Guyana’s system of government is far from democratic

Dear Editor,

It is that time of year again and the PPP/C are once again beating the ‘Restoration of Democracy,’ drum.

Unfortunately for Guyanese, our country’s system of government is far from democratic and the ruling party’s actions do not live up to the ideals to which they pay annual lip service. According to the Oxford Dictionary, democracy is: a system of government by the whole population of a state, typically through elected representatives.

Experts agree that true democracies feature certain basic tenets including liberty, equality, justice and the rule of law. Democracy does not begin and end with periodic elections and a parliamentary system, as the PPP/C would have us believe. In Guyana, the structures of all three branches of government as well as the practices of the ruling party, are demonstrably undemocratic.

Before Guyana gained independence, the people had the right to directly elect their parliamentary representatives in a constituency system.

The British, at the behest of the US, took away this right in 1964, replacing it with Proportional Representation (PR). Under this system, the current one, citizens vote for a party and a list of representatives. After elections the leader of each party decides who sits in parliament. The leader of the winning party becomes president and chooses ministers from his party’s list. Therefore, none of the members of parliament are directly elected by the people and no minister is actually chosen by the electorate.

Under PR, the MPs are beholden to the party leader, not the people they are supposed to serve. There is no mechanism to remove and replace incompetent MPs or ministers, who are never subject to public scrutiny prior to appointment. This system is evidently undemocratic since the citizens play only the most superficial role in choosing their representatives, and then only indirectly.

This arrangement needs revision. The people must directly elect representatives to the legislature and have the power to remove and replace them by referendum, if they fail to perform. In this way, citizens will have the opportunity to choose the most competent MPs and ministers rather than having inept leaders foisted upon them by political parties.

The selection of members of the judiciary, also clashes with democratic principles. Judges and magistrates are appointed by the Judicial Services Commission. Clearly, this system does not work. The backlog of cases alone tells the tale.

Judges should be appointed by resolution of parliament; the quality of their work may then be subject to parliamentary review and their continued service would be at the discretion of the people’s parliamentary representatives.

The executive presidency has no place in a true democracy; it places too much power in the hands of one individual.  The ruling party, through the power of an executive president has stymied the establishment of a Public Procurement Commission, Integrity Commission and Ombudsman, all of which are constitutionally mandatory, and designed to counterbalance executive lawlessness. A real democracy would never allow such blatant flouting of the law.

Editor, all three branches of government fall short of the most basic democratic norms. It is clear that constitutional reform is desperately needed if Guyana is to become a democracy.

Apart from the structural problems mentioned, there are procedural and practical matters which are certainly not democratic.

Corruption in Guyana is rampant. The ruling elite uses state resources as if it were their personal property. The functionaries of the party holding executive power can and do abuse their offices.  Examples of this include the use of public-private partnerships to favour friends of officials in the ruling party. The elite few have placed themselves in a position of domination over the majority of Guyanese who are struggling to make ends meet. I submit that any system in which, class domination is permitted, cannot be characterised as democratic.

The ruling party can and does make major decisions unilaterally. The Low Carbon Development Strategy is a case in point. The decisions on the Berbice River Bridge, Amaila, Skeldon Sugar Factory, Marriott and CJIA expansion are also examples of this dictatorial ethos. The people had no say in these decisions; in fact, we were not even allowed to ask questions. How then, can the PPP/C say that they are governing democratically?

The rule of law and equality are fundamental to democratic governance, yet such does not exist in Guyana. The wealthy, politically connected elite are immune from legal sanction. On the other hand, ordinary Guyanese are subject to arbitrary punishment. Additionally, the inequality under the law, between the haves and have-nots, strikes at the root of democratic ideals.

As the PPP/C continues to pay lip service to democracy, the contrary reality is clear for all to see. Promises of constitutional reform are still unfulfilled after two decades of PPP power. With every passing day, the ruling party progressively whittles away the freedoms of the masses and sinks the talons of autocracy, deeper into the body politic. More than a half century after gaining independence politicians continue to blame each other for Guyana’s woes.

The blame game gets us nowhere. The reality is what it is: we have to fix it. The PPP/C have exercised executive power to maintain an autocratic system of governance, therefore, they have the power to change course and lead Guyana towards true democracy, rather than maintaining a cosmetic veneer over the festering cancer of elected dictatorship.

Yours faithfully,
Mark DaCosta

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