THIS week, like Brother Bob Marley would say, I have “ so much things to say,” that I don’t know where to start. The Mayor of Georgetown and some government supporters have dismissed the protest against the parking meters as a ploy by the PPP to embarrass the city government and by extension the coalition government. This is a clear attempt to delegitimise the protest. One can understand why the powers that be at City Hall are going down that road; it’s what all governments instinctively do.
The PPP, while in office, perfected that approach, and to some extent succeeded in stifling protest among the then opposition. I remember well some people who are now high up in the present government referring to some of us as troublemakers when we dared to take to the streets in protest against the PPP government. The Burnham-Hoyte government, despite its harshness towards dissent, was less successful in stifling protest.
Having said the above, I still believe that those who seek to use the PPP to scare people off the protest line are politically naïve. While the PPP would try to insert itself into the protest and to use it to that party’s advantage, that should not blind the city and central government leaders to the obvious fact that a critical mass of their supporters are fed up with their inability to govern differently from their predecessors. That is the big message from the parking meter protest—the parking meter fiasco is the occasion for a larger rebuke of the government. The city government is the target, but the message is being sent to the central government—after all, it’s the same coalition of parties that control both levels of government.
The PPP messed up Guyana beyond the ordinary—they met a mess that was left by the PNC government, but instead of cleaning it up, they multiplied it and made it their permanent address. Guyana must never forget that fact, for if we do, the present government would surely go down the same path. The PPP, while in office, constantly scared us with the ghost of the PNC dictatorship and many of us ran for cover. In the process, we left the PPP untouched until it was too late. Even the then main opposition PNC buckled under the PPP’s rampage, partly as tactic and partly as victim of the logic of confronting a rampant regime that would stop at nothing. It took the formation of the APNU and the APNU+AFC to lift our people out of the sate of demoralisation.
Now, some of the present crowd are using the same tactic of invoking the jumbies of the past government to cover their mistakes and scare the rest of us from resisting against them. That is the wrong use of the PPP jumbies. Instead of using them to stifle protest, the government should use them as motivation to distinguish its governance from that of the PPP. The PPP are protesting the parking meters for narrow, partisan ends, but the majority of protestors on the streets are standing up for fairness, justice and accountable government.
There is something rotten about making a big decision like the introduction of parking meters and not talking to the citizens at length about it. Precisely because it’s about modernisation and the public is paying for it that you should get the inputs of the people. Further, when a government is fighting tooth and nail for an initiative which would bring a minority of the revenue into its coffers, we must take notice. Why are the mayor and her supporters fighting so hard to put money into the pocket of a private company that has no history of service and commitment to Guyana? If we must go the capitalist route, at least be sensible about it.
As I hinted above, this mess comes out of City Hall, but it reflects on the governing coalition, which has been slow to come to grips with its own inadequacies. We are all in agreement that managing the political economy or our post-plantation societies comes with tremendous systemic challenges. We function in a world that was not made for us and is unmindful of our deficiencies. Yet we have used our independence to compound our inherited problems. We have practised bad politics—a politics which is premised on personal aggrandizement and reckless accumulation of power by our leaders at the expense of the welfare and security of our people.
The result is unimaginative policies. One doesn’t have to put much imagination into flaunting power, but balancing resistance against underdevelopment with initiatives aimed at collective survival and overcoming calls for some degree of creative imagination. All of our governments have failed miserably as far as the latter is concerned.
No government since the early independence administration has enjoyed the goodwill and opportunity to do something transformational for Guyana as the present one. But with each passing day, it demonstrates a glaring incapacity and perhaps unwillingness to rise to the occasion. The government has been unable to translate the energies of 2011-2015 into social transformation. What big positive changes have occurred since May 2015? Sometimes it seems as if all we have is a modified PPP in office.
The wrongdoers of the past are untouched even in the face of glaring evidence. The Ombudsman submitted a report that was tabled in parliament a year and a half ago about the abuse of power in the Freddie Kissoon matter at UG and the New Building Society scandal. To date, nothing has been done by the government. This represents an insult to the Office of the Ombudsman and a serious democratic deficit. Democracy is incomplete if the government ignores the work of democratic institutions. In the end, if their work is ignored, the institutions are weakened.
Why expend resources on institutions when you don’t act on their work and findings? This has become a worrying habit of this government. They did it with the audits, with the Rodney Commission report and with some of the reports of the other commissions they have set up.
The work of the Ombudsman is critical to Guyana’s fragile democracy, particularly in the age of rampant government over-reach and corrupt governance. The government’s failure to act on the reports on the New Building Society and Freddie Kissoon matters amounts to turning a blind eye to the transgressions of the previous government — something that has become a frustrating habit. If a government which came to office with the expressed promise to go after the gross over-reach of its predecessors ends up sweeping the evidence under the ocean, then it ends up compromising its own integrity. If you have the authority to act on injustice and don’t act on evidence before you, then you end up being a symbol of injustice yourself.
The government must move very quickly to ensure justice for the citizens who were wronged in the matters pronounced on by the Ombudsman, or it risks losing whatever credibility it has left. And that would be a serious blow to our country’s ability to recover its political sanity and moral centre, which took a hammering under the previous government.
On the matter of the plight of the poor, we witness the same worrying story. Where are the initiatives to put our people to work? I love the President—he is a breath of fresh air for Guyana. Mr President, I know where you are going and I am with you on the big picture.
But Mr President, in post-plantation societies such as Guyana with a limited private sector and limited scope for a vibrant and expanded private sector, it is the government that must provide jobs for the people, especially poor people. And Mr President, when the private sector pays poor wages and are selective about who it hires, it is to the government that the people turn for relief. Mr President, I love your sermons about the value of entrepreneurship, but until there are banks that would lend start-up capital at reasonable interest rates, it is the government that has to pick up the slack. Mr President, government matters as far as economic survival of the poor is concerned.
I still have hope that this government would find its feet and dance better than it has done. I do not want the PPP to put its hands on power in the near future, at least not by themselves and not with the current crowd in charge. Guyana cannot and should not be subjected to another round of extreme abuse that is sure to come from that party. But we should not let the fear of the PPP lead us to condone the lethargic and uninspiring leadership of the government. If we have to take to the streets, as the anti-parking meter protestors are doing, to inspire them to lift their game, then so be it—they have to do better. If they don’t, even the oil which we eagerly await will not save them and us.
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