Stabroek

Constraints that have hampered transformation under President Granger are complex and layered–Ruel Johnson

 may 14, 2019

Dear Editor,

I’ve met Professor Gibson before and seen enough of her work to say that she is a pleasant person and a competent academic, which is why I continue to find it strange that she remains insistent upon conflating racism and corruption with Hinduism in Guyana. (`What can constrain President from cracking down on corruption or incompetence in his Cabinet?’ – SN, 13-May-19)

I don’t think one has to strive too hard to make a case for the PPP’s institutionalization of racism.  The fact of two racist editorials, and countless racist letters and columns, in the state-owned Guyana Chronicle remains a stain on Freedom House and for me evidence of the impunity with which that party in government carried out its racist policies.

The paucity of the current administration’s handling of corruption-based cases against its predecessor notwithstanding, it is also not difficult to make an infallible anecdotal case of the endemic nature of corruption under the PPP as well.

However, to ascribe both the racism and corruption associated with Freedom House to what Professor Gibson hinted at as Hinduism in her first letter and confirmed in her second, merely on the basis that “several of its leaders lead and control important Hindu organizations and institutions” is to make an incredulous leap of both fact and logic.

There is one known leader of one Hindu organization in the PPP leadership, Dr. Vindhya Persaud, President of the Guyana Hindu Dharmic Sabha, a position virtually inherited from her father, the late Reepu Daman Persaud.  Most Hindu organizations in Guyana have no representation in PPP leadership.  Moreover, the very idea, that because some of the people involved in corruption are Hindu it is evidence that corruption is some central tenet of Hinduism, is odious.  The central tenet of Christianity is love, yet many Christians perpetuate hate – still, Christians do not hold a monopoly on hate.  The central tenet of Islam is peace, yet Muslims the world over are involved in brutal conflict – still, Muslims do not hold a monopoly on violence. The central tenet of Hinduism is dharma (duty), and corruption and racism are intrinsically adharmic – this does not prevent Hindus from adharmic action no more than it prevents Christians from hating or Muslims from fighting.

With regard to the nexus between Hinduism and the caste system in India, it is the same nexus that existed between Christianity and slavery, which is to say a selective and liberal application of religious text to reinforce an exploitative socio-economic hierarchy largely separate from the text itself. Hinduism in Guyana is as complex and multifaceted as any religion, and corruption is facilitated and perpetrated by people of all faiths and ethnicities, as is racism.

If there is any nexus between a Hindu-supremacist philosophy (as opposed to Hinduism) and the opposition, it does not come from Freedom House itself, but from the opposition leader’s coopting of former elements of the now defunct ROAR into his personal empire, people who espouse the philosophy of Hindutva, Hindu Nationalism and are seeking to establish it here.

In summary, I believe Professor Gibson’s continued ascribing of a particular tolerance for racism, corruption and violence to Hinduism is not only simplistic and potentially divisive, but it’s also a critical betrayal of Gibson’s own scholastic capacity.

Her awkwardly integrated swipe against Hinduism aside, Professor Gibson raises the critical issue of corruption, and I agree completely that it is a serious matter and that it needs to be stamped out.

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What I expressed my disagreement with is her ascribing an also simplistic naiveté to His Excellency, President David Granger. My assessment of the constraints that have hampered the necessary transformation under this government is that it is far more complex and layered than the capacity or lack thereof of the individual at the helm.

I believe that what we have in President Granger is what we have not had too often in politics, an intelligent and fundamentally decent leader with a genuine vision for the people of Guyana.  That said, in terms of challenges he faces, Mr. Granger has firstly the internal issues of his own PNC party to deal with, an entity that is not without faction, and one the functional capacity of which was severely diminished from its prior zenith in the years after 1992.  Between its own internal conflicts, migration and death of some its human best resources, and a twenty-year battering from the PPP, the PNC has suffered damage that it is only now, slowly, rebuilding from.

At the next level is the tenuous coalition of A Partnership for National Unity (APNU), one he served as the primary co-architect of in collaboration with Dr. Rupert Roopnaraine of the Working People’s Alliance (WPA) and including three other parties with no significant identity.  After that, there is the problematic relationship (despite protestations to the contrary) with his party’s primary coalition government partner, the Alliance For Change (AFC), a union that is no doubt in flux since last year’s local government elections, but which really has been on the decline since the results of May 11, 2015.

Then there is the double-barrel issue of a highly politicized, dysfunctional public service and a functionally untested cadre of government ministers.  In essence, in 2015 you had a cabinet that was primarily absent any executive experience, including the President, and most of whom had no or little senior public service pedigree, and for many no technical or otherwise experiential background in the portfolios they were assigned.  Indeed, of the two with executive experience, PM Nagamootoo and now former Minister of Foreign Affairs Greenidge, even their previous presence in the public service was dated back to the nineties.

It was this group of people who were then tasked with running a public service machinery that was engineered to facilitate nepotism, discrimination, incompetence and corruption in favour of Freedom House.  Most ministers – the people upon whom the President relies for the execution of his mandate – went into office overwhelmingly dependent upon the pre-existing structure and, almost exclusively, when the decision came to clean house or retain the status quo in favour of a flawed functionality, the latter path was taken.  The ostensible excuse was that the administration was not interested in witch-hunting, an absurd position considering the overwhelming evidence of financial and functional witchcraft – the reality is that the new leadership believed that they would be lost without PPP-appointed gatekeepers with institutional memory (dirty hands notwithstanding) for tutelage and, hence, job security.

Finally, there is the reality that not only do we live in a small society but one in which a culture of corruption has flourished and touched virtually everyone, either incidentally or by design.  If the PPP under Jagdeo was good at anything, it was recognizing the usefulness of co-corruption, of the incorporation of either people with integrity or people in the political opposition into the various schemes perpetrated upon the people of Guyana.  For example, while Pradoville 2 overwhelming benefitted the PPP leadership, a few lots were given to professionals and persons with ties close to the PNC.   When the Caribbean Press was started, the involvement of otherwise reputable persons in the literary arts was a deliberate tactic of avoiding both scrutiny and censure.  This very basic, but very effective, formula is one that was used for at least a decade leading up to 2015.

For any leader, the challenge that would have come with awareness is the realization that to dismantle the complete machinery of corruption would be in part to dismantle one’s own political infrastructure, and in many ways to invite censure and condemnation of persons from one’s own rarefied social circle.   And, for a man whose leadership training was honed through the rigours but reliability of structured military command, the unwieldy nature of the politics of negotiated consensus and coalition presents an added complexity.  It is an unenviable position to be in for any leader, and one in which naiveté would in fact have been a gift.

Ruel-Johnson (1)

That is, as I see it, the problem not simply with tackling corruption but with the execution of a credible vision of governance as a whole.  What therefore is the solution?  As captured in the book, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, by Doris Kearns Goodwin and partially in the film based on the same book, Lincoln, sometimes transformative change requires going firmly against convention in building a team to effect such a change.   I would submit that David Granger’s primary influence in forging a solution does not come with the trappings of party office nor from the powers of the executive (although these are useful) but by his personal capacity to forge partnerships in the service of a greater vision for Guyana, particularly as demonstrated in the lead up to the elections of May, 2015.   It is this personal quality, one that saw genuine and direct consultation with young people outside of the formal party structure, that galvanized support to the coalition in the lead up to the polls, support that was not sufficiently – perhaps due largely to the challenges outlined above – transitioned and incorporated into the structures of governance.  That is an error that should be corrected as a first step in putting the President’s vision back on the correct track.

Yours faithfully,

Ruel Johnson

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