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It is my experience that when someone says ‘I have no apologies to make’ about something they have done or are about to do wrong, this kind of claim is usually intended to show strength but instead indicates that the person making it is weak and/or has found themself in an untenable position. Last week, in his budget presentation to the National Assembly, Minister of Labour Joseph Hamilton, who has responsibility for cooperatives, substantiated this observation when he reportedly announced that his government has decided to ‘dissolve’ those cooperative societies that have in their possession tens of thousands of acres of lands that are not being used productively. He said he has already asked the relevant government institutions to make data available as to the amount of lands such co-operatives possess. But here is the kick: cooperatives ‘that want to work with the government, we will work with them. But we will not continue to allow people utilizing the farcical umbrella of co-op societies when they have government lands in their possession. I have no apologies to make. The action, as I said, is either they resolve these matters or they will be dissolved’ (SN: 24/01/2023)
The cooperative ideal is as old as human society, but as developed in the 19th century, co-operation as we know it, resulted from an attempt by poor people to improve their condition. In Guyana the historical backdrop has been similar; for decades the vast majority of people has been and is still struggling to make ends meet and cooperation has been one of the efforts to mitigate their condition. But here we have in Guyana a minister in charge of cooperatives who is aware of the genesis and history of these institutions, not telling the nation what he has so far done to help these societies to develop and yet threatening to destroy them. Indeed, the mere fact that the minister is not aware of the nature of the problem as he is still attempting to find out how much lands cooperatives possess, suggests that he has so far done little or nothing to help them and one must, therefore, look elsewhere for his motivation to destroy them.
Please note that this is taking place in a context in which you could hardly wake up a morning and not be bombarded with what the capitalist private sector wants and how much the government has consulted it and intends to give it. Indeed, confronted by regional and international competition, the private sector demanded and the government agreed to change the local content law to accommodate its concerns. The cosy relationship between the government and the capitalist private sector is well established. Indeed, just before the 2020 elections its offices were used to attempt to convince those concerned about the massively bloated electoral list that it was not likely – as it did – to cause problems during the elections. Of course, given the ethnic nature of the private sector, this does not surprise me but what does is the continued public pretense that this kind of ethnic allegiance is not a systemic reality that needs to be publicly acknowledged and properly accounted for constitutionally.
The opposition has stated and the minister has confirmed that it is mainly Africans he intends to dispossess. After all, Indian societies will gladly work with the government so his threat is mainly to the lands in African possession and his ‘I have no apology to make’ is both an acceptance of the criticisms he expected and the kind of braggadocio he hopes will help to overcome such attacks and impress his government. Unlike the Minster of Works, who made it quite clear that one has to support the PPP government if one want one’s infrastructure works done, Mr. Hamilton is attempting to be a bit more subtle, but his dilemma is that he can do nothing to actually ease the general ethnic trajectory of PPP policy that depends upon coercion to win African support. Put simply, the universal nature of ethnic discrimination that politicians and the parties are refusing to systemically address has again raised its head.
It is a pity that in our era of modernity, having come to realise that in our ethnic competitive political environment it cannot easily win political consensus without making substantial concessions to the opposition and, ipso facto, their supporters, the PPP has chosen the only ‘workable’ alternative: dictatorship. Indeed, its claims that it is not talking to the opposition until it accepts it is the legitimate government is nothing but a cover for its realisation that such discourses will be useless since it does not intend to compromise. In our closely determined proportional electoral system, how can one expect that an opposition that has a government in court for electoral manipulations to state that the government is legitimate? Indeed, Janet Jagan’s regime turned out to be both illegitimate and substantially illegal!
In this kind of never-ending drive for political/ethnic dominance, cooperation will not provide a good example. From the inception, the cooperative movement has taught that discourse and compromise are key characteristics of all sustainable democratic systems and that these require sound laws, governance codes, procedures and processes. Democracy is also not just linked to voting in elections and general assemblies: it requires the separation of democratic and executive powers, with the kind of checks and balances not at present available in Guyana.