Bipartisanship in Parliament

For far too long the Guyana Parliament has served almost only as a battleground for warring political parties – both those in government and those with their eyes set on becoming the government. Many an editorial has been written bemoaning this state of affairs, but nothing has changed in recent years, and if anything, many might say that things have gotten considerably worse.

Like the UK parliament and similar structures in the democratic world, the Guyana Parliament is expected to function as a system of checks and balances on the Executive branch of Government, in addition to its other principal function of passing legislation. But while it might be naïve to expect that each party in the Parliament would not use the National Assembly as a means of improving their image in the eyes of the public at the expense of their political opponents, it should not be an unreasonable expectation of all citizens that the sitting Members of Parliament would, on occasions that merit, rally together in bipartisan unity, discussing and plotting strategies on matters of national interest without descending into the usual unproductive bickering about past events.

Deep inside this badly flawed modus operandi of our politicians – both the old ones and the new ones – must lie an inherent disregard for the opinions of the voting public. Because, if the voting public is considered to be sufficiently intelligent, then they should surely be able to figure out quite easily whether or not their lawmakers are pursuing the interests of the public or the interests of their own political parties. And if the lawmakers are pursuing their own selfish interests at the expense of the people they should be representing, then it stands to reason that this should cost them at the polls. In Guyana this doesn’t happen and it might seem that the political parties in Guyana have decided that the voting public is trapped into accepting either six of one or half a dozen of the other.

Consequently, matters of deep public interest are either completely ignored in the parliament, or else are treated to banal discourses intended only to embarrass either side and to score as many cheap political points as a docile and tolerant public might allow. The Opposition’s right to question and challenge the Executive on various matters cannot be questioned or challenged by the Executive. Consequently, the Executive must be expected to put forward its legislative and economic agenda, and to actively defend its position on these matters when questioned and challenged. This reality in itself should lead to a robust exchange of ideas in the parliament and redound to the benefit of all Guyana.

However, when matters such as the survival of the state monopoly entity, the Guyana Sugar Corporation, is placed in the parliament, the level of the discourse should be boosted by the involvement of as many technocrats as possible by both sides of the House. This did not happen and this discussion was as much a political one as it was economic or technical.

When the Donald Trump administration unilaterally introduced sanctions on Russia without regard to the likely tremendous fallout worldwide, Guyana was immediately put on notice that RUSAL Bauxite and Oldendorff Carriers would be directly affected by this unexpected move by the Americans. In normally functioning countries, this might have prompted an immediate special meeting of the National Assembly, and then a carefully directed lobbying effort would have resulted with a view to reversing the decision, amending it, or at least mitigating its harmful effects. And indeed, this did happen in several European countries and Jamaica which lobbied the Trump administration to soften its stance and remove the aluminium giant RUSAL from the list of affected firms. With the aluminium markets in disarray and even companies lobbying against the restrictions, the Americans softened their  position and agreed to potentially lift the sanctions against RUSAL if Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska who has close ties to Russian President Putin is removed from the company.

While all this was happening, there was not even the tiniest hint of a strategy to mitigate the potential job losses and other negative economic consequences coming from the administration here in Guyana. There were no urgent parliamentary caucuses to bring all lawmakers on the same page of a potentially damaging situation for some 500 Guyanese workers and for the economy as a whole. Initial conflicting reports finally gave way to some degree of calm as the European lobbying gained traction.

Another example of the inertia that grips our parliamentarians on matters of urgent national import is the sanctions that the US government has placed on neighbouring Venezuela. There has been no bipartisan approach to assessing the impact that the current social and economic upheaval that the sanctions have wrought on the Venezuelan people is having on Guyana and Guyanese, particularly in the interior areas of the country. With our borders as porous as they are we are yet to even deal practically and completely with the news that bandits out of Venezuela are terrorising border communities. Our parliamentarians cannot be bothered to have bipartisan discussions and emerge with a show of nationalistic togetherness to send a clear message to our neighbours.

This leads to the only possible conclusion which is that our parliament is merely a venue for playing politics at the expense and distraction of the population. Our overpaid lawmakers make lofty speeches, feigning debate on issues when the only goal is really one-upmanship bordering on brinkmanship in their revolving door struggle for power.

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