THERE has been quite a lot of political drama in Guyana these past few weeks. From the Homestretch Development Incorporated (HDI) revelations to the tax-laden budget to the City Hall fiasco to the scholarships for the ministers, we, the political junkies, have had a lot to contend with. The opposition PPP has had a field day; they have managed to use the budget to inflict some serious body blows to the government.
The government, for its part, has been slow to react and in the process has lost the propaganda war and the political battle. The latter does not bode well for a government, which from all accounts should be doing much better than it has done. In real terms, it has to be admitted by even staunch supporters, of which I am one, that the government is in trouble.
I have never seen a government in the modern Caribbean, which has lost its advantage in such a short period of time. For a one-seat majority government, it enjoyed the goodwill of a super-majority administration. Its leader, President Granger, was elevated to a super-star status that would earn the envy of the political titans of yesteryear. It is a government that has two political enemies of the past singing the same praises and the new Never-PNCs serving under the PNC maximum leader. The faithful were singing songs of joy in a strange land that they hoped would in short order become not so strange.
But, in the space of one year, it all seems to have come tumbling down and six months later there are no signs of resurgence. What went wrong so quickly? What has the government done or not done to undermine itself and in the process allowed space for the discredited opposition to regain some semblance of credibility? I think a few crucial errors were made which are grounded partly in Guyana’s larger political culture and partly in some unwise political decisions made by the government. There is a relationship between the two elements—the political culture informs the nature and content of policy formation and decision-making. Today, I want to zero in on one of those errors which I think is important to an understanding of why the government has tripped up so badly.
The larger political culture to which I refer is one in which successive post-independence governments have relied on a mixture of great-man politics and authoritarian governance as the preferred model. The leaders assume a god-like role in which critical national decisions begin and end with them. The consequence has been a very narrow power space. Insofar as “outsiders” are consulted, those outsiders must be prepared to become the consummate cheerleaders of the anointed and appointed. In such a culture, the abuse of power is inevitable and hostility to dissent is constant.
This government has, unfortunately, fitted neatly into the above model. It has not broadened the web of decision-making beyond its traditional narrow confines, nor has there been any concerted effort to democratise power to include other national stakeholders. In fact, one may argue that despite its coalition form, this government has further narrowed the power space. The current government’s conception of governance and formal power has not veered away from the old discredited conception. In short, it has not touched the regime and political culture that it had railed against when in opposition.
This is so critical to the failure of governments in the Anglophone Caribbean to move our countries beyond where we are currently. This government has not separated itself from previous governments as far as the conception and exercise of power are concerned. It has not sought to change the character of government and governance—the old regime is still firmly entrenched. Basically, we have had a change of government but not a change of regime. The State institutions and their fundamental roles have not been touched. So the wonderful promises cannot be operationalized, largely because that requires some fundamental changes to the character of the State. You simply cannot expect to undo the wrongs of the past without displacing the regime which facilitated those wrongs.
So whether its corruption, asset-recovery, crime, wages or jobs, there can be no big changes unless they are prepared to alter the character of the State institutions. Crime continues, police shake-downs have not abated, the economy is still shaky, education still ails and the menu of social ills are still as evident as before May 2015 in large part because the government has not signalled to the rest of the society that it intends to make a decisive break with the past. If you come to power promising fundamental change and don’t deliver on them, you will be judged more harshly than your predecessors.
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