‘Wishing Aubrey Norton well’

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Last Wednesday evening, Dr. David Hinds used his usual Pol. 101 on Kams TV to hold a virtual town hall meeting for Mr. Aubrey Norton, who has stated his intention to compete for the leadership of the Peoples’ National Congress Reform (PNCR) if and when its congress is held sometime later this year. On that night, I only had the time to listen to the programme for an hour, at the end of which I thought Norton had considered the issues I believe to be the most important and around which I pen this piece.

When one is seeking to participate in a competitive election for such a strategic national position, the first task must be to attempt to sell a vision that both the nation and the party find not merely accommodative but exciting. Listening to Aubrey, I believe that he was confronted with the kind of questions that allowed him to adumbrate just such a vision. However, to the extent that it was recognised at all, his presentation and responses did not properly synchronize the requirements of the two constituencies. The result is that while Aubrey scores well when dealing with the immediate task of winning the party election, he came upon but fluffed the opportunity to outline an exciting national vision.

Perhaps the most important promise Aubrey made is that he will be an inclusive intellectual and institutional leader, i.e., he will seek not be dogmatic or ostracize those who disagree with him but instead find consensus by incorporating the strengths of all sides. The PNC I knew allowed for open fearless discussion and compromises. This is not to say that leaders did not organise the structure and the discourses to get their way when they considered it necessary, but everyone was heard in a manner that suggested that one’s opinion had a chance of prevailing.

Aubrey also appears to understand the need to broaden the ethnic base of the party by expanding the coalition and restructuring the organisation to include more members and supporters in the decision-making process right down to the grass roots. Under his guidance, the membership is promised a party that will no longer be mainly seen at election time.

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Politics is about compromise and while this has always been sparse in Guyana’s political context, it is unfortunate but perhaps inevitable that we have reached a stage where the major political parties are no longer doing politics but are involved in more aggressive forms of political behaviour. While no one in Guyana wants this kind of confrontational politics, Aubrey’s claims that the PPP only understands confrontation and for this kind of political environment his entire persona places first among his likely competitors. However, it is precisely here that a properly crafted national vision could have provided a synthesis that serve to temper the existing raucous political realities, but Aubrey missed the opportunity when it was presented.

One questioner inquired what is Aubrey Norton’s position on constitutional reform and shared governance with the PPP since it has become quite clear over decades that neither the PPP nor PNC alone, with the majorities they have been able to acquire, has been capable to sensibly manage Guyana. This provided Aubrey the opportunity to present in a definitive manner the wider inclusive governance vision his persona, party and Guyana requires. He claimed that he believes and has written many time on constitutional reform and shared governance but then proceeded to throw cold water on both, claiming that they require cultural change and that cultural change takes a long time. This is particularly concerning, not only because this position is incorrect but he comes coming from a party that made these promises, won government and did not deliver.

Aubrey argued that regardless of what the Constitution says, if an accommodative political culture does not exist, operatives will behave inappropriately. He gave as an example the constitutional requirement that a procurement commission be established, but for years was not established and is again in abeyance. If at all, this like other ignored constitutional requirements, e.g., those having to do with the appointment of the Chancellor of the Judiciary and the Chief Justice, is not a cultural but systemic problem. The drafters of the constitution did not put rules in place that will make it imperative for the actors to behave properly. For example, a rule which states that no government contracts can be awarded unless the procurement commission is operational would have prevented this problem. Similarly, the existence of a tiebreaker of some from would have dealt with judicial appointments. Indeed, if at all, new culture will not develop in old systems in a timely manner. In The Fastest Way To Change A Culture, David Rock et al developed the ‘Priorities, Habits and Systems’ model.

Of course, quarrels like these will become endemic and must be solvable within institutions if they are to flourish. It is for this reason I observed above that the PNC I knew allowed for open frank discussions and ‘the most important promise Aubrey Norton made is that he will be intellectually and institutionally an inclusive leader.’ Of course, Forbes Burnham was the unquestionable leader of the PNC I knew but since then there has been much water under the bridge and Aubrey should immediately begin to build bridges to let bygones be bygones. I wish him well.



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