Political tensions in Guyana took a turn for the worst over the past two weeks. This has resulted from the appointment by President Granger of former Justice James Patterson as Chairman of the Elections Commission. Claiming that the third set of names contained no one who was fit and proper as required by the Constitution, the President, rejecting the names, utilized the constitutional proviso that enabled him to appoint a judge or former judge or a person qualified to be a judge.
Mr. James Patterson may not have been the President’s first choice. The appearance of Major General (ret’d) Joe Singh’s name among the final six gave some hope that the matter would be resolved without resort to the proviso. Those who know the retired Major-General suggest that he would not have allowed his name to go forward if there was any possibility that it would be rejected as not fit and proper. His sudden resignation from all government posts suggest that an undertaking, which may have been given to him, had been violated.
The Peoples’ Progressive Party went to extraordinary lengths over ten months to find eighteen Guyanese willing to agree to have their names submitted to the President of Guyana for consideration to be appointed to one of the most difficult, controversial and thankless of jobs – Chair of the Elections Commission. Of the last six names submitted, two immediately leap out for consideration. Retired Major General Joe Singh was the highly respected Chief of Staff of the Guyana Defence Force and was a former Chair of the Elections Commission for the 2002 elections, which were credibly held. Attorney at Law Teni Housty is a well-respected, well-qualified, senior, experienced, lawyer and former President of the Guyana Bar Association. Many of the other nominees are also well qualified but no one can seriously assert that the political persuasion of either of these gentlemen, if any, would influence their decisions. Many observers expected, or at least hoped, that President Granger would find suitable persons from the last six.
The PPP has announced that it will mount a constitutional challenge to the President’s appointment. The best time for this was after the President had rejected the first six names and in doing so had suggested that the names should be of only judges, former judges or persons qualified to be judges. The results of the case which was filed after the Leader of the Opposition had submitted a second set of names, showed that it could have been possible to obtain an order from the court directing the President to choose a name from that first six. The Leader of the Opposition having submitted two further sets of six names, each at the invitation of the President, for understandable reasons, has deprived him of the opportunity of having an order in relation to the first six names.
Membership of our two main political parties does not necessarily imply that one is a racist or subscribes to an ethnic approach to politics. The leaderships of both parties seriously strive, largely unsuccessfully, to broaden the leadership and membership of their parties. That they have not been successful has not modified their efforts. In the past when there was a clearer ideological distinction between the parties, it was even easier to justify the assertion that motivations for political activism were not ethnic, at least overtly. But supporters are recalcitrant.
While no leader would tolerate ethnic slurs made by their supporters, they are always conscious of the fact that unacceptable language or characterizations in referring to another ethnic group is a common feature of Guyanese life and their supporters might falter. Strong measures should always be taken against such behavior. When Bill Maher, the white US TV host/comedian, liberal and strongly anti-racist, who donated US$1 million to Obama’s election campaign, recently said light-heartedly while interviewing someone that he should not be considered a ‘house n***’, there was a national outcry. He barely kept his job and had to apologise and publicly atone. One of his guests in his next show, the African American actor and rapper, Ice Cube, said that when that word is used in any context, except by African Americans who are now the owners of the word, and presumably are permitted to use it, ‘it’s like a knife.’ Words of racist abuse feel the same way to every race and they do reflect a ‘personal philosophy.’
The collapse of the Palmyra foundation structure intended to support an Indian Arrival Monument to be unveiled on Arrival day was reported by the Stabroek News on April 27. Stabroek News had interviewed a Mr. Marlon Cumberbatch who said he was the supervisor of the construction company. He couldn’t say what caused the collapse but suggested that the project needed to be redesigned. Mr. Cumberbatch stated that the construction company would be dissolved. Workers complained that they had not been paid and sources told Stabroek News that Mr. Cumberbatch was indeed the contractor. The choice of contractor, the design of the project, the reason for the collapse, all remain state secrets.
While not much has been announced, it appears that the government has embarked on policies to make the small man into a real man by opening up opportunities in construction and other areas. There have been complaints for a long time that Guyanese contractors of African descent were being discriminated against. Bringing a contractor from Linden to undertake a contract in the Corentyne, suggests that the policy of redress, and a lop-sided one at that, is in full swing.
One of the reasons behind public executions in the past and at present was and is to demonstrate the power of the State so that citizens would be duly intimidated. Public executions have largely disappeared. The growth of democracy has forced the development of more sophisticated methods of state intimidation, even though the gory spectacle remains in a few countries with significant democratic deficits and is pursued b a few terrorist groups, particularly ISIS.
The State machinery, particularly its enforcement arms, are theoretically and practically the major instruments of State control and enforcement. A more insidious form of State intimidation and oppression is the use of the press. Guyana has experienced starting from the late 1960s, the use of the privately owned press to inflame passions against the PPP Government, to misreport the news, to distort the truth and to encourage violence. The privately owned press was one of the main instruments in the struggle against the PPP Government. I am not familiar with the history of the press before this period. But I am sure it did its utmost to support the colonial authorities to intimidate persons and organisations who resisted the powers of the State, in particular the organized and unorganized workers’ movements.