Governance and accountability, or the lack thereof, remains the most critical hindrance to progress in Guyana. A society cannot progress through the stages of development unless those elected to govern are held accountable to those they are sworn to govern.
As we celebrate 48 years of political independence we must question the continued lack of accountability in our society. Who demands answers from whom, who is accountable to whom and who enforces that accountability are major determinants of a free and democratic society. When Guyana ushered in free elections in 1992, the hope was that we would have continued to deepen the democracy, but what we have since witnessed is the process of de-democratization as citizens’ rights are trampled upon with unchecked frequency.
Accountability has two core principles at its helm: answerability and enforceability. Answerability refers to the obligation of government, its agencies and public officials to provide information about their decisions and actions and to justify them to the public and those institutions of accountability tasked with providing oversight. Enforcement suggests that the public or institution responsible for accountability can sanction the offending party or remedy the contravening behaviour.
By all accounts both answerability and enforceability are seriously lacking in Guyana. The PPP regime has a sordid record of accountability. Public officials operate with impunity, as they are not held accountable for their actions. Guyana is ranked among the most corrupt countries in the world, yet charges of corruption are seldom, if at all prosecuted. Additionally, a transparency provision remains elusive and a crude demonstration of the lack of good governance.
However, although governance and accountability are ultimately the responsibility of the PPP/C, opposition political parties in parliament have a duty to ensure that the PPP/C is held accountable. They are failing in this regard. Parliament has a crucial role to play in ensuring that public officials, agencies and institutions operate in an accountable and transparent manner. But opposition political parties cannot rely on parliamentary procedures alone to ensure this process, especially when authoritarian governance has enveloped the society.
It is imperative that opposition political parties activate citizens’ full participation in the affairs of the state. We cannot continue with this level of apathy and fear that is demonstrated by non-action in the society. Apathy is the greatest enemy of democracy.
The Guyana Police Force and its culture of unaccountability has become the guardian of oppression in Guyana. I cannot explain why the opposition is so timid with its silence on this agency. A great example of this lack of accountability is the impunity with which the Guyana Police Force operates. A 15-year-old young man is shot in the mouth by a cop who allegedly tortured the youth with a game of Russian roulette, and to date no charges have been filed against the cop. This is just one example of a frequent number of police brutalities against poor Guyanese.
Neither the Home Affairs Minis-ter, the President nor Parliament demands accountability from the Guyana Police Force. The Police Complaints Authority is ineffective. The current Police Commissioner who was Crime Chief for several years has a poor record for solving crime, yet he was promoted to police commissioner.
Additionally, what undermines accountability is the unsustainability of actions and lack of awareness. Civic groups in Guyana have a tendency to respond to egregious offenses with short-lived outrage, and so the offenders, knowing this type of behavioural response, simply bide their time until such outrage dissipates. For a government and its agencies to be held accountable activism by citizens and civil society must be sustainable.
Last but not least, the media’s role in ensuring accountability and good governance is crucial. The media in Guyana suffers from two critical maladies that undermine accountability, which are, unsustainable and non-investigative reporting. Not only are reports about offences by government and government officials short-lived in the media, the lack of investigative reporting, which contributes to a lack of detail in such stories, does nothing to keep people aware and interested. This notwithstanding, the media in Guyana operates with the threat of lawsuits, so that names of the alleged parties are normally withheld from publication. This being the case, officials cannot be publicly sanctioned for their behaviour.
If the media invests in good investigative reporting then it would not face the threat of lawsuits, since detailed reporting would make the offender aware that information about offensive actions exists, and so, ward off any accusation of slander and threat of lawsuit. However, while the media has its role to play, the judiciary must play its part in protecting the media from those who intend to silence it. Freedom of the press is the most important mechanism to ensure accountability and thus good governance.
Forty-eight years is old enough for any society to understand its responsibilities. If we do not begin to develop a culture of accountability, then it will always be easy for dictatorship or its tendencies to take root regardless of which political party is in power.