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Two weeks ago, the PPP/C celebrated three years in office and the nation titters with subtle embarrassment at the very poor performance of the government. During this period, Guyanese have witnessed the incumbent stumbling along from one scandal to another in a never-ending cycle. Sorry, strange and shocking tales of political and other levels of corruption, cover-ups of wrong doings by certain friends and associates of the government and officials in high places, conspiracies, unaccountability and opaqueness in the way the nation is governed, nepotism, and masterful attempts, by propagandists, working for the government, to deceive the Guyanese people on many fronts. There can be no doubt that the PPP/C has put this nation on a path of regression, unsustainability and growth without real development.
PPP/C has put this nation on a path of regression
One of the deceptions peddled by the government and its apologists is that it is democratic; it is not. It is an autocratic and a totalitarian regime that exhibits traits of dictatorship. As a result, the PPP/C government has reduced our fragile democracy to a one party- rule system.
As it now stands, the PPP/C holds complete control and dominance over the government and all aspects of governance in Guyana. All state boards, commissions, and certain statutory bodies are controlled by the government.
Even Commissions of Inquiry [COI] into certain incidents and events of national importance and significance are shamelessly hogged by the government. The Commission of Inquiry into the 2020 general and regional elections was a one- sided affair, with the PPP/C, one of the parties that contested those elections, formulating the Terms of Reference [TOR] of that commission without input from the opposition and minorities. The President is going along a similar path of partisan politics and high-handedness, with the Commission of Inquiry into the Mahdia Inferno that snatched 20 precious lives; a great loss to our country; a terrible tragedy that has befallen this nation. That, in spite of a request by the opposition to be a part of the team responsible for formulating the Terms of Reference of that, still to be appointed commission, the government has gone ahead with it. It would be very interesting to see what the contours of that commission would look like.
The arrangement of the Public Accounts Committee continues to give the government a political advantage over the opposition. If certain ministers of the government, who are members of that committee, do not show up for meetings then the committee meetings cannot be convened. By these and other means the government is effectively monopolising political decision- making and shaping and influencing public policies.
With the recent discovery of significant oil reserves, the government has implemented policies to manage the oil and gas sector. These policies cover areas like revenue management, local content development, environmental protection, and transparency in contracts and licensing. The PPP/C has taken absolute control of all the processes involved in creating and implementing policies in this sector. The opposition has disappearingly limited involvement, and influence in this sector.
Even when the PPP/C takes various aspects of these policies of this sector to parliament it makes optimum use of its majority to have its way. This is worrying because the growth and development of Guyana’s economy depends heavily upon oil and gas. If the opposition represents more than 48% of the people of this country, which it does, but is left out of the decision- making process and the formulating, planning and implementing of policies then a significant portion of Guyanese is deliberately denied a “seat at the table”, unable to participate, and would not benefit from the profits of these resources. This has huge implications for inclusivity and diversity and for the structured development of our country.
Oil and gas sector
Staying on the emergence of the oil and gas sector, I wish to make this point:
Recent reports on the performance of our economy show that, other sectors have been contracting. These include the extractive sector: mining gold, precious stones and other natural resources. And with all the big talk, by the President, about food security, growth in the agriculture sector has not been moving at an admirable pace. For a country with an abundance of fertile, productive lands our nation is lagging behind in production of essential foods. In fact, in 2022, Guyana’s food import bill increased by US $30M [6 billion] as agriculture production declined. Guyana is spending US$49M annually to import milk and meat.
Notwithstanding the fact that the sugar industry is costing the Guyanese taxpayers about $40 billion annually it is failing to meet projected targets. Further, records show that there has been a reduction in bank loans for projects in this sector. It appears as though people are not willing to stay in agriculture. Now, the government has announced cash grants of $700,000.00 to encourage individuals to stay on the land and farm. It is important that we understand this reality because it demonstrates the crucial and almost indispensable place the oil and gas sector has come to occupy not only in the national effort to grow the economy but also to our very survival as a nation.
Yet, the PPP/C has dismissed the opposition, and other minorities, critical stakeholders in the national economy, from participating in it. But there is no surprise here, because this action [having total control and dominance over the oil and gas sector] is, perhaps, the main way by which the government is clinging with all of its failing strength to political power in this country. But this emerging sector and the profits thereof have not been trickling down to the bulk of the people where a better quality of life is undeniably needed. This prosperity for the few in government circles- friends, families and associates- founded on ecological destruction and persistent social injustice is no foundation for a sustainable civilised society. Clearly, we stand in desperate need of shared prosperity and a deeper concern for the poor and vulnerable.
The other set of public policies that the government has implemented without the participation of, or consultation with the opposition is the one on poverty reduction. This includes certain initiatives: Cash grants, job creation initiatives, education and healthcare.
Under education, let us look at the GOAL Program. The government has introduced this elaborate scholarship initiative. Government is using the national purse, taxpayers’ money, to pay for this scheme. In this year’s budget, the government allocated $1.8 billion dollars to this scheme; University of Guyana got $3.7 billion dollars. Again, the opposition was completely left out of the planning and implementation of this initiative.
Beyond the issue of quality control of activities and courses in various studies, at different levels, of this program what is more worrying is that, in the face of such huge sums for GOAL, the University of Guyana remains grossly underfunded and inadequately resourced. It is as if the government is undermining the effort of the leadership of that institution to sustainably improve standards, and provide the education, skills and competencies to satisfy local business and other needs. Sure, they will promote the people, who benefited from the program but the needs of Guyana’s only university remain urgent. The money allocated to GOAL could have been given to the university to enhance its effort.
Diverse viewpoints and dissenting voices are consistently stifled.
Similarly, the PPP/C is spending money to create temporary work for people. Creating part- time jobs, 10 days per month at $40,000. This is like putting a plaster on a festering sore. It is terribly insufficient, and lacks true purpose and meaning. What exactly is this work? How is the value of these temporary jobs measured and how is it contributing to real growth of the economy? Answers to these questions continue to elude Guyanese. In any case, this program could not significantly help those, who are unemployed, in different local communities. The average rent for a two- bedroom house is about $80,000 per month. A basket of bare necessities is about $110,000. The average salary for public servants is less than US$600 per month. But the government appears to be concerned about its political advantage rather than creating tangible, positive change in the lives of our people.
In the absence of genuine political pluralism and involvement of the opposition and key minority groups, the PPP/C has become complacent and unaccountable. In parliament the use and abuse of a one- seat majority prevents the opposition from challenging the policies of the government and holding them accountable for failures. This is resulting in policy stagnation, corruption and bad governance.
Furthermore, this extant state of affairs is restricting creativity and innovation. Diverse viewpoints and dissenting voices are consistently stifled. Alternative solutions are ignored or dismissed by the government. Apart from limiting or extinguishing the national political discourse, on the way forward for our nation. This system of governance employed by the PPP/C is affecting the way our nation is developing and the prosperity of our people.
Also, this monopoly on power by the government is facilitating economic and financial mismanagement. The policies of the incumbent are prioritising the selfish interests of the few, the ruling cabal, the PPP/C over the urgent needs of the broader population. Consider and compare the enormous sums the government is spending on infrastructure- roads, bridges, pavements- with the sums they are putting into social and other allied projects that would improve the quality of life for Guyanese. But those who understand what is happening know only too well why the focus and vast resources are on infrastructure- corruption and nepotism.
Whilst the government pays out money to contractors to build roads some of which are already showing signs of stress and deterioration, the majority of Guyanese provide three nutritious meals per day for their children. More than 70% of Guyanese are in poverty while the government elite and their friends gore themselves at the troughs of their masters. The danger of this style and nature of political leadership as practiced by the government continues to erode our democratic credentials, erode human rights, and stifle economic growth and development.