear the brunt of the fallout. The economy is not firing the way it should be, jobs are not being created and the cost of living continues to rise.

There is no easy solution to the gridlock bequeathed by the 2011 elections. It requires statesmanship, magnanimity, visionary policies and above all the humility of service to the public. This is what should imbue all those in parliament and in the hierarchies of the parties that are in control. The radar presently picks up very little of this.

There is a special responsibility on President Ramotar. He holds the reins of the executive presidency which confers upon him expansive powers. Yet, in the two years that he has been in office, President Ramotar has not shown his recognition of the great burden and responsibility on him. He has allowed the petty politics and the intrinsic truth that his government is hobbled as a result of the lack of a parliamentary majority to cloud the vision needed to move the country forward. He has accepted the Freedom House outlook that if the imprint of the PPP/C isn’t writ large on everything it will go nowhere.

Aside from the parliamentary gridlock, President Ramotar has not defined his presidency. In his two years he has not laid out major plans, initiatives, policies or a blue print for where he hopes Guyana will be at the end of his five-year term, what will be the 50th anniversary of independence. His few presentations to the nation have been bland, insubstantial and lacking the soaring tones of inspiration. It has been policy by default, budget and minister. He has not set a path and has not tried to stay arbiter-like above the unsettling political fray.  Guyana remains in suspended animation with small-time bickering and grandstanding seizing the centre stage.

It is time that the President takes charge and elevates the quality and depth of the political dialogue with the leaders of the other parties. This is what is needed to lift the country from the state of stagnation it finds itself in.

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