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The year 2021 began with Guyana fighting off two powerful forces—the Covid 19 pandemic and a recently imposed government that in a mere five months had shown sings of dictatorship. One year later the pandemic continues to ravage our country as infections and fatalities rise daily under a government that stubbornly rejected all calls for a national strategy and bipartisan approach. Politically, the government did not relent on its promise not to engage the Opposition leader until he says that he recognizes the government. The year ended in bizarre fashion with the government acting against the wishes of the rest of the society and seizing control of the country’s Natural Resource Found.
It was indeed a year of reversals for our country as the consequences of the 2020 elections took their toll on a society that seemed unprepared for the burden of another round of authoritarian rule. Unbothered by its slim majority in the National Assembly and the cries of its populace, the PPP sought to control every aspect of politics and society. The fears of those who warned against the party’s installation in government in 2020 were realized during the year. The government confronted every hint of resistance to its brand of governance with arrogance. It took on the sitting Police Service Commission which pushed back against attempts at control. Its members threatened judges who ruled against it.
On the political front the government unleashed the proverbial dogs of war on its political opponents with such ferocity that even some of its enablers began to raise their voices in protest. The spate of police prosecution of opposition elements continued apace. Extrajudicial killings of mainly African Guyanese intensified. The execution of Orin Boston in his home in the dead of the night was the most bizarre of these acts. The year ended without any charges being laid against the alleged executioner. This case and others join that of the Henry cousins as blatant examples of government cover-up of police excesses.
On the economic front, the government confirmed that it is prepared to allow the oil companies free rein in that sector. Contrary to its promise to some of its backers, it refused to renegotiate the oil contract which it so strenuously criticized while in opposition. Belated passage of Local Content legislation has done nothing to boost confidence that the coming of oil would be to the country’s benefit. It was a year of rising cost-of-living as the prices of food and other essentials rose astronomically. The government’s throwing of concessions to the commercial sector did little if anything to remedy the situation. Similarly, its spate of cash handouts, particularly to its support base had little effect on the larger economy.
It was a year of blatant discrimination in the distribution of resources. Whereas sugar workers who were severed from the sugar industry with full benefits were each handed a cheque for $250, 000, public servants were handed a meagre 7% rise on their notoriously low wages. Flood relief amounting to a large unknown bill was given to mainly one section of the agricultural sector. Invariably, these actions served to fuel ethnic resentment which the government treated as a sideshow. We therefore ended the year with a country on the ethnic edge—a situations that threatens to again take Guyana down the slippery slope of ethnic conflict.
The year also saw a government fighting its citizens on the matter of COVID19. Bent on imposing mandates against an uninformed citizenry and rebellious opposition base , the government did more to energize anti-vaccine sentiments than misinformation on the internet. In all of this the government steadfastly refused to engage the unions representing public service workers even as it was every quick to meet with the sugar workers’ unions to iron out their differences. It was also the year that saw the PPP take control of GECOM. Acting with the support of the Chairman, the top officers that oversaw the 2020 election were fired and replaced by a CEO favorable to the PPP. The Elections Petitions brought by the Coalition stalled after a brisk start with one being thrown out by the Chief Justice on a technicality.
On the opposition side, it was a year of frustration as the confrontation among the factions within the PNC intensified. President Granger, whose standing among the party faithful and the wider base was greatly diminished, was called out by his co-executives for his “one man show.” Not unsurprisingly his handpicked Opposition Leader had a less than sterling year as the party’s supporters railed against his inability to stand up against the rampant PPP. For his part, Mr. Harmon insisted on keeping the party’s troops of the street. The outcome was a party congress that saw him lose the race for party leader to Aubrey Norton, one of the so-called rebels. Norton’s victory was as much a statement on the party’s approach to the PPP as it was about his own leadership credentials.
So, what’s in store for 2022? We feel it will be a defining year in which the galloping PPP government would be confronted by a reinvigorated PNC and opposition. The new PNC leader would be under pressure to deliver a more robust opposition to the government’s excesses. We are not confident that the PPP would concede one inch of political space or curb its drive to dominate. Towards this end, the country may be in for a rough ride in 2022.
Despite that bleak prognosis, we still must find time to welcome the new year with optimism that we shall overcome. For what it is worth, happy New Year wishes are in order.