Significant investment will not occur without political stability, power sharing should be considered

Stabroek News
June 1, 2001

Dear Editor,

There is an ambient myth going around that power sharing is bad for Guyana. This myth is just that, a myth. The reality is different. We as Guyanese, having just observed the 35 years of independence, are as the Stabroek News just highlighted "a divided society, a stagnant economy and an unstable climate for investment, the queues for emigration as long as ever.."

Guyana desperately needs political stability and economic growth. Without these two basic elements, Guyana will not have the best opportunity for racial harmony, nation building (health, education, housing, social cohesion, gender equality) or of having the best strategic international relationships so necessary for Guyana's optimum integration into the global economy.

Power sharing is not only in the best interest of Guyana it is also the most just and practical solution given our history and heritage.

The recent letters by David Hinds and Frederick Kissoon on power sharing are a healthy sign. These two gentlemen should be saluted for their efforts to put this issue on the front burner. Neither of the two dominant parties in Guyana will facilitate such a discussion. It is not in their best interest to do so.

It is however in Guyana's best interest that dialogue is conducted on this issue. This is a more fundamental issue than any of the I7 issues currently being addressed in an extra parliamentary manner between President Jagdeo and Mr. Desmond Hoyte. The mere fact that we are having extra parliamentary committees strongly illustrates we are moving away from any sane political solution and certainly not one that is inclusive. Where are the other parties in this dialogue?

Civil Society and all well meaning Guyanese should become more energised about this overreaching issue. Even Ernest Elliot's letter about the lack of proper representation of the PPP/C in Region 4 states " Inclusiveness should be of a national character, and should be a principle agreed on by the leaders of the two main parties and put into action at all levels of governance beginning from the top." Isn't this power sharing? The only thing I would disagree with Mr. Elliot on is that there are more than two parties in Guyana. Inclusive-ness should mean inclusiveness.

Power sharing holds the key to the kind of Guyana we and our kids will live in.

It is mainly about being practical if we are all concerned about a flourishing, peaceful Guyana.

Over the years, I have been fortunate to learn two very important life lessons: from politicians I have learnt that politics is first about power, pure unadulterated power.

From successful business people, I have learnt that to optimally solve a problem, one must always first cold-heartedly define what the real problem is. Otherwise one will develop a great theoretical solution but a solution that has no practical value since the wrong problem is being addressed.

Over the last six months, having lived through the last elections, I have become an unapologetic "power sharer." Guyana's future is at stake. From a practical perspective, sharing power is a politician's nightmare, both emotionally and psychically. But let us honestly examine the facts about Guyana and find practical solutions that address our unique reality.

1. Guyana has a history of rigged elections. Party paramountcy, racial and ethnic insecurity, the lust for power and the many rewards power begets have cascaded us into a situation in which neither party can afford to lose. Every recent election has become life and death.
2. The racial divide is probably as wide as it has ever been before in Guyana. We are just as divided domestically as we are internationally.
3. Guyana currently has a two Presidency governance regardless of the last election results, which by the way, is in dispute as a petition has been filed. The majority of Indo-Guyanese fear being ruled by an Afro-Guyanese. The majority of Afro- Guyanese do not want to be ruled by an Indo-Guyanese.
4. We do not have enough qualified Guyanese in either of the two major parties alone to run Guyana effectively and into sustained prosperity. Guyana needs all of its people involved in the development and nation building process.
5. We have a deeply historically created political economy that is small, undiversified and race-based. Sugar (Indo), Rice (Indo), Bauxite (Afro), Police and Army (Afro), Public Service (Afro), Industrial (Chinese, Portuguese, Indo), and Total Marginalisation (Amerindians ).
6. We have two major parties, which by their own constitutions, attitudes, actions and history are undemocratic. Alienation of differing voices occurs in each party. Can undemocratic parties lead Guyana to become a truly democratic society?
7. A significant portion of our population is overseas because of political reasons, racism, discrimination, marginalisation and harassment. This ultimately translated into economic deprivation, the loss of hope and migration. Guyana is partly a nation of economic nomads, with its people performing nation building for other countries.
8. We have a society in which the necessary balances among the key segments of governance, namely Government, the Private Sector and Civil Society are absolutely weak as the latter two are compromised because of economic dependency and fear of reprisals.
9. We have a political culture that is driven by race and not issues.
10. Relative to other Caricom nations, Guyana has the worst economy, the highest migration rate, the highest crime rate, the highest illiteracy rate, the highest level of child and maternal mortality, the lowest life expectancy, the highest degree of corruption, the highest unemployment rate, the highest HIV/AIDS infection rate, the highest degree of poverty, the worst racial tensions etc.

These are all facts. The first step to finding the correct solution for Guyana is to accept we have these problems without assigning blame since that forces us to put a political/race dimension to the analysis.

David Hinds has correctly highlighted why power sharing is necessary in Guyana. In his response to Frederick Kissoon he stated... "I have attempted to make a political case for power sharing that is premised on the following: a) the need to create forms of governance aimed at arresting the growing political instability and threat of social disintegration resulting from racial rivalry and competition for control of government and state; (b) the encouragement by the Westminster model of this adversarial political culture and its concomitant failure to guarantee consensus and shared nationhood; and (c) the need to develop political arrangements consistent with the emerging economic owning patterns in Guyana.

What are the practical realities of power sharing?

Guyana will modernise itself and become a flourishing stable multi-racial, multi-ethnic democratic society if and only if it has good governance, strategic economic growth, a focus on nation building and strong international relationships.

Good governance

The winner-take-all West-minster model will never lead to good governance in Guyana. It will perpetuate racial voting and campaigns centered around the never forgotten 28 years and 8 years of past failures. Nothing constructive will result other than a divided nation post elections. History will repeat itself. This model will always create a racial divide and rob Guyana of getting its best and brightest to contribute to Guyana's development. Our history, culture and politics are against this model being successful.

Do you believe any qualified PNC senior member or supporter will ever join the PPP government as a Cabinet Minister without being called a traitor? This political reality would only result in deep personal conflicts for that individual and ultimately translate into his or her ineffectiveness. Witness the current problem with naming the four technocrats to the cabinet.

Surely, neither of the two dominant parties would ever want to help the other to succeed. There is always the next election campaign to run. A large percentage of qualified Guyanese, both domestic and overseas, would rather not go through the personal irony of wanting to help but being castigated because of that commitment.

The politics of race, which will continue in Guyana in a winner-take-all model will result in not having the best individuals on critical Boards and Commissions, and in the institutions of Civil Society. The winner-takes-all model in Guyana will perpetuate a political culture based on race, ethnicity, insecurities and the past...and not on issues. This model will also continue to perpetuate the loss of the needed experiences and skills of overseas Guyanese who see no stable economic future in Guyana and would rather spend their later years in peace and relative prosperity elsewhere.

Surely, the winner-takes- all model is currently being exercised by the PNC in Region 4 where the chairpersons of all Committees are held by PNC members regardless of the fact the PPP obtained over 40% of the votes in the Region and more votes in Region 4 than any other of the 10 Regions during the last elections.

Power is power and perceived power is power.

Without good governance, we are doomed. Without good governance we will never be able to have the political stability to attract large long-term foreign investment or to generate the confidence necessary for significant domestic investment. Rather we will continue the cycle of migration, joblessness and poverty.

Power sharing and economic growth

Over the past few weeks many articles have been written about Guyana's need for economic development. A Stabroek News editorial even suggested the government should put a Committee in place with special powers to make quicker decisions and with the broad charter of pursuing foreign investment. Visits to Chambers of Com-merce are envisaged. Others have called for the implementation of the National Deve-lopment Strategy and Guyana 21 because the government's campaign promise of 100,000 new jobs does not appear to be real. The new cry seems to be "create jobs so our political climate will improve."

Without power sharing these are hollow expectations. Significant foreign or domestic investment will not happen in Guyana without political stability or power sharing. When large corporations analyse a business opportunity in a foreign country, seven key factors are reviewed as each opportunity must be competitive with the large pool of possible investments on the table. The first is country risk.

Political stability is the key factor in country risk. Why would an investor pour large sums of capital in Guyana when every 5 years or less there is this grave uncertainty of political stability.

As regards the National Development Strategy and Guyana 21, these are very, very difficult to implement without power sharing and the integral participation of overseas Guyanese and foreign investors. The skills of overseas Guyanese, their capital, experience, access and networks are very critical. Remember, Guyana has a serious brain drain problem, a serious HIV/AIDS problem, a serious illiteracy problem.

The current alienation of overseas Guyanese and the similar racial bitterness that exists among the Guyanese overseas need to be addressed. Guyana needs to heal across its entire diaspora and to involve all of its peoples in the development process.

Attracting foreign investors and sustainable economic growth depend on political stability and power sharing.

Power sharing and nation building

Nation building is the glue that will ensure a sustainable democratic society in Guyana. Policies that affect Guyana's racial harmony, children, youth, education, health, etc. will ultimately determine whether Guyana will prosper both materially and spiritually. The majority of resources necessary for nation building must be obtained from economic development as donor aid and support from international agencies can only go so far.

Power sharing and leadership

Leadership is one of Guyana's most pressing needs today. Leadership is critical for Guyana to succeed. Guyana has too many politicians and political bosses. Power sharing is about leadership. When something doesn't work and logic dictates a change is necessary, leaders make changes. Bosses and politicians don't make changes when it affects their power, likewise politicians.

In the case of Guyana it doesn't really matter who won the last elections if Guyana loses. Leaders know this. Leaders who are at peace with themselves, at peace with their humanity and at peace with their God, know this.

There are many among us who believe they were born to be the President of Guyana. I say to you to ask yourself this question...why? If you cannot subscribe to John F. Kennedy's philosophy "Ask not what your country can do for you but rather what you can do for your country', then you should take a reassessment of your motives. Political opportunism is not what Guyana needs.

Power sharing and international relations

With a power sharing architecture in place, Guyana can then proceed with optimising its international relationships and focus on its own special needs. Guyana has three key comparative advantages: its people, location and oil (no, creating an IT industry is not it since we have incredible illiteracy and not sustaining reliable energy sources or any fiber optic capability to compete with the India's of the world). The first comparative advantage means Guyana should be creating special relationships with the USA, UK and Canada where the bulk of our expatriates live. Without our expats Guyana 21 or the NDS will not succeed.

Our second comparative advantage is our location. For Guyana to transform its economy it has to become a transshipment point for Brazil and Eastern Venezuela. This is the goal of the Guyana 21 plan. From an international relations perspective, it means special relationships with Brazil, Venezuela, Suriname and French Guiana. Cross border development is necessary for Guyana's growth.

Our third comparative advantage is oil. This means special relationships with the USA and the UK. Does anyone believe if Exxon or British Petroleum were drilling for oil that Suriname would attack their rigs. Do you believe that any of the two companies mentioned would not have the technology, capital and other resources to find oil in Guyana. Why CGX?

Yes, of course Guyana does have other assets such as land, cheap labour, rivers etc, but these don't really count without those comparative advantages being pursued. Other-wise we have tons of potential.

Why the parties agree on power sharing

Both major political parties agree that power sharing isn't the answer. Yet, they have offered no solutions other than to fight each other to the death at the country's expense. Do you know what would happen if there was power sharing?

Simply put, both parties would lose relative power and Guyana would win. With power sharing, Guyanese would look to elect people and parties that represent the best the country has to offer. Smaller parties like ROAR and WPA/GAP would gain more votes. New parties, one each from the PNC and PPP would probably emerge because neither party has a convergence of views and leadership styles. It would no longer be seen to be necessary to have a single party to represent one's views and certainly racial insecurities would no longer be dominant. Guya-nese would vote on issues, economic growth, progress and on leadership.

Neither main party wants this as it takes away power and the debate would no longer be about 28 and 8 years. Additionally, each party would have less seats in Parliament and the second largest party in Parliament may need only 20% of the votes to get the Prime Minister position. In short, much more inclusiveness would result from a structural point of view and Guyana would benefit.

There is another ambient myth about the lack of an opposition in any power sharing arrangement. The USA shows how this works. Each member of Congress has to answer to their own constituencies. In Guyana there has never been an effective opposition since independence. Tell me when there has been one. The argument about not having an effective opposition is not valid. In power sharing, the proportional sharing of governance forces compromise and a common vision. Checks and balances are what are necessary in a power sharing environment. The independent judiciary has a major role to play and so does the Parliament and the Executive.


Guyana needs a different political paradigm for its successful transformation. Such a paradigm is power sharing.

Yes, there always should be a theoretical underpinning to power sharing as there is one for the Westminster model. However, reality and practice are often just as important. Sometimes it is better to see something that works and then try to find the theory why it works than to stay with a theory that is perfect but does not work because of history, racial insecurities and power driven leaderships.

Power sharing is about people not politicians. Politi-cians should not be allowed to subjugate the needs of the people for party interests any longer. True, power sharing will change the political culture of Guyana. It will also change the way the country is governed and how political parties behave.

I hope one day to see an election campaign based on issues. This I believe will only occur if power sharing is given a chance.

Yours faithfully,

Eric Phillips