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Aristotle claimed that man is a social and thus political animal, and that political science is the master science largely because it determines the goals of all the other sciences. Political activity is one of the most virtuous activities, for while we all seek the good life for ourselves, political activity is directed towards achieving the good life for the entire society. Of course, in our times, to associate politicians with virtue is an oxymoron and in Guyana it has been taken to the negative extremes by the PPP.
A few days ago, Stabroek News carried a story ‘Contracts signed for Plaisance works’ (SN:17/05/2023) containing a photograph of some of the purported contractors who apparently had just won small contracts from the government. On a cursory investigation, about 90% of those individuals had been wearing the PPP signature red shirts during a visit by President Irfaan Ali to the area about a week ago, apparently campaigning for the upcoming local government elections.
This is the level of political and financial transparency that we have come to expect from this government, largely because it knows that in our ethnic political situation such undemocratic behaviour is unlikely to cause a significant loss of electoral support. The event also demonstrated how simple it is for governments in our competitive political system to distribute the people’s resources to whomever they want, whenever they want and to do whatever they want, and it goes without saying that generally political parties prioritise the interest of their supporters. When this general tendency is coupled with the PPP’s drive for political/ethnic dominance it is not surprising that although the PPP has been in government for over 25 of the last 30 years the below-mentioned trend has resulted.
It has been noted that in some 288 government contracts awarded in 2022, although Guyanese of Indian and African descent were about 39.8% and 29.3% of the population respectively, 56.9% of contracts with 72.8% of the total dollar value went to businesses owned or operated by Guyanese of Indian descent while only 10.4% of contracts with 7.1% of total dollar value went to businesses owned or operated by Guyanese of African descent. Furthermore, contracts were awarded 5 times as often to contractors of Indian descent as those of African descent and the dollar value of contracts awarded to Indians was 10 times greater than that awarded to African. (Village Voice,11/12/20220).
Excuses will abound but, to no avail, this column has repeatedly called of the regime to conduct an inclusive ethnic disparity analysis to debunk or do something about the situation. The sharing of some minor contracts cannot solve the problem, but it appears that the current distribution is only intended to buy political allegiance and votes.
Freedom is the absence of necessity, coercion or constraint in choice or action: liberation from slavery or from the power of another. Last week I quoted ARF Webber’s story of an important aspect of the Africans’ struggle to expand their freedom immediately after emancipation in 1834. ‘It was not an uncommon thing for an able-bodied labourer to earn $9 and $10 per week. The labourers [by purchasing former plantations and transforming them into villages] were then landed proprietors: they could neither be coerced by whip nor circumstances to work on the plantations (ARF Webber (1931) Centenary History and Handbook of British Guyana).
It is most unlikely that nearly 200 years after the abolition of slavery, the successors of those free men will in any substantial number allow the PPP’s blatant attempt at vote buying to cause them to relinquish that freedom that was so dearly won. But that aside, any person or organization who, by force or circumstances, requires you to publicly demonstrate your political allegiance in any way, is not only breaking moral and legal democratic rules but even more debasingly, disrespects and diminishes you as an individual and as a people.
I will not attempt to tell anyone, particularly the poor, not to strategically take the little handouts they are given by the powers that be. My family told stories of political campaigning in the colonial days when Cheddi Jagan and Forbes Burnham led the PPP and the local bourgeoisie, and their supporters secretly attempted to buy their votes by giving presents and money in some cases. The family was offered and did take a sewing machine and such like bribes, knowing full well that they had no intention of voting for any party but the PPP.
Similarly, I believe that it was Peter Simms in his work ‘Trouble in Guyana’ (Allen & Unwin, 1966) who, interviewing some Indian rice farmers in Mahaica/Abary, enquired why it was that they continued to vote for the PPP when the colonial government and the local bourgeoisie provided them with combines, tractors, and other such incentives. They told him that if Jagan was not opposing the colonialists, they would not have been there trying to buy their votes.
You could bet your bottom dollar that if the PPP was not now being confronted in every available forum for its ill-treatment of Africans, there would not have been a distribution of even those small contracts. But to reinforce the PPP’s ill-intent, there is talk that parties will be able to find out how one votes, but this just more fear-mongering. The right to privacy of political allegiance and the secret ballot have been firmly established as important elements of the democratic process. They protect against bribery, intimidation, the loss of friends, job, etc., because of your political leanings and no one should be required to tell or indicate to anyone in any manner if and for whom they intend to vote.
True, democracy hardly ever flourishes in our kind of situation. As we are at present witnessing, in our context its natural tendency is towards all manner of excesses and even civil war. The colonialists may have felt the moral compulsion to behave secretly but today, more entrenched than ever in our ethnic quarrel, the PPP has thrown such caution to the wind: ‘good life’ for all is a forlorn hope.
Where Africans are concerned, the politics of debasement even eschews the cultivation of free associations and activities. The PPP does not only seek to stymie the freedom and prosperity of individual Africans but also the associations that are there to aid and help them to grow and develop. Just consider what happened to the Guyana chapter of the International Decade of People of African Descent Assembly. For just objectively doing their work, national funds, to which African people have equitable ownership and right, have been taken away by a still questionable government with an extremely marginal majority!
But what takes the cake is that the PPP regime, which has underfunded and left Georgetown in a shabby state for more than 25 years is now asking its citizens, the majority of whom are Africans, to vote for it and give it the opportunity to undo the damage for which is largely responsible! For example, a report on the UNDP US$25m urban rehabilitation loan left by Desmond Hoyte’s regime in 1992 concluded that the institutional arrangements of Georgetown and the other city councils were too weak for them to properly manage their remit and US$4.4m was set aside for institutional strengthening. The first disbursement of the loan was not made until August 2000 and the last in June 200, but lo and behold, a 2009 Commission of Inquiry into the Operations of the Mayor and City Council of Georgetown (the Burrowes Report) observed that while the UNDP programme was intended to focus on infrastructure development and institutional strengthening, ‘the programme focused almost exclusively on infrastructure development’.
Africans can rest assured that whatever is on the PPP’s agenda for Georgetown, its goal of political/ethnic dominance cannot accommodate sustainable comparative development of the African people.