If Guyana remains with two major parties these must transform

Dear Editor,

By now, most of us can agree that the political culture in Guyana is stagnated, toxic and based on a tradition that traces its roots back to the divide and conquer era of the British. Our leaders have chosen to double down into an ethnicity battle for power, mainly because there is the belief that only through race politics can an ethnic group gain a better life and gain wealth.

This old way of politics has stifled us from the contemporary approach to politics that benefits territories like Barbados, the Eastern Caribbean, Singapore and the Scandinavian region. What is consistent among these countries is their desire to put the country first over everything else, and then move to educate their population so that they can make the right decisions. In turn the politicians become efficient at nation building by linking social objectives to economic growth, such as good health care and education, which we know, stimulate the economy and provide the basis for better democracy.

In Guyana we face multiple critical adversities that keep us back, and there is no silver bullet to solve these problems. However, I may speak for many Guyanese who would like to at least see some effort from all players that points us in the direction of progressive and responsible politics. We are tired of tribal behaviours cloaked in nice suits and fancy words. We need to see genuine action that sets an example of progressive thinking and compromise for the people’s interest and not personal or party needs.

In his lecture at the State University at Binghamton, NY, Walter Rodney had put forward that the ethnic divide perpetuated by politicians is used as merely a tool for the bigger objective to achieve class superiority over the poor, and in the end it didn’t matter which race suffered, as long as the status quo remained intact. He further contended that the upper class had always schemed to control all factors of Guyana power levers and that the upper class was not limited to a specific race or ethnic group. Rodney believed that when it came down to it, upper class Indians and Blacks had always found a way to work together to keep the rest of Guyana in a state of dependence.

Even though today the lines between the upper class and poorer Guyanese have blurred a little, where persons have the opportunity to become economically stable through hard work and education, the problem still exists in the political arena, where a lot of the middle class have not veered away from the gang politics that aligns them to ethnicity.  This is disappointing because you would expect that with the improvement of higher education, the desire for a better political process should naturally evolve.

I believe Ralph Ramkarran had alluded to a deliberate political struggle in order to change the mindset of the people so that they can hold their leaders and political parties accountable. However, I do not agree that a third party will solve the problem; only awareness and education can. Then, if the mindset changes among the people, the existing or new political parties will have no choice but to concede to the wishes of the people.

But there is more to this than what is said above. I believe that we cannot simply leave the entire burden on the people; there are two other things that must happen in conjunction with awareness and that is politicians must start changing their message and behaviour towards a less toxic style and move towards a more contemporary form of politics through actions and decisions. And secondly, the private sector, that also includes the multi-national corporations, such as Exxon and others, must now actively intensify their corporate social responsibility (CSR) mechanism to foster a more inclusive and progressive environment.

The CSR strategy should be flexible and unique to Guyana’s needs, such as providing education on progressive democracy, contemporary forms of business, negotiations, community activism,  a platform for free (impactful) speech and act as a check and balance to government malpractice. In terms of the latter, we can assume that by Exxon confirming the recent US$18 million signing bonus to the government, it forced the government to be transparent and therefore Exxon would have tactfully created a check and balance in that situation. It may not have been ideal, but the people saw the results.

On the leadership side, political parties will have to start demonstrating the intestinal fortitude to transform their political approach to our democracy by doing more to change the old way of thinking, regardless of seniority in the party. And to be specific, we must do away with group think and giving all the leverage of decision-making to a select few who may develop or have subjective goals that put the country at a disadvantage. Political parties must simultaneously create trends and adapt to a new climate that fosters independent thought, disagreements and finding ways to cultivate positive results even from critics, internally and externally.

I believe that if Guyana remains with two major parties, these parties must transform or be held accountable for their role in keeping Guyana stagnated or moving forward.

Yours faithfully,
Malcolm Watkins

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