This article below was first published in June, 2014, in a different political era. The recent shooting by the Police of three men on the seawall demonstrates the continuing relevance of the issues discussed at that time. I wrote as follows:
Violence and corruption in the police force can no longer be classified as allegations. They are real and are now an integral part of the culture of the Police Force and policing in Guyana. The sooner the authorities accept that these are chronic and systemic problems in the Police Force, the quicker there will be a serious attempt at a solution. No such attempt has yet taken place, even though modest efforts at ‘reforms’ have been made. But these have been attempted only reluctantly, after much public pressure and as an attempt to soothe public opinion. When public rage overflows, such as after the shootings in Middle Street, the public is offered the creation of a SWAT team. But the danger now exists that the Police Force will become so enmeshed and so entrenched in violence and corruption, that systems to protect these will take on a life of their own within progressively higher reaches of the Police Force.
It is not known whether the post of Commissioner of Police, which has become vacant with the retirement of now former Commissioner, Seelall Persaud, will be advertised to facilitate applicants from Guyana and the Caribbean, or will be ‘selected.’ President Granger implemented that policy in relation to the posts of Chancellor and Chief Justice, for which he had argued forcefully as Leader of the Opposition. It was productive because one such applicant was nominated for the post of Chancellor. Consistency demands that the position of Commissioner of Police be similarly advertised so as to attract the best qualified from Guyana and the region.
When appointed, the new Commissioner will recognize that without the cooperation of the public who provide information and intelligence, the capacity of the Police to solve crime would be severely diminished. It appears that such cooperation was significantly enhanced during the tenure of Commissioner Seelall Persaud. This saw a heightened crime resolving effort by the Police which deteriorated as soon as the Police came under public attack at the recent inquiry and the negative consequences of that inquiry. It is hoped that under new leadership the Police will revive its effort at good community relations which is recognized the world over as vital to crime-solving.
The Mayor and Councillors of the City of Georgetown (the City Council) have voted overwhelmingly to support a renegotiated contract for the establishment of parking meters in certain parts of the City. The major change is that the hourly rate has been reduced from $200 to $150 while an eight-hour day would cost $800. There were other minor revisions and concessions. The effect of the reduction by $50 an hour is like throwing a crumb to the citizenry.
The popular upsurge during last year against the imposition of parking meters was as a result of the high and unaffordable charges. It was pointed out that they were proportionately higher than parking meter charges in New York, a city that was 500 plus times wealthier than Georgetown where the charges for parking is US$1 an hour, the same as was proposed for Georgetown. While the protests were successful in derailing the plans of the City Council, with little or no help from the Government, there was also a legal element. Two cases were filed. One has been heard in which the Court ruled that the bylaws were not lawfully promulgated by the Minister. This means that before the parking meter system can be reintroduced and fees charged, the bylaws have to be lawfully put in place by the Minister.
In the critical years of the 1970s and 1980s, three major issues engaged the attention of my political colleagues – restore democracy, advance social progress and avoid civil strife. We firmly believed that Guyana could make no progress unless full democracy through free and fair elections were restored. Our analysis was that it was the lack of internal democracy that was responsible for what we then saw as the failure of the economic reforms in the 1970s and 1980s to lead to economic and social progress. The PPP saw this and gave a lifeline to the PNC more than once. The most notable was the National Patriotic Front under which, after free and fair elections, the largest political party would take the prime ministership and the second largest the executive presidency. The PNC would not hear of it. Even if democracy had not been restored in 1992, developments in the world would have ensured that by today we would have been living in a democratic Guyana.
The victory of democracy in 1992 has resulted in substantial economic and social progress for Guyana. But this progress gave rise to other problems. The incipient problems of corruption and lack of transparency and accountability exploded, with little effort to resolve them. Also, the intractable issue of ethno-political domination was put aside because of the unremitting, and sometimes violent opposition of the PNC, as well as some degree of triumphalism within the PPP. Attempts to work through and resolve differences between the PPP government and Desmond Hoyte and later Robert Corbin failed. The PPP government was mainly responsible. When the real opportunity of embracing unity presented itself in 2011, the PPP did not even consider forming a coalition with APNU. The reticence today of both parties in embracing constitutional reform which would diminish the impact of ethno-politics is the next hurdle the Guyanese people have to overcome.
Minister Winston Jordan’s outburst at Auditor General, Deodat Sharma, a constitutional office holder, was unusual. While it came from a man of moderate temperament, it offends what is or should be the normal practice, namely, that the executive should not publicly chastise or question decisions of independent, constitutional office holders except within official channels. The issue was the Auditor General’s opinion that certain government expenditures did not qualify as emergencies and so were not properly charged to the Contingencies Fund.
The Minister’s view was that the Auditor General has no jurisdiction under the Fiscal Management and Accountability Act (“the Act”) to pronounce on whether an expenditure qualifies as ‘urgent, unavoidable and unforeseen.’ He argued that the decision is that of the Minister who reports to the National Assembly. The Minister further suggested that in the past the Ministry was given the opportunity to edit the Auditor General’s Report but that such a facility has been withdrawn. The Auditor General rejected the Minister’s assertions.