Some two- and-two-quarter years ago, the current government took office with the expectation that it would be about a contra-PPP style of governance (It should be noticed that I still find it poisonous to go near an actual name.) How has the government done in what had to be a major undertaking, given the barbarities that were enmeshed as part of the then political leadership culture? In some instances, the government performed admirably; in others it failed terribly. A look is worthwhile.
Today, in this country, known individual commentators flay the government with almost absolute impunity. They do so without fear or recoil. All critics (even the wildly inaccurate or most hawkish sentinels) feel free to write or rankle. They are not subject to the rank intimidation and vile abuses of prior years. Even though they have erred, or strayed off-track, and have been called to task, it has been with an absence of the vituperation and viciousness that characterized the leadership (and party) practices of years gone by. This is priceless and a major plus for the government in a sometimes controversial and always tempestuous environment.
Also, the press is no longer the scapegoat to be targeted (advertisements and lawsuits) or demonized (lockouts and outright bias). As is borne out by the records, this government has been excoriated and scorched on many things (and sometimes rightfully so), but it has not resorted to the pathological vindictiveness of before. What was present before as governance transcended gender, basic norms, and even deformed, fevered Guyanese politics. Score another for the government for returning a modicum of decency to society.
Then, that much maligned (and accurately, too) guardian of Guyanese civilization is exhibiting growth in a positive direction. In the short space of over two years a slow, hard rebuilding is in motion. This is being resisted and undermined from several points, but the government has manifested its own obstinacy in cleansing this particular stable through ushering in a longed-for renaissance to what was a multilayered political racket, and an expansive Palace Guard. There are still countless swindles and many scamps in the fold, but citizens have experienced some limited relief. The complaints and fears still proliferate, but there is new visibility and solubility today, where there were none previously. That notorious euphemism of ‘a few bad apples’ is now exposed a calculated cover-up and blatant falsehood. Now that a widening foundation is in process, and on which some confidence can be placed, the government is due some recognition.
Next, there are those existing state boards. For all intents and purposes, they functioned as extensions of the old party congresses, wherever they were held. Some of that taint is still around; but these boards operate less as secret societies and capricious concoctions. They are open. I can speak of one in particular, and say this much: after close to a year, there has not been a single instance of interference from the responsible minister. Yes, there have been differences; but of interference – none. I cannot offer anything as to what is the situation with other boards, but the standard identified (and experienced) is what should prevail. When such is the case there is cause for optimism and trust.
I depart from the positives from this government found encouraging, and take aim at where it has faltered, oftentimes egregiously, incomprehensibly so. On Exxon, its rationales were found acceptable and appropriate; on the other hand, its timing and positioning could not have been more wrong. It has since issued a mea culpa or two; now the quick learning and clean deliverables must accelerate in every field. Budgets have been punishing, then uninspiring; expected soaring visions have succumbed to timidity, flaccidity, even placidity. And with oil marching relentlessly towards $70 a barrel, there is widespread pain coming.
On the point of pain, it is agonizing to watch the missteps and mangling of the sugar industry reduction in force process. How many workers? How much money? How many potential partners? How many exit strategies? How many unthinking and unsynchronized navigators at the wheel? And last, how many are there in this mother of all snafus of whom it can be said, with a straight face, that they are ready and equipped to bring sanity to this situation? Since the president is of army vintage, a court martial should be convened.
On a different note, when the government changed in May 2015, things went from the villainous to the vague in some places, and from secrecy to silence, in just about every other space. On the latter, and where the public relations process is concerned, the off-button is on. This government has failed to appreciate the power of positive press; or its unlimited potential to fill the vacuum otherwise. From all the evidence, this government has never seen a favourable preemptive communication that it liked, or blessed with timely release. Thus, the country went from the loud rants of many established head cases to the equivalent of a hushed waiting room at a hospital case. There are no messages forthcoming, even when the news is good. There have been those.
I discern ministers who have been foolish; I am yet to discover any who are fraudulent. Without a doubt, corruption is still around and muscular and high reaching. Where there is free cash, there are givers and takers in the rarefied world of movers and shakers. The President is aware. Yet, it still can be said that political corruption today is not of the supertanker variety, or the brigade strength that permeated the life and times of the previous administration’s now calculating theoretical paper losses incurred from not being in power. In fact, the pickings were so good that the biggest real estate magnate in this society is not a commercial player, but a political character. That should suffice.
As I look panoramically at this government, like democracy, it could be labelled as bad in parts. But when compared to the perversities of yesterday, it is the best that has been seen for a long time. Citizens must insist that it measure up and be better. To do so, they have to keep tunnelling towards light and air, as meagre as those may prove to be. For its part, the government must demonstrate that it stands committed to the conventional, the credible, and the coherent; even as it bears in mind the need for sensitivity to ethnic narratives and stormy political imperatives. The best adjustment, the only satisfactory remedy, is the forthrightness of the tabletop. Now let the floodgates open.