The way forward

Stabroek News
March 19, 2000

Sunday Stabroek recently invited selected members of both major parties - the People's Progressive Party/Civic and the People's National Congress - to give their views on how they saw the way forward for Guyana. In the case of the PNC, responses were received from Mr RGC Trotman, and Mr Deryck Bernard, both of which are presented below.

The people are more important than the politicians
by R.G.C. Trotman

Justice, equality, peace and stability, are what we as Guyanese require most at this critical period of our existence. These however seem to be slipping out of our grasp.

Whether we progress into the 21st century in a united or divided form depends largely on the wishes of the people more than it does on the politicians.

It is not as important to rid the nation (as some would wish) of its politicians, as it is to make them fully appreciate that they are selected to represent the people and to ensure the fulfilment of the people's collective hopes, aspirations and desires. This must be the underpinning philosophy that inspires the politician of today to enter the arena and compete as it were, for the opportunity of representing the people and delivering to them, that which they yearn for most, the "good life."

The People's National Congress (PNC), which party I am honoured to represent, believes that it can provide these just rewards to the citizens of this country and also believes that there can be only one road which takes us to the promised land, provided that certain fundamentals are understood and accepted by all.

A reformed constitution
The Herdmanston Accord mandates that there be reform of our 1980 Constitution in time for the holding of elections by January, 2001. This process unfortunately has had less than a smooth implementation and is perhaps testament to the fact that some matters have to flow from the heart and not from fear or apprehension of future events. The commitment of those involved, however, is commendable, as they strive to deliver.

It is my opinion, however, that the progress of constitution reform is effective only in so far as the will to grasp and institute reform is present amongst the people and their representatives.

There is always a natural tendency to resist change whether consciously or not. This is so especially where that change is boxed into parameters of time and content. As such, whether there is meaningful reform or not, depends on whether the people of Guyana and not a section or component only, want a change.

As to whether or not we as a people want change, I believe that this is undoubtedly so. We are tired of the hardship and the fight for our daily survival, and of the promise for betterment. We are disillusioned as to the prospects of the future and devastated by the difficulties of our daily existence.

The intended constitutional reforms may not be as effective as we would want, and not because as some say, that the politicians have bungled the process entirely, but because the people themselves have not fully thrown themselves into the process quite in the manner that they ought. The average citizen still remains unfamiliar with provisions in the constitution despite all the 'PR' efforts, and in fact appears more concerned with bread and butter issues than in intellectualising about electoral systems and constitutional commissions. Nonetheless, it is imperative that we get urgent and meaningful reform in the following areas:

The Electoral System - The hearing of the Elections Petition apart from all other claims of impropriety, in my considered opinion, demonstrates the inadequacies in the present electoral system which create huge opportunities for irregularity.

The System of Government - The current 'winner take-all' system of majoritarian rule is an anachronism (if it ever was at all useful) and has no place in a plural society such as ours where that plurality lends itself to ethnic strife. There are many suggested ways forward, but the onus undisputably rests on the people's representatives to find a solution which truly portrays their wishes.

Good governance
As I understand it, good governance is the accountability on the part of the people's representatives and officials and, equality of citizens in a sense which means that there should be the absence of discriminatory practices for whatever cause or reason, together with the right to share and enjoy the benefits of the state and economy.

Intrinsic to the delivery of good governance, is the ability to establish and maintain checks and balances on the system which minimise if not eliminate abuses through nepotism, graft, corruption and downright incompetence.

Vitally important in the drive to monitor governance is the requirement for a strong, independent, efficient and effective judiciary. Within recent years, public confidence in the judiciary and belief in the rule of law, have withered and are now almost non-existent. This issue of course has to be addressed by members of civil society and members of the judiciary and the Bar Association themselves.

Politicians should have little or no say or influence at all in the functioning of the judiciary. Recent incidents in Trinidad & Tobago involving the judiciary have established that a government should not even be involved in deciding on the conferences which judicial officers should attend.

Working in tandem with the judiciary, should be a process which guarantees the evolution of our parliamentary system by providing real representation and oversight of governmental activities. Parliamentarians must have a direct link to the people they represent and therefore, must be accountable to them. The present party-list system, despite its advantages, is in many ways bereft of substance vis-a-vis good old-fashioned people/representative relationships.

The status of parliamentarians has to be boosted to give the office of a Member of Parliament more clout and importance. Being a parliamentarian in Guyana is almost an empty exercise. Apart from doing well in debates, little else is achievable by way of influencing policy and decision making.

This too must be changed urgently. Questions to ministers for example, are not given prominence and worst of all, are some of the answers to those questions. The "yeas" always "have it" and life proceeds as in a pantomime.

The rebirth of nationhood
The pride of Guyana has over the past two decades, passed away, as now we have absorbed and assumed cultures which are alien to us. Successive governments have to take some blame for this. In the process of unresisting absorption, we seem to have lost ourselves in terms of our culture, beliefs and identification with things which make us stand out as Guyanese. The educational standard has deteriorated to a point where the attitudes and behaviour of our children and adults are mind boggling.

The English language is now second place to the vernacular and it is unfortunate that the business community and even government agencies have to run commercials and infomercials in this format to capture the attention of their audience. Simple courtesies have become a thing of the past and we are becoming a nation of primitive people.

I would like to see, for example, the re-emergence of a national cultural competition which encourages and rewards talent, and simultaneously, rekindles an appreciation of the arts.

These are but a few areas which in my opinion, have to be addressed urgently if we are to become a strong viable state in the new century. It is no good pointing fingers at each other if by now we cannot recognise that collectively, we have to share the blame and benefit, for Guyana's perils and prosperity.

Let us give 'together' another chance
by Deryck Bernard

I begin with a fundamental assumption. Guyana will grow and flourish together or sink into disgraceful oblivion in hostile pieces. There is no future for sectarian and ethnically dysfunctional small countries. The world will not try to save us in the way they work with Ulster or Kosovo. We have therefore an obligation to ourselves and future generations to work out a system of governance and public business that is truly inclusive.

Our parliament must be active and full time. Our members of parliament must be powerful and effective. Our local and regional systems must begin to reflect a genuine sense of empowerment. Our public services and institutional systems must be honest, efficient and transparent. All citizens must begin to feel that they have a place in the Republic and that the institutions are acting in their interest regardless of their class, their ethnicity or their wealth. The interests of inclusiveness must take precedence over political power and patronage for without that sense of confidence in the institutions and actions of the state, Guyana will be unable to deal with the realities of a multicultural society.

I do not accept the assumption that multiculturalism is intrinsically destructive. One of the most satisfying activities in my life was my connection with the Commemoration Commission which was a vehicle for the celebration of our differences. We can be proud of our differences; aware of our commonalties yet determined to develop Guyana as one people. The reform of the system of government and the broadening of as many systems as possible to consensual modes is for me the sine qua non for survival as a valid state.

My second focus is investment. We are at the moment playing around in the shallows of persistent poverty when the opportunities for growth are more than ever available for a small country that is able to get its act organised. Guyana must become investor friendly. Local investor, foreign investor, small investor, big investor traditional investor, high tech investor, they all have to be mobilised with a sense of urgency. We must begin to see government not as a mere collector of revenue or distributor of patronage but as a catalyst to the emergence of an investor friendly environment.

Poverty programmes and debt relief will not do it. Investment will create the jobs and create the momentum. Not an ad hoc fiddling nor rhetoric. Rather a programme of strategic alliances and clearly defined reforms and incentives so that businessmen and women at every level and from every corner will come and feel welcome. Thus the corruption of our tendering procedures and the inefficiency of key institutions must be corrected in a direct, systematic and thorough fashion.

My third area of emphasis is modernisation. At one stage in development sciences, modernisation was a naughty word and the emphasis was much more on low technology and the deliberate lowering of expectations and standards. I am unreservedly in the school of those who believe that the modern technological era allows us to develop and adapt more efficient technologies with greater ease, more affordability and lessened risks. Our agriculture must modernise to compete. Our manufacturing and infrastructure must modernise if we are to compete. Our banking and financial systems must modernise if we are to compete. We are an inventive people and can do many great things in the global environment if we had the managerial and technological tools for the job.

The fourth emphasis must, however, be educational reform. None of these ideas will get anywhere without a modern education system. I am notorious for my public assertion that new buildings, welcome though they may be, will not cause our education system to make the turnaround we need. What will make the difference is motivated and well equipped teachers with modern technology and appropriate teaching and learning materials. To attract investment, we need to improve the productivity of our work force by several multiples. Our system of management, our information technology infrastructure, our university, our reset and devilment capability, our level of basic literacy and numeracy must all be tackled systematically, honestly and consistently. A radical notion, perhaps, but one which may well prove a key to our chances of revival. The modern world economy has a place for an economy that is investor friendly but it is not resources like minerals or forests that are going to be our primary attraction. The reality of 2000 is that the sectors which are demonstrating rapid growth in returns and employment are those which depend upon highly skilled workers and managers.

But it must be together. We have experimented with exclusion and division as a basis for public life for eight years and it has failed. Let us give together a chance.