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Lest one is misled, the comment reportedly made by United States Ambassador to Guyana, Ms. Sarah-Ann Lynch, (‘US Ambassador sees corruption risk, inclusion as key challenges in Guyana’s oil economy’ SN: 21/11/2022) requires a comment as she partially dealt with the issue of inclusion that is at the heart of the ethnic/political problem in Guyana but the solution she proffered is utopian and insufficient.
Briefly, on the issue of inclusion, she is reported to have said that in Guyana there are two key challenges: inclusion and the ‘potential for corruption’. Guyana is an ethnically divided society, and the government needs to focus upon inclusion. It has been making many efforts at inclusion but will need to continue to do so at an increasing pace. It has been providing lots of ‘growth grants’ to marginalised groups but the short term grants do not necessarily translate into long term sustainability. Government is being encouraged to focus on efforts that will create a sustainable growth for the entire country, no matter ethnicity, no matter race, gender, etc., for inclusion is very important.
Note that the ambassador’s focus was upon inclusion in terms of the outcomes of the political process, not about inclusion in the general decision-making process that leads to the given outcome. While how wealth is distributed is very important, a democratic political process is more than about the distribution of wealth: it is also about developing a consensus about who gets what, when and how in terms of production, distribution, etc.. A discourse about the system’s capacity to provide this consensus is what the ambassador missed or avoided, but is precisely what is required if there is ever to be a ‘one Guyana’.
Perhaps because she takes the political process for granted, Ambassador Lynch views her task as merely ‘encouraging’ the regime to act properly, i.e. more inclusively. This is utopian, for even in normal circumstances in ‘mature democracies’ politicians do what they believe to be in the interest of their party, and politics can be extremely partisan unless there are institutional obstacles in the way. Take the following two examples from the United States.
The Inflation Reduction Act passed by the House of Representatives was the first comprehensive climate legislation in US history. As one commentator observed ‘the most important number about the package is zero. Zero Republicans in the House. Zero Republicans in the Senate. The IRA was adopted entirely along party lines, with all Democrats and not a single congressional Republican in support of the legislation (https://www.theatlantic.com/
Even in a context where there is a substantial public opinion, i.e. swing votes, and strong opinion makers, what stopped the Democrats in the second example are the rules of the game, including strong independent constituency representatives who could withstand the threats of the party’s whip. Guyana does not have such a context: instead it is a deeply ethnically divided society in which electoral political competition is based on ethnicity/race and politicians will do what they believe is necessary, including distributing resources in a partisan manner. ‘Encouraging’ to do otherwise is utopian and Guyana is a perfect example of this.
In this era of relative financial abundance, encouragement from persons such as Ambassador Lynch and all the talk about ‘One Guyana’ has not prevented the PPP from behaving in the most undemocratic and reactionary manner. The IMF assessed that by the end of 2022 the consumer price index will have increased by 9.4%, but all public employees, who are largely Africans, were unilaterally given a salary increase of 8% that in effect leaves them worse off than they were at the end of 2021. As if that were not bad enough, the ‘One Guyana’ practitioners in the PPP have now turned to the reactionary colonial tactic of divide and rule. They have awarded the security forces, which are not unionized in the normal fashion, do not strike but will be expected to help to quell political protests if they arise, an additional increase.
At the lowest level, a constable getting $94,907 needed about $104,000 just to try and maintain his purchasing power at the end of 2021 but the new salary of those less than 5 years in the job will still be only 8% more or $102,488. When one makes similar calculations for the other security service categories, some of whom have been working for over ten years with no differentials, though institutionally necessary, the increases are nothing to shout about, especially since they are politically inspired and come on the backs of fellow workers. Not surprisingly, the regime and its supporters have published apparently staged and humiliating pictures of some members of the force being happy with the present state of affairs!
In the context of Guyana, inclusiveness and equality will only materialise when governance is fundamentally restructured so that the existence and expressions of these qualities are not dependent upon regime discretion. After decades of significant ethnic political distrust, a substantial united public opinion does not exist to hold government accountable and constitutional arrangements must be established to protect ethnic interests if the groups are to live and develop in security and peace. Nowhere has it been different and nowhere will even a marginal win, particularly where it is rooted in elections manipulation as it is today, bring peace and development.
A new Constitution was instituted in 2001 leaving in place the winner-takes-all political system and three years later former president Jimmy Carter left Guyana in much frustration when he came to realise the limitations of the Constitution and that the PPP was not only unwilling to be more inclusive but intended to exploit the existing political system for all it was worth. Today, the US State Department is again suggesting a change in the winner-takes-all political system in order to create a functioning democracy. But absurd as it may seem, the PPP appears to believe that a functioning democracy will materialise if it becomes involved in all manner of undemocratic shenanigans to get the votes of some Africans by coercion and/or bribery.