THERE are two necessary ingredients in any recipe for good, effective and democratic governance. First, there needs to be an overall vision of where the government proposes to take the country and the short and long-term objectives therein. Second, the government should consult with citizens through their elected officials and more importantly through direct conversations with people in their communities. If a government does everything right, but omits those two ingredients, it would finally find itself in conflict with the very citizenry it hopes to help.
I am contending that this is partly the problem with the current government. This is nothing new—all our governments have suffered from this ailment. Our two previous governments resorted to force and repression when confronted with mass protests born of an absence of progressive vision and lack of consultation. In the current dispensation, this government does not have the latitude to resort to force and, to my mind, does not have the appetite or inclination to go down that road. It means, therefore, that it must acknowledge and address the consequences of its failure to properly strategise and consult with the citizens.
Let’s take the case of the parking meters. It is clear that there was no coordination between the city government and the central government. The parking meter project was not part of a larger government developmental package. The city, it seems, went off on its own and did its own thing. It is quite troubling to see the APNU City councillors at odds with their counterparts in central government. Clearly there was no strategizing within the APNU and worse within the APNU+AFC Coalition. The AFC, through Duncan, is clearly at odds with the APNU on this matter.
So, there is no larger package and, there is no consultation within the Coalition. This is not good enough. One imperative of coalitions is persistent consultations. Failure to do so defeats the logic of a coalition. I recently re-read the Coalition’s manifesto and tried to line its contents up with the performance of the government. I am afraid that there is not much coordination.
Then there is the matter of public consultation; there was absolutely none. This has landed the government in very hot water. They now must try to walk back the project, but because governments don’t admit mistakes and because the project is not part of a larger vision, they are trying a new thing every day and hoping one would stick.
First, they reduced the price, then they urge the city to review the contract, then they suspended the project for three months, then the Public Infrastructure Ministry ordered the city not to clamp vehicles on certain streets and finally the Public Security Ministry is urged to protect citizens from having their vehicles clamped. This is a clear case of lack of an overall plan. But this is what happens when you don’t have a larger vision and when you don’t consult. Policies that don’t flow from vision and that are crafted in isolation from the citizens are bound to eventually implode.
The government is now confronted with the problem on the issue of the VAT on private education. I am in sympathy with the government trying to get these rich private schools to pay their way, to contribute to the national coffers and to be patriots. Rich people tend to want to make money and not pay their fair share of taxes. But I have no sympathy for the government when it comes to the lack of vision and its failure to consult on this matter. First, the burden to pay should not be on the parents. I hear the argument that VAT is a consumption tax, so it must be levied on consumers and not on the schools. There are some parents who can afford the VAT, but a lot of poor people send their children to private schools and can barely afford the school fees.
My point is there has to be a distinction between private schools that cater to mostly poor people and those that cater to rich people. Even if you are going to tax, there should not be a flat tax across the board. If you are going after those who can pay and don’t pay, you should not punish those who cannot pay. Further, if the VAT would force poor people to take their children out of private schools, you must have an adequate alternative in the public schools. With all due respect to the government, there has not been any marked improvement in the condition of public education.
So, you cannot by your policy frustrate people from sending their children to private schools and not concomitantly improve the conditions of public schools. The same logic applies to the UG tuition hike—if you are raising tuition, it must me linked to some clear and present improvement of services. The recent attempt at consultation with the stakeholders come after the fact. The government is in effect saying that they hear the people, but they can’t do anything right now. Well, this is what happens when you don’t talk to people before you act
Finally, the situation with the sugar industry. I think there is a vision for sugar, but the consultation has been poor. Only recently we saw a delegation from the Cabinet visit Wales. You do not do something as far-reaching as closing estates and not be in constant conversation with those who would be affected. By the time you get around to talking to them, the PPP has already poisoned their minds with erroneous information and ethnic conspiracy theories.
It is time this government wake up to the fact that an ad-hoc economic program is not working and that its failure to consult is hurting its efforts. You do not have economists of the caliber of Winston Jordan, Clive Thomas, Carl Greenidge, Gem Fletcher and Maurice Odle available to you and not have a coherent economic vision and program. Further, I know of many astute political people who are available to this government that can speak to people and explain a vision if one is available. The government does not need PR, it needs political explanation of its vision and program. But it first must have a vision.
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