The failure of Guyanese to recognize that we have been caught up in a political and economic crisis which stretches as far back as 1968 when the first in a series of post-independence elections was blatantly rigged, upturning Guyana’s democracy, does not in any way subtract from this truth. This crisis was further exacerbated by Burnham amending the 1966 Constitu-tion replacing it with the 1980 Constitu-tion, which effectively prevented the courts from questioning any decisions made by him, even after he demitted office. The relevant section, Article 182, reads as follows:
“182 (1)… The holder of the office of President shall not be personally answerable to any court for the performance of the functions of his or her office or for any act done in the performance of those functions, and no proceedings, whether criminal or civil, shall be instituted against him or her in his or her personal capacity in respect thereof either during his or her term of office or thereafter.”
Burnham’s subversion of our democracy, which we allowed, provided him with a further avenue to pursue his socialist path which in sum brought Guyana to its knees by the time of his death in 1985.
It is this same Constitution (with some amendments in 2000) which today remains in force even after the change of government in 1992, and which successive administrations and presidents have promised to amend, but to date have neglected to do, in order to rid it of those elements which effectively liberate the president from any obligation to account for any decision and action he takes in office. Effectively, Guyana is a country whose democracy and rule of law have been subverted to the whims and fancies of any president. This is not a trifling issue, and I wish to add my voice to the call that all Guyanese need to start speaking up for immediate redress.
Another big political issue which has to be addressed if Guyana is to move forward is the sugar workers’ seemingly blind and unstinting support of the PPP in the face of all available evidence that the PPP essentially crippled their lives. Sugar workers need to recognize that they have been used by the PPP. This is evident in the fact that it was sugar workers who consistently provided votes for the PPP to remain in office during its 23 years in power, and it is also the sugar workers who suffered much and probably more than most Guyanese, under the PPP’s terms in government. They were abused by the PPP for political gain, the abuse beginning with the manipulation of the leadership of the union representing them.
A large number of sugar workers were deprived of a proper primary and secondary education, leaving them for the most part without the skills to seek alternative job opportunities. Sugar workers need to seriously examine what they get from working in the sugar industry. They have to consider whether cutting cane is a viable career, or how they would like to spend the rest of their lives earning their keep. Are they satisfied with the life of a sugar worker? Is this something they would recommend to their children? Are their jobs secure? Is there much scope for advancement? And can they see themselves being able to buy a house or car, or look after their family in times of need and send their children to university? If not, then they should seriously consider alternative ways of earning a living.
Sugar workers and their families have borne the brunt of much political manipulation by the PPP at the expense of their welfare. They need to be treated more fairly.
Had the PPP been in government during the two-plus years of the coalition administration, it would not have improved their situation, except that a PPP government would have kept the estates open at the expense of billions of taxpayer dollars, and as they did to the Diamond estate, would have gradually closed the severely distressed estates when it was politically expedient to do so.
Sugar workers must understand that Guyana’s sugar industry is coming to a close, and the most they can do is see what they can get at the negotiating table. They also need to thank the PPP for effectively reducing their available opportunities when they had the opportunity to do much more than sink US$200 million into Skeldon, which marked the beginning of the end of the industry. The PPP did not save them then, and they will never be able to provide alternative options for sugar workers, because had they wanted to do so, they would have done it when they had the chance. Sugar workers can expect nothing from the PPP.
They should understand that the sugar industry was founded on the exploitation of sugar workers, and this will never change.