Within a relatively short time, the People’s National Congress Reform (PNCR) and its messy internal politics have become a major distraction in the country, which is an unfortunate development at a time of popular dissatisfaction with government.
Some of the causes of the dissatisfaction are fairly obvious: There is the government’s unwillingness to call local government elections, which have been constitutionally due since 1997. And there is also the disregard for parliamentary decisions, including more recently Finance Minister Dr Ashni Singh’s authorization of the spending of $4.5 billion in total that was expressly disapproved by the House. The deeper and longer term causes of this dissatisfaction are tied to the government’s inability to guarantee citizens protection under the law, the decreasing confidence in the public healthcare and education systems, and the chronic poverty and visible neglect in many of our communities.
And the list is not exhaustive. There are the issues of corruption, the limited access to information, and growing concerns regarding how our natural resources are being managed. What’s more, this administration has repeatedly failed to demonstrate that it has any interest in improved race relations in our divided society. Since taking office President Donald Ramotar has been unbelievably silent on the rising sentiments against Afro-Guyanese originating from the state-owned newspaper. A recent editorial in the Guyana Chronicle, a racially prejudiced commentary that shamelessly attacked and criminalised young Afro-Guyanese men, has managed to slip by without a word from the President or his Cabinet on the deeply divisive language the paper has been using to categorise Afro-Guyanese youth in Guyana.
These are the critical issues facing our nation and you would think that the PNCR, which leads a majority opposition alliance in the National Assembly, would show the kind of leadership that is required. Except that the party is busy marginalising supporters, sidelining and ill-treating one of its female parliamentarians, and reeling from a disastrous Congress that has inflicted more damage to the image of its leader than any government-strategised smear campaign has managed to date.
The party is at present on the defensive against its membership, which is not a good place to be if you are hoping to represent a wider Guyanese populace.
As the dust settles on the Congress, it’s difficult not to point out that David Granger’s leadership leading to up the event and in the hours that followed was unmistakably poor.
Let’s start with the Vanessa Kissoon issue. It has become clear that the party, for whatever reason, is sidelining Ms Kissoon. In February this year, it demoted Ms Kissoon to the back bench in Parliament, calling it an “administrative move,” but failed to inform her of the new seating rearrangement. What’s the difficulty with informing a long standing member of the “administrative moves” you are making, and in this case, a move which affects her?
Saying that you have “reassigned” your MP a seat in Parliament without even communicating is an insult, no matter how nicely you may try to package it.
Now, the party is struggling to explain why it temporarily suspended Ms Kissoon in June following an altercation between her and party General Secretary Oscar Clarke.
Granger said the complaint against her was of such a serious nature that it warranted suspension. However, Ms Kissoon rejected this and observed that any act of taking away her rights without proving her guilty is a transgression of those rights and the desecration of the party’s constitution.
From the back and forth that flowed from the fallout, this much was clear: The PNCR’s handling of the Vanessa Kissoon/Oscar Clarke blow-up was biased, and unashamedly so. The party’s internal disciplinary processes were also exposed as nothing but cliché-styled and undemocratic. In short, Ms Kissoon was treated shabbily and shoved into a corner, where the party probably hoped she would have stayed quietly.
And as if this was not damaging enough, then came the party Congress, which was at one point interrupted when a gun was discharged. It opened amidst claims that members from Region 10 were disenfranchised and not accredited to vote and culminated with key players, such as Aubrey Norton and Sharma Solomon, walking out in protest over the delegate’s list, among other important concerns.
“I took a decision that I could not participate in the process,” Norton was quoted as saying in a Stabroek News report following his exit from the Congress. He pointed out that many Lindeners “did not opt to cast any vote because the process was flawed….”
He summed it up saying the “poverty of management of the process” resulted in a situation where there was no delegates list going into Congress. This is the first time, he observed, this had ever happened.
While for his part, Solomon has insisted that the PNCR’s rules were disregarded at the Congress. Solomon added: “It also brings into question if the will of the people were truly made known.”
These developments have dealt a serious blow to the PNCR’s interests in leading our country.
The Congress has led to a mushrooming of transparency and accountability issues that throws into doubt Granger’s stewardship of the party, and more importantly, his leadership.
The promise he made to the nation, when he assumed leadership of an opposition majority in Parliament, that we deserved better than the status quo and that they were taking the first steps to change the political landscape in Guyana, has been broken.
Personally, the party has done nothing to convince me that it has the right mechanisms to ensure its internal elections are conducted free and fair. Further, it has done nothing to assure me that demanding greater accountability and transparency from the PNCR is a worthwhile exercise.
Regrettably, it appears as if we are stuck with this culture of depressing party politics first, critical issues after. The fact that people want something better or that we deserve much better is seemingly not important.
How do you know when things are really messed up politically? The answer: When government and its main alternative are increasingly being seen as part of the problem and not the solution.
Have a question or comment? Connect with Iana Seales at about.me/iseales