IT is DIFFICULT to remain objective about the PPP when one opens the newspapers every day and be subjected to that party’s relentless criticism of the government. On the one hand, much of that criticism is justified—they highlight some of the inevitable mistakes of government in general and some very basic errors of this government in particular. But on the other hand, many of the very things over which the PPP now takes the government to task were done by that party when it held power just two years ago.
As painful as it is to admit, one is hard-pressed not to conclude that the PPP has, in two years, succeeded in pinning most of its ills on the present government. If one were new to Guyanese politics or has a short political memory, as some Guyanese do, one would get the impression that the PPP is the party of virtue and morality, while the ones in government are the worst political sinners in Guyana. This is part of what makes Guyanese politics so dysfunctional and complex at the same time.
There are several inter-related reasons why the PPP has been so successful in such a short space of time in turning the political public relations narrative against the government. A lot of it is the government’s own doing. I want to highlight some of those.
First, the government has not shown any consistent political direction since it has come to office—there is no political framing of its work in managing the country’s political economy and correcting the egregious wrongs committed by the previous government. For me, the latter two objectives should always form the basis of this government’s agenda—managing and improving the country’s political economy and turning back the criminalised and depraved state that flourished under the PPP’s rule.
I don’t think the government has been successful in formulating a cohesive political agenda that is guided by that twin objective. I am sure they know what should be done and are doing things, but what is lacking is that overriding political compass. The consequence is double-edged. There is no political thinking behind policy-making— initiatives are undertaken but are not geared towards a larger political objective. Hence, we have had useful and good policy interventions, but they are not glued together by any particular world view.
So, in the end, the government is not able to explain its work to itself, its supporters and the country at large. Effective governance is partly about articulating larger narratives of what government is doing and showing the various publics and individuals how their lives are, in actuality and potentially, positively affected by government’s work.
The other consequence of the absence of a cohesive political direction is that the government has become prone to political mistakes. Mistakes are inventible [sic] while governing, but if the government were armed with a political praxis grounded in a humane political economy and reforming the state, it would have avoided some of the errors it has made. No government guided by a humane praxis would, for example, permit itself exorbitant salary increases and rents, while denying workers a living wage—the contradiction would have been too obvious to miss.
Governments govern via the Cabinet and other government councils, but political direction should not come from those governing councils. This has been the big problem with this government—it has attempted to confine everything to Cabinet and its related councils. Political direction and policies that arise from that direction should be initiated and formulated outside of government. That the parties in the coalition have not been integrally involved in shaping political direction and policy, is at the heart of government’s inability to control the public discourse and narrative about itself. This is part of what the recent quarrel between the WPA and the government is about.
The PPP, with the aid of a more and more sympathetic media, has been able to define the government. The PPP’s narrative is simple— the government has no direction, it is anti-people, it is anti-democratic and racist against Indian-Guyanese and Amerindians, it is corrupt and it cannot govern. The irony is that that very narrative was effectively used by the opposition against the then PPP government, because it was a true reflection of the nature of that party and government. That the PPP now uses that narrative against this government which is not guilty of those sins is the political miracle of our times.
The government has no answer to that narrative, because it did not anticipate it and as such could not plan in advance to counter it. There is no counter narrative, because there is no overall political world view. The government relies on a public relations model that is not grounded in politics. Almost every ministry has a PRO, but these officers are not schooled in politics and do not have access to the government’s overall political world view, because there is none. So, the PRO is reduced to writing letters refuting this or that inaccuracy, rather that articulating the broader vision of the government.
And something else is subtly and not so subtly, happening— the influential print media are souring on the government. The government seems to have alienated a section of the media which once supported the governing parties and the new government. The PPP now gets more positive coverage than it got six months ago. Government operatives are no longer news-makers. One independent daily now reads like a sophisticated version of the PPP Mirror newspaper. Another does not hide its disdain for the pronouncements of government ministers. Another has remained what it always was—a PPP newspaper.
Guyanese people still get a lot of their political information from the nightly news and the daily newspapers. The governing parties no longer hold regular press conferences— the PNC hasn’t held one in years, while the AFC and WPA are not as consistent as they should be in this regard. So, there are no political answers to the PPP’s onslaught, which the party dishes out at its weekly press conferences. It’s okay to talk about what government ministers and ministries do on a day-to-day basis, but these have to be situated within the larger narrative. Articulating that larger narrative should be the job of the coalition parties, but if they don’t shape the narrative, then they cannot articulate it.
Government leaders frown on what they call washing “dirty linen in public.” So, there is no robust self-criticism, which is normal in coalitions. The political parties are expected to be silent followers of government action. The President does not hold press conferences. So, the PPP rules the public discourse both by default and design. The coalition must dig itself out of this bad place.
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