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If there is one thing that should be above partisan politics, it is the management of the dividends from our oil and gas sector. It is an aspect of our politics that is too sensitive to be played around with. After all, the current socio-economic state of the country is the result of the centuries of denial suffered by all groups in our society. From the Amerindians who first occupied these lands to the Africans who toiled under inhumane circumstances to Indian, Chinese and Portuguese Guyanese who labored during the post-slavery era in harsh conditions, all of our peoples are due compensation for their sacrifices. So, the coming of unprecedented wealth from the new petroleum sector must be seen in cross-ethnic national terms.
When the previous government conceived the Natural Resource Fund (NRF). It signaled that it wanted the broadest possible checks and balances on the ability of government to access the monies accrued from oil sales. This was in keeping with best practices in new oil producing countries where experience has shown that easy access to the funds by governments has led to economic chaos resulting from wild spending and corruption. With this in mind, the law passed under the Coalition government put in place among other safeguards a 22-person committee comprising Civil Society organizations to oversee the withdrawal process.
Now the PPP, which came to office in 2020 under controversial circumstances with a one-seat majority in the National Assembly has decided that the safeguards are too much and too stringent. It unilaterally proceeded to tear them down and as a replacement put in place a smaller committee to be appointed by the president and his government—a move that was opposed by political parties and Civil Society organizations across the political and social spectrums. That the government ignored this advice and proceeded to use its majority in the National Assembly to ram its changes down the throat of the country reflects a political mindset that is steeped in autocracy born of a need to dominate every inch of the State and society.
It is the kind of mindset that helped to drive the PPP out of power in 2015. Now, back in office with the blessings of the International Community and local forces hostile to the Coalition, it has merely picked up from where it left off in 2015; only this time in a dispensation in which there is lots of money at the government’s disposal. From the time it took office, the government began to dole out money to those who helped it to power and to its support base. It unilaterally raised the debt ceiling to facilitate its deficit spending. In effect, it began to spend the money in the NRF on its pet schemes.
The raiding of the NRF was therefore inevitable. Everything the PPP has done since coming to office was riding on this outcome. And nothing would stand in its way. The spending of our national patrimony is now in the hands of one stakeholder in our plural society. The PPP has now assumed the role of “God”—the omnipotent force resulting from manifest destiny. December 29, 2021 was indeed one of the saddest days in Guyana’s history—and this in a country that has known sad days. It was a day when a government brazenly sought to steal a country’s wealth. In three years, from the fateful No-Confidence vote in December 2018, Guyana has moved from a country on the mend to one that is on a collision course. No society suffers indignity in silence forever.
It is against this background that the actions by the Opposition MPs must be seen. I think the reaction of the Opposition MPs has to be seen in the context of the government’s extremist attitude to calls from a wide cross section of opinion to subject the Bill to more scrutiny. The minority in a majoritarian parliament has no say on its own; its influence assumes a majority that does not understand majoritarianism in authoritarian terms. In our case the PPP views its one-seat majority as an absolute mandate to dominate in a way that renders the large minority useless.
In this case where the Bill in question has to do with the country’s patrimony, the opposition resort to disruptive tactic is justified. It is less about opposition thuggery and more about government bullyism. The opposition MPs were releasing seventeen months of frustration. They sat all that time and watched the government side with the aid of the speaker trample on them, took them for granted and ignore the fact that they represent half the electorate. Had they walked out of there again with their tails between their legs, they would have been further vilified by their own constituents. In the end the expressing their disgust at a heist of Guyana’s patrimony by a greedy clique.
It is against that background that I am opposed to any penalty or sanction. To do so would be to rub more salt in gaping wounds inflicted by the government’s unilateral grab of the keys to the NRF. The grab of the mace must be seen as a retaliation against the government’s obscene grab of power that should be shared. As regard the use of a substitute mace, I don’t see it as a big deal. While it may go against tradition, it does not violate any parliamentary rules to the extent of rendering the vote null and void. I am more interested in whether the passage of the bill violates any fundamental rights of Guyanese to have a say on how their patrimony is being utilized. In other words, does the removal of the checks and balances on the NRF amounts to a violation of rights?