We spent the last twenty months between sociopolitical euphoria and depression.
Prior to that, we were in political despair.
Democracy had become a grotesque amalgam of fascism with voting rights it’s ornamental appendage.
The immediately preceding regimes were powered by Presidents who swore an oath to the Constitution then worked incessantly to destroy it.
Abuse of the power and purse of the state to contain opponents, muzzle media and secure the faithful following of the ousted party’s predominant ethnicity was the business of government. Jobs and political favor was currency. Survival became paramount. Informal economies were hatched. Clandestine economic transactions were more lucrative and easier to engage.
The vitiation of checks and balances fell, naturally, to corruption.
And this brings us to our current malaise, diagnosis of depression and why we have been afflicted by it.
It began with the Coalition Government’s oath.
The pledge to stomp out “the scourge of corruption” by the historic Coalition Government of 2015 was liberating on several fronts.
Many of us came from an era that knew a different Guyana, one that was heralded by its neighbors and members of the world community as a nation with overleaping potential.
The majority of the population was never rich but there was a compass that knew a different level of morality.
Opportunities rose past the level of political transactionalism and the majority of parents, irrespective of ethnicity and ideology, social standing or economic predisposition, strove to give their children more than they had. The result was a nation that boasted a population with a 98% literacy level and a percentage of competency and confidence that prepared them, irrespective of profession, to move the country forward with collective efficiency.
That the Coalition Government’s campaign pledge to eradicate corruption was stirring enough to motivate enough voters to eject the previous government underscores how eager the nation was to change government by corruption.
The Jagdeo and Ramotar governments had reversed the country’s trajectory from its previous course of national pride and economic fruitfulness, steering it to a bench mark for political indecency; a greenhouse for agency watchdogs that observe these behaviors to determine quality of life. With untamable intractability, Guyana held steady course into the entrails of these social measurements, firmly entrenched in the top tier of the ‘world’s worst’ for everything derogatory.
And this is the necessary backdrop to understand the passion that drove us to support the pledge to stomp out corruption and will serve as a preface to our trepidation over the current state of affairs as it pertains to where we have, apparently, plateaued……
… juxtaposition of beginnings…
…sharp reference to the political complexity…
…disentangling requires retracing…
The default assertion is that we can’t expect change in such a short space of time. And it is a valid one but merely to the extent of the plans and policies that have been implemented to effect change – since there is a precise and established time frame for a government to effect change in a country with Democratic elections.
The Coalition Government inherited a country with calamitous deficits stemming from a hub of institutionalized corruption. This is borne out in every socio political/economic indicator. The 2010 Corruption index by Transparency international placed Guyana 116 out of 178 countries with an index of 2.7 – 1 being the lowest and 10 the highest.
Campaigning on change is a logical motivator but effecting it is, typically, colored by the activity of government.
The previous PPP government(s) had subverted constitutionality unconscionably, making Constitution reform a well received campaign promise. And its expeditious reconstruction was anxiously anticipated; especially because its language has made the country’s Director of Public Prosecutions more of its nemesis.
Constitution Title V, Sub title 1 empowers the DPP with a crippling kind of autonomy. Its 187:4 says :
“In the exercise of the powers conferred upon him by this article, the Director shall not be subject to the direction or control of any other person or authority”.
This is the language that makes this position the benefit or weapon of the politicians…not the people. Public Prosecution has become the bane of the existence of those who flout the law and/or what is interpreted as law.
So, there may have been some machination to this…
The current Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) was a partisan pick who was eased into permanency without an interview ever being offered to another candidate, Arif Bulkan, who was comparatively, preeminently qualified.
It will be a painful reprise of how Ali –Hack’s jurisprudence has skewed the legal system. And, with her skirmishes on the periphery of the law, law that is interpreted at her discretion – her spouse being in, uncomfortably, close proximity to activity that falls below the legal belt, her rulings which seem to fortuitously spare those who share her faith which she literally wears in garb, her ownership of land in Pradoville II, bought below market price in a convolution that was a violation of the law and an ongoing scandal that is under investigation –it was the hope of many that this seemingly prejudicial conduct would have been enough for a hastening in Constitution reform to remove this unjust judge.
In exercising the power that comes with her position, Ali –Hack has demonstrated repeatedly, broadly and with unsettling consistency that she is not tempered by sound judgment and prosecutorial discretion. So, when the final document on reform was presented to PM Nagamootoo by the Constitution Reform Steering Committee in May 2016 and the President blessed it by acknowledging that it was the people’s document and he would push for its enactment before the end of 2016, people thought that reform and less autonomy for the DPP would have been a fait accompli before 2017.
But this too, remains in queue.
Another inheritance that weights the listing of Guyana on the transparency Index is its lack of an Integrity Commission – a body designated by the Laws of Guyana, by its Integrity Commission Act, to oversee the laws that dictate the declaration of assets of those in ‘public life’, the impropriety of using that life for business gain, the placing of assets in a blind trust.
It was part of the corruption taken over form the unseated government which subverted laws for lawless convenience.
It was breaking the law.
And just as the PPP broke the law then, this Coalition government is breaking the law now by running the country without establishing an Integrity Commission….though the Manifesto said it would do so “as a matter of urgency, staffed by persons of the highest integrity.”
Bashing, screams the supporting crowd – the crowd that makes some law breaking more equal than some….
But there’s more.
If the Presidency had remained in the hands of the Opposition, corruption would have been more within the compass of probable events.
So, the Home Stretch Development Incorporated saga (HDMI) is not only a blow to those who voted for and supported a government to uproot endemic mis and mal appropriation of funds (long hand for corruption) but is an embarrassment to this Government which it should address with clarity and resolve without posturing.
It was the desire to see sweeping change to political institutional infrastructure that propelled support for this Coalition and it helped that they campaigned as change agents….we cannot forget this.
Fundraising, soliciting money for public entities, seeking private gifts, which are voluntary and convey the notion of marketplace approval, are all legal if the practice is open, documented in accordance with accounting principles and reported at Parliamentary level.
The raising of the sixty million for the Durban Park Project would have been commendable if it was done following these guidelines. Then there could have been a proper assessment of cost. Instead the project began with an almost covert undercurrent; without adequate information disclosed to the public.
Surreptitious accounting has a knack for conspiring to extend the longevity of Guyana’s seat on notorious lists or rather, Guyana has a knack for leveraging surreptitious accounting to stay in the kind of spotlight that keeps it making the list of least favorable accomplishments.
Whichever it is, the smell of malfeasance continues to waft through the halls of government. Raising sixty million dollars from donors with speckled reputations in the name of a government project -through an agency that is incorporated only after outcry from the side of the political aisle that wrote the book on creative accounting – was not what supporters of this Coalition expected. And the haphazard assignment of a near billion dollars – 450 million and 500 million- to a project that started out more like a private investment, gives rise to questions on how government this project was, from its inception.
The corruption scandals of the immediate past governments provoked a heightened passion for change and its concomitants included an embracing of terms like change agent, good governance, fighting corruption. The assumption was that the country would see the beginnings of a transition from documented corruption to repair and restoration and the results of the election and ensuing euphoria captured the collective impatience of this political conjuncture.
So, every time the President is forced to his defense dais and gives soft condemnation to actions that were berated during the previous government(s) and fails to follow up with firm corrective action, it reduces the faith quotient in government action and reduction is not a selling point to a nation in anticipation.
Punishment probabilities are usually sufficient to deter political bad behavior by those who hold prominent political office but if abuse of power and ignoring statutory obligations are met with little cost to the jobs held by those who violate, then the deterrent is essentially impotent.
And so, when University of Guyana students cry for relief from high fees and argue that a fifty thousand ‘facilities fee’- in addition to tuition – is rapacious because they fetch chairs from lecture hall to lecture hall, suffer multiple power outages during lectures, endure poor lighting and shortage of water in bathrooms, it is impolitic, fundamentally unethical and indefensible for Government Ministers to receive scholarships to the tune of millions of tax payers’ dollars while being part of the machinery that approves the awarding of these scholarships to other Guyanese. The Coalition’s win was a referendum against this form of cronyism and nepotism that excluded so many under the previous government from the benefits that are now being meted out under questionable politics.
There are several eligible resident Guyanese with post graduate degrees and working experience in Public Health who were not even aware that the scholarship opportunity existed…
Some political UTurns are forgivable when seen to have ultimate national benefit…but this is irritatingly disappointing, especially since it was uncovered by the Opposition – the party that was voted out for these very reasons.
It’s a combination of its geopolitical location, its natural resources and its internal politics of prosperity for party and those at the controls of the previous government, that gave Guyana the Chinese and the Russians and the extractive export-oriented, import –dependent economic model.
Our natural resources were placed on the shopping block and the bidders with designs to be the world’s super power came in bearing gifts for those at the controls.
So, the Coalition’s accurate reference to the corrupt policies of the Geology and Mines Commissions and their pledge to preserve our patrimony, in their Manifesto, was greeted with sigh of relief and a sense of restoration.
The Jagdeo/UC RUSAL (United Company Russian Aluminum) was sold to the nation predicated on a number of fabricated figures; some underestimating the number of tons the Russians would have accessed and some over estimating the profits for Guyana. Autonomous agreements between villages and RUSAL were allowed by the PPP government and became public knowledge only after conflict ensued and the Russians blocked the Amerindians from using the roadways that the Russians claimed they had sole access to.
Sovereignty ‘eye pass’. In any other nation they would have been expelled.
Then there’s the Bai Shan Lin forest depletion which is well documented as another natural resource rape that the PPP allowed another country to commit against the Guyanese.
Ostensibly, the Bai Shan Lin logging company has left Guyana as of October 2016 …with no public information on whether they were asked to make financial compensation/restitution for the broken tenets signed with the previous government.
And, even though this specific pariah may have left Guyana, the Chinese footprint on the country remains well embedded in its economy.
There’s little dispute that the flow of Chinese goods to the Guyana market is conducted through its embassy which bonds its imports in the D’Urban backlands area and distributes to the Chinese businesses that continue to depress the local vendors with cheap prices for inferior goods. Local vendors have been protesting for years and hoped for reprieve under the Coalition Administration. However, the Ministry of Trade has recently made further overtures to Chinese investment, citing Guyana’s natural resources and agricultural potential as incentive…patrimony-sensitive areas.
Most Guyanese agree that trade is essential to economic development and that inviting foreign expertise and investment to develop natural resource and agriculture potential is a good thing for the country.
But they want to be assured that the promises of the Coalition Manifesto to guard against the occurrences under the past government are being kept – that exploration and mining permits are being awarded only after the national benefits have been evaluated, that small and medium scale investors will be given permits as well, and that public hearings, audits and reviews will be conducted and made public to the nation.
They want to know that a specific volume of job training and a specific number of jobs will be available for Guyanese when the extractors of our natural resources leave, that the equipment and facilities promised will be functional and will be left at the end of their contracted stay. They want to know that labor contracts and union representation will be part of the agreement to effect necessary oversight to prevent labor issues like those the President has recently said do not warrant a ‘cease and desist’ order at RUSAL Guyana…following complaints that the Russians are engaging in wage and hour violations and disregarding labor laws on Guyanese soil and against Guyanese laborers.
And it shouldn’t stop there.
Chamber of Commerce laws must be enforced against the small stores as well. There has been an ongoing fight for Chinese businesses to pay appropriate business taxes and National Insurance Scheme contributions for their employees and their corporate pretense of not “speaking English” when challenged about business conduct should be addressed at legislative level, making it mandatory that someone who could speak English, who could answer questions, remains on the premises during business hours….at least…
And while we’re still recovering from the embarrassment that was the Bai Shan Lin relationship with our governments, we’re still awaiting the report on whether the USD 5 million that was a significant part of the government’s reason visit to China in 2016 was ever received and applied to the State’s Treasury.
Our sovereignty has been subverted for decades for the proverbial mess of pottage. Guyana remains vulnerable to countries with superpower intentions which usurp ownership of the natural resources of countries that are fledgling and susceptible. If our leaders fail to address the manner in which these countries are allowed to do business, Guyana will continue to export much needed raw materials and get the quasi returns, the half established industries, with laborers undertrained and unable to take over while remaining an export dump for cheap, substandard, Chinese products that have been cleverly woven into trade and diplomatic agreements.
In short, we’ll be condemned to another kind of colonialism and doomed to under development.
There are a couple of issues that should be addressed here.
Journalism is not terrorism. Criticism is not an incitement to violence. Guyanese are citizens not subjects to a closed kingdom who should live in fear of the “off with their heads” command by some blind fury, some high strung monarch in a suspended state of anger. And those who pledge unbending, inflexible, support to this government should be aware of this because it colors this historic Coalition Administration with the stripes of imperviousness, the intolerance of suggestion and the resistance to option.
I will go on.
The Constitution enshrines the right to criticize the government. The Party in power is not a nationalist party, making national conformity mandatory. So opposing views, opinions, ideas and commentary are totally in order without expectation of censure, retaliation or any semblance of calumny. Indeed, there is some commentary that plunge below the levels of civility to languish in the gutters of stupidity and we expect them to remain there; ignored not only because they warrant no response but especially because they are silly targets.
Equally, our politicians have a right to speak and defend their positions. They have been elected/selected to serve and serving requires communication. But, when they do, we expect them to address us as people who understand how the system works.
The bedrock principle is that people can steer their government by electing its officials. But that is more ideal than not. We understand that there is an inherited bureaucracy that has mutated into a governing machine, so that there’s the government we elect and this thing, this driving force that is comprised of a net work of calculated misdoings. The result is that we are seeing a good many people whom we feel ought to have had far more discretion join those from whom we expect none.
Twenty months post election, the designation of an office to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs,Diaspora Engagement, is being explained away with some frivolous improbabilities in a clumsily cavalier manner, too reminiscent of the past, to be excused.
We would like to think that cantankerous responses that have been the calling card of too many politicians for too many decades, have been disqualified as appropriate and that, with the vision for progress and moving the country forward and on par with others that show more dexterity with discourse, our government officials would release more measured, more informative, more universally appropriate responses to its people. We are well beyond the times of inelegant and unrefined one- liners; when we were conditioned to accept caustic barbs and sardonic statements as artful and sharp witted political discourse.
It is indecent insincerity to publicly deny that Diaspora Engagement has been given minimal priority then turn around and append that denial with an explanation that highlights operational slothfulness. Indeed, this Coalition has been running for office for at least two decades so a level of operational implementation was expected; with it being tweaked along the way.
Guyana’s Diaspora policy will continue to fail the engagement test because the general sentiment remains that of politicians doing emigrants a favor, and, as one critic of Diaspora clamor put it, the government may be saying of the Diaspora, “who the hell they think they are”.
This is the mutated government machine. It is arguable that in this array of peers, politicians and proponents that there is a handful whose knowledge of how vital to nation building the full harnessing of all emigrant resources is – how well beyond the barrels and remittances that are now embraced as Diaspora Engagement, it extends.
The thinking may be that without any government organization the Diaspora is responsible for close to one fifth of the country’s Gross Domestic Product. So why do more…..reach out to skilled and unskilled, people with varying ranges of propensity to make positive contributions to the rebuilding and restoration of the country..and do so at a pace that is inconsistent with Guyana’s slowly ticking political clock?
This might have been the reflection of Minister Carl Greenidge whose reputation for statesmanship continues to precede him. So his response to failing, after twenty months, to establishing some connection with Guyanese overseas as his Ministry not being “a labor exchange”, runs contradictory and well below the depth expected of this leader who ranks high in the line of succession to lead in the absence of the President.
Diaspora Engagement is now a renaissance which lies well past the politics of good intentions. It is more than the singular engagement of an intended investor by the Private Sector Commission. It is far removed from the politics of single admission and special preference; all of which are rapidly moving into irrelevance on the global stage.
Let’s be honest.
There are some realities about this Coalition Government and the pace at which it seems capable to move things, that leaves us dispirited. Brisk beginnings have become stuttering limps and bold declarations have become hollow echoes as time flies, quickly, by. The Manifesto sits as a palpable example – now rutted in politics as opposed to government policy- a framed referential with minimal practical application to its framers who now seem confounded and often convicted by it.
It is the function of objective journalism to ask politicians why the deviation from their promises and pledged plans; to help representative democracy maintain its function. And, it is the small, single -tracked mind that sees these key functions of the journalist as seizing on small points of contention and fanning them into major points of discord.
There are some who will don battle gear to defend the let downs and the disappointments from a stance that reflects everything but national well being. This is not what journalism does. Journalists play a key role in engaging and prodding politicians to elaborate on governing specifics. They serve as the bridge between politicians and citizens and hold politicians accountable for their pledged responsibilities.
This publication, in particular, is not here to congratulate the Government on its kept promises or accomplishments while in office. That’s what is expected of them. What we will do is underscore the unexpected and clamor for change when there is deviation, marked or else, from forecast course of action.
Fourteen percent value-added tax on civilized essentials like water is not only an abomination to basic standards of living but it goes directly against Manifesto pledge under Taxation that reads:
“The present tax system is highly inequitable and unjust. The PPP/C reform of the tax system came to a drastic halt after the passage of the VAT and Excise tax legislation and the windfall it provided…
The APNU+AFC will:
“Reduce the Value Added Tax within the first term as part of the Taxation Reform Programme”
Guyana’s progress depends not on blind support or support because of affiliation or some peculiar bonding but on critical view of governance and on helping leaders to stay on track by redirecting them when they careen off course with daredevil abandon and bold and brazen defiance.
We’re going to keep the spotlight on this dichotomy of democracy …
in which the campaign promise to give a ‘Good life to all Guyanese‘ has been decimated by a 14% Value Added Tax by flushing the toilet.