The previous two essays in this series express the point that government officials have an inherent incentive to renege on promises of good governance once they attain power. These officials are more likely to maximize their personal gains and power positions at the expense of social progress. Given this expectation, the onus is on the government of the day to credibly commit to good and transparent policies.
In the case of Guyana, where patronage has roots in the post-independence systems of Party Paramountcy of PNC and Elected Oligarchy of PPP, the government of the day has to be extra careful in its signals to make sure its hiring practice and policies do not further widen the ethnic divide. It has to be vigilant that its policies are not perceived as engendering marginalization. The rest of the column will outline some possible reasons why governments have been unaccountable and what reforms might be put in place. The points made below were lifted from a presentation I made on April 8 at a Guyanese symposium in Washington, DC.
Firstly, the culture of true competitive primary elections within the two main political parties does not exist. There is curtailed transparency in the manner in which the Presidential candidate is selected. If the culture of democracy and transparency is absent within the two main political parties the one which wins the General Election will be less inclined to promote such and send credible signals at the national level. In recent times, the PPP relied on the method of show-of-hands when selecting its Presidential candidate. Observers have noted that this approach is intended to threaten those who do not agree with the decision of a powerful few. The PNCR had a secret ballot at its most recent internal election; however, the party’s meeting broke down into pandemonium, a shot was fired, and accusations of vote tampering were rife.
From the beginning, the PNCR should have used a reputable auditing company to manage the election in order to signal the credibility of its internal election.
Secondly, strategic pro-ethnic voting which results in the logic of patronage often is bad for transparency and accountability. Indeed, political patronage exists in advanced democracies and in relatively homogeneous societies. What makes patronage problematic in a society such as Guyana is it tends to aggravate feelings of alienation and marginalization.
The term “logic of patronage” is used here to emphasise the idea that supporters of the winning party tend to come almost entirely from one ethnic group. After voting strategically they expect to be rewarded with senior public sector jobs once their party wins.
This breeds resentments from the group which loses the election and accountability also falls by the wayside as has been the experience over the past four decades. Accountability also takes a beating because clientelistic relationships have to be formed with elites for regime survival. The previous point was well-articulated by Percy Hintzen’s seminal book: The Cost of Regime Survival: Racial Mobilization, Elite Domination and the Control of the State in Guyana and Trinidad.
Thirdly, successive governments have not specified clearly a logical economic and social vision for the future. Perhaps the cloudy policy prescriptions have to do with the pre-eminence of direct and indirect patronage and buying cross-ethnic support in public policy decisions. Clear specification of a development policy framework would add transparency and credibility. It allows the public to better comprehend when policy makers might have to renege on stated goals, as would be the case when there is global commodity price shock. At some level there will have to be a close relationship between the State and the private investor. A clear definition of development strategies would align the interest of the private investor with nationalist goals, thus helping to minimize the claims of marginalization, favouritism and corruption.
Fourthly, several important data sets are unavailable in Guyana. Data are essential for allowing a culture of fact-checking and accountability. For instance, monthly unemployment data are unavailable. We also do not know what the labour force participation is. The lack of monthly data implies we cannot figure out the cyclical, seasonal, structural and frictional aspects of unemployment. Household Income and Expenditure Surveys have not been done since 2006 and the 2012 census has not been released in full. The Gini coefficient, a popular measure of inequality, has declined from 0.44 in 1992 to 0.35 in 2006, the last period of this crucial statistic (See Professor Thomas’ column of September 14, 2014). The Gini and other measures of inequality should be computed annually. The last comprehensive measures of poverty rates saw a decline from 1992 to 2006, but there has to be updated statistics showing regional rates. Finally, the previous administration kept no data on its allocation of house lots, the degree of diversity of the new housing areas created and the distribution of mortgage loans. Data analysis is needed to address objectively the claims of marginalization.
Fifthly, there is also much unaccountability in the private sector mainly because of the thin listings of publicly traded companies. Many sole proprietor and partnership businesses refuse to go public. Public companies not only are able to mobilise more investment capital, but also must transmit information to the markets. The publicly traded company has to be more transparent so that the markets can accurately price its value. In addition, these efforts promote an ethos of data analysis and the cultivation of skills and professions needed in this regard. The private sector can also do a lot more to self-police its members involved in the underground economy.
Obviously addressing the five reasons above would help with the promotion of accountable government; however, I would emphasize three points. Firstly, the Guyana Elections Commission should be involved in monitoring primary elections inside the parliamentary parties. The business of the PNCR and PPP are not just their internal affair. The decisions they make have spillover effects to the national level (externalities). Therefore, it is time the Elections Commission monitors these parties’ respective primaries. However, this depends on the PPP jettisoning Democratic Centralism and show-of-hands. If it does not and the PNCR holds credible internal elections, the PPP will further sink in the pit of the untenable.
Secondly, there must be constitutional change that allows for post-election instead of pre-election alliances. A third independent political party should not be subjected to race-baiting from the main parties. It distracts from its attempts to sell its programmes and ideas. In addition, this policy reduces the effect of race-baiting by adding randomness to the election outcome. This randomness would tend to force the main parties to stay on message.
Finally, as we have mentioned several times in Development Watch, a developmental state that is embedded and autonomous is necessary. Take for example Mr Harmon. He is obviously embedded with agents of the private sector, but he is not autonomous of the private sector. Embedded autonomy is the concept introduced by political economist Peter Evans. The time has come for an independent civil service headed by a non-politician. Getting a job in the civil service must be based to taking examinations, being qualified and less on being connected to a political party. As governments come and go the civil servant must be steady and secure ready to serve whichever party wins the election.