A FEW weeks ago, the president did a mini-reshuffle or what I call a “shuffle” of the cabinet, which was ignited by controversy at the Public Health Ministry. No government wants any of its ministries to be mired in constant controversies. The President was being kind to the Minister when he characterised the problems at the Ministry of Public Health as being administrative in nature. It is clear that there were mostly problems of governance.
The minister was doomed once the bond scandal broke. The PPP, itself under the corruption microscope, was bound to milk the issue for more than it was worth. But that whole fiasco should be a signal to the government that it must beware of these moneyed interests who would lure public officials into unsavoury deals. After the experience of the PPP, the society at large has little patience with anything that resembles corruption and cover-up of deals. So, the President, despite his stated support for his troops, had to move. The very integrity of the government was at stake and one cannot have such an important ministry buried in suspicion. Clearly, the minister had lost control of the ministry.
I suspect the President was in a tight spot. Under normal circumstances, he might have removed the minister from the Cabinet to send a signal to other ministers and the society at large that there was strong aversion to official improprieties. But he had to be mindful of the sensitivities of the PNC, of which Minister Norton is a senior member and he, the President, is leader. He also had to be mindful of ethnic sensitivities; the minister is Amerindian, a group that is often most marginalised from formal power. These are the partisan and ethnic realities that make governing so difficult in Guyana.
I hope that the appointment of a new minister to the job is not seen as a final solution. There must be a change of approach to public procurement and other matters of governance at the Ministry of Public Health and in the government in general. I am not suggesting that there is corruption in government, but the President must read the riot act to his ministers—stay far away from even a hint of corruption and nepotism. Be as transparent as possible on the matter of resource allocation.
Bribery of State officials by those with the means to do so is a central aspect of official corruption. Ministers and top government officials must resist the temptation to take these “gifts” for the bearers of gifts always want something in return. And we live in a country where the previous government made that mode of operation normative.
It is also commonplace that those who gave big donations to the campaign would demand their “pound of flesh,” but ministers must push back against such forces. The process must be fair and just. If there must be Affirmative Action, it must not be for friends, but for those who have been unfairly shut out of the system. And such corrective action must be enshrined in the law. Whether the ministers of Government acknowledge it or not, the government came to power as an anti-corruption government.
The President had to put Minister Norton somewhere, so he sent him to the Ministry of Social Cohesion. That is a big gamble. That ministry is pivotal to the government’s stated desire for national and ethnic reconciliation. The minister must have a strong desire for that kind of delicate work and should be pro-active in giving leadership to a sensitive undertaking. I don’t know that Minister Norton has an interest in or a passion for that work. One does not necessarily have to be part of the profession to manage a given subject area. But I think on this matter of Social Cohesion, the subject minister should be someone who has a key understanding of the ministry’s mandate and the wherewithal to execute. We shall see.
The Madness on our Roads Must Stop
It is now generally accepted that our roadways have become very dangerous. Hardly a day passes without some serious accident often leading to serious injury or death. This problem has plagued Guyana for a long time, but despite public pleadings for caution, the situation seems to be worsening. A civilised society cannot turn a blind eye to carnage on its roadways.
What is happening on our roads is a clear case of lawlessness. Our motorists are out of control. From mini-bus drivers to private motorists, there is almost total [dis]regard for the law, for limb and for life. There are reports of drivers breaking traffic laws in full view of the police. Others ignore the right of pedestrians to share the public space and refuse to give way to them. Often children and elderly citizens become victims of the rage on the roadways.
This problem on the roadways is a symptom of a larger problem of indiscipline in the society. Something must be done urgently. The problem must be tackled at various levels. First, the police have to launch a zero-sum campaign against indiscipline on our roadways. The traffic laws must be enforced. Of course, there is the problem of corruption, whereby motorists are in the habit of bribing the police. However, that should not be a deterrent to bold action. I am cognisant that we do not have enough police ranks to man the streets. Perhaps the government should consider the setting up of a special traffic force made up of part-time officers.
The second area of repair must be the general education of drivers. There should be more rigorous training of potential drivers that goes beyond a road test. These new drivers should be mandated to attend more formal classes on road safety and ethics on the roadways. Third, the penalty for those found guilty of traffic infractions, particularly dangerous driving, should be increased. We cannot continue like this.
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