It’s better to start where it all began.
President Granger was elected when the country was a looter’s paradise. The economy was fueled more by nefarious industry than by the Treasury’s coffers. The bottom had fallen out of the official economy, moral credibility was stripped at the international table, floating garbage and animal corpses, Leptospirosis, Aids, Tuberculosis, the manipulation of government by its officials for the benefit of the government’s party and its servants, were all the bane of an existence that voters wanted to be rid of.
Candidate Granger was presented as the ‘change agent’ and the formation of the Coalition Government presented an opportunity to shift the status quo of the politics of race. Indeed, there may have been an effervescence of anticipation, a Utopian type hope, a clinging to rhetoric and expectations but the population had been socioeconomically savaged for decades by a rogue dictatorship so the Coalition came as that ray of light through the pinhole of hope.
This is not to take away from what we thought the collective members of the Coalition would bring to reclaim government and reinstate its operation for the benefit of the people. Many of these men were career politicians who had either served both sides of the aisle or had served other parties that were subverted by dictatorships.
We were comfortable with them taking the helm.
But the great ship of state has set sail for some course unnamed from, around, August 2015.
After its initial knots of upstream sailing, it, apparently, got caught in administrative cross current and has remained there since, unsure of how to make its way back to normal flow.
The thing is, we understand the magnitude of the repair and restoration that is the task of this government so we are not expecting President Granger to be singularly responsible for its execution, nor are we expecting that the quest to execute the gargantuan task of normalizing Guyana would assume profoundly partisan hues. We understand that it will take the assistance of Guyanese who may not have been elected or selected but who possess the expertise necessary to make this salvation a reality.
This necessitates vigorous discourse, rigorous oversight and zealous opining. But the government has retreated to a bunker that allows none of these things and shows an awkward sensitivity to opinions that do not support what they do, even when criticism is constructive. So, we are left with an administration that has, way too early, isolated itself from its supporters to defend actions that are counterproductive and contrary to good governance.
Criticism guarantees excommunication. The government has become a purview for ‘yes men’. Defense and deflection are tier one weapons and rhetoric and promises continue to cover up corrupt realities.
Harsh words, they say, unfair, attack, mad because you were not offered a job by the administration.
But these statements underscore political immaturity, confirm that the herd mentality is still the expectation as in days of old when everyone was expected to follow without asking for an itinerary. Surely, they must know that criticism is a primary ingredient in the pot of politics.
We are living, anxious, patriots, supporters of this government that campaigned on a platform we embraced. That we could dissent and opine and challenge and disagree is evidence that we have not been rendered impotent and mute after decades of political rape. The government is the employee of the people. And, as its employer, we have an inherent right to all of those things.
All this comes on the back of a meeting amongst a group in the Diaspora that sits and discourses about Guyana and its governance because they are contributors to the economy through remittances of support to their family and home, because they own property and pay rates and taxes into the revenue stream, because they attend the fund raisers in the Diaspora to support the financial needs of political parties.
The euphoria is decidedly gone. The joy of ejecting the past dictatorship has been replaced with the fierce desire to see restoration beyond the aesthetic, to see the reinstatement of administrative morals, to see movement in a forward direction. We’re still fond of the Manifesto and still want to see its core elements executed. We want to see beyond the idealism, want to see bold politicking. Yes, we understand that bold and brazen fall outside of the purview of ‘the culture of politics’ but this is what will effect change.
The sentiment now is that the country is in critical malaise, the kind that can have a very deleterious outcome.
Countries don’t just fail overnight. Failure, typically, is a sarcoma that follows active debilitation – like Sierra Leone after ten years of civil war when the government simply ceased to exist. Some countries fail spectacularly, with simultaneous collapse of all of its branches like so many on the continent of Africa. Others just come to a grinding halt, with successive failures of connective agencies.
This is certainly not meant to suggest that this is currently the case in Guyana, though one can argue its pros and cons. But the point here is that failure follows systemic illness and whether there is spectacular failure or failure with less fanfare, failure carries equal fatality and occurs when governments refuse to seize opportunities, ignore the resources that are available to help to achieve certain goals, confine governance to a blue print that has a healthy dose of inefficiency.
We understand that there has been an election and thereafter, a selection. We respect that but the government belongs to the people and can only serve them if it is listening to the people it serves.
Discontentment is growing because old style politics predominates. Recent Local Government Elections were a sham orchestrated to retain the old guard because elections are still seen as tools to promote partisan control. So, after decades of demonstrating their incapabilities, Georgetown retains Chase Green and Oscar Clarke and their ‘culture of politics’; in which ‘misplacing’ questionable contracts for USD 10 million worth of parking meters – a Municipal acquisition that brings a laughable twenty percent return to the Municipality and a paltry one hundred jobs while the innovative entrepreneur retains the lion’s share – remains the way to circumvent public demand for further perusal for improprieties. Reprehensible cannot begin to capture the depth of this travesty.
And, questions abound.
Where’s Minister Rupert Roopnarine these days? We have been waiting for a robust roll out of Education Reform and continue to be disappointed by reports that cite dilapidated school buildings, insanitary bathroom facilities and poor teacher remuneration, amongst other ailments.
The Ministry of Agriculture, too, has disappointed in many ways, one of which is the raising of fees for leased farm land from $2000 to $15,000 per acre; a hefty 650% raise. We need not say how usurious this is, considering that there has not been an equivalent jump in crop sales or industry subsidy. The grand plans for crop expansion and growth in the nontraditional agriculture seem to have been a mere budgetary talking point too. Minister Holder hasn’t given us much to go on.
And, mining. Our mineral wealth extraction is, essentially, controlled by foreigners. Owning dredges is Brazilian domain… which brings us to the Chinese influx, logging, and a passport system that seems to offer automatic pathway to citizenship.
Call me biased but if the Beterverwagting population can have so many imbibing, scantily clad, street wise Brazilian women strutting through the potholed streets on the arms of comparatively unwise, gold-toothed village boys who seem thrilled by the prospect of the adventure, then the passport system has an inherent flaw and is unquestionably contributing to another industry that is ably aiding the tearing down of our collective values.
Veering off course.
The tragedy here is that the damage this Administration is suffering is self-inflicted. We know that theory and ethereal idealism doth not a government make but we still expect the manifesto to be used as a guide and a check list to progress. We want to move in the direction that encourages innovation, seeks out talent, not create a vacuum of operations amongst government officials that shuts out its employer, the people.
Which brings us to Diaspora Integration, Foundation 9, on the Manifesto we all loved and supported.
To say that this effort has been a nonstarter would be suggesting that there was an attempt to start. The responsibility was placed with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs which may be interpreting the operative term, foreign, as being applicable strictly to foreign nationals. Fourteen months in to the Administration has yielded nothing short of a failed effort – which is overstating the condition because there was no effort at all to integrate the rich resources of knowledge with the Guyanese expatriate community.
What could have been avoided, had this community been consulted, was the lost opportunities for President Granger to engage the expatriate community during the historic Jubilee celebrations. There was lots of commentary on events and their shortcomings which need not be repeated.
The more lamentable thing is the failure by the organizers to seize the opportunity for the President to engage the thousands of Guyanese who made the trek home for the occasion. Instead of the closed-door breakfast/brunch with a hand-picked bunch, there could have been dozens of cocktail receptions, breakfast gatherings, midday events, all organized for the express purpose of having the President show up for a relatively short period of time, briefly mingle and share some personal engagement with the guests as a form of appreciation for them coming home to celebrate the significant milestone. These are the things that touch emotions, that people remember when they are asked for donations to support specific ventures. The flag raising ceremony could have been an opportunity for him to ride around the perimeter to the applause which was, already, wildly enthusiastic, unsolicited and deafening. People wanted to see him. They had traveled thousands of miles for that, with their families and friends, spent thousands of dollars for that and got a fleeting glance as he entered the ceremonial arena minutes before and left minutes after.
And the final insult was the prerecorded speech played to the thousands who had gathered to hear their President speak on an occasion that will never come again. That this was even an option for an event of this historic import will forever haunt the memories of this Jubilee.
These opportunities didn’t have to be lost. Members of the Diaspora, with knowledge in this area, with experience in organizing official functions of this magnitude, were all but screaming to offer guidance in planning the country’s events in a manner that would have extended across the entire Jubilee Year, yielding significant revenue and opportunities for local vendors at every level. Unfortunately, the resources of the diaspora remain limited to a very select group and a narrow but specific list of needs.
The Administration is entering its halfway mark with very low popularity. One of its principal impediments is its style of leadership. Government seems not to be aware that the age of technology has provided insight into the conduct of government and has aroused an electorate curiosity that was not there before. Winning an election is no longer a rubber stamp to execute poor policy and bad behavior, in the name of popular vote. With the impact of social media, the government has to be willing to listen and implement the suggestions of its electorate. Right now, about 80% of government’s resources devoted to public communication are focused on speaking instead of listening. This is a cardinal flaw. We are in the age of promoting public policy through citizen juries and crowd sourcing input. Governance is no longer a medieval platform for imposition and dictation. This Administration has to accept this.
The Parking Meter situation is testament to ‘back in the day’ politics when brazen bullying by public officials was the norm. A proposed fee hike at the country’s single university threatens to exclude, even further, those without financial means to higher education. These are just a sliver of the issues worrying citizens right now but show the broad expanse of their range. People are grumbling. The perception of an insensitive, out of touch government is being circulated within social media. The Coalition must take heed.
It should be noted, at this point, that there is no single or complete definition of good governance nor is there a delimitation of its scope. In Guyana, ‘good governance’ has been used with selfish flexibility for as long as there has been governments – with parties using governments to extend and sustain partisanship. Fifty years post colonialism has brought little change to the old model. Elections are still seen as partisan raffles and government employment is still the reward of partisan membership and support.
Yeah, yeah, this Administration inherited all that but how do they plan to fix it? What are they doing to reform the game? How have they approached improving transparency or making sure that accountability, responsibility, is not shirked? What have they done to improve citizen participation and above all, their responsiveness to the issues that citizens want addressed?
The short answer is nothing but the prevailing sentiment is that they could do lots; much more than they are right now; change the blue print; set the standard; bring the country into the era of political decency.
In August 2016, the larger part of the Coalition Government, the PNCR, goes to its convention. This convention, of necessity, must address the insensitivity that passed as humor back when the electorate was comparatively muzzled by lack of exposure and fear of repercussion. Public officials must be oriented to what is acceptable, what are politically professional statements that should be made when addressing their employer, the public. That goes, particularly, for Oscar Clarke whose political vernacular and public servant attitude reeks of times past.
From all the dissatisfaction that is being expressed, this must be the Summer of our discontent. Euphoria has long gone and Utopia is switching places with Disillusion.
There’s an almost inevitability to the narrative “that’s the culture of politics, what did you expect”.
But we are not buying that.
We are asking for a government that works, for a political process that recognizes that it is in place for the benefit of the nation. We are asking for this government to stop tripping over itself, to listen to the people who elected them, to call on all Guyanese to pitch in to help move the country forward and to, particularly, accept the help of those with needed expertise, who are already knocking at the door.
Guyana is for all Guyanese and can only move forward with their collective participation.
This had better be the theme of this 19th Biennial Convention.