Internal political bickering and brinkmanship are not unique to Guyanese politics. They exist everywhere. Governments govern, oppositions oppose and oftentimes juvenile, infantile quibbling ensues. Whether fueled by ego, ambition or a preoccupation with attaining power, it is deleterious to the interest of the state and its people, while yielding to either an individual or the interests of a few entrenched elites.
What is not prevalent in other jurisdictions, as it is here, is the vicious, immobilizing perpetual political partisanship. In other societies there are national issues and matters which are sacred, which transcend narrow political agendas and on which there is national consensus. Politicians are not allowed to tamper with these at their whim and fancy or to pursue sectarian interests. Recent advances considered, we are still to achieve this level of political maturity.
With the prospect of Guyana joining the ranks of oil producing states it is time for us, as a society, to fast-track our progress in this regard. The people must not wait on the politicians but make it their own mission.
The status quo in Guyanese politics is that nothing is sacred, everything is fair game for politicians to exact their ounce of fat. And it is that which, as a society, we must collectively address. The recent incident-free protests against the implementation of parking meters and the application of Value Added Tax on private education tuition are positive developments, that, as a society, we are showing signs of political evolution. It is a process which must continue and which must be people, not politician, driven.
There can be no compromise that Guyana’s Sovereign Wealth Fund, when it is established in the coming years, must be above the political fray, managed in the best interest of all of Guyana regardless of which party is in government. It is the people of Guyana who must demand this of their politicians on all sides.
The people of Guyana must demand too, that constitutional reform not be hijacked as a cheap political football to score pot shots and as a platform for intransigence, stonewalling and brinkmanship. Insinuations by one political camp, that for the process to receive their commitment some persons across the fence must disengage and disappear is patently disingenuous. It constitutes an unmistakable, if desperate, attempt to hold the process to ransom.
Knowing that for success to be achieved it requires the input of all political stakeholders, it may even be an attempt to set up the derailment of the process before it even commences in earnest. This attitude also reeks of a lack of commitment to this sacred aspect of national life. Petty pre-conditions to engagement cannot be used as a tool to hold the constitutional reform process hostage. The people of Guyana must demand that the politicians, on all sides, act responsibly and with maturity.
There is a danger as well, that once we overcome this artificial hurdle of political childishness, the focus of constitutional reform can be misguided. The national discourse on constitutional reform has been dominated by the issue of curbing presidential powers. There is the view that this singular obsession is unhelpful and counter-productive. Considered estimation by reasoned minds may very well provide the view that constitutional reform ought to focus on two principal areas: (i) Electoral reform (ii) Decentralization of power (versus a simplistic curbing of presidential powers)
While electoral reform has also occupied significant space in the national discourse it has been a secondary issue. The danger in this is that it may lead to the fermenting of the notion that Guyana’s electoral process and systems, as is, are ideal and require little or no modifications. The difficulty is that the average citizen, in any village, town or city ward in Guyana, does not now directly elect a representative to the National Assembly. It leaves a void. For example, at election time, the people of South Georgetown or Tuschen or Onverwagt or Skeldon or Paramakatoi do not have two candidates from either of the two main political forces lobby them for their votes to be directly elected to the National Assembly. Guyanese vote for a list of candidates and it is the political directorate of the top performing lists which decide who sit in the National Assembly. Whether this, proportional representation system is the most ideal for our situation requires grassroot and expert review.
Critically, it is the decentralization of power, which will truly empower the average Guyanese citizen. The obsession with the seeming unilateral curbing of presidential powers can be as dangerous as it is defeatist. It can easily result in a simple transference of powers from the President to some other entity which is nothing more than a creature of the President, be it the Prime Minister, Vice Presidents, an executive committee or the Cabinet. In effect, the presidential powers can be easily trimmed but placed in an office or entity for which the President either presides over or decides or appoints the occupant(s). The result can be elongated or complex presidential powers which effectively returns the situation to square one.
Holding of LGE
In less than a year of the Coalition Government having assumed office, it held Local Government Elections, a fundamental constitutional right of every citizen, which, for spurious reasons, was flagrantly denied the people for two decades. The scheduled holding of LGE is a fundamental pillar of the decentralization of power from the executive. It allows the people, at their community level to decide who should be their leaders and to hold them directly accountable. The government has moved to allow for greater independence of the ten administrative regions. It is the intention for each region to have its own flag and capital town. The regions have begun to exercise greater independence, both in the planning and the execution of their budgetary programmes.
Micro-managing from the political centre is being eschewed. It is being shunned to the extent that it has been to the detriment of the Coalition Government, specifically with regard to the parking meter issue. Despite demands from the protestors for government to intervene in the affairs of the Mayor and City Council the government resisted in an effort to allow for the matter to be resolved at the level of the council. It was only after it became apparent that a local resolution was elusive that central government reluctantly acted for the greater good. (To their credit the Movement Against Parking Meters, during their weekly protests, largely concentrated their focus on demanding that the M&CC act.)
There were others whose focus was trained on government. Those who flippantly demand that central government intervene in regional and municipal affairs as first recourse are set on a path fraught with dangers and must carefully consider the implications. The decentralization of powers come with the responsibility to exercise such powers at the regional, municipal and community levels.
Guyana has a history of being plagued and stifled by executive micro-management and megalomania. We ought not consider it an option for Guyana to return to the days when every pothole or breached koker must occupy the attention of the head of state before they are fixed. Such a scenario renders ministers and the Cabinet powerless and irrelevant – mere puppets. It perpetuates that government is the president and the president is the government; that it is a one man show. It is the recipe for lifetime dictators and political Pharaohs to emerge. The hoarding of power by one man must remain a relic of Guyana’s political history. It is the people who must collectively hold the weight of power, not the president or politicians. Those elected to political office must serve, not rule.