The Amaila Falls Hydro Project became a victim of Guyana’s political culture. The new Cheddi Jagan Airport and the Specialty Hospital are now in jeopardy. It is not known how the PPP came about the idea that it can move these projects forward in the National Assembly without a far higher degree of collaboration and trust. A Party of such vast experience appears to believe that once there are ‘healthy political debates,’ whatever the outcome, all are then expected to act the ‘interests of the country.’ Who determines those interests?
It is Guyana’s authoritarian political culture that is responsible for the failure of Amaila. This culture gave us the Skeldon Factory, the new Cheddi Jagan Airport and the Specialty Hospital with no ‘healthy political debate’ or consultation, and Amaila with initially little more than nominal disclosures. These flowed more freely only when Opposition votes in the National Assembly became necessary. Amaila was conceived, planned, negotiated and announced without any consultation or ‘healthy political debate,’ first as a fait accompli, then followed by a scramble for ex post facto support from the Opposition.
Over the past few weeks in relation to Amaila, three significant issues were on the table. The Opposition said that all their questions had not been answered, Sithe Global said that they will not proceed with the Project unless there was national consensus, and legislation was pending in the National Assembly.
Then came the PPP Congress. In delivering the Central Committee Report President Ramotar spoke about the Opposition’s “dictatorial tendencies,” “vindictiveness,” “campaign of lies and slander,” “lies and deceit,” “arrogance,” “criminal connections,” trying to create “violence” and “mayhem.” President Ramotar said: “We know that the Opposition parties have long links with criminal elements in our society. They used criminal elements historically to create mayhem.” A substantial portion of the section of the Report on the Political Situation accuses the Opposition of being associated with criminals. Denying the use of the word “terrorism” to describe the Opposition’s actions in the National Assembly a few weeks ago, the President did not hesitate this time around. He said: “Clearly terrorism is a weapon that the joint opposition is ready to use whenever they have the opportunity to do so. They do not hesitate to use it to promote their agenda.”
Opposition’s support for the pending legislation, even if assurances were to have been given about the outstanding issues, could hardly be expected after this egregious political assault. This, of course, will not be acknowledged by the Opposition but does not gainsay the fact that they expressed concerns about several issues serious enough, they allege, to withhold their votes, despite extensive consultations with the Government, during which the latter claimed that all questions asked had been answered and the current issues were never raised.
However, with the unanimous adoption of the Central Committee Report by the PPP’s Congress, it has to be assumed that the PPP believed that open hostility is better suited to its plans. And what could those plans be? The only possible answer is that the Government is planning elections soon. This is speculation but there is no other rational explanation for its impolitic assault on the Opposition one week before one of the most important parliamentary votes in the history of Guyana when Opposition support is crucial. If this speculation is contradicted by efforts to persuade the Opposition to reverse its position, then the only other conclusion is that the PPP has been astonishingly reckless. The first parliamentary act after the Congress was the postponement by the Opposition of the vitally urgent urgent money laundering legislation.
Different political conditions since 2011 required thinking outside the political box. Proposals for a new relationship with the Opposition based on greater and more structured collaboration could have ensured a more productive future. The Central Committee did not rise to the occasion. And the abuse was superfluous because the public had heard about the alleged perfidy of the Opposition ad nauseam for years and up to the very recent past.
Apart from the damage the attack will do to Government/Opposition relations, the intensification of gridlock and the creation of a lame duck Parliament and Government, no serious investors will engage Guyana in this political climate of intense friction which is now likely to get worse.
With the failure of Amaila, going to elections is the only feasible option for the PPP. This major defeat for the Government together with the poisonous political climate suggests that the increased political bloodletting will make the PPP and Government appear even weaker and will induce more apathy among its supporters. New elections will settle the issue of whether the loss of the absolute majority by the PPP in 2011 was a one off event or whether it will, at least for a time, be a feature of our political architecture. If the former, we can expect a return to a past of short shrift being given to the Opposition and all other independent voices. If the latter, the PPP will find it difficult to continue to defy the popular will.