‘Politics has ceased’ 

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‘With regard to the problem of deep ethnic cleavages … Divided societies, both in the West and elsewhere, need peaceful coexistence among the contending ethnic groups. This requires conciliation and compromise, goals that in turn require the greatest possible inclusion of representatives of these groups in the decision-making process’ (Constitutional Choices for New Democracies. 1991)

It is undeniable that Guyana is a deeply divided society and today any sensible government must be aware that it cannot optimize national expenditure without creating the kind of political atmosphere suggested in the above statement by Arend Lijphart, a highly respected expert on governance in divided societies. You can hardly look at the media today without being bombarded with stories of the billions of dollars of the country’s resources the PPP/C spent during its first year in office. Yet, contrary to the inclusion, conciliation and compromise that Guyana requires, what we have here is a government rooted in an ethnic political party, the outcome of a highly questionable and still legally contested election, which absurdly has decided not to speak with the opposition until the latter recognises it as legitimate. Given its context, it is unbelievable it could believe that the manifesto it provided at the elections it ‘won’ by a single seat is sufficient for it to proceed upon a unilateralist spending spree!

At a more technical level, spending is not the most important element in the process of achieving anything. Spending must be towards an objective and what is of central importance is whether the objective is necessary, attainable and cost effective. Indeed, particularly in an ethnically divided country like Guyana it is also about whether goals are set towards making the society more fair and to what extent these have been achieved.  All of the above conceptualizations contain a subjective content that the PPP/C’s unilateralist approach cannot address. Throwing money around in an untargeted manner can lead to greater inequality. For example, in the context of Guyana, even where the objective is worthwhile, if the public service itself is allowed to do infrastructure projects they are likely to have a different ethnic impact on income and employment than if those projects are contracted out in the normal manner.

The government’s entire approach appears politically driven: intended to demonstrate that it could outspend the previous regime, buy votes and entrench itself in government. In the 1950s, when the British colonialiss and their allies were attempting to remove the PPP from government, they went around sharing goodies derived from private and public funding. I believe that my family got a small sewing machine. In rice farming areas they were helping people to acquire tractors and other equipment, but neither my relatives nor the farmers voted for them, and according to one report, when  the farmers were asked why they did not vote for the persons who had helped them, they claimed that if Cheddi Jagan and  the PPP did not exist they would not have been helped. The resources being spent to win political support may not have been properly determined but they belong to the people and they should take what is being offered but should not allow themselves to be bought.

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An appropriate form of coalition government that will generate the inclusion, compromises and consensus necessary for nation building is the only legitimate way forward for governance in Guyana. The daily chatter about holding the government accountable would be a waste of time if, now that the ethnic majority has been whittled away, various forms of elections manipulation are allowed to take hold. Perhaps born, bred and educated in a society in which democracy has never been allowed to flourish and our ethnic disassociation has left most of the people and current political leadership in Guyana with a mindset tolerant of political misbehavior.

While the former tend to tolerate the political shenanigans of their ethnic leaders, a good example of the latter’s mindset occurred in 2011 when the PPP/C did not win a parliamentary majority and refused to make the kind of compromises that would have been necessary for it to at least try to stay in office as a minority government. Rather than making those concessions, by way of an archaic law it prorogued and closed down parliament. APNU+AFC came to government in 2015, but the majority party, the PNC, was of a similar mindset. It came to government as a coalition but its understanding of that concept was essentially instrumental, i.e., a means of winning that election. Further, it understood that it is widely accepted that a single party would not have the level of legitimacy to optimally manage Guyana and in both its 2011 and 2015 manifestoes it promised to form a national government that included the PPP if it won those elections. In 2015 it won and that promise was immediately jettisoned! Out of office, instead of the PPP recognising that the demographics had changed try to build a progressive coalition, it spent its time and considerable resources trying to manipulate itself back into government.

The result is that today the country is in a political standoff. At the highest level of the state, politics has ceased and what should clearly be political decisions are taken to the judiciary.



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