Oct 28, 2018  Eye on Guyana with Lincoln LewisFeatures / Columnists

In keeping with the spirit and intent of the Article 67 (1) of the Guyana Constitution, in the past, it was customary for the President of our Cooperative Republic to address the Parliament at the beginning of its life or at intervals when there may be critical national issues confronting the nation, and where it was felt the people ought to be apprised and assured action will be taken in the interest of all.

The act of President Granger to address the National Assembly is allowed for in the Guyana Constitution and builds on a well served custom that should never have been abandoned. As an advocate for constitutional respect, the utilisation of Article 67(1) is encouraging and bodes well for the nation. At the same time, it must be said that every article within the Constitution carries equal weight and must be equally respected.

The President’s address is also seen as acknowledgement of Article 50 which outlines the ‘Supreme organs of democratic power’ and lists as “(i) the Parliament, (ii) the President; and the Cabinet.”

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The legislature, best described as the People’s House, sits the elected Representatives of the People who not only make laws, but also ought to serve as a check and balance on the Executive, and ensure governance is conducted within the established parameters.As President Granger noted, his address is an “attest to the recognition of this Assembly as a supreme organ of democratic power (and allows for) enunciating government’s strategic vision, prioritising policies and the main elements of the Legislative agenda (it) provide(s) opportunities, also, to report to the Assembly and the nation on matters of national importance.”

In reference to the quote, it would be fair to say the issues/areas not considered in the address could be read as the administration’s lack of consideration for them as part of its vision or of national importance, at least for the short term.

As a labour leader/trade unionist, that Address was of interest to me, because I wanted to know the coalition’s vision for the working class and what importance it will place to this constituency and the small man. Consistent with the title of the address, I looked for signs that “The future is bright” for them too.

Outside of well deserved attention to sugar and its future, where it was admitted “downsizing” and a commitment given for putting mechanism in place to ensure retooling, there was nothing for the workers.

In the case of the nine-year running grievances of workers employed at the Bauxite Company of Guyana Incorporated (BCGI) the only reference was to RUSAL, the majority shareholder. This reference dealt not with Government asserting itself by enforcing the Laws of Guyana and security of the freedom and rights of the citizens. The reference had to do with the United States Government sanction of RUSAL of which Guyana has no control, and could only speak to what is existing, not what it can do, because it has no power to interfere in US sovereignty, even as Government sits back and allows the foreign BCGI/RUSAL management to trample ours.

The nation remembers the groups in the coalition condemned BCGI’s transgression and violation when in the Opposition, and campaigned on the commitment to correct them, yet three years hence, in office, no decisive action has been taken.

It is important at this juncture to attend to the perception that the trade union has to resolve this matter with the management, where there exists wanton breaking of the laws, as in the case of BCGI refusing to respect the decision of the state. The Government has a responsibility to make sure BCGI respect same.

Not only locals pay attention to a President’s address. The international community also finds it noteworthy, for it communicates the government’s positions and thinking on specific issues, at specific times, which they will use to shape their relations and business with Guyana.

We have struck oil and gas, which will bring foreigners and foreign businesses to our shores, in droves. When an administration remains silent to wanton disregard for the nation’s laws and the ill treatment of the citizens, it communicates the value and regard it has for the working class, and how others can likewise treat with them.

When you look at democratic nations around the world, irrespective of internal political wrangling, when it comes to the treatment of the citizens by foreign forces, they set aside their differences and unite on that ground. Evidence has shown only autocratic and self-serving leaders will sacrifice the nation’s and the people’s sovereignty to foreign forces.

Outside of the Address not specifically attending to prior Legislative agenda brought before the House, how much of it was achieved and if not, why not, allowing informed evaluation of performance – it was silent on the establishment of industrial court.  This was a promise made to workers and a draft bill prepared, but is languishing somewhere.

A court of this nature could create a level playing field between employer and workers, by allowing both groups’ opportunities for redress without or the minimum of inconvenience of bias/interference that could occur through an Industrial Tribunal which allows the politicians to have a say through the Department of Labour.

Additionally, workers would have appreciated had the President found it worthy to speak to a Job Creation Programme. Such a programme will be premised on policy that is not only being abstract, but points the nation as to where and how many jobs are created, and also protecting citizens from exploitative investors, local and foreign.

Everybody cannot become entrepreneurs or own business, a fact recognised from time immemorial. Employment has three categories: – the employer, self-employed and employees/workers. Each is a valued and unique participating member of the production, distribution and consumption cycle, and should be respected as such, with concomitant mechanism put in place to safeguard and advance their welfare.

This is a nation where in the immediate post-emancipation period, the freed/small man embarked on an economic model that is nationally recognised as the foundation of the masses’ socioeconomic and political development.

The cooperative economy underpins the Village Movement and Local Government structure. As a trisector economy – private, public and cooperative – it’s a disservice to the small man that the model that allows for his/her advancement, doesn’t attract equal prominence and see as deserving of a vision.

To the coalition, some efforts have been made to resuscitate the Cooperative economy. But even with the best of intent, where there exists deficiencies in the system things will fall apart. The Department of Cooperatives which operates out of the Ministry of Social Protection is understaffed and ill-equipped to address the needs of the cooperative community.

The country is at a state where it takes as much as year to resuscitate or register a coop. This creates a high level of frustration among those who are determined to make something of their lives through this utilisation of this economic model.

With oil and gas and a green economy, new types of skills will be needed. The nation is yet to see a coherent strategy as to how Guyanese labour will form part of and benefit from these. It was hoped the President would have seen it worthy of attention.

We have a burgeoning young population, many of whom are unemployed. This Address notes this is about 35.2 percent based on a recent labour survey, which speaks to the 15- 24 years category. Youth stops at 35 years. Almost three-quarters of the nation’s population are 35 and younger. The stated unemployed statistic did not capture the 25-35 age group, which means the percentage can be higher.

Perusing the areas where government says it has created employment and entrepreneurial opportunities, the figure has not reached 20,000 which means government has to work hard in addressing the unemployment dilemma. If this is not attended through a structured national process, there will be more exodus and social ills, none of which serves the society well.

The working class and small man represent more than 80 percent of a society. They must be treated as resources of national importance and a vision put in place to ensure their dignity and respect as equal and participating members of this society.