At its 130th Anniversary gala dinner during last week, the President of the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GCCI), Nicholas Deygoo-Boyer, outlined a development plan which he urged political parties to support and implement, whichever political party holds office. It is certainly a sensible proposal. But political parties have different approaches, different emphases, different rationales and profound jealousies. I still cannot get over the rejection by APNU+AFC of the Amaila Hydropower Project despite a stamp of approval given by Norconsult, a neutral expert appointed by Norway. But it was ‘Jagdeo’s’ project and coming after the secrecy of Amaila and the failure of the Skeldon sugar factory, it was not supported. Our rickety electricity production and distribution systems are once again in deep trouble, to the consternation of the consuming public, who have endured it for 40+ years. Industrial development will be further postponed. The sad fact is that however sensible the proposal for an agreed development plan, our divisive and unstable political system, configured in the way that it now is, cannot accommodate any form of agreement.
It was refreshing to note that President Deygoo-Boyer and the GCCI recognised that something is wrong with our political system. The proposal, however, that Guyana goes backward to the full Westminster system, with a Prime Minister sitting in Parliament as the chief executive, and a mainly ceremonial President with moderate constitutional authority, will not resolve the dysfunctionalities of our political system. It was under a similar system, bequeathed by the British in the Independence Constitution, that the 1968 and 1973 elections and the 1979 referendum were rigged, the National Security Act providing for detention without trial was in force and the Mirror and remainder of the free press were decimated. It was under this system that Walter Rodney was assassinated. Guyana needs a governance system that has a good chance of breaking the cycle of political illegalities, violence and competition for ethnic supremacy, which are the core political problems in Guyana. It has undergirded our political perspectives since 1957 and is responsible for our economic under-development, corruption, continuing poverty, crime and political instability.
Dr. Henry Jeffrey, SN columnist, pointed out last week in his ‘Future Notes’ (‘The 40% existential threat’) that the political violence in the early 1960s and the early 2000’s took place in periods when the PNC and its successor organisations were out of office. The PPP supports this analysis. When the PNC attained office in 1964 and boasted that it brought the violence of the early 1960s to an end, the PPP’s response was that it was the PNC that caused the violence so it is no surprise that it was at an end. Also, the PPP has consistently accused the PNC and the PNCR of being indirectly involved in, supporting and protecting the criminal terrorists of the 2002-2008 period and thereafter.
The PPP’s has a long history of advocating ‘shared governance’ and a ‘winner does not take all system’ from 1978 right up to 1991. This history was confirmed by President Jagdeo in 2003 in his proposals ‘Building Trust and Confidence,’ which ended as follows: “In an environment created by deepening trust and confidence, further arrangements for inclusive governance can result after consultation with our constituents and the electorate.” This proposal came after the late President Desmond Hoyte had relented from fierce opposition to support for shared governance in 2002. The violence at the end of the 2001 elections had concluded with wide-ranging agreements for co-operation between the PPP/C and the PNCR. Hoyte and Jagdeo shared the same platform in announcing the proposals. The early 2000s was therefore a propitious period for governance reform, but it ended with a whimper.
2015 once again promised progress. The APNU+AFC manifesto promised a reformed governance system with separate presidential elections. The person getting the second highest votes would become the Prime Minister and the main political parties would be part of the government in proportion to the votes they received with a role for smaller parties. The reform process was supposed to be implemented in three months. After a promising start, the process was aborted for no substantive reason. But one cannot help speculating that under this system the APNU+AFC coalition could potentially place second in elections and be relegated to second place in the government.
In the meantime, the PPP/C is playing what we call the ‘hold me, loose me’ game. It promises constitutional reform which must be supported by the people of Guyana (as if anyone has suggested otherwise) but have not stated what problems exist in the constitution that must be reformed. What happens if the PPP/C wins the elections? Do we have to go through more periods of political/criminal violence? And what happens if the APNU+AFC wins? Will we return to the era of rigged elections?
In this election season, the main political parties must be confronted by the promises they have made to the Guyanese people for the PPP/C and APNU to share political office. The basis of these promises is the recognition and understanding that our governance system is broken. The electorate needs to confront them with their fraudulent suggestions that they don’t represent the ‘winner takes all’ system.