Although lauding the three-year-old APNU+AFC government for strides in the areas of human rights and indigenous peoples’ outreach and development, political scientist David Hinds says it has been visionless with few tangible achievements to show Guyana’s citizenry.
“Just three short years later, our country has lost hope again. The government that came to power with such mammoth goodwill has turned out to be the most unimaginative since independence,” Hinds said in comments to Stabroek News which were also contained in a column in yesterday’s Kaieteur News.
“It has given Guyana nothing big and transformative to hold on to. It governs as if it has no sense of its own place in history. Its laudable vision outlined in its election manifesto has not been translated into policy. It stumbles from one political error to another. It is a coalition government that governs like a single-party government,” he added.
Referencing advertisements and other mediums used recently by government to boast of achievements since taking office in 2015, Hinds said that it was clear it is all a charade and “we are back to square one” where the people are again showing signs of “hopelessness” and being tired of Guyana’s politics and politicians.
An executive member of the Working People’s Alliance (WPA) which is a part of the governing coalition, he posited that a lot of the mistakes made by government could have been avoided if it had regular consultations with smaller parties within the coalition and not just have Cabinet micromanage both governance and policy decisions.
“This is a partnership government. It went to the electorate and asked it to vote for a coalition of parties which would govern as a partnership. To then govern as the opposite of that is tantamount to betraying the trust of those who voted for you,” he told Stabroek News while stressing that government owes it to the people to do better.
“Confining decision making to Cabinet is also a betrayal of the pact among the parties. There are people in the Cabinet who were not part of the struggle to get us to 2015 or were not part of the building of the Partnership—a process that started in 2006. Some of them are technocrats with little or no interest in politics or policy beyond their individual remit. Some see themselves as managers. So, to ask this body to be the sole determinants of government decision making is unfair to them and to the coalition parties in whose name the government governs. I am not talking about the day to day running of government—that is for the cabinet and the public service. I am talking about big policy decisions which have overriding political and other implications. In other words, the parties are the political brains of government policy, the advisory body and the Cabinet is the implementation council,” he added.
He firmly believes that the APNU leadership council ought to meet frequently, to review and preview policy and make recommendations to Cabinet. The same, he noted, should be happening within the AFC and these should be followed by similar APNU+AFC forums.
With the APNU+AFC alliance already being “really a coalition of a coalition”, where five parties formed APNU and then joined with the AFC, Hinds stressed there needs to be consultation within the APNU, within the AFC and within APNU+AFC. “My sense is that if those bad decisions made by Cabinet were afforded the scrutiny of the parties, they would not have been implemented or would have been modified. There is no way, for example, that sedition clause would have found its way in a bill, if that matter was put before the parties,” he posited.
But while he criticized government’s stagnant governance over the three years, he pointed out that they should also be credited for achievements.
“Although there have been a few instances of discrimination against critics of the government, there have been no systematic human rights abuses. This must be a significant achievement, given our long history of hyper-authoritarianism. Respect for human rights is an indispensable aspect of democracy. This is the best government we have had to date in this area. While the government has not articulated a cohesive ethnic-impact policy, it has nevertheless exhibited sensitivity to the ethnic interests of the three major ethnic groups,” he said.
Hinds, who was controversially severed as a columnist in March by the state-owned Guyana Chronicle, said that although the government has handled the downsizing of the sugar industry badly, it must be commended for confronting the problem. “While previous governments have kicked the ball down the road, this one decided to tackle the problem. The deliberate engagement with the sugar industry shows that the government is sensitive to the ethnic interests of Indian Guyanese. They erred in the implementation of the plan—inadequate meaningful consultation with sugar workers, being late with the alternative plan and severance payments,” he noted.
However, ironically, he said that while the closest the government has come to a real policy is around sugar, its failure to explain its actions in policy terms has been the problem.
He continued on the successes as he hailed Indigenous outreach and engaging Afro-Guyanese. “The government must be given high marks for its outreach into the Amerindian communities. These are often neglected communities by government until election time. The government seems to have a clear policy of engagement in that community which augurs well for the future. [And] although, there has been no major policy to promote Black Empowerment, the government has officially embraced the UN-sanctioned International Decade of the Peoples of African Descent project and has been engaging African Guyanese organizations in that regard,” he added.
The David Granger-led administration should be complimented on keeping its campaign promise to hold long overdue Local Government Elections (LGE) as Hinds believes this is a major accomplishment as LGE is an important plank of democratic governance which had been badly neglected by previous governments here.
On the matter of providing services, he also gave government a passing grade saying that while there has been no revolution in this area, enough has been done to merit passing, even if without distinction. There have been some improvements in water supply, health care, education and the general infrastructure,” he said.
And with an anti-corruption stance being one of the major pillars of campaigning for the coalition in its 2015 elections campaign, he said that although government has been slow and indecisive it must be commended for at least tackling this very sensitive issue.
“After dragging its feet for three years and after some of its own ministers have been implicated in questionable decisions, the recent move to charge PPP ex-Ministers for misconduct in office looks more like political spectacle than serious anti-corruption crusade,” Hinds posited.
A pro-active foreign policy, particularly as it relates to border problems and continuation of a strongly pro-CARICOM state summed up Hinds’ commendations of the coalition government.
However, he contended that the noted accomplishments have not led to a qualitative improvement of the country’s political economy.
He cited challenges such as unemployment and underemployment, poor wages in both the public and private sectors, the high-crime rate, illiteracy and poor educational outcomes, the paucity of successful small and medium-size businesses and the constitutional reform impasse.
Further, he added, “The absence of vision and attendant cohesive policies in these areas are the real culprits. What is the policy in each of these areas—what big things are you trying to accomplish— and what are the linkages between these policies? What are your priorities? For example, why are you building more roads as opposed to more schools? Is that linked to an agricultural policy or to an imminent impetus in the tourism sector? Or, has the holding of Local Government elections led to an improvement in local democracy or to better delivery of local services or to a people-centred rather than a party-centred local governance? The answer is a resounding, No! You cannot just hold elections just to say you have held them. That is not enough.”