Time for a reorganisation of Government's executive structure?

by Festus L. Brotherson, Jr.
Guyana Chronicle
May 9, 1999

EVENTS of the last few weeks, including the strike sanctioned by the Trades Union Congress (TUC), make clearer the frustrating ever-present reality that is the moribund Guyana of today.

Because trade unions have traditionally been politically aligned on racial grounds, we must strip away the cover of a wages' dispute to find the core problem. Middle and working class Blacks continue to believe there is widespread prejudice by East Indians in the government domain and some parts of the private sector.

There are also serious claims that East Indians are victims of organised Black violence on grounds of racial discrimination.

Allegations on both sides have merits and flaws. This requires that the issue of race be one of sustained highest priority by the Peoples' Progressive Party government with its civic component (PPP/Civic).

Recently, the Guyana Airways Corporation (GAC) was locally privatised. This suggests the stirrings of a positive outlook among Guyana's business leaders. However, the very vexing reality of just how obstructive to investments are racial animosities remains apparent.

Racism triggers political instability and a climate inhospitable for major local and foreign investment. Economic growth falls short of high expectations. Militant trade unionism is on the rise, and civil discourse has been replaced by incendiary rhetoric.

Using violence and threats of it, the Black-dominated People's National Congress (PNC) opposition party is trying to make Guyana "ungovernable", while the government now warns it will no longer tolerate such activities. There is a deadening paradox which must be resolved.

Racial tensions create political instability that checkmate economic development in the context of a globalised economic world. Lack of development intensifies racism and political instability in the infirm democracy.

A fair question is this: failing resolution of the paradox, is regression to authoritarian rule likely?

Towards abatement of the highly tense environment, a first step might well have to be a significant reorganisation of the government's executive structure. A malaise appears to have overcome many senior personnel except in a few cases.

Previous PNC administrations mistakenly followed a policy of hardened loyalty to some people over effective skills and performance. The country is still trying to overcome the negative consequences of that approach to policy-making and implementation.

Such a governance strategy usually institutionalises a paralysis of ideas, emboldens corruption, widens inactivity, rewards swaggering arrogance of the incompetent, nullifies fine work of talented colleagues, and nurtures a perception of inability to provide good government.

Newspaper columnist, Allan Fenty, commented the other day about the surprising defensive position from which the government's work proceeds. Good government cannot be provided citizens from such a posture where the public perception is that opposition forces command the national agenda of priorities.

The public perception might be wrong and the allegation unfair. However, when left unaddressed, perceptions become solid realities in human minds.

What we have in Guyana today are dangerous pent-up hostilities on both sides of the ethnic divide, principally in Georgetown and a few other parts of the country. Is this deja vu?

Recall that after the PPP was re-elected for a second consecutive term at the 1961 general elections, a general strike by the TUC made Guyana ungovernable. With American help in the Cold War context of that time, the government was eventually forced from office.

Some say that because America's siding with the PNC and the then United Force (UF) were proven to be a big mistake, the U.S. would back the democratically elected PPP/Civic. Serious rethinking must be done here. America has no friends in the anglophone Caribbean, only interests.

Never mind that Haitian precedent of military intervention (almost) to reinstall former democratically elected president, Jean Bertrand Aristide.

Consider that before the illegitimate PNC government the U.S. had supported was finally removed from office in the watershed free and fair 1992 elections, the authoritarian PNC, much to the delight of the Americans, suddenly began implementing free market policies that did produce significant material benefits. That has stagnated since 1997.

Why this harping about the US? Its role as THE power broker on acceptable and unacceptable governments in the Caribbean is paramount.

The cases of Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Guyana, Grenada, Jamaica, etc., tell the story bluntly. We can invoke sovereignty, nationalism and so on, but in the final analysis, those concepts matter little if at all.

National interest does define the foreign policies of nation states in the region save on less important matters. The foreign interests of superpower America defines national interests in the region. For some reason, this fact remains lost on many.

Yes, PNC tactics are largely to blame for the current tensions.

However, beyond that, questions persist: how is it that Guyana is marking time and opposition forces are increasingly successful at making the country "ungovernable?" Did not the PPP/Civic win an overwhelming mandate to govern? What has been learnt from the 1961-1964 tragedy? Pat answers lack suasion with the passage of time.

There was genuine goodwill at the passing of the late Cheddi Jagan in April 1997. The PPP/Civic benefited from that and swept back into power convincingly.

However, powerful undercurrents of a racial divide have always driven the real world of politics, and the December 1997 elections also had that undercurrent which contributed to the PPP/Civic's victory. To believe and say otherwise is to be disingenuous and unhelpful.

President Janet Jagan has strong support across the nation and she will always have mine on grounds of electoral and moral merit and leadership capacities. But in the stalemated climate where opposition forces are holding development to ransom and government efforts to achieve it without paying the ransom have stagnated, emotions have displaced logic in the groundswell of discontent.

This is unfortunate because an important fact goes unrecognised. The President has a good record on the matter of racial sensitivity regarding top level appointments in several government agencies and the judiciary.

It would be demeaning of the government to name cases and places. Doing so would create spectacles of the appointed talented personnel. It might also set a trend that would sink Guyana into a morass of `numbers and quotas' which we should avoid, and which does not work elsewhere despite claims to the contrary.

What will be the next chapter in the `topsy turvy' polarised environment in Guyana? Only God knows.