The population has learnt not to expect much that is edifying in the annual budget debates. This ritual by the political classes throws up with mundane regularity all that is wrong with our political culture. It gives them the opportunity to reinforce the principles that underlie that political culture so as to fuel it up for another year. It also facilitates the deteriorating behaviour of parliamentarians in attempting to prevent each other from being heard. They must have tried the patience of Speaker Scotland, whose dignified management of the proceedings, and silence at a most insulting and patronizing reference as the ‘new kid on the block,’ were among the bright spots of the week.
The nature of the allegations made by the opposition in relation to procedures in the National Assembly are identical to the allegations of the PNC/PNCR/PNCR-1-G/APNU, for one reason or another, when it was in opposition. If we go back further, the management of the business of the National Assembly from 1992 to 2001 was similar from 1964 to 1992. The opposition after 1992 did nothing to change the practices which they had tolerated before, if not engineered, maybe because they felt that they did not have the bona fides to do so.
On the subject of political culture, the political interference which it is has spawned has led to bad governance and has destroyed initiative and creativity in state administration in Guyana. With this in mind I was surprised at the second public attempt to defend the very public termination and subsequent attempts to demonize Bharat Dindyal, the CEO of GPL, in the National Assembly.
The following were not denied: an attempt was made by a senior officer, without authority, to dismiss other senior staff; the attempt was objected to by the CEO who appointed a committee to investigate the allegations against the targeted staff; a further attempt was made by the senior officer, again without authority, to dismiss the senior employees before the investigation was complete, this time accompanied by one or more policemen to enforce the dismissals; the action of the senior officer had political support; the CEO objected loudly; his month to month contract was then immediately terminated.
The Government must be assumed to have known, as it alleged, that Mr. Dindyal was incompetent and overpaid. Yet he was not terminated in May, or June or July, even though he was a monthly employee clearly on his way out. He was terminated in mid-August only after he objected to political interference. This supports the conclusion that he was terminated at this time only because he challenged a political directive. The public nature of the dismissal and denigration were necessary to send the appropriate message to others.
The scourge of political interference in management is one of the most destructive aspects of bad governance about which APNU and the AFC have bitterly complained while in opposition. If the government does not start the process of eliminating it, its administrative machinery will remain indolent and unimaginative. If political interference continues, we will no doubt see more Dindyals. There will always be managers with independent instincts.
The opposition did not attend the National Assembly to offer ideas for the development of Guyana. They went to attack the government and to set the fighting tone to commence the campaign for victory at the next general elections. To be fair, this is what oppositions everywhere do. After this debate and walkout the government would be under no illusion about the promised opposition cooperation.
By its nature budget debates force governments, both past and present, into a constructive mode. They have to defend their achievements of the past, explain away their failures and promote policies of the future. Oppositions in our system, however, past and present, having no responsibility for managing the affairs of the nation and no immediate governmental past to defend, utilize the opportunity mainly to castigate the government without the responsibility for offering any constructive solutions.
At this particular time, the situation is somewhat different because there has been a recent change of government. On this occasion, therefore, the opposition sought, in part, to defend its record in government. Since the last PPP government of 2011-2015 achieved absolutely nothing, the opposition has had to resort to defending the Jagdeo regimes. But there is little to defend. In a letter to SN (2015-08-18) Dr. Ramesh Gampat offered that from 1992-2015, after then Finance Minister Carl Greenidge negotiated the ERP, which was adopted by the PPP after the economy had been set on a firm footing, real growth was 2.7 percent. Dr. Gampat attributed the failure of Guyana to reach its true potential since independence to ethnic politics.
Notwithstanding that all serious analysts and activists, including some in the government, such as Clive Thomas and Rupert Roopnaraine, are aware that Guyana’s underdevelopment will continue until there is a political solution, the government appears disinclined to pursue it despite President Granger’s promise when President Carter visited. The absence of a political solution is the fault of the politicians not the people. The electorate called for it in 2011 by way of the election results. The PPP ignored the call and paid the price. APNU+AFC should heed that lesson.