By Dr. Ken Danns
SABOTAGE has been an enduring plague in the body of the Guyanese nation, critically compromising its development. To sabotage is to disrupt, interrupt, obstruct, incapacitate, damage and in other ways cause pernicious harm to an institution, a business or other organisations, a community or even an entire country. People who inflict sabotage on a system are either a part of that system itself or else a part of the environment on which the system depends for its very survival.
Sabotage can be inflicted on an entity by the subordinated and by the dominant; by the powerless and by the powerful. Whatever the source, sabotage has throughout the years become a weapon of choice to hinder Guyana’s progress and development. Sabotage behaviou rs by individuals or groups are often legal actions which confirm to the letter of the law, though not necessarily the spirit of the law. Sabotage is what the sociologist Thorstein Veblen euphemistically referred to as “the conscientious withdrawal of efficiency”.
Guyana is experiencing the conscientious withdrawal of efficiency –sabotage! I have identified five different types of sabotage in order to provide an understanding of the scope and impact of this national plague. These are: industrial sabotage, the sabotage of estrangement, the sabotage of ritual, the sabotage of incompetence and indolence, and political sabotage.
First, there is Industrial Sabotage where workers in an industry would go on strike,” go slow” and “work-to rule” and so on. The end game is to constrain an employer to increase wages or other benefits; or, to end policies and actions perceived by the workers and their representatives as being inimical to the workers’ interests. The sugar industry in Guyana, for example, has been historically affected by the conscientious withdrawal of efficiency by its workers. Recent allegations of factory workers dumping tonnes of cane juice, so as to restrict the sugar industry production, if true, is a classic case of industrial sabotage. There have been perennially more strikes and industrial actions annually by sugar workers than by workers in any other industry in Guyana.
Industrial Sabotage is also routinely carried out by corporate managers and owners seeking to restrict production in their industry in order to maintain high prices, to control the labour demand and to cut other production costs. Some industries go as far as to dump excess output rather than reduce their prices. Businesses often engage in the conscientious withdrawal of efficiency by collaborating with their competitors to cut production in order, to maintain high prices of their commodities or services to the consumers.
Secondly, there is the Sabotage of Estrangement. Employees in an organization affected for many years by low wages, low morale, and lack of trust in its leadership often become alienated from their jobs and disaffected from management. This invariably results in growing paralysis in the organisation’s overall functioning, its efficiency and its output. Even with the change of leadership, the employees enmeshed in such systemic organisational malaise do not readily change from the engrained culture of estrangement.
I visited the University of Guyana in 2016 as part of its Educational Resource Ambassadors team at the invitation of Vice Chancellor, Ivelaw Griffith who had only a few weeks earlier took up the reins of leadership of the institution. I was struck by the alarming levels at which the conscientious withdrawal of efficiency had reached. This sabotage of
estrangement was very visible. Tall grass and other vegetation enveloped the campus like a nightmare, although the University employed a full time maintenance crew. Employees, students, cattle and dogs had competed for turf on its main Turkeyen Campus. Books in the much prized Caribbean Research Library were on the floor covered with plastic in vain efforts to keep out rain from leaking roofs. Some lecturers were reportedly not turning in final grades for students, months after final examinations were taken, thus effectively preventing paying students from registering for the next semester courses. Some lecturers were also consistently not showing up to teach the students. Yet, they were retained year after year. Many committed employees and students existed in environments of decaying infrastructure and diminishing morale, seemingly resigned to these as a new normal.
As someone who had lectured at the University of Guyana for over 25 years, I was deeply hurt at what had become of the institution. Everyone seem to say that it was poor salaries and the absence of resources to get things done. Sadly, the problem is much deeper than that. The “cow in the room” at UG is the sabotage of estrangement. Vice Chancellor Griffith has been doing much to turn things around and restore integrity and functionality to the national university. Yet, pockets of resistance to changing the organisational culture on the Turkeyen Campus remain embedded. An organisational culture in the final analysis is “the way we do things around here”. The organisational culture at UG is still U-G-L-Y and it is the responsibility of everyone at the institution to make it pretty again. As the Bible said, let the scales fall from thine eyes.
The third type of the conscientious withdrawal of efficiency is the Sabotage of Ritual. Ritual sabotage occurs in bureaucratic organisations like the public service and public corporations. This occurs when the proliferation of rules, regulations and work processes obstruct rather than enable efficient services and outcomes. Even though employees might be willing to make things happen, having to adhere to the rituals of complicated rules, regulations and work processes make them appear incompetent in the eyes of customers and the organization a waste of time in the minds of the public. Very often customers are told to go and get other documents elsewhere and come back. The run around you experience trying to get routine transactions done at some public offices in Guyana is the Sabotage of Ritual.
Even some private enterprises have been infected by this Sabotage of Ritual. I went to purchase a commodity at a major hardware enterprise on the East Bank of Demerara, a few months ago. While waiting almost one hour to purchase one item that costed about US$10, I counted 10 employees and supervisors who handled the transaction. My ordeal finally ended when an armed security guard at the door examined and delivered my purchase and stamped the receipt. The whole transaction was neither efficient nor customer oriented. The simplest of transactions involve elaborate rituals to fulfil whether it is in a bank or even a liquor store.
The fourth type of conscientious withdrawal of efficiency is the Sabotage of Incompetence and Indolence. Here, workers who are either lazy and or incompetent are hired and retained, mainly in public agencies. They sit around chatting and goofing off while customers are waiting, not knowing if and whether they will ever get served. Customers often have to protest, insist on seeing a supervisor or leave a “small piece” to complete a transaction.
The fifth and final conscientious withdrawal of efficiency I will address is Political Sabotage. Political sabotage is the use of political office or organisations to deliberately and maliciously subvert or derail public policies or programmes aimed at improving the well-being of the public and the nation. This is by far the most egregious form of sabotage since it is impelled by the leadership of national political parties with overarching power to affect the lives of many and thwart the development, governance or progress of the country. Political sabotage can be initiated either by an opposition political party or a governing party. In the never ending contests for control of governmental or state power political parties often resort to malicious actions to undermine the image or progress of opposing parties.
Guyana’s President David Granger’s rejected for a third time a list of six names submitted by the Opposition PPP Leader, Bharrat Jagdeo for an appointment to the post of Chairman of Guyana’s Election Commission. Using the enormous powers of the Office of the President and consistent with the Guyana Constitution, President Granger, who is also leader of the APNU/AFC coalition government, independently appointed a new Chair for the Guyana Elections Commission. This action, the Opposition Leader interpreted as a violation of Guyana’s Constitution and reportedly has taken the matter to court. Further, the PPP leader has recently decided to engage in political sabotage by waging a campaign of non-cooperation against the APNU/AFC Government and also to organise protests against President Granger whenever he travels around the country to meet the people.
Already, in local and regional government districts, PPP representatives have been declaredly engaging in political sabotage by delaying or obstructing development policies and programmes for some communities in order to portray the Government in a negative light. While the PPP was in power, it sabotaged local democratic governance by not holding local government elections for 20 years. It also visibly deprived the city of Georgetown, the Town of Linden, and the country’s educational system of adequate resources. It is puzzling why a leading national political party would maliciously engage in political sabotage. The problem with political sabotage is that it frustrates development initiatives and ultimately undermines the well-being of the Guyanese people. The time is apt for the Guyanese people to recognise what sabotage at all levels is doing to the nation. The time to end such counterproductive actions is now.