If one of the two main political groups in Guyana, the Peoples’ Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) or the A Partnership For National Unity + Alliance For Change (APNU+AFC) achieves an absolute majority at the March 2 general elections, one half of the population will feel alienated. This alienation has been the signal feature of Guyana’s politics since 1957. It has grown progressively worse since then, aggravated by and/or resulting in Guyana’s history of electoral manipulation, discrimination, and criminal and civil violence since 1962.
To eliminate this albatross, Guyana needs a political system where the main political parties alternate in power every two terms, or one where the two political parties share power equally. Since the former is difficult to constitutionally structure under a system of free, but adversarial, elections, the latter appears to be the only route out of a political dilemma which has emerged from the existence in Guyana of two large ethnic blocs that manifest their insecurities in fixed electoral choices.
At its 130th Anniversary gala dinner during last week, the President of the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GCCI), Nicholas Deygoo-Boyer, outlined a development plan which he urged political parties to support and implement, whichever political party holds office. It is certainly a sensible proposal. But political parties have different approaches, different emphases, different rationales and profound jealousies. I still cannot get over the rejection by APNU+AFC’s of the Amalia Hydropower Project despite a stamp of approval given by Norconsult, a neutral expert appointed by Norway. But it was ‘Jagdeo’s’ project and coming after the secrecy of Amalia and the failure of the Skeldon sugar factory, it was not supported. Our rickety electricity production and distribution systems are once again in deep trouble, to the consternation of the consuming public, who have endured it for 40+ years. Industrial development will be further postponed. The sad fact is that, however sensible the proposal for an agreed development plan, our divisive and unstable political system, configured in the way that it now is, cannot accommodate any form of agreement.
It was refreshing to note that President Deygoo-Boyer and the GCCI recognised that something is wrong with our political system. The proposal, however, that Guyana goes backward to the full Westminster system, with a Prime Minister sitting in Parliament as the chief executive, and a mainly ceremonial President with moderate constitutional authority, will not resolve the dysfunctionalities of our political system. It was under a similar system, bequeathed by the British in the Independence Constitution, that the 1968 and 1973 elections and the 1979 referendum were rigged, the National Security Act providing for detention without trial was in force and the Mirror and remainder of the free press were decimated. It was under this system that Walter Rodney was assassinated. Guyana needs a governance system that has a good chance of breaking the cycle of political illegalities, violence and competition for ethnic supremacy which are the core political problems in Guyana. It has undergirded our political perspectives since 1957 and is responsible for our economic under-development, corruption, continuing poverty, crime and political instability.
I recall that long before a year had elapsed of Mrs. Janet Jagan’s presidency, an outcry arose regarding her failure to hold a press conference. She eventually held one about one year into her presidency. The voices calling out Mrs. Jagan in 1997-8 are still around, but have gone silent on President Granger failure to hold a single press conference despite having been elected to office one and a half years ago. The Norconsult Report on the Amaila Falls Hydropower Project (AFHP) is only one of the major issues of great importance facing the country and a serious and coherent response is yet to be had from the Government.
When the Norconsult Report was commissioned the clear indication was that the Government would abide by its conclusions. In announcing the report in November 2015, Minister Winston Jordan said that, “Norway seems keen to finance an independent review to, once and for all, pronounce on the viability of the project.”
An uncharted situation faced the new government after the 2011 elections. Having decided to go it alone as a minority government, a plan for governance designed to create some consensus was expected to unfold. An unstructured tripartite committee was announced but it lost credibility because the government refused to have serious consultations on the 2012 budget, the AFC was left out of the discussions relating to the Linden electricity issue and has thereafter refused to participate in discussions because of alleged Government recalcitrance on other matters. No structure to generate trust and confidence existed by the time Amaila came around.
In an effort to convince the Opposition and critics on Amaila, discussions took place with President Ramotar and Minister Ashni Singh. Mr. Winston Brassington and his advisers also had discussions with critics. Documents were handed over. The chief public spokespersons for the government defending the project and answering critics were President Ramotar and Minister Singh, although others, including Mr. Brassington weighed in occasionally. There was no organized public information campaign or effort to supplement, expand and define on a daily basis what they had to say. On the other hand, the Opposition and other critics were in the media every day.