In the present political climate in Guyana it is very difficult, if not impossible, to claim objectivity when assessing the performance of either the government or the opposition. This difficulty is even more profound when you are politically aligned to one or the other of those elements, as most political commentators, including myself, are.
However, in spite of this situation, we, citizens of a country who wish to be recognized as being responsible people, have a duty to the nation to honour our civic responsibility. It therefore becomes necessary at times, to rise above party and political preferences and express our views on the performance of both government and opposition in relation to their mandate.
In this and in every democracy, governments are expected to govern in the best interest of the nation. On the other hand the responsibility of the opposition is to ensure governments are accountable to the people for their handling of the people’s business.
The APNU+AFC coalition government after coming to office have commissioned audits of many ministries and agencies. Those audits have revealed damning evidence of corruption and theft of state resources by elements in the PPP/C and their families and friends. In spite of these revelations the majority of these matters are yet to reach the courts. This failure to charge the people who are alleged to be at the centre of these crimes, has resulted in citizens questioning the commitment of the government to bring to justice wrongdoers in the former regime.
Not surprisingly, the PPP/C has deemed the audits political and acts of witch-hunting, which are designed to mislead the public and malign the former ruling party. They have taken this position in spite of the known fact that during their 23 years rule Guyana has emerged as a criminalized state and one of the more corrupt countries in the hemisphere. With such a bad reputation it is amazing that the PPP/C’s leadership today pretends that they are and have been throughout their twenty-three years of misrule, devotees of good governance, transparency and upholders of the rule of law in Guyana. Given our race-based politics their supporters have little or no difficulty accepting this questionable political metamorphosis of the former ruling party.
There is no doubt that the present administration has made a number of ‘missteps’ and in doing so, has contributed to the development of a cynical ‘mass consciousness’ that cuts across the political-race divide, on the issue of corruption in government – past and present. It is to the PPP/C’s credit that it has effectively taken advantage of the coalition government missteps. Their propaganda in this regard has caught on beyond that party’s historical constituency. This must be a worrying concern of the APNU+AFC ruling coalition, since often in politics, perception becomes reality.
The ruling coalition by its poor, virtually non-existent PR response has helped the PPP/C in its propaganda campaign of misinformation. The government’s poor responses to opposition propaganda and assaults have only made matters worse. So much so that people are now debating which of the two governments has been/is more corrupt. This, to my mind, is an absurd situation, since there is no way under the sun that the present regime, in the two-and-a-half years of its existence could be seen as corrupt as the PPP that governed for 23 years.
A good example of the government shooting itself in the foot and aiding opposition propaganda is the way it dealt with the US$18 million signing bonus from ExxonMobil. While most Guyanese would support the government position that it decided to reserve the money to pay legal fees in relation to the border controversy with Venezuela, the same is not true on its position of not informing the nation that it received the bonus payment.
The contention of the opposition and regime detractors that government’s intention was to steal the money is far from the truth since the US$18 million was deposited in an account at the Bank of Guyana. This is the proper place for the nation’s money when it is borne in mind that the Consolidated Fund is housed there.
The issue of not wanting the Venezue-lans to know that we got the payment and our intended use of the money is understandable. However, it can be argued that the Venezuelans, given their long history in oil, would have had knowledge of the signing bonus payment at the time it was made. And even without this knowledge, the Venezuelans would have calculated that given Guyana’s long stated position to have the controversy dealt with at ICJ, that the government would have committed resources to pursue its objective. It is in that context that the government’s position of not wanting the Venezuelans to know of the signing bonus and our intended use of the money was misplaced.
Further, after having put the money in the central bank, then to believe that the opposition would not have known of it could not have been a serious expectation on the part of the government. Whatever may have been responsible for its misreading of the situation, it resulted in the regime playing into the hands of its detractors, including the PPP/C. It also fed the growing perception of lack of transparency in government dealings.
I believe it would have being politically prudent for the President to inform the Leader of the Opposition that the money was received and request that he keep the matter secret. If this was done and the opposition Leader had failed to agree, or having agreed leaked the information and the issue became public, the government would have been well placed to make the opposition pay the political price of being unpatriotic. The opposition then would have had no leg to stand on and would have been seen as both unpatriotic and a facilitator in destabilising the country’s national security image. In misreading and mishandling the matter the government provided the opposition and its other detractors with the opportunity to force it on the defensive. In response to this crisis the President had to dispense with valuable presidential capital and address the nation, in the course of which he took responsibility for what had transpired.
In closing I am of the opinion that both the government and the opposition at times have been irresponsible in dealing with Guyana’s business, and I want to use this opportunity to urge both sides to a more objective dissemination of the facts on critical national issues.
Finally, I wish to reiterate my outright rejection of the reckless talk that the APNU+AFC government is as corrupt as the PPP/C government. By any standards this is nonsense. But the fact that we have to confront this perception speaks volumes. Our work is cut out for 2018.