I CAME of age politically when the PNC government of the 1970s was firing on all cylinders. During that time, I learned politics the hard way — on the streets, far away from the exercise of political power.
Ours were the politics of protest and questioning and pushing the limits of formal resistance allowed by the regime. I would later learn that in the process of resisting, the resisters add something to what they met, and in turn create something new to pass on to later generations. That something is often manifested in a new political culture and praxis, which would become useful even to those whose intransigence was largely responsible for their birth.
By the time the PPP came along in 1992, my cynicism about the Guyanese elite political culture was well entrenched. While I was glad to see the PNC go, I had very little expectations of anything transformational coming from the PPP, even under Dr. Jagan. The doctor lost me when he turned his back on a Government of National Unity to replace the PNC. Once Dr. Jagan opted for a one-party government to replace the authoritarian regime, we in the WPA sensed that he had set Guyana on a path of continued distress. The history of the next two decades proved our reading to be correct.
Enter the Coalition in 2015. Despite misgivings about the extent to which the PNC had shed the core values of its past stewardship of government, and the AFC’s lack of commitment to any nationalist ideological outlook, I supported the APNU+AFC Coalition. In fact, I went further by allowing myself to believe that the Coalition government would facilitate some minimum transformation in the society.
It has turned out to be one of the biggest miscalculations of my political life. I expected the Government to overhaul the way government works: to be open to criticisms, to be more consultative than its predecessors, and to witness for the poor in real, tangible ways.
To my mind, the Government has not come even close to satisfying those expectations; nor has it given any serious hints that it is headed in that direction. My misplaced optimism arose from the fact that the WPA was part of the Government, that David Granger’s integrity and newness would be a pivotal factor, and that no government that looked at the tears of joy which came in the morning could be unmoved. Sadly, I was wrong.
The WPA remains on the margins of decision-making both within the APNU and the Coalition government. Individual party members may have some influence because of their formal office, but the party as an entity plays no formal role in influencing policy and decision-making. The experience of the last 19 months has shown that the leader can maintain his integrity and political capital while his government stumbles every two mornings.
And what is most dramatic is that the Government has been unmoved by the tears of its supporters and the vulnerable citizens at large.
It is remarkable that it took less than six months for me individually to be branded an enemy of the Government and state. Not because I tried to overthrow the Government, but simply because I dared to publicly criticize Government action. As a result of that sin, I am persona non-grata in the halls of power.
I have heard that I am accused of doing the work of the PPP —- the usual defence of governments against self-criticism. As a political person, I am open to criticism and I have my partisan moments; but I would never surrender the right to be critical of Government, including one that I support. Government must, by its very nature, be constantly watched, scrutinized and critiqued. Experience and the study of history and philosophy have taught me that.
Yet, for all my misgivings, I still support the Government, largely based on the adage that a quarter of a loaf is better than none. I am acutely aware of the difficulty in governing a country like Guyana, with its plantation history, its ethnic cleavage, its post-colonial authoritarian experience, and its immediate past conversion into a criminalized state. At least this Government has not turned the guns of the state on the poor, the dissident and the opposition.
But all is not well. The debate over the current budget this past week bears this out. That debate was worse than a drunken argument at a street-corner. I have never known a budget that an opposition party has liked, or one that a Government has not liked. But Guyana takes that formulation to the extremes. Is it not possible to oppose the overall policy thrust of a budget but support elements of it? Is it not possible to support the overall budget but oppose aspects of it? As political people and party members, our parliamentarians are devoid of political courage. Where is the critical analysis that is so central to human dignity? How can we expect our schoolchildren to learn critical analysis when our leaders in the public halls engage in the worst form of intellectual subservience to something called the party?
I am so ashamed of our National Assembly; it has been turned into an intellectually and politically dead institution. It is nauseating to watch member after member line up like sheep to the slaughter to either cuss down the budget or slavishly defend it. Where is the dignity, the backbone, the learning, the sense of history? Where is the soring rhetoric and the righteous defence of the poor? The PPP parliamentarians’ political dishonesty is now a national joke, and the uncritical behaviour of the other side is not far behind.
From my standpoint, there is plenty in the budget to like and dislike; that’s the essence of budgets. Every cent of relief that comes to the poor is vital to their survival. And only a mean-spirited party hack would deny that there is some relief for the poor in the budget.
What about the generous allocations for education and health care? Who benefits from that mostly? What about the investments in infrastructural improvement? Don’t they provide jobs for the poor and affect their lives positively?
But yes, the seeming over-taxation is a problem. I am not against taxation, but they should be levied based on the ability of tax payers to pay. The rich and powerful must pay their fair share of taxes; they can do so. But even as I say so, I am wary of a strategy that over-relies on taxation for two reasons. First, to over-rely on taxes to pay for Government programs is a risky undertaking. Second, the other uplifting aspects of the budget get buried in the fear of taxes.
Finally, I am partly swayed by the argument that even within the context of taxing things like water and electricity, there is still something for poor people. However, I am concerned when they, the poor, must search deep within the budget to find their relief. For me, if the ideological orientation begins with the upliftment of the poor, then their benefit must be unambiguously evident in the budget.
It was quite sobering to see a call on my political leader to respond to attacks on his integrity, with the “Open Word” being transformed into an attack on him and the Government. As I stated in my missive, I was confident, even without talking to him, that Dr. Roopnaraine had not engaged in any of the suggested improprieties. But I believe the nation was owed a direct explanation from him. That he chose the halls of Parliament to give that explanation to the country, not the PPP, gladdens me. By that very act, Dr. Roopnaraine has set for elected individuals a new standard that I hope will be emulated by his colleagues on both sides of that poisonous aisle.
At moments of despair, it is the ordinary folks who always give hope to continue. I took the opportunity to go to the Stadium to watch the cricket game between Guyana and Barbados. The audacity of young Hetmeyer and the quiet assurance of our elder statesman-batsman Chanderpaul revived my hope in Guyana. With much love and in our great Caribbean tradition, the cricket field still holds an important key to unlocking our shared abilities to overcome.
More of Dr. Hinds ‘writings and commentaries can be found on his YouTube Channel Hinds’ Sight: Dr. David Hinds’ Guyana-Caribbean Politics and on his website www.guyanacaribbeanpolitics.com. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org