Stabroek

Little hope for quick change to winner-takes-all system -but village movements can empower populace to influence decision-making, Hughes says

Nigel Hughes speaking yesterday. Seated from right are David Hinds and Carl Greenidge.

As Guyana enters a pivotal period with substantial revenues expected from the oil industry, the populace should push for a reemergence of the village movement to enable them to influence decision-making as it is unlikely that there would be a quick change to the current winner-takes- all system, attorney Nigel Hughes says.

“The village movement, irrespective of what the leaders said in George-town, strong villages were always able to act in their best interest. So that even if the leadership said we must go Y, and the leadership of the village said no, we go X, the village determined what happened to it. We don’t have that structure anymore,” Hughes last evening told attendees at the Buxton First of August Movement’s Annual Eusi Kwayana Emancipation Symposium.

The topic for this year’s symposium was ‘The Coming Election and the African Guyanese Emancipation Agenda’. Hughes used his address to urge the populace to pressure their leaders to have a say in the decision-making process. He said that while some may argue for constitutional reform to cut the amount of power the executive currently has, it might be more meaningful to lobby for village movement systems.

“The distribution of power, after the next election, whenever it comes, the average African Guyanese is going to have the same lack of power and access to decision-making as the average Indian Guyanese if the PPP wins because we don’t have an electoral and political system that allows us to be able to influence the people who purport to be able to make decisions on our behalf. We do not have it,” he said.

Further, he added, “How do we get Guyana to move from where it is? Lots of people talk about constitutional reform and that is a nice big generic term. My question is, how do we move all the decision-making power from the executive and start to distribute it throughout the economy and throughout the political economy?…We are going to go into the  election where the winner takes all. There is absolutely no doubt that the amount of money that will come to this country…you would have to be really stupid to not take the country to another height. The question is, will the people be able to stop you from taking them where you think they want to go.”

The former Alliance For Change (AFC) chairman said that until the political structure in Guyana changes, Guyanese should accept the thinking of both main political parties: that they [the parties] must be the one to determine the developmental future for the land.

Demonstrative

Using the proposed Petroleum Commission Bill as an example, Hughes called on the public to familiarise themselves with legislation as he said the bill was demonstrative that some laws  would still give the government overriding power.

“How will you be able to restrain any political actor, whether the PPP wins or the present administration wins, under the current political structure? Unless we begin to have these real discussions about the distribution of power and how it is that every community can impact from national development, national decisions, we are going to have these problems multiplied…We will have these problems multiplied,” he emphasised.

“The Petroleum Commission Bill is perhaps going to be the most influential bill and the body that will determine what will happen in oil and gas. And when you read that bill…every single decision the commission could make, in the best interest of the industry, is subject to the minister’s approval…and that is in 2018,” he added.

He told the gathering that Guyanese must understand that the current influx of foreign businesses in the sector are not persons who want to know how much money they can help Guyana make but how much they can make for themselves.

“They are tripping not because they have our interest at heart, it is because they have their interest at heart,” Hughes said.

Hughes’ law firm has established an office in Houston, Texas with the intention of attracting oil business.

He called on Guyanese to not be distracted by politicians and begin infighting among themselves since their distraction and fighting leaves room for this nation “to be exploited to the maximum.”

Hughes kindled major controversy after the December 21, 2018 motion of no-confidence when he posited that 34 was the majority of a 65-seat parliament for the purpose of that type of motion. His argument was believed to be the trigger for the government to reject acceptance of the motion leading to extended court battles. On June 18, the Caribbean Court of Justice rejected the argument that 34 was the majority.

A little extreme

Former Minister of Foreign Affairs and one-time Minister of Finance under the People’s National Congress, Carl Greenidge differed on Hughes’ views about foreign oil and gas investors coming here, calling it “a little extreme.”

He said that he believes that oil revenues, once managed well, will see this country develop in ways never dreamed about. He said that persons bash oil and gas and say that it is a curse when it is the management of the resources that comes from the commodity that should be guarded rigidly.

As he defended the current contract with oil major ExxonMobil, Greenidge called on Guyanese to be more open-minded and prepare themselves for the sector as he said they will see that they would have to constantly be ready to keep up with global changes.

“Oil is not voodoo, it is not magic. It is a commodity. The difference of consequence is the market. If you possess oil, you can do magic. It is important to not be thrown into a state of depression. You have a resource, you must manage it responsibly. You have a government and you have to ensure it is managed responsibly. You cannot look at the royalty alone and pronounce …you can’t take one tax and say this one is unconscionable. You cannot look at royalty and comment on the appropriateness of an agreement,” he said.

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