Federalism does not equate to partition

Dear Editor,

Mr Vincent Alexander purported to respond to my column, ‘Federalism to end ethnic conflict’ in a letter: ‘I maintain that Dev’s Federalism proposal is highly flawed’ (SN, Jan 25). I say “purported” because Mr Alexander sedulously sought to equate “Federalism” with “partition”, which it certainly is not. A Federal Republic, for instance, the US, remains a single country. Residents of each state/province would be free to move and live in another state/province.

Mr Alexander correctly noted I claimed: “In a society where the majority ethnic groups each constitute majorities in different areas of the country, political devolution offers the largest number of incentives toward addressing ethnic insecurities”. But he excised the topic sentence of the paragraph: “I propose that Guyana be reconstituted as a Federal Republic, even as a coalition government be formed at such a republic’s centre.”

Mr Alexander then proceeded to attack a strawman he created by suggesting that the states/provinces in the Federal Republic would somehow be unfair to African Guyanese. In addition to being “flawed”, my Federal proposal was, “Indo-centric and non-recognition of the contribution of other Guyanese to the development of Guyana; and their collective right to its patrimony.” And this is where Mr Alexander reveals the real basis of his and most African-Guyanese rejection of federalism as a possible way to ease our ethnically based political tensions.

As Mr Alexander notes, in a federalized Guyana, in specific states/provinces some specified devolved powers (“competencies”) will be in the hands of the state/province’s administration to the extent they form majorities there. Why does he object to this? When we proposed the Federal Republic, the PPP was in office and it was possible they could rule in perpetuity based on the numbers of their mainly Indian supporters, and this created an African Ethnic Security Dilemma in the “majoritarian” polity. Federalism, we pointed out, would offer other groups in some state/province to have an opportunity to experience executive office, albeit at a lower level than the central government. Today, with the African-dominated APNU in office, why shouldn’t other groups be afforded the same opportunity?

But how can the proposal be “racist”, of all things, if with Indians now below 39% and decreasing exponentially, the African Security Dilemma is now gone and they have as equal a chance as any other group of leading the coalition at the centre? As they do now. And what this coalition, which was supposed to be “multiracial” with the addition of the AFC, has demonstrated is one cannot trust the beneficence of dominant partners in coalitions.

But Mr Alexander reveals his concern when he claims Indo-Guyanese would deny other groups – read Africans ‒ access to Guyana’s “collective patrimony”. How? Mr Alexander argues as if governance at lower levels would translate into ownership of resources. Is Mr Alexander projecting from the ethnically skewed manner in which the national patrimony is presently being distributed by the central APNU government? Or redistributed as in sugar?

As concededly an avowed proponent of “devolution” Mr Alexander would know that the only practical difference between our present regional system and a federal system is the “competencies” of the latter ‒ such as Police functions, local development, local taxation and spending ‒ which are constitutionally entrenched and cannot be manipulated as they have been since the eighties, by the central government.

Would he deny even these to other groups? Isn’t he ensuring Guyana’s continuing instability?

Yours faithfully,

 Ravi Dev

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