The electorate will be called upon in 2015 to decide the political shape of Guyana for the immediate future. The performance of the economy and resolution of social problems will be dominant considerations. The electorate will punish the party in office if it feels that its economic and social conditions have not improved. It did so when the PNC was in office. It did so in 2011. There will a significant enough shift in sentiment to affect the outcome of the elections if the electorate is sufficiently dissatisfied.
If it is, it is unlikely to accept the excuse that the Opposition did not support projects. The electorate’s response to any such allegation may well be that it sent a message at the last elections that there should be a coalition government, which the PPP had the power to implement, but which it ignored and, therefore, it has no one to blame but itself for an allegedly recalcitrant Opposition.
2015 could restore the status quo of 2006 or may well bring transformative political changes in Guyana. Whatever the election results, it is wishful thinking if anyone believes that a retreat to majoritarianism, with the arrogance it induces and the corruption it perpetuates, will bring political relief. There will be a national, if peaceful, rebellion against the return to one party majority rule, which will ensure the continuation of a level of political discord sufficient enough to have a deleterious impact on development. Wisdom and statesmanship of a level not yet deployed in Guyana’s modern history, would be necessary to avoid such a situation.
After three years of gridlock the Guyanese people would welcome an accommodation by political parties leading to agreed policies. There is no great difference in the economic philosophies of the main political parties, so that there ought to be no great difficulty in arriving at agreed positions. The main issues are whether or not political power will be shared and under what constitutional arrangements. Since the results of the 2011 elections put these issues on the agenda, and they are gathering momentum, they can no longer be ignored.
For 2015 the new government might begin with poverty alleviation for the working poor and those living in extreme poverty. Guyana continues to register an inadequate level of economic growth to make a positive impact on poverty or to ensure continuing improvement in the standard of living without state intervention. The most impactful policy developed in recent years and deployed successfully in many parts of the world, including Brazil, is monthly cash grants to families under stringent conditions.
The economic growth necessary to sustain such a policy has been inadequate as pointed out above. Challenges exist in the sugar and the mining industries. Reliance on the export of primary products, lacking value added, and being subject to the vagaries of international prices and markets, is unsafe. The emphasis on large economic infrastructure items at the expense of expending more creative effort and energy to the encouragement of light manufacturing and services and to fund education, including technical and higher education, which together can improve and sustain medium and long term economic development, are not likely to enhance our economic prospects.
On Tuesday last, the day before Christmas Eve, I attended a Christmas party where I was asked to ‘say a few words.’ I ended by asking the audience not to drink and drive or to be passengers in vehicles the drivers of which had consumed alcohol. I and all Guyana woke up on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and yesterday to newspaper headlines reporting the continuing slaughter on our roads bringing untold grief in this season of goodwill to children, wives, husbands, parents, siblings and relatives.
Just last week an irrational burst of domestic violence, which is escalating notwithstanding the concern being regularly expressed, took the lives of three persons, including a child, with the threat of more to come. Criminal violence and terrorism are being perpetrated against innocent citizens at will. Few perpetrators are caught.
To make an impact on traffic accidents and domestic violence, I repeat a suggestion I made a long time ago that Government ought to encourage and even partially fund two NGOs, as the most appropriate organizational mechanisms to deal with these issues. Government does not have the capacity to deal adequately with these issues and with modest expenditures a great deal can be accomplished. Legal aid is the most successful example of Government/NGO collaboration.
Not all domestic violence or road accidents are due to alcohol consumption. But excessive consumption of alcohol is a common thread that runs through much of these social problems. Yet there has been no known comprehensive, evidence based, review of liquor licensing policy or the opening and closing hours of bars. One would have thought that the police authorities themselves, being responsible for traffic and the crimes resulting from domestic violence, would have publicly taken an interest in requesting such a review. There has been no indication that such has occurred. The silence of the Government on these matters suggests that they are not yet being treated as priorities.
Hopefully for 2015 these economic and social issues will be of equal importance as the reordering of our political future.