IT’S been two years since half of the Guyanese electorate struck a historic blow for change. When the government changed in 1992 after almost three decades of PNC rule, I was not optimistic that that change would result in any serious transformation of the country’s political economy. I did not believe that the PPP by itself could and would reach for anything transformative. The PPP’s decision to go it alone was to my mind a negative development that could only end in disaster. After 23 years, we were proven correct —the PPP government turned out to be the most notorious in the post-colonial history of the Anglophone Caribbean. Its rule was characterised by the worst form of political and economic gangsterism.
So, when it was replaced by the Coalition government that now holds power, many of us not only breathed a sigh of relief, but we actually entertained the thought that the new government could turn out to be medium for the transformation that has eluded our country since independence. I reasoned that given the depths to which the PPP had taken the country and considering the tremendous goodwill that the new government got from half the population, the stage was perfectly set for something transformational. But, alas, two years later I must confess that I was dead wrong.
After two years in office, the government has shown no inclination towards, or interest in transformation. It is a bitter pill to swallow. We knew that most of the leaders were inexperienced in the art of governance and lacked the kind of political upbringing needed to effectively manage a country like Guyana, but their sincerity could not be questioned. We felt that the shortcomings would be eclipsed by the urgency of the moment — that it was difficult to squander such a precious gift from the people. But we were wrong.
I think we underestimated the toll that five decades of misrule had taken on the political psyche of the leaderships and the larger society from which they come. As we moved further away from the independence moment, our country and the larger Caribbean Region have deteriorated to a politics of hustle and gangsterism. Politics have become less and less about service to and on behalf of the collective and more and more about the elevation and enrichment of the individual and the clique. It started under the PNC and graduated under the PPP.
It was folly on our part to have expected that the new government would be a radical departure from the norm — a norm that has unfortunately become settled. Our political culture is too corrupted. I continue to argue, despite cautions from Ravi Dev and Dr Henry Jeffrey, that what the PPP has done to Guyana will objectively imprison governance in this country for a generation. Any bold attempt to overturn the monster that the PPP constructed will be met by intense ethnic resistance that would tear Guyana further apart. The PPP skilfully linked its construction of the gangster political economy to the ethnic emotions of the Indian- Guyanese community. Hence, any attempt to turn back that monster would invariably come up against Indian- Guyanese sensitivities. Just watch the ride with sugar reform and anti-corruption.
In that regard, I have some sympathy for the government. It is caught in the ethnic trap. It cannot drastically shake up the status quo without stepping on Indian-Guyanese sensitivities. It also cannot do anything too ambitious about the ethnic economic gap without risking the racist tag. But as a government, it can’t do nothing; it has to do something. This is where I have had the greatest difficulty with the government these two years. I do not believe it has tried hard enough to challenge the objective difficulties it faces.
Despite the newspaper advertisement that enumerated scores of government’s achievements, the first two years of this government’s tenure would be remembered for a few negative things—the huge salary raise it gave itself, the building of the unnecessary Durban Park stadium, the Parking Meter fiasco, the VAT on private education, the attack on street vendors, the insensitivity over the Walter Rodney CoI, the indecisiveness about what to do about corruption and the clumsy handling of sugar reform. These are all big things with big impacts on large chunks of the society. Those things are not going to be easily forgotten, because they have become part of the popular consciousness.
While the government has chalked up these negatives, it has not been able to do one big thing that impacted the popular consciousness in a positive way. Yes, its scope and space have been limited, but little to no advantage has been taken of that limited scope and space. The approach to constitutional reform has been lame. The government has shown little interest in and no urgency on this necessary area. The approach to crime has been standard. There have been no aggressive education reform initiatives. Social Cohesion has been a joke. Healthcare reform has not even surfaced. Unemployment and unlivable wages have remained intact. Sugar reform has surfaced, but the messaging around its implementation has been a mess. The State Asset Recovery initiative has crawled.
Had the government moved aggressively on two or three of these areas, the story today would have been different. I honestly believe they have not tried hard enough. Part of it has to do with a lack of political experience and an absence of vision. The two are interrelated. The other weakness has been the management of power. There has been a contraction of the decision-making space— its confined almost exclusively to the Cabinet and the presidency.
There has been zero attempt at consultation beyond those councils. The limiting of decision-making to an inexperienced Cabinet and presidency has been one of the great failures of the last two years. The AFC wants a review of the Cummingsburg Accord, but I don’t see how that would improve governance. That Accord is about the sharing of the spoils and not much else. What the coalition needs is an accord on the management of power and articulation of a vision for real change, if not transformation.
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